The Final Game Changer
All the renewable energy and energy efficient technology alone cannot ensure a sustainable energy future. The missing element to long-term sustainability in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is leadership. Effective, visionary leadership can mitigate climate change. As the final game changer, leadership is examined through the lens of five kinds of leaders:
- Private sector leaders: In my work at the IDB, I have seen how corporate leaders are well-positioned to drive investment towards smarter technologies and more efficient industrial processes. This allows them to gain stronger market footing while moving the needle toward a more sustainable business model. I look to decision-makers in firms to champion solar generation, smart metering, distributed renewable energy sources, storage systems, efficient lighting and much more. The increasing pace of these markets is encouraging, yet more leaders are needed to bring them to scale. Outside of stand alone energy generation, my previous post mentioned how corporate leaders like Unilever, IBM and others, are taking on climate change by mainstreaming sustainability throughout operations, production, waste management and supply chains. In a recent Guardian interview about his leadership, Unilever CEO, Paul Polman shared that sustainability is correlated with profitability. He explained the best leaders “put the common good ahead of their own narrow needs.” Once more leaders demonstrate the benefits to financial and environmental bottom lines, we will transform the status quo around how the private sector operates.
- Public sector leadership: In LAC cities, we see how pioneering mayors like Medellín’s Sergio Fajardo and Curitiba’s Jaime Lerner can drive change. Each ran his city based on a deep-rooted belief that urban prosperity stems from the integration of economic, social and environmental development. For example, Medellin’s cable propelled public transit system, integrated Metroplús buses and pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly streets connect social classes and rely on less energy to transport citizens. A nearby hydroelectric plant on the Herradura River supplies the city with energy. More renewable projects are underway. Not surprisingly, people in Medellín own fewer cars and produce less waste than other urban dwellers in the region.
- Civil society and academia: In LAC, there are many examples of influential non-governmental organizations (NGOs) taking a leadership role. One model is Rede Nossa Sao Paolo. Data on air pollution and water and energy consumption are published by the NGO. The focus is on citizen monitoring, education and activism for a greener future. This model of transparency and information dissemination has been replicated in Bogotá and Barcelona among other cities.
- Entrepreneurs: We see entrepreneurial leaders starting firms based on innovative ideas like replacing individual ownership of manufactured goods with sharing services. Car sharing, bike sharing, house sharing and food sharing, are just a few examples. Many ventures, like Bike Rio, are increasing their presence in the region. The emerging global sharing economy is estimated at over $533 billion/year. Economists predict this sector may “have the biggest impact on society since the Industrial Revolution.”
- You and me. Lastly, there is the individual. Individuals, starting with you and me, have one of the biggest roles to play. We can make lifestyle and professional decisions that take into account the environment. You don’t have to walk to work every day or go vegetarian tomorrow, but an increased awareness about the planet and our shared responsibility can go a long way. Small steps include consciousness about the footprint of the products we purchase, the candidates we vote for, the research we read, the services we use and the decisions we make at work. I challenge each individual to see if s/he can do more to take such steps.
The three game changers of renewable energy, energy efficiency and leadership are broad no doubt, but if we keep them in mind, we can achieve a lot. Thanks to the inspiring stories of the innovators and decision-makers who have already blazed a trail of their own, let’s find ways to lead ourselves. By proposing forward-looking solutions for sustainable business models and lifestyles, we too can move the needle on mitigating climate change.
For more on leadership, I invite you to watch my recent talk.