Sustainable future or electric shock?
Why partnerships hold the key to a cleaner, safer, fairer world
Paul Willcox – Chairman, Nissan Europe
Imagine a world where cars are 100% electric and recharge themselves while we sleep. Where the batteries in our vehicles can deliver enough energy to power our homes and offices – with enough left over to give some back to the local energy grid too. Where autonomous, zero-emission driving makes us safer and protects the quality of our air. Where the last mile of any delivery is the cleanest. And where connected vehicles and cities make traffic congestion a thing of the past despite a growing, urbanising population.
While it may sound far-fetched, it’s actually a perfectly realistic vision of the not-too-distant future. Or, rather, it could be. Because there’s another scenario too. One where city centre roads become overcrowded and face almost permanent gridlock. Where pollution reaches dangerous levels. Where biodiversity and nature are overtaken by concrete and industry. And where fossil fuels run out, with no Plan B. You only need look at the growing number of air quality warnings in countries like the US, China and even here in Europe, or simply drive through your own hometown during rush hour to see that it’s already starting.
I know which future I’d choose. But clearly it won’t just happen by chance. Building that future requires us to take collective action right now.
To see why, let’s rewind a little. Thirty years ago, the United Nations set up the Brundtland Commission to unite countries in addressing sustainable development and committed them to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. In other words, look after today but don’t forget about tomorrow.
It was the first time the environment and economic development had been tackled in combination and great progress has been made since then, with unprecedented breakthroughs like the COP21 Paris agreement, the European Union determined contribution of cutting greenhouse gases emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
Plenty of brands and businesses are also looking in their own backyard, meaning there’s lots of discussion and good intentions out there. But while plans and targets are great, to achieve the future we all want, we need to do more than talk. We must rethink pretty much everything we know about powering our lives – and then start behaving differently.
For those of us in the mobility sectors specifically, it’s about looking beyond the cars we put on the roads to consider the fuel stations of the future. The charging systems. The connections between vehicles and their surroundings. And how we use our technologies to deliver clean, accessible and affordable energy across modern life. Not just in affluent or developed countries either. Everywhere.
My own company, Nissan, has long been an advocate of a cleaner, safer and fairer, future based on electrification – a vision we’re continuing to turn into reality through our electric vehicle ecosystem initiative. With zero-emission vehicles - like the new Nissan LEAF launched in Europe this month - at its heart, this ecosystem also extends to other vital areas like smarter, renewable home energy storage solutions and integrated cities.
I firmly believe it’s up to businesses to take the lead in developing a sustainable future and prompt policymakers to do more. We have to work together.
Of course, some countries and cities are clear leaders. Like Norway, one of the planet’s most progressive markets when it comes to the adoption of electric cars. You won’t even be able to buy a combustion engine vehicle there after 2025.
Naturally, the world’s businesses are at different stages of this journey too. But what’s clear is that those who are putting sustainability and purpose at their heart of their work are starting to perform better than those who aren’t. Why? Because consumers want to buy from companies who are a sustainable force for good, not just a source of profit.
No city, government, business or even NGO can do this alone – no matter how powerful or well-intentioned. Making the wholesale changes necessary to our communities, businesses and lives requires us to take a joined-up approach and invest the time, energy and resources in the electrification of our future world. Policymakers and local authorities should play their part by driving energy infrastructure transformation at pace and scale. The private sector must embrace zero emission vehicle fleets and carbon neutral operations. And we must all give the public a reason to believe – and change.
Do that and a cleaner, safer, fairer world is within our reach. Fail and we’re in for an electric shock that will take decades to recover from.
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