Not so long ago, North America shifted into full-blown climate change panic. Although there were multiple causes, the event that seemed to galvanize everything was Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.
Fast forward a few years. As the recession takes our eye off the environment, a robust climate change denial movement has gathered steam.
Although trend skeptics (those denying that climate change is happening) are being squelched by evidence, attribution skeptics (those claiming climate change isn’t caused by humans) and impact skeptics (those claiming there are positive environmental impacts from climate change) are going strong.
As University of New South Wales Associate Professor David McKnight notes, there are several reasons why companies like Exxon have had some success playing the global warming denial card. “First, the implications of science are frightening. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Third, science is displayed as political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge, a curiously postmodern argument.”
I’m not here to muddy the water with another piece arguing for the validity of climate science. Instead, I want to forward the case for green thinking, regardless of the political / scientific arguments.
To wit: we need to pick up the pace of our green innovation because it’s the smart economic thing to do.
When I lived in Europe—nearly 20 years ago—we had a curious contraption attached to every shower. You turned on the tap, and it filled an electric "kettle" on the wall. When the kettle was full, it heated to shower temperature. Presto, you had enough hot water for your shower.
This system was incredibly energy efficient, and much "greener" than the water boiler systems we still use in North America. But the Germans didn’t use it because of the enlightened environmental benefits. In a country with exhoribant energy rates, this little shower heater reduced costs. It was an innovation that made sense.
Look around the average European home, and you see similar innovations —light timers in hallways, baseboard power switches that prevent "vampire" power drainage, dual flush toilets. None of these devices were introduced solely to preserve the environment. They were created to spare costly resources.
Now let’s apply that thinking to environmental innovations being considered today in North America.
Most energy experts agree we’re at, or close to, peak oil. That means finding and tapping new reserves is going to become more costly— especially if you consider the ravenous needs of emerging markets like China.
So even if we don’t consider the environment, does it make sense to develop vehicles that run leaner, or even run on electricity or hydrogen? Does it make sense to create new forms of ride sharing or telecommuting? Does it make sense to pump innovation dollars into new forms of mass transit?
Now let’s look at the way we live. Eco-density is a fancy word we’ve developed in Vancouver for multiple unit, multizone dwelling. In essence, it’s nothing more than structuring downtown condo living along the lines of European city dwelling. Even if we were to ignore the lessened environmental impact of this type of living, it would make sense from a home heating and transport model…not to mention the human benefit of increased community and interaction! In short, innovating new forms of high density dwelling make sense—even without support from climate change arguments.
Mintel’s Green Living Report (2008) tracks the explosion of green building in North America in everything from design and materials to government backing and consumer demand. True, some of this can be attributed to environmental enlightenment. But as The Wall Street Journal points out in quoting global financial service leader UBS: “We think the long-term benefits of incorporating green (building) products will offset the higher initial costs and result in significant expense savings.” The Journal article goes on to say the 41% of the 300 REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) in the US are actively pursuing energy efficiency and green building upgrades, and another 27% plan do so.
These transport and building examples are just two illustrations of my point that green innovations make sense, without factoring in the environmental benefit.
So if you’re looking for new inspiration for innovation, consider new products, services and business models through the green lens. It will make sense—regardless if you believe in climate change or not.
About the Author
Marc Stoiber is VP-green innovation at Maddock Douglas, a leading North American innovation agency. He has a wealth of experience building brands, and is passionate about innovation and sustainability. For nearly 20 years he worked in advertising and design, building brands in every sector from packaged goods and beverage alcohol to pharma, financial services and tech.
His strategic and leadership skills have helped two ad agencies rise from obscurity to market prominence. His creative craft, meanwhile, has been recognized by virtually every international industry award for advertising and design.
In 2005, Marc launched Change—a company committed to innovating and branding green products and services. Change was acquired in 2010 by Maddock Douglas. Marc is a prolific writer and speaker on the subject of green brand innovation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org