Today we bring you the next installation of our “3 Questions” series, where we ask industry experts to share their perspectives on sustainable business practices, environmental policy, climate change and more.
This week we interviewed Alison Mickey, public relations and corporate communications manager at Clean Power Finance, an online business-to-business marketplace for residential solar financing. Alison’s professional background is primarily in public relations – prior to Clean Power Finance, she spent four years at Schwartz Communications (now Schwartz MSL) working with renewable energy and solar PV companies. Before starting her career in public relations, Alison spent two years teaching community health education in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in northwest Africa. Alison holds degrees in Chinese (BA) and International Studies and Diplomacy (MA).
Q: What do you define as the most serious environmental risk to our planet and why?
I think apathy and human nature are the most serious environmental risks to our planet. It’s kind of a global-scale tragedy of the commons: finite planetary resources are being depleted by individual nations, each acting in its own short-term self-interest, despite the unspoken recognition that such behavior will actually harm everyone in the long run.
People in the developed world are comfortable and accustomed to the convenience of a fossil fuel-based lifestyle. They don’t want to give that up. People in the developing world aspire to the security and convenience of a fossil fuel-based lifestyle, and it’s hard to make the case that they shouldn’t also enjoy it. So we have a world full of people who want what is slowly killing our planet; the fact that many of them won’t be around to see its death makes it even harder to convince them of the urgency of the situation.
Until recently, climate change was about melting ice caps and slowly evolving changes happening in some far corner of the globe, which made it easy for people to dismiss climate change as someone else’s problem. Studies have shown that humans evolved to address immediate threats—a sabre-tooth tiger about to attack—and, as a consequence, are very bad at addressing long-term, abstract threats.
Q: What policies and legislation would you like to see passed to protect our environment?
I’d like to see more aggressive support of renewable energy technologies and more international cooperation on combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions. I also think scaling back the policies and subsidies that support the coal, oil and gas industries would help. Overall, I’d like to see us treating climate change with the same urgency and bi-partisan support we accord national security threats—because, as the Department of Defense said in 2010, climate change is undeniably a national security issue.
Q: In your opinion, which industry sector has the greatest opportunity to impact the future of sustainable business?
That’s a tough question. I think many renewable energy industries are interconnected in that they enable and catalyze each other. Energy efficiency technologies—from smart thermostats to dynamic window glass—can do a great deal to improve sustainability for businesses, but I think we need to support those types of efforts with cleaner, sustainable energy generation technologies, such as solar or wind. So far, photovoltaic solar seems to be leading the field in terms of impact: solar PV has created thousands of local jobs around the U.S. (the solar industry as a whole now employs more than 100,000 Americans, having grown more than 13.2 percent in 2012); can dramatically reduce energy costs for both residences and businesses; and runs the gamut from utility-scale to small residential. It’s extremely encouraging to see major corporations like Wal-Mart installing more solar than any other company in the U.S., and for purely pragmatic reasons (to save money on energy costs). That kind of adoption sends a message to Americans of all income levels and all political persuasions that solar is really an effective way to both behave in an environmentally responsible manner and save money.