So here we are, in the foothills of the 21st century with so many compelling signs that we need to re-calibrate our relationship with our planet’s precious resources. With so much pressure on natural systems to facilitate and empower exponential growth, we find ourselves at what could be an inflexion point but could also be a time of opportune alignment.
The sort of alignment I’m referring to is akin to the sort of planetary alignment we see in our solar system, where every so often, there is a beautiful, almost poetic, dance of the planets into a sort of ‘celestial line-up’. For that instant, everything is in order; everything seems to fit and magnify the incredible forces of nature at play. However, in the case of six or more planets in our own solar system being fully aligned, this only occurs every 100 years or so, and for all eight planets, it won’t be until the year 2492!
We certainly don’t have 470 years to get ourselves aligned! Nor do we have 100 years to drive the sort of alignment needed. We’re in a position “right now”, where we’ve reached a moment of alignment of our own, between our needs and expectations as global citizens, the ability of our fragile eco-system to support us with the water and energy we need to thrive and the new ‘industrial revolution’ with all the opportunities it offers.
This coming together of global citizens’ needs and expectations, the imperative around sustainability and new technology’s ability to enable it in a smart, enduring and safe manner is a chance we can’t let pass us by.
How do we leverage these forces, these imperatives, to ensure we can confidently embrace all that the 21st century has to offer with a sense of collective responsibility?
Off the back of the recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow, it’s reassuring to see that the environment is unarguably front and centre, at times, on the global stage. Do I think it remains in the spotlight as long as it should? No. But this shouldn’t be discouraging. We can’t wait for others to accelerate the change. We’ll hit the year 2492 with the planet unrecognisable from today if we do.
So, if we’re not waiting for others to deliver on the talk and the promises, how can we accelerate the alignment and change needed? It all comes back to alignment.
I would suggest three areas to make a real difference in aligning our needs and resources to deliver a sustainable future.
Join the dots –how often have we engaged transformation experts or seen new executive leaders join a company and call out that the organisation has reverted to silo thinking or siloed ways of working. This also plays out at the macro level. All too often, utilities such as gas, water and electricity exist in policy, regulation and delivery silos, misaligned to the reality that the customer and citizens consuming them don’t think or live in this way.
The water/energy nexus isn’t just a phrase; it’s a fundamental reality around how these utilities interact with each other. If policymakers, regulators, governments, and utilities are better aligned and engaged with each other and the citizens who rely on these precious resources, we could see a genuine transformation in the messaging and sustainable mindset embedded for future generations.
Secondly - Make it citizen-centric! – What do I mean by this? All too often, much of the amazing technological revolution we’ve seen over the last 30-40 years can leave behind large swathes of people as they may not see themselves as early adopters or may even be scared of where the advances are taking us. In the world of water and energy, we have to use these huge leaps forward in smart technologies to bring the benefits closer to all groups and sectors of society.
Advancement cannot be about some sort of technological class system with only a few benefiting. When we think of citizens first and generate the kind of day-to-day enhancements to their life that is possible now, we can see a shift in the levels of engagement.
Technology doesn’t always have to be about what we can ‘do’ for each other, but it can also help us understand our customers and our fellow citizens better. If we can use Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Machine learning and all these exciting technologies in a human-centred way, we can empower smarter decisions and sustainable behaviours.
We have a limited amount of water we have on the planet. Sustainable power gives us an amazing opportunity – if we’re going to harness solar, wind, tidal, geo-thermal, we have to use this planetary alignment of technology and our needs and expectations in a way that educates, engages and truly empowers us all.
Thirdly and finally, we must give away the power. Technology, and all it offers, can’t be seen as a remote and scary array of complex, disengaging black boxes. The democratisation of sustainable technology can act as a bridge for all sectors of the global community. Of course, we have to acknowledge some of the commercial realities of those innovating and accelerating the journeys towards net-zero, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be done in a way that democratises the tools and means to become a resource-savvy citizen.
Water is essential for life, and electricity is vital to power our lives, our hopes and those of future generations. The more we open up the ‘black boxes’ which make the world ‘tick’ around us, the more budding innovators, engineers, coders and thinkers we will encourage. These trail-blazers will, in turn, open up the minds of those who follow to remove the fear of technological advancement and see it for what it can be, an enabling force for good and an opportunity to profit from a perfect alignment of technology, a sustainable future and empowered citizens benefitting from it.