Opinion: Earth Day platitudes are a threat to our planet

Foresight CEO Jeanette Jackson believes bold new approaches are required to address the global climate emergency.

As April 22 approaches, Marketing teams around the world are planning their Earth Day campaigns. Let’s create a video with the CEO. Get a quote from our head of Sustainability. Plan a social media campaign. Wrap it all together with a catchy slogan.

Earth Day may be a distraction from the real work that needs to happen.

Just as we shouldn’t just show our love only in February or promote gender equality on a random day in March, designating a single day as Earth Day offers the temptation to share some platitudes and resume the status quo. The problem is: the status quo is destroying our planet.

We see this time and time again, and most recently publicized through the book, and soon-to-be-released documentary, “Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It.” While it takes a rather doomsday approach to green technologies, the core message that greenwashing, or adopting a green agenda with the implied goal of selling more things, is not only wrong, but a barrier to enacting meaningful change rings true.

Instead of shooting a video or approving a campaign of words, I call on CEOs to do more. Those carbon emissions aren’t going away on their own. Convene a team to explore ways of igniting innovation from within. Find a way to harness the imagination of the people who know your business best—your staff. Internal hackathons can tackle specific challenges. Incentives can motivate people to share their ideas. Pay staff for volunteer time that tackles environmental problems.

Of course, responsibility is shared by all of us. We saw last year how the planet took a breather when life slowed down for many in the early days of the pandemic. Can you continue to reduce emissions on a personal level through reduced commuting or travel? Some people may avoid learning more about climate challenges because it seems daunting, but educating yourself can give you hope. Read “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates. Subscribe to a green podcast. Discuss the issues—and solutions—with your family and friends. You can do that any day—not just on April 22.

It’s estimated that 50% of the innovation required to solve climate challenges has not yet been developed. It’s time for bold new approaches.

Foresight is investing time and the team into tackling these challenges. We are rapidly expanding our efforts and will host 10 Innovation Challenges this year alone. These reverse pitch events feature industry describing their challenges to innovators, with a call to action to innovators: here’s the change industry needs; we’re ready to invest in market, data, and problem-driven solutions.

Foresight’s Innovation Challenges have generated dozens of submissions for consideration by organizations in industries ranging from oil and gas and hydrogen production to agriculture. These Challenges provide valuable answers that solve real-world environmental problems, while reducing risks and accelerating time to market.

Every $1 invested in Innovation Challenge projects generates, on average, $7 of follow-up economic activity and investment, according to our research. This approach is not only good for the planet, but it’s good for profit. And it’s creating jobs for Canadians.

To accelerate cleantech acceleration and adoption, we need to commit to collaboration and “co-opetition.” Working together is essential.

This is exemplified by new initiatives such as Project Greenlight in Vancouver. Vancouver Economic Commission has brought together leading public and private enterprises to issue challenge-based calls for technology and solutions to accelerate smart and sustainable transformation.

Project Greenlight recently launched with five challenges. From reducing TransLink’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero emissions fleets for the City of Vancouver to leak detection and prevention for QuadReal’s buildings, the challenges address a variety of urgent sustainability issues. For entrepreneurs and innovators who want to pilot their tech, this is a fast-track to commercialization.

As a partnership-focused demonstration platform, Project Greenlight shows tremendous potential. It’s big picture thinking like this that is required to address our urgent climate challenges, not clever marketing campaigns. Let’s share our ideas and best practices. Find a partner and pilot an innovation. Let’s make every day Earth Day.

Jeanette Jackson is the CEO of Foresight, Canada’s cleantech ecosystem accelerator.