Even if we agree climate change is a pressing issue, the problem is that often it is hard to know what to do about it: Yes you can recycle, perhaps even give to a relevant charity or maybe vote Green. But considering the pressing time-limit and the heroic scale of action required, it is hard to know what is sufficient. What should we really be doing to solve climate change?
It is the proposition of this article that for many young people this question should be intrinsically linked to the new values and needs of generation-y in the workplace.
“Whatever your dreams, there is a place for you in the green economy.”
As laid out in the previous article, one of the key traits of generation-y (those born between c.1980-2000) is finding meaning and fulfilment in their job. For example, over four-fifths of Gen-Yers say making a difference in the world is more important than gross income or professional recognition, with 92% believing business should be measured by more than their profits (Huffington post 2013).
Connecting this drive for purposeful work with the pressing issue of climate change is a crucial step in taking meaningful action. Indeed, the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. If everyone dedicated even a fraction of this time to supporting climate mitigation and creating solutions for a low-carbon world, it would be a game-changer for the pace of progress. What more meaningful work can really be thought of than working on what is in many ways the unique challenge of our generation?
Considering a career which helps drive forward a solution to climate change can bring purpose to our work than is beneficial to our self and to our planet.
This obviously applies to roles directly related to the issue, such as renewable energy engineers.However, the purpose of this article is to show that the challenge of climate change imparts itself onto almost every job under the sun, and in sectors that people are actually interested in:
- Finance: From clean-tech investment to financing schemes for energy efficiency, finance is one of the biggest challenges for building a green economy. Deploying skills from the financial services will be key to coming up with innovative ways to finance projects that protect the planet.
- Advertising: More than a scientific problem, combating climate change is at its heart a for battle public engagement. Using advertising skills to get people genuinely interested in environmental solutions and products is key to making real progress.
- Entrepreneurs: Developing new, environmentally friendly ways of doing almost every activity imaginable – from the transport and energy we use, to the way we consume food – is key to making the disruptive changes needed to avert climate change. Entrepreneurs are needed to dream-up these innovative new solutions and drive disruptive change in every industry.
- Installation services: The reality of a green economy will mean installing and maintaining an unimaginable amount of clean-tech kit, from solar PV on rooftops, to smart meters and appliances in homes and offices. People with expertise in installation and maintenance will be essential for making the green economy happen.
- Politics: We have had the technology to combat climate change since at least the 1960s, the real problem now is mustering the political will to make these bold changes for the sake of our futures. Politicians and leaders in every field will be needed to catalyse change if the green economy is to flourish.
- Engineering: Everything from energy generation to buildings and public transport systems will need to be designed with sustainability at their core. Engineering who understand this will be indispensable in a green economy.
- Computer Science: A green revolution will also be a smart revolution. Using software to automate processes and create ‘smart’ systems for energy, waste, and water will be key to developing a clean and efficient world where we can all live sustainably.
- Law: As the green economy expands, a cadre of lawyers and legal service providers who understand environmental issues will be needed to administer change. There is also a big opportunity here for lawyers to fight against unsustainable practices in the court room.
All of these skills will be needed, and all of these jobs will have to be fundamentally reinvented if we are to succeed. In some ways that is what is so amazing about this brave new world of a low-carbon economy, it applies to almost everything.
This should not be read as an argument for taking a pay-cut either. The advanced energy sector alone is now worth over $1.4trillion globally and, if generation-y is able to unlock the potential of an alternative green economy, this figure could be factors bigger. For those willing to take the risk and build such a world, the prize could be very big indeed. .
WHAT IS GENERATION-Y?
Generation-y, also known as the ‘millennials’, describes anyone born around 1980-2000. This demographic group – to which tribe I myself count – is subject to almost obsessive levels of scrutiny and observation; and for good reason. With people age 65 and over now making up less than one-tenth (8.2%) of the global population, Gen-Y is now one of the largest generational demographic in the world (Pew Research Center 2015).
This has two important consequences for the job market. On the one side it means that literally millions of millennials worldwide are now flooding into the workforce every year. Perhaps even more importantly, it also means that older Gen-Yers are increasingly going to be taking the top seats, becoming the senior management, CEOs and leaders of our companies and political institutions in the next decade or so.
GENERATION-Y IN THE WORKPLACE
With this in mind, much has been written on Gen-Y in the workplace. From this folly of research one conclusion above all else is clear: More than money, or job-security, Generation-Y is interested in finding meaning and fulfilment in their job. Over four-fifths of millennials say making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition, with 92% believing business should be measured by more than their profits (Huffington post 2013). Indeed, as college or university life draws to a close, it seems the question of every generation-Yer’s lips is: What should I do with my life?
