Earlier this year, SustainAbility published, “What’s Next for Sustainable Business?” a global report which identified three key objectives for sustainable business going into 2019. Embrace transparency; engage beyond the technology sector; and understand your lifecycle impacts.

Consumer demand has pressed the most innovative tech companies to take a pivotal, progressive position. And while sustainable practises are still a serious challenge to many, some are now turning that challenge into a competitive advantage.

We spoke with entrepreneurial climate activist, Rebecka Carlsson, ahead of her speech at the PLM Innovation Forum to discuss what came before, and what comes next.

Prior to Rebecka’s considerable business achievements, she spent time actively engaged in Swedish politics on a global scale. Serving as Political Advisor to Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister and as Minister for Climate and the Environment. But even before that , Rebecka worked within Sweden’s Green Party youth movement, “Grön Ungdom”.

How did your involvement with, and subsequent election as spokesperson for, Green Youth shape your business attitude?

I ended up in climate-related armed conflict in northern Mali after High School. And I immediately woke up to the fact that, if we don’t stop climate change, it will destroy the preconditions for all human safety and flourishing. Since then, I’ve tried to help stop climate change.

Everything I’ve done up until now, entrepreneurship and politics, has been a way to help stop climate change and to simultaneously live a great life where I get to work with people I love and to create things that I find inspiring.

I’ve also found that the times I’ve decided to co-found companies based on mega-trends we’ve speculatively identified have been the best decisions I’ve made. Like starting a sharing economy company when sharing was just coming up. And a vegan food company just a little ahead of the big vegan trend.

I believe there’s a lot of business potential in the wide range of sustainability trends that are coming toward us. And I also think it’s very rewarding to help create something that you, yourself, find very meaningful.

And so, I think that my years in politics have influenced how I work as an entrepreneur, or business advisor, by seeding the realisation that everything we do is part of a bigger picture, or a bigger movement.

Climate issues have sparked increasingly divisive debates during the last decade. What areas are we making progress in? And where might we do better?

We’re really in the middle of the huge climate transition so, that’s great. Think about the many climate solutions that are proliferating today but were unthinkable only five years ago! At the same time, sustainability has just started. Because, as with any social tipping point, the mainstream behavioural shift is very fast. Often, it begins as soon as the first 10-20 % have adopted the new ways of doing things.

So, if we think there’s a lot of talk about sustainability now, it’s nowhere near what we will experience in the coming decades.

This drives demand, which drives business innovation, which drives the support for even more progressive climate policy. And there we have a self-reinforcing circle towards rapid climate transition. Ultimately, we will see a new market logic where sustainability becomes a business disruptor.

However, it must be said that we really must commit to this transition as fast as we possibly can to be able to continue to live on this planet. To do this we must follow what’s called the Carbon law. The Carbon law means peaking global emissions by 2020, halving emissions every decade and reaching 0 climate emissions by 2050.

The whole world economy must go climate neutral in the next 3 decades. This is our task. We must enable an exponential climate transition.

Many companies can also move a lot faster than the Carbon law. However, the really big opportunities are in developing new products and services that make it cheaper, easier and more attractive for many more to quickly lower climate emissions. Sustainability is really a team effort.

How are Industry 4.0 technologies affecting positive change for sustainable businesses today?

Industry 4.0, or exponential tech, isn’t automatically solving the climate challenge but it has the possibility to enable an exponential climate transition, if we use it right.

The Carbon law is super slow compared to Moore’s law which shows how processing power and many other technologies are doubling in power about every 18-24 months.

If we were to harness the full power of exponential technology to enable a climate transition, then we would stop climate change in 5,25 years’ time.

If we look into the wide range of exponentially growing technologies, we find a whole range that’s perfect to enable a fast climate transition. From solar and wind energy to energy storage. AI for optimizing, literally, everything. Robotics and computer vision to enable sorting. The recycling of anything, to precision agriculture, and more.

It’s hard to argue against the necessity of sustainable resources and practises. In fact, many of the technologies that we are now turning to, in this realisation, have been around for some time.
 The realisation here is that,  at this late stage, innovation may be more important than invention. The pace at which we are able to improve our technology, and our practises will no doubt prove integral to the fight against climate change.

Are there any “bleeding edge” sustainable technologies that you believe have the potential for a dramatic, global impact?

The biggest potential lies in combining several exponential technologies with behavioural change to create solutions that are better than what we could previously imagine.

An example is the solar car company named Lightyear. They’re currently building one of the world’s first family solar cars. It’s a family car that can be powered by the sun. No need for charging stations.

But think about what happens when solar cars become self-driving. When we get self-driving pods that can charge themselves while they’re driving, fossil-free and transport for both people and goods from anywhere, to anywhere.

We will share them, not buy our own so that’ll lower emissions even more. Then, what will the invention of self-driving solar cars mean for city planning?

Will we live in cities, or in the countryside, if we can work or sleep all the way to our workplaces? And what could they mean for the circular economy?

Waste is only materials in the wrong place.

What if, very soon, we can transport anything, autonomously and fossil free, to a place where it can be used by someone else or fully recycled.

An exponential climate transition will be enabled through the invention of very concrete solutions.

Solutions that meet users’ needs in a way that doesn’t require climate emissions and that then spread to many users at an exponential rate.

What advice would you give to young Start-Ups and long-established organisations alike?

What has made the biggest difference to me has been to gain understanding of the basics of sustainability science. Exponential tech and the possibility for exponential behavioural changes and social movements.

Try to better understand how quickly change is really happening. And how you can plan for it. Not only understanding that things are moving fast, but how fast.

If you can do that, then I believe that you’ll have a much better basis for developing companies that are designed to ride bigger waves, and with the right momentum.

Beyond the altruistic nature of her work, Rebecka Carlsson’s prolific business sensibility is a sizeable part of what makes her such an impressive figure. A breadth of knowledge and experience clearly informs her thinking. 

Rebecka’s open attitude to exploration, collaboration and innovation is something that we, at TECHNIA, see reflected in our own business practises.

The PLM Innovation Forum is the perfect platform to inspire, reflect, debate and network with your peers.

Join TECHNIA, Rebecka Carlsson, and other inspirational speakers for two days of networking with PLM practitioners from some of the world’s foremost innovators.

Join the Digital Pioneers at the 2019 PLM Innovation Forum in Stockholm, Oct 1-2.

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