Celebrating Earth Month is a great reminder to execute on the promises made at COP21. Late last year, negotiations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris have made headline news and for good reason. A paradigm shift was taking place. For the first time in history, large corporations, private investors and governments came to the table to take significant steps to curb the effects of climate change.
Leading up to the conference, Goldman Sachs announced it was going to increase investments in clean energy to $150 billion over the next decade, multiplying its previous amount in that sector by four. They were one of 36 corporations that have committed to also go 100 percent renewable. To kick off the conference, Bill Gates and a consortium of 28 billionaires announced the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, and a public private partnership called Mission Innovation involving 20 countries – all focused on funding new energy breakthroughs and research.
At the conclusion of the conference, 190 nations signed a landmark agreement to take steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
In the euphoria of these announcements, it was easy to miss what was glaringly absent from the headlines. The news failed to highlight one of the most important constituents who have day in and day out been innovating to make smarter and cleaner solutions, long before it was popular: small businesses.
Small businesses are already making significant strides and will be crucial in executing the commitments made by policymakers. This is especially true in the United States. Small businesses are best poised to innovate and create new technologies that will help curb climate change for three reasons.
First, we understand the power of listening to our customers. Every customer is important and we rely on an intimate knowledge of their challenges to survive. The greatest key to innovation is not just to create a solution, but to create a solution that will be adopted.
Second, small businesses are nimble and are more motivated to find solutions for their customers faster. We know this from experience. In the last four months alone, our company has introduced three new HVAC innovations that customers have been asking for in the last 20 years.
Finally, our limitations are our greatest assets. The fastest way to kill an idea is to throw too much process, too many people, or too much money at it. By necessity, small businesses have to work smarter and more efficiently.
The U.N. climate change agreement sent a strong market signal worldwide to encourage renewable energy investments. The United States’ leadership with the Clean Power Plan helped lay the groundwork for this critical agreement, but it is only a first step. Now comes the hard part, executing and meeting our goals and ambitions to lower carbon emissions. A longer term goal, such as to power the United States with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030, would further encourage the virtuous cycle, wherein investing in clean energy now will reduce costs, then lower costs will increase demand, which will drive volume and further reduce costs for clean energy innovation.
It is my view, as an entrepreneur, that small businesses have a critical role in creating new technologies, scaling new ideas that have traction, and inspiring communities to pursue new ways of connecting business opportunities and sustainability.
Now is the time for small businesses to make these investments to use and develop clean energy technology. Policymakers should support these efforts by setting strong standards for the nation. This will ultimately benefit our Twin Cities economy and the planet as a whole.