The Environment, Young People, and How They Use Technology to Improve Our Planet
“Protecting the environment” is no longer a fad or a marketing phrase used to sell “green” products. More people than ever are aware that we need to make serious changes to stave off the potential impact of climate change. Luckily, many of these people are young, determined, and already highly invested in technology that could make a serious positive impact in terms of issues like climate change, air quality, and other environmental factors. So, how come it’s the youngsters leading the way in this march for a healthier planet?
An Environmentally Aware Generation
In 2019, Harvard Business Review’s corporate social responsibility section reported that at least 1.6 million students had marched in the climate movement. This was in protest of governments’ and businesses’ lack of action on climate change. Notable voices in these protests include Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate. These are young women who have been at the forefront of climate change action since they were very young indeed. Greta began her “School Strikes” outside the Swedish Parliament. She soon inspired many other students around the globe to join in on these strikes. Inspired by this action, Vanessa protested outside the Parliament of Uganda. She used social media to raise awareness about threats to the Congolian Rainforests including logging, poaching of wildlife, and deforestation caused by palm oil production.
More than ever, these young people understand that when we damage our planet, we damage our wellbeing and risk the future for everyone.
Using Tech for Good
Social media isn’t the only way these young activists are using tech for good. Younger generations were raised with technology, from wearable devices to entire households run by IoT devices like remote thermostats. This means we have the unprecedented advantage of huge volumes of young people comfortable and familiar with more technology than ever. This has led to some astonishing ideas and inventions.
The Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize rewards young people who can create or design innovations in four social responsible categories: living longer, living together, living better, or living greener. These included apps focused on wellbeing, dealing with PTSD, and improving life for those with dementia. In the Living Greener section, young inventors showcased concepts for calculating your carbon footprint, harvesting the kinetic energy of moving objects like doors, or even collecting microplastics from the sea.
Avye of Girls Into Coding is currently working on Project Particle Pavilion. She’s exploring technology that allows spaces to monitor and react to air quality, to improve indoor areas like classrooms. Automatic skylights and CO2 sensors would work together to manage internal air quality, and the health and wellbeing of anyone using the space.
Only One Planet
The younger generations seem to have fully embraced the fact that we really do only have one planet. There is no do-over. We have to look after this one as it’s all we’ve got. Some stats that back this up include:
· At least half of young consumers are more likely to buy something labelled as sustainable
· 36% will pay 10% more for eco-friendly products
· Only 10% of young people state they don’t care how eco-friendly a product is
· 33% want to know what companies are doing to make their brands more environmentally friendly
How Tech Companies Can Help
Clearly, today’s young consumers are ready to hold businesses to account concerning how they address climate change and other environmental issues. Today’s technology companies already provide the foundation for many new innovations. They create the platforms programs run on and the complex components for physical tools. Tech organisations can also work towards a healthier planet by addressing the gender gap in STEM education and careers, encouraging all young people to get into new technologies, and particularly focusing on empowering girls in STEM and girls in tech education paths.
When it comes to STEM activities like coding, girls education often lacks something. This is, in part, thanks to pervasive sexist stereotypes. At a young age, everyone can be engaged with exciting projects like robotics and 3D printing. However, by the time most girls are in high school, if they haven’t engaged with technology as much as their male peers, they will often be left behind. This may be because they fall into the trap of believing there are simply less women in tech and therefore no opportunities for them. They may also be let down by teachers who don’t see their potential, or who favour boys who might be more visibly enthusiastic — again, usually due to having been encouraged to engage in tech education from an early age.
STEM education and activities provided by grassroots organizations can help address that gender gap. It’s clear from how powerful young female voices are in the fight against climate change that it’s vital to ensure these girls are empowered from a young age; not just to speak out, but to embrace the technological tools that can help them make real differences.
Tech companies who make commitments to support these community projects, either by financial means or by partnering on projects, could benefit from:
· A more diverse workforce in the future
· Younger and more motivated talent
· Meeting corporate social responsibility targets faster
· Impressing and creating bonds with local and wider communities
· Vastly improved brand reputation and consumer loyalty
Saving the world is down to everyone, but it could be the younger generations that have the tools to innovate in ways we have only dreamed of. Let’s empower our girls in tech to be the women in tech of tomorrow, finding new pathways towards a greener, cleaner, and safer tomorrow.