Every entrepreneur should know how to be environmentally conscious. Learn how by considering the five things below. My intention is not to prescribe guidelines for conduct, but rather to initiate a conversation so that we can collectively decide what the right vision of the future is, and how we act in accordance.
1. Realize that we are in the dawn of the Anthropocene.
Anthropocene is a recently officialized geologic Epoch of Earth, which began in 1950. Welcome to the 66th year of the Anthropocene! It’s defined by irreversible changes in many of Earth’s ecosystems and global processes, like increases in greenhouse gasses and radioactive elements. What are the implications of this fact on our actions and endeavors as entrepreneurs? I think we can all agree that that we need to focus our collective efforts on creating a better Anthropocene. That vision hinges on our ability to swiftly mitigate climate change, which means transitioning to low-carbon energy sources, electrifying transportation and increasing energy efficiency. If we fail to keep global warming under 2 (or perhaps even 1.5) degrees C, then numerous tipping points in Earth systems will be breached, causing the effects to worsen over the next century to millennia. At the expense of sounding alarmist, I’ll name a few of the effects of climate change: ocean acidification, sea level rise, desertification, more frequent and severe droughts, floods and extreme weather, etc., all combining to cause the sixth mass extinction of species on Planet Earth. We are not doing enough right now to mitigate this problem, but we can accomplish net zero carbon emission goals by innovating new solutions in technology and policy-making. We could be a role model of sustainable development for developing countries. Mitigating climate change is crucial to ensuring that ecosystems remain resilient and thriving for ours, and future generations to be prosperous in the Anthropocene.
2. Use your extraordinary powers in service of the ecosystems that sustain us.
Definitions of sustainability must include the long-term well-being of not only people, but also of the natural processes that support life on Earth. When you ask someone for a favor, it’s common courtesy to return said favor; the same logic applies to our collective actions in the natural world. When we use the services of the natural world, we should give back. For example, we can plant forests and daylight rivers, thereby sequestering CO2 and restoring fluvial systems, respectively. Another way of giving back is by cleaning up pollution that you may not even have caused, as a way of offsetting impacts. It is not enough to simply change a light bulb, we need big radical solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problem that is climate change. Our society has long abused, exploited and destroyed the natural world in the name of economic gain; that has a tinge of insanity to it in my mind. I don’t mean to imply that people are horrible and should not exist, because we are indeed capable of goodness, and we can evolve so as to progress towards a better Anthropocene. This saner, more environmentally-conscious way involves balancing economic, social and environmental preferences. Think less about what the environment can do for you, and more about what you can do for the environment.
3. Weigh socioeconomic preferences against the ecological preferences of local & global ecosystems.
This can be done with an ecosystem services approach, as well as life-cycle ecological impact analyses for your businesses products, or whatever else you do. Ecosystem services is essentially a method for valuing the benefits provided to human societies from ecosystem processes, such as clean drinking water and decomposition of wastes. Every action we make individually, and more so in business decisions, has an impact that may be positive or negative in relation to the environment (more specifically, the life-supporting processes of local, regional and global ecosystems). While I don’t think it’s pragmatic, nor sustainable to base decisions completely off their impact on the environment/non-human species, I do think that it is possible and necessary to consider those impacts and find pragmatic solutions that appease stakeholders while being conscious of the environment. Have confidence that through science you can make ecologically-wise and Anthropocene-aware choices. Think of this mindset as weakly-anthropocentric, meaning that decisions are not only driven by their impact on people and society, but also by their impacts on other living beings and ecosystem processes at large.
4. Open your mind to broader world views.
Sensing the world from an ecosystem-centered or life-centered perspective is really what makes us human. The problems we face today – climate change, ocean acidification, desertification, sea level rise, etc. – require us to at least seriously consider the needs of future generations in decision-making, and furthermore a sense for the eternal value of all life on Earth. Empathy, humility and compassion are virtues naturally fall out of this mindset, and they can and should be molded into the DNA of your startup to ensure that innovation actions and entrepreneurship endeavors are environmentally-conscious. While it may not seem rational, it certainly seems to me, intuitively, that there is intrinsic value in life. Whichever path you take to reach that mindset, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that you attribute a value to the existence of all the millions of species on Earth and their fundamental processes that sustain us.
5. Experience nature.
I like to define nature as every aspect of the lived experience. That includes every setting on Earth, from the most artificial cityscapes to the purest wildernesses (if there is such a thing as wilderness anymore). Importantly, as environmentally-conscious entrepreneurs we must experience both ends of this spectrum, because only by understanding the whole can you have compassion for the parts. While it may be out of your comfort zone to immerse yourself in wild nature, you should do it anyways because it’s crucial in developing a conscious awareness of the environment, and the impacts we as people have on them. Furthermore, it’s not enough to watch documentaries, though they are eye-opening in many cases. It takes more exposure, though, to acquire a true sense of the relationships we share with other living beings. By experiencing nature with humility and a sense of wonder, I believe you will find yourself completely at peace in the age-old natural rhythms of Earth. In conclusion, it’s difficult if not impossible to be environmentally-conscious if you have not experienced, and stood in awe before raw & wild nature.
Want to get involved?
Author Adam Brandt will be organizing think-tank-style meetups focused on energy innovation in the future. Anyone interested can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.