Since 2007, countries around the world have turned off lights at landmarks, homes, and offices in a united symbolic effort to fight the perils of environmental degradation.
Every year, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and partners promote Earth Hour. People around the world at 8:30pm on the last Saturday evening of March are asked to turn off lights at homes and offices to “call attention to climate change.”
In 2022, at Manila, Philippines, where I live, Earth Hour passed with nary a notice. Some malls had posted signs about Earth Hour but generally no one really paid much attention. The latest deadly surge from the coronavirus pandemic had just passed two (2) months earlier and people wanted to enjoy going out to make up for lost time with families and friends. They didn’t want to turn off lights even for one hour as they felt that they had enough inconveniences from the coronavirus in the pandemic’s two (2) years of lockdowns and restrictions.
Earth Hour had demonstrated, however, that collective global action even via the simple turning off of lights for one hour can have significant effect. In previous years before the pandemic, Earth Hour participation resulted in decreased energy demand, as much as 4% in a survey of ten (10) countries.
The demand drop, however, doesn’t translate to outright energy savings. Power plants continued to run during Earth Hour and their consumption of resources generally remained the same. Even as Earth Hour intends to showcase the benefit of people around the world coming together to combat climate change, it remains a symbolic effort that doesn’t result in real savings in resources.
Real savings occur when resources are significantly reduced in the delivery and consumption of a product or in the experience of a service. Real savings happen when we make more with less or we use less to experience the benefits of products and services. There is no savings if less usage in one resource leads to more usage in another.
For example, an enterprise successfully reduces the number of defects of metal products it makes. The fewer number of defects have resulted in less scrap and rejections from customers. The enterprise has reduced the amount of money it refunds to customers not to mention the costs of logistics to retrieve and rework bad products.
The enterprise, however, had to add steps to its production operation to reduce the defects. The enterprise also added inspections to ensure products made were of higher quality. The cost of adding steps and inspectors ended up almost equivalent to the savings from fewer defects. Real savings did not end up at all that much significant.
Some executives would express frustration at the lack of significant real savings from projects.
But they shouldn’t. At least not by first checking all the benefits of any endeavour they initiated.
Again, from our example above, fewer defects resulting from added production steps and inspections may not provide much of real savings but it would propel the enterprise’s product quality reputation. Customers would see better quality as an attraction to buy more from the enterprise versus its competitors. This would lead to higher sales that might be even better than what was expected from just real savings.
Real savings is not easy to realise as trade-offs are likely whenever we try to change our operations. But it shouldn’t be our one and only yardstick of measure of performance.
Critics say that real savings from Earth Hour is negligible and it is nothing more than a “feel good event.” As much as Earth Hour really hasn’t contributed to better energy savings, it has helped raise funds for environmental projects that have resulted in nature conservation benefits.
Real savings is nice to shoot for but we shouldn’t take our eyes off the big picture of what we are really pursuing.