Backing the same old solutions won’t solve the climate emergency, argues Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb. Systemic change will only happen if money flows to sustainable energy start-ups that are creating disruptive social and environmental change
Every year, our team of expert professionals and judges trawl the world for leading businesses worthy of winning an Ashden Award for their innovation in renewable energy. Every year, the quality is so high that we struggle to choose between the sparky enterprises we uncover. All of them are tackling the climate emergency with solutions that reduce emissions and improve lives today. They’re giving us greener buildings, transport, jobs and healthcare, as well as energy access for some of the most marginalised people.
Globally, we already have many of the solutions we need to tackle the climate crisis. And yet we are falling far short of our carbon reduction targets. The most recent reports show the world is still increasing emissions and adding to global warming. So how can we take what works and scale it up?
As ever, it’s all about the money. Too often, brilliant and ambitious innovators are scrabbling about chasing the funding they need to grow. We need more impact investment – investment that creates positive social change, as well as financial return. This money plays a unique role in the sustainable energy ecosystem.
At its best, impact investment can drive fast systemic change by allowing businesses to test out what was previously thought impossible
But while the wider world can do more to get the money flowing, today’s impact investors need to raise their game too.
So, what impact could sustainable energy have, given the right support? Two Ashden Award winners, both from India, show the potential for change.
The country’s poor rural silk workers (mostly women) endure long hours in a physically arduous trade, with few chances to grow their income. Ashden winner Resham Sutra has developed a range of affordable electric reeling machines, many powered by solar energy, that have vastly improved working conditions and created a predictable, dramatically higher income for more than 9,000 silk workers. But the silk industry employs 7.9 million people in India alone so the potential for growth is huge.
In four Indian cities, rickshaw start-up SMV Green is creating fair working conditions, with electric rickshaws and reliable contracts, empowering drivers to buy their vehicles and earn more money, while reducing the air pollution that kills thousands every year. Its Vahini programme is training India’s first women rickshaw drivers, creating secure incomes for them and improving safety and security for their female passengers.