"If I was running a big utility right now, I wouldn't be worrying about compliance targets any more when it comes to renewables. I'd be thinking about how fast I could become a leader in the field."
This comment was part of a conversation I had with a two decade veteran of the solar industry recently, and it got me reflecting on the broader sphere of sustainability and corporate responsibility.
It seems to me that the rules are changing, and fast.
Small steps are no longer enough
It's not so long ago that a corporation could get big headlines for cutting energy use a little, funding an acre or two of rainforest conservation, or increasing the recycled content of your disposable and pointless packaging. Now, purchasing green energy in multi-multi-multi megawatt quantities is just the cost of entry to be taken semi-seriously as a green player.
But it's not just the magnitude of commitments that's changing. It's their nature too.
From taking responsibility to forcing changeAs Microsoft's recent purchase of all the energy from a 110MW wind farm shows, you can't even buy green energy credits and call yourself done anymore. Following on the footsteps of Google and Apple's substantial direct renewable energy investments, leadership is now being judged not on whether you've taken responsibility for your emissions, but rather how much you are contributing to building new green energy capacity.
In other words, how fast are you changing the system?
That shift is beginning to have profound implications for the entire energy sector. But the lessons are broader than the energy sector alone. Compliance and responsibility were valuable in the early days of the sustainability movement. However, given the pressing urgency of climate change, they must now give way to disruption and innovation.
Significant problems remainI am not going to pretend that all is well in the market economy. Even the green energy leaders described above have plenty of skeletons in their closets (Lloyd's no big fan of Apple's new HQ, for example)—and a rethink of our devotion to GDP alone has never been more necessary.
Yet the fact remains that innovative businesses are being pushed to do more and more to actively shape the economies of the future. And much of that pressure comes from an internal understanding of where the future is headed. (While politicians were bickering over whether or not climate change is real, Microsoft imposed a carbon price on itself.)
You snooze, you looseOnce upon a time Toyota was heralded for leadership in hybrids. Now they, and other established automotive players, are running fast to catch up to a Silicon Valley start up that's created an almost universally lauded, entirely electric car. (Yes, I am ignoring the silly media hype over three fires.)
Don't evaluate greenness by how little you are damaging the planet but rather, how fast are you bringing about change?
And then judge others by the same metric.