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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


What if consumers took matters into their own hands?

 Nigel Lake, CEO, Pottinger

28 August 2015

Bringing our series of blog posts to mark #100daysToParis to a close is Nigel Lake, Pottinger CEO and Senior Associate of CISL, with his thoughts on how consumers can influence impactful change.

Thank you to all our bloggers for taking part in this milestone series.


The forthcoming climate talks in Paris mark a critical watershed. Once again, most of the world's leading nations will attempt to reach a definitive agreement on how businesses, governments and individuals can work together to avert catastrophic climate change. Just as importantly, many observers are now beginning to realise that there is as much opportunity as threat in these talks. Research over recent years from many sources, including the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Pottinger, has highlighted that the shift to renewable energy is likely to benefit economies, increasing economic growth and reducing financial and other risks. Simultaneously, research analysts and investors have become increasingly aware that ongoing investment in many parts of the fossil fuel value chain is becoming increasingly risky, not simply because of climate change adaption policies and reputation, but also as a result of economic drivers. The bottom line is renewable energy is fast becoming cheaper in more and more locations around the world.

The quality of the business and economic debate in Australia has been as ill-informed and short term as almost anywhere in the world. But no matter how tempting it may be to hold leaders accountable for their previous statements and policy positions, the time has come to hold a global amnesty, and warmly welcome all those prepared to engage positively in exploring how to maximise the benefits of the shift to renewable energy. Ironically, Australia has more thermal radiation per head of population than almost any other country in the world bar Saudi Arabia. Unlike its other natural resources, such as iron ore, coal and agricultural commodities, its sunshine can't be mined and loaded on freighters. But renewables can provide cheap power to both consumers and businesses. This is all the more relevant 'Down Under' as the country has amongst the highest domestic power prices for retail consumers as any of the world's top thirty economies [1]. 

This opens up a fascinating opportunity, albeit one with significant implications for a number of large energy companies. In the run up to Paris, most of the focus is on countries and the targets that they will set. Renewable energy activists are urging bold and urgent action by political leaders, quite rightly in my view. But all that being said, imagine the power of individual action? Rather than standing back and waiting for leading companies or the country as a whole to take action, consumers can do so themselves. Rather than pinning their hopes on targets for emissions in 2025 or 2030, consumers can make their own 100 per cent commitment – they can commit to eliminate the use of fossil fuels at home and in their cars by 2020, as my own family has done. This provides adequate time to allow existing cars to age gracefully, and to plan a shift to solar energy (and battery storage in due course) over a relatively short time frame. What's more, complete home solar installations in Australia now cost less than a 55" flat panel TV cost five years ago, making them almost an impulse purchase. Meanwhile Elon Musk is targeting Australia as one of the key launch markets for Tesla's home storage solution, and electric vehicle sales are slowly growing.

The implications would be dramatic. Even a modest acceleration in the shift to off-grid power would materially impact on-grid economics, further tipping the playing field in favour of the future and highlighting the economic futility of trying to hold on to the past.

[1] Source:


About the author

Nigel Lake

Our guest blogger Nigel Lake is CEO of global advisory firm Pottinger and an entrepreneur with a passion for diversity, innovation, environment, and action. He is author of The Long Term Starts Tomorrow.
Follow Nigel on Twitter at @Nigel_Lake



Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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