Now I am not suggesting that this is a new question exclusive to our generation, but I am asserting that it has taken on an extra dimension of importance for Gen-y: In being so free to choose whatever we want, the pressure of the choice can become overwhelming. Combine this with the notion that a job is no longer just about money or security, but a statement about ourselves and our values and you have a potent dilemma indeed. It seems no wonder that the notion of a ‘Quarter life crisis’ – that is the period of life from the late teens to the early thirties in which people often fell unhappy or insecure in the direction of their life – has gained increasing traction in the last decade.
GENERATION-Y & CLIMATE CHANGE
It is the proposition of this article that there are deep synergies between the issues of Generation Y, and another key problem: Climate change.
“Climate change is in many ways the unique challenge of our generation”
The challenge of climate change is unique not only in its global scale, but also in its timeline for change. For example, it is widely agreed that we will have to reduce our carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050 for even a 50/50 chance of avoiding the worst effects on climate change (IPCC 2015). To put this in perspective, that means overhauling our entire global energy system – as well as all sections of the economy connected to it (from transport to agriculture and beyond) – in the next 35 years.
Moreover, because many of the decisions we make today – such as what type of power plants to build or governments to elect – will effectively ‘lock-in’ our carbon emissions for the decades to come, many of the key decisions determining our collective success or failure will in fact be made in the next 5-10years.
For me – and for everyone in generation-y – this means only one thing: Climate change is in many ways the unique challenge of our generation. For our fathers and forefathers the information and scientific understanding was simply not in place to understand the scale of this issue, let alone the technological and socio-economic innovations that will be required to build a climate safe future. For our children on the other hand, it will likely already be too late.
It is worth noting here that many of the arguments made in this article can be equally applied to generation-z (that is, the generation of our future children) though, if we fail to mitigate climate change, their battle will be not be so much for prevention, but instead for adaptation and survival on an increasingly unstable planet.
Acting to mitigate climate change is therefore not only our exclusive prerogative of our generation, it is also in our interests. Many of the worst effects on climate change will fall on us and the generations to come, from an increasingly unstable weather system, to the related issues of crop-failure and mass immigration from the worst effected regions.
DOES GENERATION-Y GET CLIMATE CHANGE?
The good news in that, for the most part, millennials seem to get it. A US-based study by Statista in March 2014, looked at the different attitudes on climate change between generations. The survey split participants up into millennials (18-36), Gen-X (37-48), Baby Boomers (49-67) and Matures (68+). When asked if they believed that climate change was real and that it was mostly caused by human activity, over 50% of millennials said yes, whereas only 37% of Matures agreed. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were more neutral, answering 43% and 47% respectfully (Statista 2014).
In another UK survey, a majority of millennials said they believed we should do all we can to protect the environment, including imposing stricter government regulations. 71% favour the development of renewable sources of energy and two-thirds say they recycle (Huffington Post 2013). In fact, look almost anywhere and you’ll find the same answer – compared to their elders – gen-y is consistently more supportive of acting on climate change and other environmental issues.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Climate change is a problem, and it falls squarely on our generation to solve it. That much is clear. The real stumbling blocks emerge however when we ask the next logic question: What can our generation actually do to solve a problem of such epic proportions? This question is explored in the next article.
G. Do you think that the lifestyle of the inhabitants of your town or city reflects behaviour that is in line with the concept of sustainable development? In your opinion, what should be improved?
London is my birthplace. I have lived here the majority of my life and I truly consider it home. However London is also one of the world’s major economic and social hubs. Understanding whether the inhabitants of this metropolis lead a lifestyle in line with the concept of sustainability is therefore key, as what happens here many influence municipalities across the globe.
Before continuing however it must be made clear that ‘sustainability’ is a notoriously hard concept to pin down, with definitions expanding out from traditional environmental concerns to include broader ideas of social and economic goods. To help focus this analysis however I will only consider the environmental aspects of sustainable living.
One of the things that makes this question challenging is that London has an inhabitants of 8.5 million people. Whilst I would like to consider myself a very sociable person, the sheer size of London means I only know a fraction of my fellow citizens personally. Indeed, taking the 350-ish friends I have on Facebook that identify as living in London would mean I know around 0.004% of the population; hardly a statistically significant amount. This potential bias is made even more likely by the fact I currently work in the environmental sector where the majority of my co-workers are very environmentally conscious. There is a strong case that this may not represent the city’s average. With that in mind, I have decided to use a data-lead approach to drive my understanding of this question.
ANALYSING LONDON’S SUSTAINABILITY
To do this I firstly looked at current research on the issue. Alongside numerous reports and public datasets, I also assessed six major indexes which compare the sustainability of cities. London is consistently ranked in the top fifteen internationally on environmental factors in these studies.
