The CommUnity Days Interview: Entrepreneur and Inventor
May 31, 2019
Richard Davies is a British entrepreneur, inventor, and coach with EIT Climate-KIC. He is also an active advocate of low-carbon lifestyles, organisations, and communities. The CommUnity Post caught up with him at The CommUnity Days 2018 in Lisbon to learn about his visions for a sustainable future, both environmentally and financially.
David Duque Lozano (DDL) for the CommUnity Post
Richard Davies (RD)
DDL: Richard, thank you for joining us. You gave a really nice speech last night and it’s really impressive to see that you have been an inventor with Tencel, a really interesting fabric; an investor as well in sustainability, and policies in climate change and sustainable energy. I found your speech really inspiring, but what is your vision? You told us that simpler is better, but how do you think this is applicable to sustainable energy?
RD: Yeah, well I think simplicity – valuing perhaps freedom over security, time over money – I think has a real long way to address human-induced climate change, and essentially has the potential to make energy more sustainable by potentially reducing the demand for energy through the products and services that we consume. So it’s this drive that maybe in Western, developed societies we have enough money, enough GDP, we don’t need more economic growth, and this idea of essentially seeking to go into a steady state economics and perhaps even into de-growth, perhaps allowing less developed parts of the world the headroom to grow, and through that, essentially, hopefully, reducing the demand for energy both in terms of buildings and also in transportation.
DDL: Wow, that’s a really radical idea to have countries go with de-growth, but you also mentioned that there’s a big value in de-growth. If you have 5 euros this has a really big value. What can you tell us about this?
RD: Yeah, well to try to communicate this more clearly to people – because the feedback I got was “this is quite a radical idea” – so I tried to communicate it in a way that gives 5 euros currency both in terms of climate change and also in terms of freedom. So two things I’m really passionate about are how to give human beings more freedom to pursue a life of meaning and purpose, but also to help them understand that in spending 5 euros in the economy in the UK, that emits on average about 1 kg of CO2, so this idea of having 5 euros in your hand and feeling the weight of 1 kg of CO2 that upon spending that 5 euros would essentially be put into the atmosphere. And the clever bit I think is to then equate not spending 5 euros with an amount of freedom that you get by then investing that 5 euros over the long term. And for myself, I’ve calculated that investing 5 euros gives me 4.2 minutes of freedom every year forever, essentially, so it’s 4 minutes and 12 seconds, and I equate it to not even a free lunch, it’s a lunch you get paid to eat that essentially helps save the planet and gives you the afternoon off work as well. So it’s a really powerful idea to help people understand that 5 euros reduces human-induced climate change and also gives you some freedom every year forever.
DDL: That’s really impressive. Are you optimistic that people can actually have this mindset and change their behavior to change the current situation for sustainable energy for 2050, for instance?
RD: Yeah I hope, I mean it’s the first time I’ve given this presentation, which combines my own personal drive to retire early and to be able to do more fun stuff work-wise, so I don’t know whether this will suddenly go viral and become a thing. I read more in the press about this movement that’s called the FIRE movement, Financially Independent Retire Early, which is encouraging people to take fairly radical steps to not spend all of their income, so there’s this idea within the FIRE community that you only have to work 10.9 years, everyone can retire after 10.9 years provided that they live on only 1/3 of their income, and that is obviously radical, especially for people at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Perhaps if you’re earning 120,000 euros a year, living on 1/3 of your income might be ok, and after 11 years you can continue to live on the 1/3 of that income from the returns you get on the 11 years of 2/3 of your income invested. So I think people understand that the ever-increasing need for pointless consumption, which is perhaps what our economy seems largely based on now, is perhaps not what we should all be doing. A successful life isn’t when you die with the most “toys,” [chuckles] essentially, we don’t need more stuff; we need simpler lives, we need better experiences. And I really hope this idea might begin to pick up, not only from a human security issue but also from the sustainable energy and climate change perspective as well. I’m really hopeful that this might be one of the things that helps keep us below 1.5°C.
DDL: I believe some people may follow this idea, some people may think it’s quite radical. Some may think it’s amazing, but for those people that think it’s an amazing idea, they have this power of having these 5 euros or the 1/3 of their income to do something with this. What do you think they can do with this to also comply with having more sustainable energy and fighting against climate change in the world now?
RD: Yeah, well I would love them to, perhaps, use the first couple of years of spare money to fix up their own house. Certainly in the UK the standard of the built environment from a sustainable energy perspective is still generally appalling. We have leaky buildings, it’s not really cold enough or hot enough to require architecture to be super insulated. We can just get away with poor houses in the UK because of the weather, so I would love the fact that we could embrace radical insulation, LED lighting, proper heating controls, renewable technologies, all of that, and maybe they’d use some of that money to give them a kind of virtual return for a long time, so maybe that would be a good couple of years to do with your spare money. And then the idea of investing in, for me, community-owned renewables is what I have done with money. So I have a bunch of money invested in 20 or so projects across the UK, principally wind and PV, and there is definitely a rise of that sort of way of individuals coming together around a form of legal entity called an ‘industrial and provident society’, a form of cooperative movement that allows people to invest in that for a long-term return. So that I would really encourage people to do and I know there’s a lot of that going on in Germany and certainly in the Netherlands there’s an increasing prevalence of that sort of investment in making sustainable energy projects happen. There are also some really interesting, perhaps, crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending websites. There’s a particular platform called Abundance Investment, which is specialized in renewable energy, and again I’ve been using that for 5 or 6 years, and that’s been very successful in delivering me maybe 8-10% returns on my money each year, doing really good stuff, investing in wind and PV. They’re starting to diversify into things like social housing now, and they have an equity raise on a platform called Seedrs right now in October 2018, and I’ve just invested in them as a platform as well. So I think with financial technology and the power of the web and the power of cutting out the incumbency of banks and the traditional way of investing I think it’s a really exciting time for people that want the world to be different, to use their own resources to make the world different. So I think it’s a fabulous opportunity to do that and to do that to reduce CO2, and to give you security, I don’t see why that isn’t a wonderful thing.
DDL: You’ve definitely used a lot of your time to know how to have an impact on the world, and I think you’ve spent a nice 2 days with us in the CommUnity by InnoEnergy at this event. As a speaker also and seeing what we have done, what would you recommend to our CommUnity to pursue empowering change agents for sustainable energy?
RD: Yeah, it’s lovely to get to meet so many bright, hopeful people, and to spend time with them, having conversations about their own journeys, and for this to be truly international in terms of meeting people from all over the world, and for this to be principally engineers, scientists, and people focused on technology as well is really refreshing; to find people whose skills are needed in this new world, that are also doing this with ambition and some radical spirit as well. So it’s been a real pleasure to get to interact with these people. As Phil Collins, the Genesis drummer, said, “in teaching I will learn, and in learning I will teach,” and this sums up the last two days for me. Not only have I tried to give my view of the world to other people, I’ve heard lots of views back, and that’s helped me understand the world a little bit differently and much better, so thank you to InnoEnergy for this opportunity.
DDL: And thank you very much for joining us, and welcome to the CommUnity as well.