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What We’re Thankful For

Things have been tough, but sustainable living progress marches on

Even though 2021 didn’t seem quite as grueling as 2020, it still brought plenty of hardship and heartache. Despite ongoing concerns about climate change, social justice, industry disruption, and COVID, the prevailing sentiment at Green Builder Media as we close the year is defined by encouragement and gratitude.

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The past two years have certainly been a litmus test for how much anguish the human spirit can handle: A global pandemic. Record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and heat waves. Crippling labor challenges. Supply chain paralysis. Mass murders.  Communities in conflict. Vast populations of people and animals displaced. 

But along with the despair, we’ve seen unimaginable acts of kindness, inconceivable innovation, and prodigious progress towards a decarbonized, equitable economy.

If nothing else, the pandemic, economic pressures, and ongoing climate disasters have forced us to reprioritize. Many of us have rediscovered joy in the little things. We appreciate smaller victories. We understand the difference between luxuries and necessities. We feel thankful for the things that we have rather than those we lack. 

We have been reminded that the strength and resiliency of the human spirit always seem to prevail over chaos, and that peace, love, and joy are the most fundamental nourishment for starved souls.

On a global scale, the ever-accelerating pace of initiatives to address our climate emergency offers hope in these otherwise confusing times. 

The recent COP26 meetings in Glasgow certainly can’t be called a windfall for climate action—in truth, the meetings fell short of many expectations, and no one really got what they wanted, but there were encouraging takeaways nonetheless:

  • Although the Glasgow Climate Pact reached at the end of COP26 wasn’t nearly as bold as it should have been, leaders from nearly 200 nations acknowledged that CO₂ emissions must be cut by at least 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach net zero by around 2050.
  • For the first time in climate-talk history, leaders agreed that global warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (rather than 2 degrees), called out fossil-fuels (specifically coal) as the main offenders, and incorporated methane emission reductions into climate commitments.
  • Climate transparency got a big boost when the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) announced baseline sustainability disclosure standards that will streamline information sharing and reporting across industries and financial markets, while cutting down on greenwashing.
  • Through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, over 450 asset managers, banks, and insurance companies agreed to move $130 trillion into investments that support net-zero emissions and phase out coal assets by 2030.
  • Article 6, a section of the 2015 climate pact governing how countries can trade credits to emit CO₂, was adopted, which creates a structure for worldwide public and private carbon emissions trading markets.    
  • Developing nations pushed the issue of funding for “loss and damage” (irreversible climate change related impacts) and climate adaptation, even if wealthy countries agreed only to discuss the subject rather than commit to actual compensation numbers.
  • New protections were administered that will safeguard 85 percent of global forests from deforestation efforts by 2030 and preserve critical areas that hold “unburnable carbon” and “irrecoverable carbon,” such as mangrove stands, peatlands, and other sensitive ecosystems.
  • Countries agreed to bring updated climate action plans to the table at COP27 next year in Egypt, rather than waiting until 2025 as previously scheduled.

In addition to the COP26 meetings, the recently passed bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill provides the opportunity to future-proof our nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and power grids against the impacts of climate change, and allocates funding to other technologies that will expedite the Decarbonization Economy, like EV charging stations and renewable energy systems.

While the Build Back Better Act has a long row to hoe before becoming ratified, it has the potential to transform renewable energy, energy efficiency, electrification, clean transportation, and domestic manufacturing. As currently proposed, the Act would:

  • Increase access to enabling technologies like heat pumps and electric vehicles.
  • Address social justice by expanding clean transit options and allocating grants to frontline communities.
  • Bolster U.S.-based manufacturing and local supply chains in industries like solar, wind, and battery storage that expedite the conversion to a zero-emissions economy.
  • Pour billions of dollars into initiatives that reduce emissions and protect the environment, including the emerging sector of “nature-based solutions.”

We’re also seeing unprecedented shifts in capital markets. The financial world has woken up to the climate crisis and is demanding new investment standards and ROI criteria, expediting the transition to a decarbonized economy. 

Venture capital and private investment funds are playing a key role in scaling innovative climate solutions, helping to spur development, accelerate adoption, increase output, and decrease production costs. In the first nine months of 2021, $30 billion of private venture capital was invested into climate tech, up 30 percent from the total amount invested in 2020.

Corporate sustainability has become a moral imperative, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategies are now seen as essential for reducing risk, enhancing value, and optimizing revenue. So far in 2021, corporations have invested more than $50 billion into ESG initiatives, up 50 percent from 2020.

In the building world, high-performance solutions have become common-sense and cost-effective. The global market for net-zero structures is projected to explode to $78.8 billion by 2025. 

As important, the construction industry is expanding its thinking beyond net-zero energy, which focuses on operational efficiency, towards embodied carbon, or total emissions generated during the manufacturing, transportation, construction, operation, and end-of life-phases.

Consumer demand is propelling climate action further and faster than ever before. Values-based and mission-driven, millennials and Gen Zs are steering the economy to new frontiers. These individuals have more economic power than any previous generation. They are now are earning more, saving more, and investing earlier than their parents and grandparents, and they’re poised to be on the receiving end of a wealth transfer of tens of trillions of dollars.

95 percent of Millennials and Gen Zs say they want to invest in socially responsible companies, so businesses across the economy are realizing that they must adapt or be left behind. In fact, according to Bloomberg, millennials’ passion for ESG investing has helped drive the 10x growth in ESG inflows in just two years.

So, this Thanksgiving, I’m particularly grateful for the ever-accelerating momentum towards a decarbonized economy. I am so thankful to be a part of a rapidly growing community of passionate individuals who are dedicated to affecting positive change in the world. 

It is sobering to think that the future is so decisively in our hands. It’s our privilege to be the change that is needed in the world. It’s our responsibility to care enough to do what is right.