One of the most comprehensive of these indexes (Siemen’s Sustainable City Index) uses numerous quantitative and qualitative factors to assess a city’s environmental sustainability across eight major categories (CO2 emissions, Energy use, Land and building use, Transport, water, waste, air quality, and environmental governance). To help understand the sustainability habits of London I used data from this index to compare London with the best preforming city on the index (Copenhagen), as well as the average score of all 30 European cities assessed:
As figure 1 shows, London does not have the best sustainability rank in any indicator (Red/Green), although it is does beat the average in almost every category (Red/Orange). However, London clearly dips below the average when it comes to indicators for sustainable transport (such as use of non-car transport and size of non-car transport network). This is particularly interesting because London’s mayor Boris Johnson has hailed London as a sustainable transport leaders, citing investment in public transport and the notorious ‘Boris bike’ initiative (much like the BiciMAD scheme in Madrid) as a clear success. It seems there is a strong case therefore for digging deeper into the transport data for London. In other words, what is it specifically about London transport that lets it down on the sustainability front?
SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT IN LONDON
One way to explore this is to ask how transport trends in London have been evolving over time. To do this I have chosen to focus on ‘modal forms of transport’, which means the percentage of different types of transport that are used in a city. This is important for sustainability because some forms of transport are much more environmentally friendly than others: If the UK doubled cycle use by switching from cars for example, this would reduce Britain’s total greenhouse emissions by 0.6million tonnes (CO2), as well as conferring numerous health benefits to riders.
As figure 2 highlights, the transport choices for Londoners has indeed changed over time. Public transport has greatly increased in the last decade from 30% to 45%, whilst private transport (e.g. cars) shows the inverse correlation. Compared to global standards, London is already one of the most sustainable cities in terms of public transport, coming in 6th place out of the top 50 European cities for use of public transport. It seems claims over the public transport credentials of London stand up to scrutiny.
However if we look back at figure 2 closely we can see that walking has in fact declined marginally in London since 1994 (22.3% – 20.5%), whilst cycling – which offers multiple sustainability benefits – has increased at only a very slow rate (1.2% – 2%). This is particularly interesting when compared to other major cities where cycling has become a major mode of transport:
Figure 4 suggests that London is trailing badly behind in terms of cycling. While cities in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany have increased the proportion of commuters who cycle to over 33% of all journeys, London lags far behind at round 2% (landing it in the lower third of all cities analysed). Indeed, London is also behind in cycling uptake rates: While Copenhagen increased cycling rates from 36% to 45% of all journeys between 2012 and 2014, London achieved only a 0.2% increase in the same period.
It could be argued that larger cities might just be less likely to have cycling uptake because of the distances involved. London is the largest city in Europe in terms of population size and so this concern is worth investigating. Whilst there is some evidence for this, the correlation is actually quite weak as numerous cities with similar sizes have widely varying cycling shares: Copenhagen (Denmark) and Glasgow (UK) for example have roughly the same population size and land-area, and yet Copenhagen rates amongst the world’s best cycling cities (with a modal uptake of 45%), whilst Glasgow has a share of less than 1%. The same is true of Berlin and Madrid which have similar population sizes, but having modal cycle rates of around 13% and 1% respectively.
There is also some argument that GDP and public expenditure could be the underlying driver of cycle rates. Whilst there is again a weak positive correlation between GDP of a city and its modal share of cycling, London actually falls the wrong side of this, having a lower share than would be expect of a European city with London’s GDP level.
This conclusion holds true even when cycle rates are translated into absolute figures (e.g. gross number of people cycling), where London should have a distinct advantage due to its large population size. However, even in this case London is bested by numerous countries with much smaller overall populations (e.g. Copenhagen has nearly 470,000 cyclists on the road, compared to London’s 160,000) .
Whilst more analysis is needed to rule these factors out completely, it does seem that, when it comes to cycling rates, Londoner’s transport behaviours could be much more in line with the concept of sustainability than they currently are.
IMPROVEMENTS & INSIGHTS
This analysis gives us a clear insight into one area where the lifestyles of Londoners could be made more sustainable. However, more than this, it also suggests where to starting searching for innovative improvements. By looking at the best-practice cities that exceled in this field (see figure 3) we can uncover new ideas and approaches which could be redeployed in London:
For example, one of the biggest reasons for the success of cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam has been investment into cycling infrastructure. Dedicated cycling routes, efficient parking infrastructure, and cycling paths which by-pass congested areas (such as the Cykleslagen Bridge project in Copenhagen) all offer ideas for how London could improve.
