Needless reminder – please consider the environment

Solving the problem of our impact on the environment should be left to the experts so that appropriate and meaningful solutions are discovered. Exhorting people to think twice about their own actions isn’t as effective an approach as it might seem.

Plant sprouting out of shredded paper

A few days ago I opened my e-mail to multiple instances of this seemingly innocuous addition to the end of e-mails awaiting my attention:

Please consider the environmental impact of printing this e-mail.

Really? Thinking people believe that I and others need this reminder, this exhortation to deal appropriately with my e-mail? I imagine that companies are responsible for attaching this note to the back end of all e-mail exiting its domain, just as many do with confidentiality statements. In a charitable mindset I can imagine that the people who do these things feel that they are doing something good for the environment by reminding us to act responsibly.

Developing meaningful solutions

It is exactly this type of misinformed approach to environmental issues that do not allow for appropriate, meaningful solutions to be imagined and developed. This past year at a global business conference that Dave and I attended, a scholarly presentation highlighted the issue and poked holes in the current approach to reduced emissions. About $180 billion is required to meet international agreements (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) and if successfully implemented would only reduce temperatures by 0.00002°C. This level of investment will also have a significant negative impact on economic growth.

When I heard this information I was stunned as was the entire audience – there was an intense hush in the room. My sense is that a lot of well-meaning and highly educated people have considered that if we tighten our belts and spend money on reducing emissions, we will get through 2050 having done a good thing. This verdict on the impossibility of the task ahead should get all of our attention to the point where we are committed to meaningful large-scale initiatives that stand a chance of solving the problem.

Getting experts to solve the problem

Serious issues need serious problem-solving approaches. We need intense debate and discussion at national and international levels. Average citizens need to understand the issue and appreciate that experts are needed to explore creative alternatives. We can, of course, continue many of the current initiatives that target reduced emissions and waste, but with no misunderstanding that they will fully or even partially address the issue. Then we need to let the experts get on with their work of solving the problem. Real science needs to be applied, not man-on-the-street level thinking.

Let’s stop these silly additions to the end of e-mails that encourage us to forgo printing and everything else that stands no chance of making a meaningful difference. We cannot afford to delude ourselves that we are actually addressing any real issue head on. Well-meaning but misinformed people need to stand aside and let the experts take the lead.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.