How Do You Change America’s Energy Makeup? Ask Women
There’s no question that changing our patterns of energy consumption is crucial for our collective health and the well-being of our environment. The year 2016 was the warmest on global record, part of a dangerous pattern for our planet that warns of environmental disaster ahead. While these elevated temperatures affect all of us, there’s a specific group of people who are closely associated with the effects of climate change: women.
While women are most often the caregivers of a family, they are often the providers, too. Women make up the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers, growing food crops and rearing poultry and livestock. In many parts of Africa and Asia, women are responsible for 60-80% of food production. As a result, they see the effects of climate change firsthand—the crop failures, increased droughts and floods, erratic growing seasons, and water scarcity.
These signs of environmental decline are also hurdles to the health, happiness and futures of these women and their families. But when it comes to climate change, women often have an intergenerational perspective. This sense of forward-thinking urgency and firsthand proximity puts them in a critical role, and some have adapted with a swift and innovative response, already on the front lines as eco crusaders for environmental change.
1. Solar Sister
Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. In rural Africa, one woman-centric non-profit, Solar Sister, is taking advantage of all that clean, abundant sunshine. Using a “deliberately woman-centered” model, the solar sisters are recruited and trained in selling clean energy sources such as solar lamps and fuel-efficient stoves in their communities. Because more than half of rural African households rely on open kerosene lamps, these solar alternatives mean less fire hazards, less toxic fumes and fewer carbon emissions.
By giving women a means of employment, this network of female entrepreneurs reaps the personal rewards of financial and energy independence, increased opportunity, and a stronger and safer community, proving that clean, renewable energy can be truly life changing.
1. Ghana Bamboo Bikes
It’s fitting that bamboo bikes—a sustainable spin on an already eco-friendly means of transportation—are being built by women. After all, the bicycle was once a key driver in women’s emancipation, giving lady cyclists a means of freedom, transportation and liberation from hoop skirts and corsets. Ghana Bamboo Bikes gives back to ladies in its own way, by training and employing local women to manufacture and assemble the bikes, which leads to financial independence and an increased quality of life. On the green side, this collective takes “lower carbon footprint” to a whole new level. Not only do their bamboo bikes save on car emissions, but the process is much more environmentally responsible. Bamboo grows at a rate of several feet per day, and it’s abundant in Ghana—plus, it only takes two stalks of this quickly replenishing plant to make one bike, so it’s a completely renewable process. And since bamboo is five times stronger than steel, manufacturing these bikes requires much less energy than their steel counterparts, so the construction uses much less energy.
It would be impossible to omit the company that brought rooftop solar to the mainstream eye, as the brainchild of one particularly forward-thinking woman. Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and co-CEO of Sunrun, the largest and perhaps most well-known residential solar company. Jurich has been the recipient of multiple prestigious awards, including being named one of Fortune’s 10 most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and Forbes’ Women to Watch in 2015. Considering that 87-97% of solar PV power creates no pollution—and Sunrun has financed and installed $3 billion worth of solar panels for homes across the U.S.—she’s a part of revolutionizing the way America powers its homes.
4. 1 Million Women
This Australian group of women leaders doesn’t have a packaged product, but that doesn’t mean they’re not saving the planet in their own way. As the world’s largest women-led environmental organization, these eco-crusaders challenge others to take manageable actions each day for a more sustainable lifestyle. Their programs and monthly themes focus on different ways to “reduce waste, conserve energy, cut pollution, and lead change.” When 1 Million Women reaches its goal of one million members—with a collective pledge to save more than a million tons of CO2—it will amount to taking 240,000 cars off the road for an entire year. Best of all, these inspiring women aren't the only ladies of their kind. As recently as 2013, women made up just 18.7% of the solar workforce, but within just three years, that percentage jumped to 28%, and it shows no signs of slowing.
By recognizing the contributions and critical role of women in our collective fight against climate change, we stand a much better chance of dodging environmental disaster and reaching our environmental aims. With these trailblazers and entrepreneurs leading our way, we could be in for a bright future indeed.