Earth Day 2020 – Why should innovators and startups take notice?
We asked expert-in-residence, Belinda Gibbons to share with us her thoughts about Earth Day and why they should matter for innovators and startups. Here’s a piece that she wrote for us.
What do you see from your desk at this moment in time?
It’s a question I was asked recently on a Zoom call with Jade Kennedy, a local Aboriginal knowledge holder. It’s a question I ponder every morning as I sit at the recently self-constructed desk in my bedroom. The answer is not my bed, a wall or a photo – the answer I search for every morning I find outside my window – trees, mountains, what part of nature can I see? As I look out my window to the beautiful Wollongong escarpment I can’t help but imagine all the knowledges she holds and all the human activity she has seen.
I find myself clinging to our earth like never before at the moment – whether that be because I am allowed to walk outside for exercise – an activity I took for granted a couple of months ago or because I am grateful for the fresh fruit and vegetables still available. Maybe it’s knowing that while we are in crisis, the earth is recovering. Pollution is dropping, rivers are clearing and we are breathing easier as carbon and nitrogen dioxide fall as nature endeavours to bounce back. But we have also lost thousands of jobs and the vulnerable are even more in danger so it is no time for celebration.
I find myself wondering if we do have a pandemic exit strategy, surely it can’t be to return to the way we were. In a race to recover our economy, we can’t forget the interconnected impact on our environment and the society. We need to holistically work together to change our behaviours, our infrastructures, our mindsets and the time to do that is now.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
As we look to the future, never before have we had such an opportunity to move forward in a different way and as we celebrate Earth Day – let’s think about this and work towards driving meaningful action for our planet. One way to do this is to use the UN Sustainable Development Goal framework. The SDG framework provides us with a common language and lens through which we can take a holistic view of our ideas and support with Earth Day’s objectives. In particular SDG6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG13 (Climate Action), SDG14 (Life under Water), and SDG15 (Life on Land) – all of which align perfectly with the purpose and point of Earth Day.
Since 1970, Earth day has been is about understanding and taking action to mitigate the impact of the industrial development on our planet. Fifty years since the first earth day, science now provides us with evidence-based policy decisions that have changed air and water laws. Innovations have seen the rise of solar energy, increased battery storage technology, zero-emission targets, circular economy concepts, water conversation and packaging material conservation. But it has not been enough.
Today we face extreme climate change and pollution threats that can seem overwhelming but if we can come together to survive this pandemic, imagine what we can do for climate action. These two crisis have more than comfortable similarities. COVID-19 is a fast moving crisis – climate change is a creeper, a gradual and cumulative danger. It will hit us if we don’t take action and it represents the biggest challenge to humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable. During COVID-19 we are still able to source fresh fruit and vegetables, during a climate disaster we may not.
All actors—individuals, companies, governments, and civil society—have an important role. We need to raise awareness and build upon the current mind shift and behavioural change that has occurred during COVID-19 to reduce the demands we place on the environment. Ask ourselves these questions:
- • Do we need to travel as much as we did?
- • How can we continue to support our local farm markets as much as we are now?
- • Can we spend time working out high school mathematics with our children when school goes back?
- • Can we innovate as quickly as we are now and focus on our earth?
Innovators and start-ups need to holistically examine their current business ideas and endeavour to understand where climate action opportunities exists. Investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and the transition to a lower-carbon future can drive significant near-term job creation while increasing economic and environmental resiliency. And with near-zero interest rates for the foreseeable future, there is no better time than the present for such investments.
Let’s take steps now to modify the way we live, work and think and in doing so make our cities and neighbourhoods healthy for all living things. Think about the impact your startup is having on the earth. Analyse the impact it could have! What could you do differently that you just hadn’t thought of before.
As quickly as you have put a COVID-19 lens on your operations, take this opportunity to put a climate action lens over your business to begin a new conversation.
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