Smart meter on coffee table

Net zero efforts need to make sustainability a way of life

Image credit: Mike Taylor/Dreamstime

One of the biggest contributions businesses can make to tackling climate change is to make it easier for households to track their own energy use, losses and emissions.

Climate change, COP26, research reports and net zero targets have all been making the headlines. But the future of the planet really rests in the hands of energy users - from multinational enterprises to individual households. What happens at the sockets of our homes or office buildings is every bit as important as a new renewable energy infrastructure project coming online.

But there’s a problem. Although our planet faces the biggest challenge in human history, it’s incredibly difficult to fight an enemy you can’t see. Electricity, gas, and any other energy-generated carbon emissions - they’re all invisible. And we know that up to 80 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions are linked to our use of energy. Until we can see the environmental cost of our energy use and make it easy to visualise, we won’t be able to change our behaviour fast enough to make a difference to the planet.

There’s no shortage of alarming signs that we’re still not on track when it comes to protecting the environment. The most recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms what we’ve suspected for some time: we are not cutting carbon emissions fast enough. Climate change should proceed at geological speed; the crisis is now happening in our lifetime. The number of days per year when the temperature reaches 50°C has doubled since the 1980s, while a recent IPCC report [PDF] found that extreme weather events have become “more intense and more frequent,” and that the planet will have warmed by 1.5°C by mid-century.

Schneider Electric’s own calculations, reported in our 2030 Imperatives White Paper, suggest that we must halve our emissions by 2030 and move at a much faster pace to stay on track. With these global warnings coming thick and fast, it can be easy for consumers and businesses to feel helpless, discouraged, or not knowing how to make a difference. We may start wondering - how can any of us make a measurable, positive impact on the climate?

The challenge we face today contains the seeds of its solution. A large and growing world population means that effective energy efficiency initiatives can have a rapid positive effect.

For example, today households are responsible for roughly a third of all carbon dioxide emissions. That means there is huge scope for slashing emissions worldwide, as long as we can track and reduce the energy we may unknowingly waste, and the carbon we know we’re responsible for... but which we can’t see.

Technology can help us, but changing our mindsets is part of the solution.

For example, Schneider Electric’s most recent multi-market consumer research shows that while consumers are really concerned about the prospect of rising energy bills, twice as many would invest in a smart home speaker than would consider buying a smart thermostat that would help tackle the issue.

To successfully fight climate change and reduce fossil-fuel derived energy usage, we need strength in numbers. But we can’t expect individuals to take on the task alone; they need support – from the business community, local authorities and governments to help them make their homes fit for the net zero age.

Interestingly, consumers have faith in businesses’ ability to help them become more sustainable,  and help them consume greener products and services from the get-go. But perhaps the biggest contribution the private sector can make is to make energy usage, losses and emissions visible to ordinary people.

Businesses have an important responsibility to help consumers understand how much CO2 emissions they are responsible for, identify the best way to tackle them, and help everyone take the steps towards net zero in homes across the world.

Technologies such as Schneider Electric’s Wiser that help visualise usage and emissions are key to instilling a sense of empowerment among consumers, giving the impetus to take immediate actions today. There is so much more that we can do in this area: from home energy management systems to energy advisors; demystifying solar and EV charging and making it easy to monitor and control energy use through a mobile app - we’ve barely scratched the surface of the sustainable living revolution.

We have to make sustainable living a permanent fixture of our lives. No amount of promises, targets or technologies will have the required impact on the climate on their own; only a fundamental change in everyone’s behaviour will.

The most important role technology can play is motivating us to make the required changes, to help us stop thinking of sustainability as requiring a sacrifice to our lifestyles, but as something we actively want to achieve. For emissions and energy, visibility is key. But sustainability doesn’t end with the climate. There are challenges still remaining when it comes to recycling, waste management, plastics and more.

We are working on a suite of solutions to drive sustainable action beyond the energy management frontier, with more updates coming soon. In the meantime, we must remember that the biggest and most meaningful change comes when people are empowered to take ownership of their own contributions to the sustainability challenge that affects us all.

Jai Thampi is senior VP strategy & innovation at Schneider Electric’s Home & Distribution division.

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