Give a person the choice between an environmentally-friendly product can help protect wildlife, keep our air clean, and benefit the future of the human race, or a cheaper alternative that contributes to carbon emissions that will aid global warming. More often than not, the person will make a choice based on the monetary benefit. This is the dilemma Australian businesses have been facing since the first Environmental Protection Act was introduced in the state of Victoria in 1970.
For years, environmentalists have been playing to the tune of fear, telling people that if they don't act now, their children’s future will be in danger. The reality is the majority of people are only interested about what impacts them in the present. We are aware of the major issues, however we haven’t implemented a solution that people will take up willingly.
We cannot continue the fight against people’s priorities.
Money is a major influencing factor in people’s lives. So an economic model is the best chance to have people willingly implement sustainable activities that will work towards building a circular economy. With that said, many of the more environmentally sustainable solutions do have monetary benefits that a large amount of companies rarely acknowledge when putting together their business strategies.
For example, having premises that rely on incandescent lighting to upgrade to energy-efficient LED lighting. The impact of LED lights on the environment is far lower than their incandescent and fluorescent counterparts because they consume up to 60% less energy. Lower consumption leads to lower energy bills, which leads to savings and profits. For the homeowner that spends $4,000 a year on their electricity bill, it could mean an additional family holiday. For the business owner that spends $100,000 a year on lighting, the $60,000 saved could be reinvested in the business to create more growth and jobs. It’s a win for the environment, and a win for those who will save money.
Government initiatives have made practices like this more economically sustainable for businesses by offering incentives that offset the costs that come with making environmentally-oriented changes, which has been an enormous deciding factor for a multitude of fields.
Improvements must be made in the following areas to make a significant impact.
Improvements to carbon emissions from electricity, heating and travel will make a big impact on environment. One of the biggest threats to the environment is climate change, which is being affected by the amount of coal, natural gas and oil that is being burned to create energy. According to a report from the Guardian newspaper, 24.9% of the world’s energy consumption can be attributed to energy and heat generation. Additionally, 23.9% can be attributed to transportation and fuel combustion.
However, we also need to focus on the economical impact of these decisions, as a monetarily balanced approach will ensure the highest level of interest from businesses capable of sustaining environmentally-focussed strategies.
So, how can change be implemented?
Changing people’s habits is challenging, however it can be done through schemes that either reward or punish individuals or organisations financially for their environmental practices. China has implemented this practice with coal-fired power companies in Beijing in order to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that is causing severe smog in the city.
To take another example from recent times, Australia’s “Carbon Tax” was a bid to decrease carbon emissions by charging companies a set amount for each tonne of carbon that they released into the atmosphere. Introduced in 2011 to vastly mixed reactions, the government fronted environmental strategy was shown to be a relative success, heralding the largest drop in emissions (1.4%) that the country had seen in a decade.
Despite its abolishment in 2014 by the Abbott government, the Carbon Tax is still looked upon as one of the major positive impacts attempted in recent Australian history, and proved that initiatives like this can have an impressive environmental impact.
In order to improve habits, it will be up to the local authorities in every country from the national to the local level to instigate practices that must be adhered to. These practices must be tied to some type of monetary reward, such as a bursary or tax break. Otherwise, it must be linked to a financial penalty such as heavy fines or increases in taxes, should the methods not be implemented.
People and businesses want convenience. Most people are willing to participate in schemes if they are given a simple system that is easy to implement. Rather than educating people and organisations to figure out a system themselves, have them participate in a partnership program that will allow them to benefit financially.
There are several businesses in London in the United Kingdom that have partnered with organisations such as “Cycle Scheme” to provide workers in the city with discounts in exchange for purchasing bikes that they can use to commute to work instead of taking transportation that contributes to carbon emissions.
It’s quite challenging to get people and organisations to change their habits, so leveraging technology is the easiest way to get people and organisations improving their sustainability practices. However, they will typically choose to invest in the technology as long as the financial benefit is pitched to them in an effective way.
The intentions that we have had towards helping the environment have been good, however we have been pitching the message in the wrong way for too long. It’s time to stop throwing the message at the masses like mud to a wall and seeing what sticks. To get people on board, the environmental pitch must resonate with their immediate needs and priorities. Propel people into action by triggering financial rewards or losses that are a result of their environmental practices and watch the current environmental threats succumb to the will of the people.