The recently concluded COP28 conference in Dubai averted a public relations disaster by striking a a deal that ultimately called for a transition from fossil fuels "in a just, orderly and equitable manner."
Although the more convincing term "phase-out" failed to make it into the final text, the climate accord nevertheless called for the need to ramp up progress over the remainder of this decade "so as to achieve net-zero by 2050."
"To those who opposed a clear reference to a phase-out of fossil fuels in the COP28 text, I want to say that a fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable whether they like it or not. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated.
One company actively engaged in the transition to a net-zero future is Victoria-based Redbrick, which invests in disruptive technology companies. According to its chief marketing officer Marco Pimentel, the world is only beginning to tap into the unparalleled opportunities unleashed by the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.
"Capitalism, love it or hate it, will start to drive a lot of these changes and consumers are in general agreement that our climate's on fire, that climate change is real," Pimentel said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.
"That's where a lot of my optimism springs from . . . transitioning towards a sustainable economy represents a huge opportunity for corporations. And regardless of the deficiencies of the statement coming out of COP28 there's going to be continued public pressure to move towards sustainability."
Redbrick sees growing awareness, momentum
Pimentel cited the extraordinary upward spike in U.S. decarbonization initiatives triggered by the Biden administration's trillion dollar Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has provided tax breaks, subsidies and other incentives that have hastened the growth of a nascent sustainable economy.
He mentioned the case of the oil and gas industry which has for many years been the beneficiary of government subsidies that has helped lower the cost of fossil-fuel energy products for consumers. In a similar vein, the IRA reduces the cost of renewable energy for the public.
"The IRA incentivizes the adoption of renewable energy by individuals by subsidizing heat pumps, solar panels and other energy-saving measures."
This process is "highly encouraging," according to Pimentel, because of the mutually reinforcing connection between growing consumer sustainability awareness and the opportunity that companies are seizing upon.
Manufacturers are increasingly eager to proclaim their environmental bona fides by lowering their emissions and manufacturing low-carbon products that will foster consumer loyalty while driving sales of eco-friendly goods and services.
"Climate change (awareness) is going to impact every single business and every single sector which to me is like, 'Wow this is a huge opportunity to do good,'" Pimentel suggested.
Much of the push toward decarbonization will be the direct result of the growing link between public perception of the threat posed by global warming and how corporations are being held accountable for the role they play in steering our industrial landscape toward net-zero, Pimentel believes.
"It’s a massive opportunity for companies to improve their reputation as an employer of choice. Employees are increasingly looking for companies that are technologically advanced and forward-thinking. They also want their employers to actually give a damn about the environment and prioritize sustainability."
Built environment leads way with massive energy savings
The built environment is one sector undergoing a whole-scale transformation. Property owners and developers have begun introducing advanced new energy management systems and related technology that is dramatically lowering energy consumption. Meanwhile, home owners are also able to improve energy efficiency by means of heat pumps.
"In terms of the built environment, we're seeing enormous progress on the technological front just in basic HVAC systems, the use of heat pumps, heat exchangers, etc., that is reducing carbon emissions from buildings," Pimentel observed.
He cited the promising technology being developed by Quilt, a start-up hoping to begin rolling out a state-of-the-art heat pump and thermostat control system for homes.
Quilt is taking on the archaic heating and cooling system used in the vast majority of homes by replacing central heating with multiple heat pumps.
"Quilt has now raised $9 million in a seed round. They're currently in stealth and beta mode, so they can't really talk exactly what their product does. But it appears that they've developed a system using heat pumps in almost every single room that can be installed with individual thermostats," Pimentel said.
Redbrick - a pure tech player that invests in digital sector entrepreneurship
Founded in 2011, Redbrick has positioned itself as a disruptor in the digital world with a mission to build, acquire and scale technology that empowers digital entrepreneurs.
"We are committed to leading the way responsibly by fostering equitable entrepreneurship, sustainable impact and community," Pimentel said.
Over the past decade, the company transformed from a team of software developers into the owner of a network of ambitious digital companies to the point where it now occupies a unique space in the sustainable sector.
"We're a pure tech company," Pimentel explained. "Redbrick owns a portfolio of companies, most of them being in the software and software service space. The way we look at sustainability is probably different than than how we would look at it from the perspective of traditional kinds of companies like a brewery company or a manufacturer of consumer goods.
"That's the interesting part of being a technology company and largely relying on on technology to drive our business. You would think that ultimately we have actually a fairly limited impact. We serve a digital sector and our activities take place over a network and a bunch of servers that you would expect to have a negligible environmental impact.
"We know that if we drive to the office or we fly to meet a company that's going to have a verifiable impact. But what about using and delivering our technology to all these different customers and people all over the world that are interacting with it? Does that have an impact?"
How digital activity impacts emissions
Redbrick aims to be a leader in drawing attention to the carbon footprint left by digital activity. Although largely ignored, websites, data infrastructure, emails, video calls and generative AI produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.
It is believed that digital technology and internet usage accounts for four per cent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, a level expected to double by 2025. This is why Redbrick and Pimentel have also embarked on a parallel mission to turn a spotlight on how digital activity draws on a significant amount of energy.
"The idea of Redbrick and how we view sustainability is part of the ethos that companies need to start exploring. It's kind of like where tech was 10 years ago. Everybody said, 'oh, you're a technology company.'
"Today, every company today needs to be a technology company in some respect, since every business runs on technology more than ever before. That shift from how we looked at things 10 years ago and how people thought about technology then and how they view it today is what we're going to see happen with sustainability."
In the near future, Redbrick plans to launch a new product that will be integrated into its browser technology. This software will measure the energy consumption from data transactions taking place while consumers are surfing the web.
As far as Pimentel is concerned, the ultimate aim is "to create the world's first carbon-neutral browsing."