Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sustainable Energy Week – is it sufficient enough?

This week is European Union Sustainable Energy Week. In registering for the events I accidentally signed up for one at 9am on Saturday morning - a daunting prospect. In the name of giving it a go I did however decide to get up, get on my bike and cycle to ULB to listen to this talk named “Energy efficiency is not sufficient. What are possible sufficiency strategies?”

Grégoire Zallenborn, a researcher at the Centre for studies on sustainable development at the Univesité Libre de Bruxelles started by addressing the idea of efficiency and sufficiency. Is efficiency enough? His answer was no, stating we should also focus on the idea of sufficiency. It’s a simple concept really, we’ve become so bogged down on the idea of efficiency that we've stopped asking ourselves what we actually need. He also asked us to experiment. I suppose what he’s saying is - let’s start trying.

So, solutions? Come on we need some solutions. Well, that’s what else this surprisingly interesting talk at 9am on a Saturday morning provided. Great – I’m listening. François Jégou, Director of the Brussels-based design company Strategic Design Scenarios exhibited a show case of innovative designs which were shaped around our everyday behaviour in an attempt to implement efficiency - or is it sufficiency? He presented ideas such as as a HomeSwitch to reset all the lighting at once. 

Great, great, I’m in, so what next? How do we make image sure these ideas are not thrown on the Betamax pile of ideas. Well Françcois talked about continued experimentation and there were some ideas mentioned about regulation. Well, yes but don’t we need more? My thoughts are, yes. As I have said regulation can help, and perhaps he’s right that we shouldn’t jump into bad ideas, but I that we should seriously think about the role of businesses. We can use businesses to hep these developments and there in fact lies the key.

Then, the next speaker came along and started to talk, starkly, about our carbon reality – it’s going to be a tough job. Putting many numbers together he showed that efficiency was, as we suspected, hard to calculate and carbon neutrality was almost unthinkable. When we buy a new energy efficient car, for example, how many years do we need to own the first car before the purchase of the second car is actually efficient after taking into account aspect such as production carbon. His name was Frédéric Chomé, the director of Factor-X a consultancy group which provides environmental strategic guidance and it was this which interested me. He has been working with businesses to produce “low impact diversification schemes” or rather “solutions that help to restore the environmental capital with added value for users and sellers. He is another advocate for harnessing the power of businesses to make a difference.

So, yes, let’s think about sufficiency and let’s think about product design – there were some great ones - but please let’s put sufficient faith into what businesses can do for our sustainable future.

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