Move over United Nations, It’s Time for Entrepreneurs to Save the Planet
This article was originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine.
It’s now over a quarter of a century since the United Nations met at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and pledged to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. And how are we doing? Every year since then, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen, and at the end of 2018, the various UN task forces issued a wide range of predictions relating to climate change, including end-of-the-economic-world-as-we-know-it forecasts and look-on-the-bright-side optimistic forecasts of a $26 trillion new market for clean tech products and services before 2030.
In common with many other serial entrepreneurs, I sensed this global opportunity more than a decade ago. Any time when an existing market is forecast to undergo major change, and where the existing players seem to be failing to either acknowledge the need for change or be unable to grasp the speed of change required…. that’s when the entrepreneurs step in.
How did we get here?
According to The Carbon Majors Report, over the last 30 years just 100 companies have caused more than 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to Sir David Attenborough, humans also created "the greatest threat in thousands of years” and if we don’t take action “the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Just stop and think about that for a second. ‘Collapse’ and ‘extinction’ ….those are heavy words indeed.
Even framing the problem is tricky – the United Nation created a blueprint known as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets which are designed to achieve a more sustainable future for everyone by 2030. Broadly, they focus on protecting the planet, ending poverty in a variety of ways, balancing gender equality, and ensuring all people enjoy peace, justice and prosperity. There’s no mandatory singing and holding hands around the camp fire, but you get the idea …. of course, they are all important – but some of them will be pointless if our planet is uninhabitable, especially as climate change intensifies and speeds up.
It may seem confusing, but a major part of the problem, is that despite 25 years of educating Joe Public, climate change hasn’t actually been caused by consumers, it’s been caused by business decisions. As entrepreneurs and the leaders of tomorrow, it’s now up to you and me to provide solutions to the mega corporations so that together we can save the planet.
Selling your products and services
Sustainability, in terms that businesses can understand, is all about money. And money is always expressed in numbers. So any budding clean tech entrepreneur needs to be very good with numbers both financial and non-financial. Telling a corporate board that your new whizz-bang invention will put a lot of smiles on employee’s faces is useless. Telling them it will achieve a specific increase in productive hours of employment would be better, but showing an actual EBITDA improvement will get you firmly in the door.
Back in 2007, we provided just such a global system for DHL, enabling them to accurately and frequently (annual measurements are basically useless) measure their carbon footprint efficiency, which then allowed us to pilot new technologies and then scale the most financially impactful.
Teach and inspire
It’s up to us, the entrepreneurs of today, to inspire and teach the entrepreneurs of tomorrow how to factor numbers based sustainability metrics into every aspect of their product and sales strategy.
We need to identify, coach, and invest in start-ups and scalable innovations that actively target environmental solutions on mega-corporates and we need to quickly teach those that don’t.
And be proud
Saving the planet isn’t a thankless task. From personal experience I can tell you that your decision to redirect your entrepreneurial flair and talent into scalable low carbon products and solutions won’t just generate a strong financial return. It will get you up every morning with a real sense of genuine purpose and authentic pride. And at night when you kiss your children and grandchildren to sleep, you will know, deep in your heart, that your efforts are helping their future. Together we can make sure the future, ain’t what it used to be.