I was given a lecture last week on the theme of why we should not be motivated to address climate change by the desire to do good but rather because of a specific business case. While the green equals green back narrative is an alluring promise from a rational perspective, in many instances it does appear to completely miss the point. Surely if we avoid the idea that it is a good thing to work for a sustainable environment for future generations and other species then we have lost the battle before we begun. The response of industry appears to be falling for this beguiling but misleading approach and the technology sector is no exception.
In terms of Clean tech developments the industry can clearly point to a growing area of innovation, new business models and potential solutions that show a responsible reaction to climate change. Governments around the world have pledged to spend around $165bn on stimulus programmes to promote the adoption of renewable energy, according to London-based New Energy Finance, and the International Energy Agency predicts investment to the sum of £10 trillion in clean technology is necessary over the next 20 years to have an impact on global warming.
The challenge is that Clean technology, while offering great promise in terms of renewable energy sources, has not really begun to tap into deeper innovation resources and solutions the industry has to offer. By simply pointing to renewables as industry’s response we also risk missing the point that even these technologies have an environmental footprint and indeed the term is a misnomer akin to saying ‘clean dirt’. The industry needs to embrace the challenge to invest heavily in the future of cleaner technologies and there is no immediate solution such as clean technology but a need to improve the way technologies create a better more sustainable world.
Technology does a great deal of good for society. The high regard for the industry sector as shown in the Edelman Trust Barometer reflects the way innovation has been directed at Education and wellbeing. However, the very technologies that deliver this create a sustainability issue themselves. For example the Internet, a tremendously beneficial tool for society at large, consumes large amounts of energy; a Climate Group report from 2008 estimates that broadband could account for nearly 50 million tons of emissions by 2020, but there is little industry discussion or initiatives on how we can innovate to minimise this impact.
If technology is to truly present a Green face it needs to move beyond housekeeping and green supply chain initiatives to create IT solutions that allow more sustainable IT solutions. If the industry claims to be Green then it must move quickly to deliver these solutions as a priority.
Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that if there is any industry sector that has developed specific skills in R&D, speed of innovation and change it is the IT and broader technology categories. In the UK alone, £1.75 billion has been invested into the research and development of clean technologies, according to the Carbon Trust. The industry has powerful and complex models of innovation, funding, product development design and marketing which, if they were brought to bear on sustainability issues, could clearly make an impact and possibly in the limited time available facilitate the sheer scale of change our economics requires. Surely it would be a good thing for the technology industry to commit to doing the good thing and work on the longer term business pay off which must be huge?