Despite climate change deniers and oil company executives arguing to the contrary, most scientists (and citizens of the world) recognize how important it is for us to find more sustainable practices, including sources of energy.
We already have technology that can lead us to a sustainable lifestyle; wind and solar energy produce clean energy from inexhaustible resources in our environment. In fact, according to an MIT report, current solar panel technology is sophisticated enough to cover all the world’s energy needs indefinitely.
So why aren’t we doing more to secure a sustainable future for ourselves, and what should we be doing differently?
The Role of Corporate Demand
Some have suggested that cost feasibility is the biggest limiting factor, which is somewhat true; we don’t have an efficient way to store power generated by these methods, which as NPR reports, is one of the biggest contributors to the cost of solar and wind power adoption.
However, there’s one clear path toward greater sustainable energy adoption that can help us solve multiple problems at once: increased corporate demand for sustainable energy. In the words of DrainVac president Martin Sévigny, “It’s important for businesses to strive for more sustainable operations; sustainable businesses lead to a sustainable world.”
So why is this the case?
- Sheer buying power. Conceptually, corporations are just massive collections of individuals. But the principle of collective buying power not only gives corporations more money to spend, it allows them to spend that money more efficiently. Installing solar panels at hundreds of sites around the country nets a lower per-panel cost for installation, and simultaneously offsets as many carbon emissions as hundreds of thousands of ordinary residential customers who might attempt a backyard installation. Corporations have more money and more power, so encouraging them to pursue renewable energy sources will do more than convincing individuals to do the same.
- Political influence. Like it or not, corporations also carry significant political influence (which is related to their buying power). As quoted in the Atlantic, “When I surveyed corporate lobbyists on the reasons why their companies maintained a Washington office, the top reason was ‘to protect the company against changes in government policy.’ On a one-to-seven scale, lobbyists ranked this reason at 6.2 (on average). But closely behind, at 5.7, was ‘Need to improve ability to compete by seeking favorable changes in government policy.’” If corporations want more tax-based and legal incentives to pursue clean energy, they have the power to get it.
- Ideological representation. Companies also represent who we are as a culture, and drive trends—whether we realize it or not. The passionate, laid-back corporate culture of Google and other Silicon Valley startups has led to a phenomenon of “startup culture” that has begun to overtake businesses of all shapes and sizes. Similarly, even one major company’s pursuit of 100 percent clean, renewable energy could cause a cascade in both professional and personal culture.
Pushing for Corporate Demand
So what can consumers do to increase corporate demand?
- Public demand. They can start by doing more to reward businesses that are engaging in sustainable practices—like buying their products and showing our general support. If you’re interested in finding out which companies those are, Forbes keeps a running list of the most sustainable companies in the U.S. Individually, consumers don’t have much power to influence a business’s actions, but en masse, they can make their presence known.
- Political incentives. Consumers don’t have to wait for corporations to make political changes; they can make political changes that drive corporate behaviors. Even signing a petition, an act that takes less than a minute, can have an effect; Change.org reports that their petitions have resulted in nearly 21,000 “victories,” meaning significant changes based on the petitions’ success.
- Entrepreneurship. Consumers can also work harder to start and grow their own businesses, and exert their influence over the companies they develop. Even small, local businesses can make an impact by engaging with local representatives, buying locally sourced goods, and investing in renewable resources whenever possible.
We won’t be able to create a sustainable energy economy overnight, but understanding that corporate involvement is the key to success can help us shape our goals to be more immediately effective. The more consumers pressure businesses to adopt sustainable policies and push for technological advancement, the sooner we’ll be able to drop fossil fuels and repair the damage to our environment we’ve caused.