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North East Yorkshire

There's money to be made in climate change

08 May 2019

There's money to be made in climate change

When I was a kid, I simultaneously had an ambition to own shares in a mining company (because it had an exotic sounding name) and an awareness that the natural resources of the planet were finite. I’m not sure the inherent contradiction in those two things occurred to me.

These memories were prompted by the recent surge in environmental awareness. Perhaps we have been here before, but I think the penny (or should I say the ice shelf) has finally dropped. We need to act and act fast. The big question is: are we capable of doing so?

Well, let’s suppose the government legislated to stop the staff in my firm using petrol/diesel vehicles to get to work in order to cut emissions and legislated to stop us having more than half of our people in the office at any one time to reduce congestion.

The second part of that is easy (given that we don’t manufacture and sell services rather than goods). We have the technology to do it now, we just don’t use it specifically to stop people coming to the office.

It would need a little more work on agile/flexible working policies but best practice on those is already well established. If only half our people could travel every day, we could make that work.

Also, if we were starting from scratch, would we design our organisation so that everybody did shuttle runs in and out of a congested city centre location through peak traffic? I don’t think so.

Stopping the use of petrol/diesel fuelled vehicles is a little more challenging. However, cars took over from horse drawn vehicles because they did the job more easily. They took over quickly because industry realised there was money to be made by being at the leading edge of that change.

At the beginning of the Second World War some air forces were still using biplanes. By the end of the war some air forces had jet fighters. Why? Because there was an imperative need for technological progress, in that case to win a war. There is now an imperative need to become carbon neutral as soon as possible (and way before 2040).

We need to start thinking of electric vehicles as better because they are more environmentally friendly (assuming they run on green electricity). We need to stop thinking a car is great because it makes a lot of noise and goes fast.

That change in thinking is underway and, once it is embedded, the world of business and industry will adjust to delivering the products required to meet the different things people will want in the future, because that is where the money will be made.

But business also has a responsibility to innovate, to lead and to shape that thinking. It also has a responsibility to work with local and central government to ensure that the right hard and soft infrastructure for a greener future is the priority.

Big waves of technological change usually provide economic stimulus. There will inevitably be some businesses and individuals that lose out in the short term as we move away from old technologies and fuels. I think it unlikely there will be any more coal mines.

But shifting research, development and production to focus on a new generation of environmentally friendly products and behaviours for a sustainable future will, in my view, provide a massive economic stimulus which will outweigh the cost of moving to them. As always in times of rapid development there will be a lot of money to be made and a lot of wealth to be created.

So, declare a climate emergency in your business today. And expect to make some serious money as a result.

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Jonathan Oxley, Northern Powerhouse Ambassador and former regional chairman, Institute of Directors 

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