2017: Year of the green tech dilemma?

Is green tech becoming a blackspot for business? It depends on who you ask, of course. But business still has a huge role to play in pushing forward the next big ideas.

Certainly, it looks like 2017 could be rocky for eco-minded firms. In the UK, US and elsewhere, a retreat from many pro-green policies is arguably underway. Fighting climate change is, after all, a worldwide challenge – and globalism suddenly feels a little unpopular. But business executives are working to see that reversed with recent calls to the G20 to put climate change back on the agenda. 

The time is now

Professor Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, agrees that we’re currently seeing a pushback against the low-carbon economy, particularly in the US. However, that’s no excuse for businesses to lose their faith in a cleaner, greener future.

“One of the main ways to meet the Paris agreement on climate change will be for entrepreneurs to create new ways in which we can develop clean, low-carbon energy and related products,” she says. “Businesses have got to look ahead to the next decades, not just the next few years. If you accept we’ve got to stabilise our climate at one or two degrees above pre-industrial levels, then we’ve got to get to a low carbon future.”

In one sense, the challenge for forward-thinking firms is the same as it ever was. Cashflow is often cited as a major stumbling block for smaller companies, and the same balancing act between short-term need and long-term ambition applies to green credentials. In an age of austerity, the long view may seem like a luxury; in fact, it’s more important than ever.

“Embracing a green future for your business requires some investment now, of course,” Professor Haigh concedes. “But in the longer term businesses will be saving money hand over fist. Zero emissions are the real bottom line, and can complement business success.”

She’s not alone in such an assessment. A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that halting climate change could generate £15 trillion. Not to mention a global revolution. What’s not to like?

Read more: Seven green technologies that will shape our future

Tesla to toilets

If governments continue to edge away from addressing climate change, it seems likely businesses will have to fill the gap. Both smart ideas and smarter technology will lead the march to the low-carbon economy of the future.

Elon Musk’s recent proposal to bring reliable energy to South Australia in 100 days – or deliver the service for free – shows how bold firms can step into the breach and challenge states to try harder.

And thankfully, you don’t need to be a billionaire tech guru to make green tech work for you and your customers, even during sceptical times. Just ask WooWoo waterless toilets.

The UK company, which provides eco-friendly loos to festivals, businesses and private customers, is a great case study in how business technology can sync with simple but powerful green goals.

“Waterless toilets are a great idea that works well,” sums up Joel Cormack, manager at WooWoo. “We’ve improved on parts of it, but our basic concept deliberately hasn’t changed.”

Beyond Joel’s modest appraisal lies some solid technological innovation. First and foremost, their toilets challenge conventional designs by replacing water systems with waste separation and aerobic breakdown – a cleaner, less resource-intensive, less stinky approach to disposal.

In addition, WooWoo is currently developing the tech to manage a large number of their toilets from a single computer, tapping into the Internet of Things to make their operations even more efficient and sustainable. It’s effectively smart grid technology downscaled for a small business – proof that big, game-changing green tech ideas are compatible with the day-to-day services firms provide. To cap it all off, their toilets can be found at selected National Trust sites, putting green tech right at the heart of the British establishment.

“It works as a product on its own, without the need for any push from government,” Joel confirms. “We’re not really worried about politics, because the demand is still there. As long as it’s a competitive price, people tend to go for the greener product.”

It shows that entrepreneurs need to keep their feet on the ground and think long-term when it comes to meaningful green tech, whatever the political situation. The future will still be green – and so will business tech.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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