This weekend your blogger went along to the inaugural ChangeNow! conference in Paris. The conference describes itself as one of the first international events on the topic of “innovations for good”. It focussed on the UN Sustainability Goals in the fields of energy, circular economy, healthcare, education, sustainable cities and tech for good.
A couple of key take-aways from the conference:
On the topic of energy, we heard from a variety of speakers, including Jerome Schmitt, Senior VP Innovation and Energy Efficiency at TOTAL Gas and Power, Dr Michael Dorsey, full member at the Club of Rome, global energy expert and co-founder and principal at Around the Corner Capital, and energy industry disruptors Meteoswift, Echy and Zephyr Solar. A number of key themes emerged.
Firstly, Jerome Schmitt discussed the important role that traditional oil and gas companies should play in the energy transition. He acknowledged that companies such as TOTAL are not safe from renewable energy and clean tech distruptors. However, the cost and technology race in solar and wind power over the last few years has actually resulted in many start-up renewable energy companies going bankrupt. Schmitt believes that oil and gas companies should partner with renewable energy companies and provide the necessary funding to enable them to scale-up. For example, since 2011, TOTAL has owned a majority stake in Sunpower, a solar energy company.
Secondly, both Jerome Schmitt and Michael Dorsey discussed the trend of decentralisation in the energy supply industry with the rise of microgrids and the use of blockchain technology to permit peer-to-peer energy supply. However, Dr Dorsey contended that large utility companies may drag down such innovative progress by preventing third parties from supplying existing grids or by lobbying governments to introduce restrictive regulations.
Thirdly, one other way that the energy industry may evolve is through the development of innovative non-electricity reliant solutions. For example, Echy has developed technology to harness sunlight to light-up buildings with natural daylight. The technology results in electricity savings of approximately 68% as Echy lighting does not use electricity. Many of the speakers predicted that more and more such non-electricity reliant solutions will come to the fore in the next 5-10 years.
Tech for good
The theme of tech for good was prevalent throughout the entire conference. Ynse de Boer, Managing Director at Accenture, delivered the introductory talk on this topic.
De Boer proposed four ways to ensure that technology is used as a force for good. Firstly, companies using technological solutions must ensure that their customers are protected, supported and educated about how their data and information are used. Secondly, businesses and governments need to anticipate that the jobs of the future will not be the same as the jobs of today but instead of using technology to eradicate jobs, it should be used to complement them, improving productivity. Thirdly, technology should be directed towards delivering innovative products and services and used to solve largescale social issues. Finally, technology should be used to create transparent and inclusive value chains, facilitated through the use of mobile and digital technology.
According to de Boer, governments, business and not-for-profit organisations all need to work together to ensure that technology is used efficiently and always as a force for good.
Cleaning the oceans
The session on ocean clean-up introduced three different companies that are working on cleaning up our oceans – TheSeaCleaners, Adidas and Plastic Odyssey.
TheSeaCleaners work on removing rubbish from seas, harbours and oceans. Since 2002, their team has removed over 5.1 million litres of rubbish and they are continuing to gain momentum.
Adidas has recently teamed up with Parley to develop a range of trainers made from discarded plastic. According to Adidas, each pair of these trainers prevents approximately 11 plastic bottles from entering the oceans.
Finally, Plastic Odyssey are working to create innovative, small scale, local solutions to plastic waste. They are developing a boat that will spend three years travelling between Africa, Asia and South America, fuelled exclusively by plastic collected from the oceans and converted into fuel. The boat will stop off at numerous locations to work with local communities to understand their recycling needs and develop unique solutions.
The conference also included sessions on the future of agriculture, healthcare and the creation of sustainable cities.
It was heartening to see such enthusiasm and creative buzz for positive impact projects and issues. Governments and business can no longer ignore the need for purposeful investment and regulatory structures that are favourable to the social entrepreneur. The trend has started and it won’t be long before it really takes off! Are you ready?