Sissel Waage, Director, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, BSR

“Be practical” is a common theme in discussions about future energy sources—even in light of climate change. The rationale usually is that we all need to “face the reality” that fossil fuels will provide the majority of global energy for decades, unless truly game-changing technological breakthroughs emerge and can be scaled.

Yet it’s clear that the “be practical” approach is anything but.

In light of climate science and alarming reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now is the time to focus on driving radical energy efficiencies and low-carbon energy sources throughout business operations, power infrastructure, and more, as outlined in recent BSR reports translating IPCC climate science for transport, agriculture, and extractives and primary industries, as well as our work on data centers. It is time to max out all known low-carbon options, while also reaching for a “man on the moon” moment by scaling and innovating further.

As I look around among corporate leaders, it is clear that some are making important changes.

Consider the new RE100 initiative, which aims to have 100 of the world’s top businesses committed to 100 percent renewable power by 2020. It is currently supported by BT, Formula E, H&M, IKEA, J. Safra Sarasin, KPN, Mars, Nestlé, Philips, Reed Elsevier, Swiss Re, and Yoox.

Consider Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent assertion that the “long-term consequences of not addressing climate are huge.” Apple’s environmental commitments reflect this notion, including that 100 percent of the company’s data centers are powered by renewables.

And consider Tesla Motors’ new Gigafactory, which seeks to propel the company toward its goal of producing the first mass-market electric car in three years by manufacturing cheaper lithium-ion batteries.

It is no longer immediately clear who are the pragmatists and who are the wild-eyed radicals. The game has changed and so strategies are changing—because it is no longer practical to embrace any energy source that produces large amounts of carbon and greenhouse gases. 

The only pragmatic path is to create a low-carbon future, with far greater energy efficiency and far more low-carbon energy sources. A body of clear recommendations exists that support both of these elements, including those of We Mean Business (of which BSR is a founding partner), the E3G or IEA, and Amory Lovins, as well as many others, who have been working on these issues for decades.

Looking forward, being practical is clearly a matter of “avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable.” Therefore, the only practical question now is how to accelerate progress toward a low-carbon future. And so, let us reconsider what we tag as “practical” versus idealistic as we consider and work toward low-carbon energy sources for the future.