These last few months will be remembered as a defining moment in history, not just for how it changed our current lives, but also for how it’s resetting our path forward. The global economic challenges we face are a stark reminder of how interdependent and vulnerable our society is to global threats and reinforce the need for a more resilient and sustainable approach to how we live.
The notion of ‘flattening the curve’ with coronavirus has taught us a valuable lesson when faced with a serious risk: act now or face dire consequences. It’s a similar warning with climate change — a seemingly slower-moving problem compared to COVID-19, but just as urgent for preserving society’s future on this planet.
“As we transition into what comes next, now is the time to apply the ‘flatten the curve’ principle to the fight against climate change,” says Susan Uthayakumar, president of Schneider Electric Canada, a global leader in energy management and industrial automation, which plays a central role in powering our homes, cities and industries.
“The health crisis has taught us that global cooperation is needed to tackle global challenges,” Ms. Uthayakumar says. “The climate battle cannot be won alone. We need to work together to flatten the curve; for climate change.”
The good news, Ms. Uthayakumar says, is that solutions are available now to accelerate progress.
“We urgently need to accelerate and scale up,” she says. “As governments look for ways to rebuild the economy and work towards a resilient and sustainable future, now is the time to commit to a clean energy transition.”
Infrastructure improvements will be crucial as we prepare for the new normal, Ms. Uthayakumar says, including an all-electric transition to renewable energy and an all-digital approach to build scale and bring efficiencies.
“We need to learn from the current crisis and turn it into a chance to create a better future,” she says.
A chance to build a prosperous future
For decades, society has been living as though the planet can provide endless resources and absorb infinite quantities of waste or emissions, with little consideration given to the long-term impacts. Overconsumption and over-pollution have disrupted the delicate balance between the Earth’s ecological supply and demand, triggering global warming, extreme weather events, biodiversity losses at an unprecedented pace, ecosystems destruction and massive social inequality around the world.
In more recent decades, there has been a steady shift among both consumers and business attitudes towards recognizing humanity’s role in climate change, which has paved the way for new thinking on how to sustain the Earth’s resources, protect biodiversity and limit carbon emissions, while preserving our global economy’s vibrancy and growth prospects.
This concept where both people and the planet can live in harmony is sometimes defined as ‘one-planet prosperity.’
To bring greater awareness to the Earth’s ecological deficit and the strength of one-planet prosperity strategies, California-based non-profit Global Footprint Network and Schneider Electric have partnered to measure Earth Overshoot Day – the theoretical date in the year when the strains placed on the planet by human beings, such as carbon emissions, resource extraction or deforestation, to name a few, exceed the planet’s ability to replenish itself naturally and sustainably. In 2020, that day is Aug. 22, but through the adoption of resource efficiency and digital energy management technologies, including those provided by Schneider Electric, it’s possible to push this date back.
“I truly believe that if everyone knew this, they would decide to act instead of borrowing from the future,” Ms. Uthayakumar says. “One-planet prosperity thinking has to become central to achieving a truly sustainable future where we can all identify opportunities to drive efficiencies and reduce our ecological footprint.”
According to Xavier Houot, Schneider Electric’s chief environment officer, that means reducing the ecological footprint of both production and consumption practices “in a deliberate, positive and forward-looking manner. One-planet prosperity means significantly shrinking resource intensity in ways that also allow economies to prosper and jobs to be created.”
Actioning ‘one-planet prosperity’ models around the world
Embracing this need for one planet prosperity, organizations worldwide have started to deploy the right mix of energy management, industrial automation and renewable electricity solutions. Many have turned to Schneider Electric for help.
For example, in Canada, Schneider Electric has worked with the Port of Montreal to modernize Alexandra Pier, designing a ship-to-shore power solution that reduces emissions from ships by letting them power down engines while in port. The vessels are plugged into the city’s electric power grid with a Schneider-designed ShoreBoX. The collective initiative allowed the Port of Montreal to articulate its focus on sustainability through this project and demonstrated its commitment to contributing positively to the community.
In the U.S., Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium worked with Schneider Electric to devise a new building- and power-management system, touching on everything from lighting to life support for its 1,500 species of animals. The facility ultimately cut water and energy use in half.
In Finland, the organization has worked with grocery chain Lidl to build the country’s largest microgrid — including a solar array, energy storage and a microgrid advisor system — in a distribution centre. Schneider Electric’s Internet of Things-enabled platform, EcoStruxure, gathers real-time data to teach the building to optimize its energy consumption, maximizing renewables and reducing overall use. It has so far led to energy-cost savings of more than 70 per cent.
Efforts like these are becoming increasingly critical for both business performance and long-term ‘licence to operate’ with stakeholders, Mr. Houot says. Internationally, governments and consumers are raising their expectations of companies to operate sustainably and, as significant contributors to carbon emissions around the world, industry, building, transportation, and agriculture sectors have a major responsibility to act now.
The message is getting through that real sustainability is much more than mere corporate responsibility messaging, but a critical success factor in any business model. Now that we have experienced how global crises can impact us all, we need to collectively consider metrics such as Earth Overshoot Day to gauge our global economy through its commitment to one-planet compatibility. Action taken today will protect ourselves from the challenges we know are on the horizon.