You may remember I recently switched to a green tariff. In full transparency, I have been feeling pretty pleased with my decision.
What I didn’t know is that when only a few companies and individuals choose green tariffs, there is no direct environmental benefit.
Let me repeat that so it sinks in.
If you switch to renewable energy, nothing happens.
I know. I was pretty mad when I found out, too.
Here’s what’s going on. In 2002, the government mandated that all energy suppliers in the United Kingdom are responsible for supplying a certain percentage of renewable energy to the electrical grid (fancy term for this: a renewable energy obligation). Suppliers can meet this obligation by either sourcing the renewable energy directly themselves — think building solar plants and wind farms — or by purchasing excess renewable energy from others.
Currently, the demand for renewable energy is less than the government obligation.
So despite switching to Bulb, I am still receiving the same source of electricity as I was before. That means that the amount of fossil fuel on the grid stays the same, so there is no reduction in greenhouse gases.
How frustrating is that?
When my boss told me, my brain went into pessimism overdrive. Well, what’s the point? How are we ever going to make an impact if decisions that are in our control, and seemingly good for the world, actually make no difference? Why bother?
But I found a glimmer of hope amid my cynical thoughts.
Earlier last week, I met with an inspiring founder of a software company to discuss the ways in which small businesses can integrate sustainability and social good into their business models from the start.
The crux of the conversation was that businesses, if prompted, will always choose the more sustainable or socially good decision, if there is no additional cost or the cost difference is marginal.
Now on first glance, you may think that is not particularly helpful. Sustainable/ethical/socially good choices typically come at a higher price than the alternative. But there are actually multiple decisions businesses can take that contribute positively to society and the planet.
Amazon, for example, has implemented a pop-up on the checkout page that allows customers to donate to charity. It doesn’t cost Amazon any money to include this pop-up and yet it adds significant value to society. To date, Amazon has raised over $100 million via this initiative.
When it comes to renewable energy, the cost of switching to a green tariff currently saves companies and individuals money due to the oversupply.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the mentality that change only matters when it’s big and revolutionary. Particularly for those of us working in the field, we get impatient with small changes. But incremental change is better than no change, and we need to get better at accepting that.
If each of the six million businesses in the United Kingdom made one decision based on sustainability and the environment, the impact would be significant.
Similarly, if all 27 million households in the United Kingdom switched to a green tariff, demand would outgrow supply and suppliers would be forced to add more renewables to the grid.
We need to start sharing opportunities for individuals and companies to make better decisions — decisions that make sense and don’t break the bank.
Together, we can shift the needle and make a difference.
Written by Eleni Polychroniadou