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Consumers can’t sit back on decarbonisation

By George Ames

12 December 2019
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The Business Green Technology Festival was packed to the rafters with brilliant people doing brilliant things.

Solid, sensible and impressive solutions in Clean Tech. Commercial savviness at the core, and the kind of products and innovations that make you wonder why we haven’t been living with them for years – whether it is Ripple Energy’s model of owning a share of a wind farm, fair renewable energy pricing from Octopus Energy, or Rugby World Cup winning Andy Gomarsall and his company N2S, recovering precious metals and recyclable elements of IT equipment. The thinking and priorities of today’s entrepreneurs show how different our ‘big industry’ of the future can be.

However a sobering – if not unexpected – point was raised by Catapult UK, the government funded organisation that links innovation with policy makers: the UK will not achieve its net zero ambition without significant action from consumers.

Business and policy makers can only go so far without alone – they need to win back trust and empower, enable and motivate people to not just take plastic straws from their drinks, but make deep change. There is no way to soften the blow here. Net zero isn’t just hard, it’s REALLY hard. It cannot be achieved without commitment from everyone. It isn’t someone else’s responsibility.

To think of it another way, the energy sector isn’t liked much by its customers. And the installation of smart meters is, to be charitable, falling somewhat short of target. But for net zero to be achieved, boilers and cars need complete swap outs, and that’s just the start. There needs to be a radical shift. And it won’t be cheap.

We heard how energy is too cheap – for many, energy is not yet precious enough so it’s wasted left right and centre. But how can prices be increased appropriately, without society’s most vulnerable suffering – and the additional funds not just lining the shareholders pockets? Suddenly installing a smart meter for free sounds rather easy. Energy isn’t the only industry to spotlight here, but it is one of the most significant.

Hats off to the entrepreneurs, challengers and brainiacs at the event – masses to be optimistic about. But what stands out to me is just how important it is for businesses, big and small, old and new, to remember the value of trust, transparency and communications that drive behaviour change with their consumers. It’s the only way we can get to where we need to be.