How are millennials driving the shift towards a sustainable future
Some experts believe we have passed a point of no return1 when it comes to climate change, but if a sustainable, Clean Energy Future is still within reach, whose responsibility is it to make sure it happens?
By Devin Thorpe
“All the puzzle pieces are there for the future to take hold,” says Serge de Gheldere, the founder and CEO of Futureproofed, a consultancy offering sustainable business development training and environmental management tools2. He anticipates a 35-year transition to a post-fossil fuel world and is optimistic that the worst predictions of climate change can be avoided.
De Gheldere, among the first people trained by Al Gore to share his climate change warning, says the “mission of Futureproofed is to help companies transition to a fossil fuel free economy.” The use of fossil fuels, he notes, will be “a blip in human history.”
With unsubsidized solar electricity costing just 2.4 US cents3 per kilowatt hour or kwh compared to the 4 to 5 cents per kwh that coal costs, a shift to clean energy no longer requires government incentives. A Shell-led consortium just won a bid to build a massive 700 megawatt off-shore wind power plant at a record low price of approximately 5 cents per kwh4.
It isn’t just massive projects that are changing the energy landscape. De Gheldere says that in his home country of Belgium, local co-ops have become popular for renewable energy projects. In his experience, they can provide yields of 4 to 6 per cent5 — well above the near zero returns of bank deposits — and the owners can see the impact right in their own back yards, creating a triple benefit: firstly, accelerating the transition to renewable energy; secondly, improving financial returns; and thirdly, removing the “not-in-my-backyard” problem that public works projects often face.
De Gheldere has some unsolicited advice for the new leadership in the US: rebuild the US energy infrastructure with renewable energy to create jobs that can’t be outsourced. He notes that solar already provides more jobs than gas, coal and oil combined6.
The shift toward clean energy is led in part by millennials raised to be more environmentally aware. Evidence that they are genuinely green, he says, includes that they eschew owning cars for more environmentally friendly options including bicycles and public transportation, supplemented with Zip Cars and Uber.
Millennials are manifesting their green attitudes in other ways. Cecile Blilious, co-founder and managing partner for Tel Aviv-based Impact First Investments, a venture fund investing in the tech-for-impact arena, says of millennials, “We see more and more entrepreneurs from this generation engaging in technology development for social impact.” This movement is typified by Lindsey Tropf, founder and CEO of Immersed Games, a US-based maker of an educational massively multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG. She was pursuing a PhD in school psychology when she got distracted by her edtech startup and put her degree on hold.
Blilious notes that all not all millennials are entrepreneurs. “There is a growing demand for positions by millennials who are looking for employment in the impact space, and more particularly in the tech-for-impact space as technology is their natural domain”. Attracting talent requires mission alignment, she says. “We make sure the founders and all employees of the company are aligned with the social mission.
Finally, Blilious says, “Millennial investors are keen to blend their values with their capital and see technology as the perfect tool to create value for society and the environment, while not compromising their financial returns.” With $30 trillion set to be left to this generation7, the shift is likely to have economic reverberations.
De Gheldere, who boasts he is driving his third Tesla, says that for now it is the older generations, the parents and grandparents of the millennials, that are having the greatest environmental impact because they are the ones who can afford to buy a Tesla or to invest in renewable energy. Even if younger people are driving the social shift to greater environmental awareness, for now it is the older generation that is driving the investment in the green economy.
So, all the pieces — capital, technology and the economic incentives — are coming together. He worries, however, about making the transition to a fossil fuel-free world quickly enough. He notes that if we don’t begin reducing carbon emissions significantly in the next few years, over the next 100 years we could see a 7 to 10-metre rise in sea level, wiping out all the coastal cities in the world.
He asks, “Will we move fast enough? Will we be the jerks of history who knew what needed to be done and failed to do it?”
As an author, speaker and journalist Devin Thorpe focuses on helping those doing good in the world. As a Forbes Contributor he covers social entrepreneurship and impact investing. His books on personal finance and crowdfunding draw on his entrepreneurial finance experience as an investment banker, CFO, treasurer, and mortgage broker helping people use financial resources to do good. Previously he worked on the U.S. Senate Banking committee staff and earned an MBA at Cornell. Visit devinthorpe.com to learn more.
2 Find out more here: http://www.futureproofed.com
5 De Gheldere has personally invested in Ecopower, a coop in Belgium. See also https://www.duurzaaminvesteren.nl where investors can buy green bonds to help finance energy-saving retrofits and renewables. Yields have historically reached 4.5-7%
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