Harvey Sinclair is an entrepreneur who co-founded E-Light, a company that aims to simplify energy efficiency and maximise the use of LED lighting (light-emitting diode). LED lighting is more eco-friendly for a range of reasons; they last longer, so you needn’t buy them as frequently, they are brighter, which means you can use fewer lights, they also contain no toxic elements and they can be up to 80 per cent more energy-efficient than other forms of lighting. 

Helping schools become more eco-friendly

Recently, Sinclair has worked very closely with schools to help upgrade their lighting and make their buildings more eco-friendly. Their aim is to upgrade the lighting in at least 10 per cent of UK schools. Recent events, such as the heatwave in Canada, have served as yet another painful reminder of what climate change might mean for our planet. Therefore, initiatives such as E-light are more important than ever.

I start by asking Sinclair how aware schools are of the kind of lighting they have in their buildings, and how much energy they are using. He says that, out of 27,000 schools in the UK, somewhere between 20,000 and 23,000 have not completed an energy efficiency upgrade.

‘Eight out of 10 of the schools that we meet have not upgraded their lighting … less than two per cent of schools … have the ability to understand where their energy is being deployed’ reveals Sinclair. He also makes the point that schools are not aware of the problem because, for obvious reasons, most people who work in schools are not specialists in energy efficiency and consumption. ‘They’re teachers … they’re not set up as sophisticated management consultants that come from energy backgrounds’, he says smiling.

Another challenge in making schools more energy efficient is the amount of time and disruption that installing new lighting systems can create, which Sinclair says ‘frankly terrifies schools’.

When I ask him what is being done to make schools aware of the more environmentally-friendly options that are available, and help them overcome challenges with installation, he becomes a bit more optimistic. He says that the government is doing a lot to provide decarbonisation grants. But he points out that the focus of government funding is very much on heating. This is because electrifying the heating system is extremely expensive, so ‘the financial case does not make sense unless you are getting government funding’. What is more, only five per cent of all government decarbonisation grants go to schools.

Young people care about the planet

In the last few years, young people have become extremely engaged with the issue of climate change. There have been school ‘climate strikes’, the Extinction Rebellion protests, and of course, the rise to prominence of the Swedish teenager and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg.

I ask Sinclair whether he has seen any of this activism in the schools he has worked with and whether this extends to pupils campaigning for more energy-efficient lighting and heating in their schools. He says that he has. He gives one example where ‘activist’ students took out fluorescent tubes and walked with them into their headmaster’s office, demanding to know why the school has not changed to energy-efficient lighting. He agrees that children are now extremely aware of climate change: ‘… as young as eight or nine … they are being taught about the climate in their curriculums’, notes Sinclair.

Business and private sector unite?

Harvey Sinclair’s work shows the positive role that business and the private sector can play in combating climate change. But some governments are becoming increasingly interventionist. For Example, French lawmakers recently voted to ban some internal flights if the journey can be completed in less than two and a half hours.

Sinclair is adamant that the state and the private sector must work together in order to reach the net-zero target. He says: ‘every single aspect of government, of taxation, of commercial business, has to come together. There have to be aggressive tax penalties for those [businesses and cooperations] who are not abiding by certain energy efficiency standards’.

But he is certainly not optimistic that the government is willing or able to do what is necessary. ‘They won’t meet the net-zero target’, he declares bluntly. He also believes that the climate crisis is far worse than many people realise.

‘People talk about a two-degree rise … that’s a joke. We’re heading for four degrees … four degrees is almost a certainty’. And he is extremely gloomy about what this will mean for the future of the planet, suggesting ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’.

Whether that is the case or not, there are plenty of things we can do to alleviate present and future environmental concerns.

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