Moreover, innovative new approaches such as Copenhagen’s ‘intelligent traffic signals’ that can spot and prioritise buses and bikes, not only makes cycling a more efficient choice for residents, but does so by harnessing Big Data to improve existing infrastructure rather than building a-new.
These novel approaches would not only add value for London residents, but could also present a key business opportunity. The UK already loses over £13bn a year due to road congestion; a figure which could increase to around £21.5bn by 2030 (more than the entire UK transport budget in 2014). Indeed, one report estimates that the global accessible market for integrated city systems could be over £200bn a year by 2030. Capturing this market in a global hub such as London presents a major value opportunity.
The lifestyle of the inhabitants of London does reflects behaviour that is in line with the concept of sustainable development in many ways. However some of the biggest improvements could be made in London transport, especially when it comes to cycling where London has fallen seriously behind. By looking at some of the world’s best-practice cities however, we can see clear opportunity for improvement which could create real value for residents as businesses alike.
If I am awarded a place at IE University I would hope to develop this data-driven and innovation oriented approach to help solve other problems which benefit both business and society.
H. What do you believe are the greatest challenges facing the sector or industry you would like to specialize in at IE? What role do you hope to be able to play in this sector or industry in the medium term?
The sector I am most excited about specialising in at IE is ‘transforming utilities using analytics’ and ‘smart cities and governments’; both of which are offered as part of the Business Analytics and Big Data course. I have been passionate about the future of energy and our environment since writing my final dissertation on the topic whilst at University. I have since pursued a career in the energy/environmental sector and I am committed to combating the problems of climate change and unsustainable energy use.
I do not, however, believe we are going to do this by moralising the argument. It is my opinion that if we are to solve climate change – arguably the greatest challenge humanity has to face in the coming century – we are going to need much smarter solutions. In keeping with this, I believe the greatest challenges facing the energy sector come from three interconnected issues:
- There is a great need for more critical enquiry into the most effective ways to solve new problems: The energy sector is undergoing a profound transformation from the changing dynamics of energy security, sustainability, and supply. However, concerns over energy and environment have long been dominated by out-dated ideas focused on investing in expensive infrastructure to solve problems incrementally. There is a serious need to question some of these underlying assumptions if real progress is to be made.
- There is a great need for more innovative solutions that reduce, rather than increase cost: Innovative and disruptive ideas need to be developed to overcome out-dated thinking and solve problems of unsustainable energy in ways that make things easier and cheaper, rather than more complicated and expensive. Saving energy in smart ways for example can have benefits for both the economy and the environment, while making energy-issues more accessible to consumers.
- There is a great need for more developed technical skills, technologies and talent: To create innovative approaches, there is a need to think big and draw from a much more up-to-date pool of skills, technologies and talent. Using novel approaches that combine smart thinking with big data for example could unlock game-changing opportunities.
Indeed, there is no question that the energy sector is undergoing an unprecedented explosion of data. As smart devices continue to be installed at increasing rates, data from generators, distribution networks, storage devices, smart appliances, and individual homes and businesses is flowing in. Combined with data from unstructured sources (e.g. weather information, social media etc.) and leveraged in the right way, this data can be used as a tool for both business opportunity and real social change:
- Business opportunity: According to a 2013 study from Tata Consultancy Services, utilities and energy/resource industries have the biggest expectations of achieving returns from Big Data investments. Opportunities exist right the way through the value chain, from managing and aggregating renewable energy sources efficiently, to collecting meter readings in a cost-effective way. According to the Oracle white paper (2013) however, only 17% of utilities “are completely prepared for the data influx”, with less than 39% using data insights to reduce the cost of generation operations. With energy one of the fastest growing sectors worldwide (and the advanced energy market alone already worth over $1.4trillion globally), there is an undeniable business opportunity for those able to harness big data in the energy sector.
- Social & environmental good: At the same time, data also has the potential to unlock social and environmental goods. Data analysis of the grid, for example, can quickly reveal that a power line is down and presents a safety hazard, while accessing detailed weather data allows utilities to have better performance during extreme weather periods. However, it is when big data is harnessed for environmental goods that the real potential can be seen. Integrating huge amounts of information from the electricity grid with renewable generators, storage facilities and electric transport options is the first steps towards creating a truly ‘smart’ energy network that can respond in real-time to use energy in a clean and efficient way. This is critical if we are to create a zero-carbon energy system.
In the medium term therefore, I hope to bring the data analysis skills I develop at IE to drive a data revolution in the energy sector, focused on using data to simultaneously create business opportunity and champion social/environmental progress. I believe this focus on melding an innovation-focused vision of business with a humanistic approach fits perfectly with IE University and its principles.