Imagine that you are walking down a road and you come to an intersection, a place where two roads merge to become one. Let each of the roads represent a major growing driver in the global economy. One road is the phenomena of entrepreneurship. The other is climate change.
As you look in the direction of the single merged road, you can see only a little bit into the future. But when you look up, you see a signpost. On this signpost are three signs, each pointing towards the future, and on them you see written the solution to global warming. These signs, at the crossroads of entrepreneurship and climate change, answer the biggest questions of why, how, and who.
The Why Sign: Play to Win
You read the “why” sign, and it says: Play to Win.
It doesn’t matter what the endeavor, whether it is a game of basketball, launching a new company, or solving climate change, if you are serious about being successful, you must play the game to win.
I have a friend, Faris Fausz, from Sri Lanka. Faris’ family (pictured above) owns an umbrella manufacturing company, Rainco. In his country, there is a street economy around repairing old umbrellas. In the West, on the other hand, an umbrella is nearly a disposable item. It was good fortune that Faris came across Federico from Italy who had the vision of creating a 100% recyclable polypropylene umbrella for western markets so discarded ones can be recycled along with soda bottles. Faris and Federico are in partnership to launch a new company, Gingko Umbrella, to be headquartered in Milan. They are doing all the things entrepreneurs need to do when launching a company, such as creating prototypes, securing financing, and creating their marketing strategy.
Looking from the outside, we don’t know if Faris and Federico will be successful in their admirable new business endeavor. But we do know for sure that if they do not believe in the company vision, the recyclable umbrella enterprise is doomed.
This same principle scales up to the issue of climate change. If there isn’t a critical mass of people who believe in humanity’s ability to rise to the challenge of solving climate change then we are doomed as a planet. Believing in our capacity to win is a pre-requisite for success in any major endeavor.
Why do we need to play to win? Because it is the only way to solve climate change.
The How Sign: Be Courageous
The second sign at the intersection of climate change and entrepreneurship is the “how” sign. It says: Be Courageous.
The predominant dialogue around climate change in the United States in one of resignation. People think that it is too late. We’re toast. The earth is going to hell in a handbasket. Granted, when you look at the science, it is easy to get depressed, especially when you consider tipping points in the global ecology when dramatic change can happen quickly once a threshold is reached. But tipping points also occur in the spreading of new ideas, in business, and in human relationships. The transformations in communication, material science, lighting, energy generation, and so many other sectors over the last 20 years foreshadow how much we can accomplish over the next 20. When you see the amazing work that millions of people around the globe are doing to address climate change, it is easy to be inspired, if you open your heart to hope.
The problem with resignation is that it is a losing strategy. Being resigned to failure cannot produce success. Furthermore, resignation propagates additional losing strategies such as blame or self-righteousness. Self-righteous might look like this: “I believe we have a moral obligation to address climate change. So, I will fight the good fight, even though I believe it is already too late.” If you are committed to the demise of the planet’s health, hold on to your resignation and righteousness.
On the other hand, it takes courage to commit to a vision of the future regardless of the odds. It is an act of courage to countervail the usual dialogue of resignation and believe in humanity’s capacity to rise to the challenge of climate change.
Achenyo Obaro is one of my favorite sustainable entrepreneurs whose story of courage is shared on the Heart of Waraba website. Her family is from Nigeria, but Achenyo was raised in the United States, where she created a comfortable life for herself working in corporate America. While on a trip to her home country she was exposed to the aquatic weed, Hyacinth, which was clogging canals and streams across Nigeria. In the local language, Hyacinth is called the “gossip” weed, because it spreads so fast. Anchenyo didn’t just see the problem, she also saw an opportunity to launch a company that uses the fiber of the Hyacinth to weave baskets and other products. It took courage for Achenyo to create and believe in the vision for her company and to eschew advice to stay safe and comfortable in the United States. In her mind, Achenyo changed the name of the “gossip” weed to “storyteller” and now Achenyo, her dozen employees, and 80 contract weavers are weaving the fibers of the storyteller plant into beautiful baskets and making a huge difference in Nigeria.
How do we play the climate change game to win? Replace self-righteousness and resignation with courage and conviction. Be courageous.
The Who Sign: Tip of the Spear
The third sign at the crossroads is the “who” sign, and you read: Tip of the Spear.
Sometimes we look to forces outside of ourselves to solve society’s greatest challenges. We long for big government or big business to somehow lead us to solutions on climate change. After being involved in climate change work in one fashion or another for more than 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that entrepreneurs are the tip of the spear.
Entrepreneurs are the natural leaders to solve climate change for two reasons. First, they are the only ones innovative enough and willing to take the risks required to develop breakthrough ideas, products, and services. At its best, big business can be a fast follower. Once entrepreneurs break the ground and prove a new technology or business model, then big business plays an invaluable role to scale a good idea.
This is exactly what has happened in the solar energy industry. Fifteen years ago, before I started my solar company, there was almost no solar electricity generation in the United States or worldwide. The big business utility companies either ignored solar altogether or they saw it as a threat and were antagonistic. Despite the utility companies’ resistance, entrepreneurs by hundred and then thousand launched solar companies to design, finance, build, and maintain solar projects. They proved the technology and business models. Eventually big was convinced. Today, big utilities have embraced solar as one of the most cost-effective forms of electricity generation. They are scaling the industry and solar has become an integral part of big utility companies’ plans for meeting energy demand.
There is a second reason that entrepreneurs are the tip of the spear to solve climate change, and as part of this explanation, I will reveal a secret. Entrepreneurs are the tip of the spear because what they can teach the rest of us on how to approach a challenge. Their innate ability to commit to and pursue a vision, regardless of the odds, is what makes entrepreneurship such a powerful force. It is precisely this thinking that we need to infuse into society at large to rise to the great challenge of climate change.
And, here is the secret: everyone has this ability, not just entrepreneurs. Everyone can choose courage over resignation. The power is in you and expressed by your decisions. You can join the winning team of people across the globe who, through their attitudes and actions, are going to pursue and achieve a vision of a healthy planet.
Who is the Tip of Spear? You are! You and every entrepreneur, advocate, and passionate person who is willing to play the climate change game to win.
Heroes of the Planet
Solving climate change is a tall order.
But in a world where people long to be part of something larger than themselves, climate change can be a calling. This is because everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy planet. Everyone’s contribution is valued.
In fact, solving climate change could become the greatest global movement in the history of the world. Heroes of the planet report for duty. We need 7.7 billion of you.