Make No Mistake: Invest in Sustainability & Learn from Nature
With the world’s green economy worth UK£3,000 billion a year and growing fast, failing to invest in sustainability could be an expensive mistake. ‘Nature has lots of wonderful ways to renew itself. We can learn a lot from Nature, if we look hard enough, to find sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” said Singapore’s NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson, an internationally-renowned biochemist and pioneer in ‘artificial leaf’ technology, as the University sets up a new laboratory – the first in Asia – that aims to turn water into hydrogen fuel.
Straits Times (8 February 2011):
SCIENTISTS from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have set up a new laboratory – the first in Asia – that aims to turn water into hydrogen fuel.
The new Solar Fuels Laboratory at NTU aims to create efficient and sustainable sources of solar fuel by developing a device that can extract large amounts of hydrogen from water using sunlight.
The energy-producing ‘artificial leaf’ technology can reduce help to reduce dependence on crude oil when perfected, NTU added.
Current technology requires huge amounts of energy to draw small amounts of hydrogen from water which makes it commercially unviable.
NTU’s Solar Fuels Lab was officially opened by Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU’s President-Designate earlier this month. A seminar on solar fuel generation and artificial photosynthesis was also held in conjunction with the opening ceremony. The lab will be jointly managed by NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering and the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N).
‘Nature has lots of wonderful ways to renew itself. We can learn a lot from Nature, if we look hard enough, to find sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” said Professor Andersson, himself an internationally-renowned biochemist and pioneer in ‘artificial leaf’ technology.
By Andrew Stone in the Daily Telegraph (3 February 2011):
As the low-carbon revolution gathers pace globally, Britain’s businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to profit from it. Already worth £3,000 billion annually, the world’s green economy is forecast to grow by a quarter over the next five years, outpacing overall growth.
The early pioneers of this green business revolution are already profiting from the move towards an economy less dependent on exploiting finite resources and which has less impact on our environment.
The global giant GE began exploiting the opportunities a more sustainable global economy presented some time ago through its Ecomagination initiative and is profiting from the move, said Mark Elborne, CEO & President of GE UK
“We’ve doubled our commitment in terms of investment, research and development and the revenues we wish to generate from these types of products. Between 2005 and 2010, our revenues in these sectors have grown from $10bn to $20bn.”
The UK is extremely well placed to profit from the green-growth revolution, said Mr Elborne. “The opportunity is enormous. When you look at the need for more efficient thermal generation, next-generation gas engines and turbines, the introduction of renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, the need for smarter use and distribution of energy and the arrival of electric vehicles, it adds up. If we need to deploy 20 million smart meters in the UK by 2020, for example, and it takes three hours to fit a meter, how many jobs is that going to create?”
But the green-growth revolution poses a threat too. Businesses, governments and societies that pursue old ways of thinking risk being left behind in the race for green growth, according to Ian Cheshire, group chief executive of the home improvement group Kingfisher, which has 840 stores in eight countries and sales of £10.5 billion.
The cost of energy together with the march of legislation is driving businesses to rethink they way they work, said Mr Cheshire. “All of us running businesses hope we have a sustainable model that will still be here in 30 years. But if you are using too many resources, that will come home to roost. A business model predicated on cheap oil, for instance, may not be around when crude hits $150 a barrel. And the landfill tax has prompted a whole new set of behaviours.”
Most business leaders see the sense in taking a longer-term view of their companies but circumstances often conspire to prevent them acting on this knowledge, said Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust.
“Decision makers in businesses often aren’t rewarded for being brave and visionary, but for being very good managers in the short term. Business leaders also see this change as risky but in fact it’s just the opposite. There’s a great risk for firms that try to cling to old business models and ways of doing things.”
Mr Cheshire agrees that the risks of not acting outweigh those of acting. “There are still some who regard sustainability as a bit of an add-on. That’s not surprising; there will be leaders and laggards in any change process. But the risk for people tackling environmental issues in a box-ticking way is that they will miss opportunities and that their customers will see them as hypocrites. I have sympathy for companies trying to get through a recession. But in western Europe, where the economy is sluggish and there’s pressure on spending, any area offering growth potential is hugely valuable.“
The emerging green economy should be one of Britain’s great areas of advantage, a global opportunity to create jobs. Green jobs are going to be fundamental to our recovery. China and the United States get it. Britain needs to be there, too.”
To achieve this transformation, business leaders must be courageous and cultivate a sense of mission that will drive green growth, said Mr Delay. “It is difficult to take bold decisions when cash is at such a premium and you may still be in survival mode but now is a good time for bold action.“
The British economy is not behaving as it would have done 10 years ago. A board that would have been sceptical about green growth 10 or even five years ago will probably listen and understand now.”
Mr Cheshire says putting sustainable business at the heart of your strategy can produce surprises. “We asked some bright managerial talents to look at the waste in our stores. I had hoped for a 30 per cent reduction target; they suggested 80 per cent.”
Even small start-ups are feeling the power that a sustainable mission has in attracting employees. Despite competing with global banks for scarce talent, the power software firm RLtec is finding recruits inspired by the potential of the firm’s software technology to make significant CO2 and cost cuts in Britain’s electricity grid. “We’ve been successful at recruiting highly skilled mathematicians because they want to work for a green company,” said Paul Lazarevic, managing director.
You don’t have to be GE to profit from a more sustainable vision and strategy, said Mr Elborne. “Whether you’re developing offshore wind turbines or considering changes in how you light your shop or factory, be confident in your ability to be adaptable.
“Time spent understanding the benefits of action and exploring the consequences of inaction will be money and time well spent. Don’t just stand there and say it doesn’t affect you because it does. There’s a strong consensus, and it’s growing, that this is something we need to do.”