New Green Radicals: Greg Jackson
Greg Jackson is a digital entrepreneur who in 2015 founded Octopus Energy, a clean tech-driven green energy supplier for more than 1.2 million customers in the UK.
A subsidiary of asset management firm Octopus Group, the company was one of the first to offer ‘time-of-use’ tariffs at scale last year, allowing its customers to save money by using energy at times of least demand, such as by charging an electric vehicle overnight.
Other firms on Greg’s CV include consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble, e-commerce firm C360, peer-to-peer lender Zopa.
Do you think it's important we respond to the climate emergency?
I don’t think it’s even a question on whether we should respond to the climate emergency. Every day that we haven’t taken sufficient action, we have to get more radical, the imperative for change is only increasing.
How would you define a green radical?
People who are challenging the status quo on climate change, such as creating animal free meat, supergluing themselves to aeroplanes, or innovating wind turbines are all real and raw forms of green radicalism. They are doing things that previously couldn’t be done, and working tirelessly to bring awareness to and turn the tide on climate change.
However, some radicalism can come from redefining markets, a great example of this is energy. Traditionally, the energy sector has made money by contributing to climate change and ripping off customers. Now, that same sector needs to make money by fighting climate change and looking after their customers.
Do we need to redefine how markets operate?
All markets should be redefined to the point where their contributions towards solving climate change start to make them money rather than just cause extra costs. Only after that can we massively accelerate the change we need to see.
Do you regard yourself as a green radical?
Do I see Octopus Energy as a green radical? Well, if you speak to the dinosaur fossil-fuel based energy companies, they certainly seem to think so. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make the green energy revolution affordable. On one hand, offering cheaper energy when the wind blows and the sun shines can help achieve this, on the other, making sure taxes are taken away from green electricity and given to carbon emitting gas sources can also help to push this agenda.
How has your organisation taken a radical approach to environmental action?
Our organisation and our investors, Octopus Group, have taken a clear stance on being green too. Octopus Group has invested over £3bn in renewable generation, making them the largest investor in solar in Europe and a leading investor in onshore wind, ahead of most of the market, that’s pretty radical in my book. While we are the only energy company to invest in the technology that brings people cheaper electricity when renewable energy is powering the grid, such as our solar export tariff, and our revolutionary half-hourly tariff.
How do you build the business case for radical change?
In the long run we know that companies that do the wrong thing will eventually be punished for it. So as a show of faith, we set out to do the right thing even when it could be less profitable in the short term. With the enlightened private investors that we have, we’re lucky enough to not be subject to the short term profit pressures that large companies have. They’re in it for the long term, and they know you’ve got to do the right thing for long term value, they’re aligned with the mission and sometimes even want us to be more radical.
How have the customers, employees and stakeholders responded?
Something like 70 per cent of our employees join us primarily because they want to be involved in tackling climate change, and they bring with them the gusto and hunger to continuously make us a radical business. While a lot of customers didn’t know that you could have green energy that’s still cheap, which is a huge driver behind making that switch to a renewable energy supplier.
How do you inspire others to radicalism?
Education of the general public is important. We have access to the data and the resources to help more people truly understand how much is at stake. We fund research and back campaigns to get the word out. We’ve even created a global climate change art prize. We’re in a privileged position to be able to propel both the urgency and the importance of the message, and everyone needs to hear it if the tide is going to be turned on climate change.
What's the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?
To take all these aspects and make them mainstream takes confidence, knowing you’re doing the right thing, and having the confidence that you’ll be able to take people with you, is a big part of being a green radical. By the time everyone agrees with you, you’re no longer radical. In business, anyone can tell you why something happened after the fact, to predict forecasts and challenge people about what’s happening, you have to be able to convince people to come with you. That’s what leadership is. That confidence and necessity is what made me willing to do the most radical thing I’ve ever done, starting Octopus Energy.
What's next for green radicalism?
I definitely think we can’t discuss that without looking towards Greta Thunberg, an inspiring young person standing up for her right to a future. In terms of industry, food is next, over the next decade we’ve got to find a mass market replacement for animal based diets. Now some people will advocate that mass veganism isn’t great, but I think the truly revolutionary aspect will be when people can eat meat-like products that are not derived from animals en masse.
What one radical thing would you like people to do right now to change our future?
My one radical piece of advice would be to vote for politicians who are genuinely going to bring the green difference we need. Society has to change. Vote out climate change deniers, vote in fossil fuel taxers, and those that are brave in the face of adversity, who will bring a net zero target closer. Challenge people who think this is going to cost a lot, because it won’t. Green radicalism will generate a whole new form of green industry.
This interview forms part of a series of interviews that were published in a new report, New Green Radicals: The business leaders responding to the climate emergency. The report follows last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors’ and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers’ reports, and this year features interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are providing radical solutions to the climate crisis.
The report is produced by Greenhouse PR in association with BusinessGreen and was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on October 23rd. Follow live on social media with #NewGreenRadicals.
At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering climate action. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.