I have always loved the Margaret Mead quote: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So I was especially disheartened to read the following in a Bill McKibben piece in Rolling Stone this summer: “People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 . . . only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.”
I beg to differ. It is pretty easy to point our fingers at others, especially big institutional others, and lay the blame for climate change on them. I am not saying that big oil, climate deniers, and other environmental “bad guys” don’t need to clean up their acts BIG TIME. But let’s be honest, you and I have a great deal of unused potential to fight climate change. And we can exercise that potential without any special government programs, big international climate treaties, or splashy foundation campaigns (although those things are all an important part of the solution). So, let’s look at what we can each do right now to save the planet.
The cheapest and most reliable approach to reduce greenhouse gases is to reduce consumer demand for electricity through energy efficiency measures in our offices, factories, and homes. As businesswomen, we tend to focus on how energy efficiency improvements cut operating costs through big savings in monthly energy bills and increase property value but there is a huge climate benefit as well.
In an EcoWatch article on the Clean Power Plan, it was noted that in 2011, US energy efficiency programs saved the annual output of seven 500 megawatt coal-fired power plants! The article went on to say that energy efficiency measures are the primary reason that US energy use has remained stable – meaning that we haven’t needed to build more big fossil burning power plants to fuel our economy.
I hate to disagree with Bill McKibben, who is a hero of mine, but the evidence shows that individual decisions to make energy efficiency improvements have already made a very big difference. And energy efficiency could have an even larger carbon reduction impact if more people understood that fact. We need to let people know that it really does matter if they invest in efficient lighting, building envelope improvements, air conditioning and heating systems, controls, and behavioral changes. Not only will they save money and create value for their business and homes, but they can (really!) change the world.