An ideal beginning
The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. 4 years earlier than anticipated. 3 days before COP22 began proceedings. Unparalleled political and social momentum took us passed threshold after threshold, until complete ratification. Unheard of at the UN level. It seemed like the perfect scenario for the Marrakech summit to live up to its billing. It was meant to be the “Implementation COP”, marking the transition from the decades-long negotiations leading to the Paris Agreement; into an era of action, cooperation, and solutions. Plenty of them. Solutions to mitigate carbon emissions. To enhance resilience and adaptation capacities. Solutions to build a more inclusive, equitable, and democratic economy for all. And it was the “Solutions COP”. Nearly wasn’t. But was. And it really, truly was in the end.
A sudden, almost-deadly turn
A mere day into the conference though, on November 8, and the unthinkable happened. The outcome of the US presidential election left most negotiators in the Blue Zone scrambling for answers, dancing with uncertainty, and at a loss for words, and momentarily for hope too. A climate denier was going to hold the highest office in the world. The nightmare of all nightmares. The entire Climate Movement was shaken to the core.
The election of the 45th US president wasn’t an isolated fact, but rather part of a chain of recent events across the world that have uncovered more profound wounds, building up in the shadow for a time. “Brexit”, the rise of far-right political parties, massive migrations amplified by climate-related natural disasters … it all points in the same direction, it all blames the same perpetrator: unregulated, globalized, dehumanized neo-liberalism. Despite its promises of full employment, zero poverty, a vibrant middle class, and widespread well-being; the fact is that, today, the 62 richest people in the world possess as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion combined (Intermon Oxfam’s “An Economy for the 1%” report). The truth is that our atmosphere now contains, permanently, more than 400 ppm of CO2, more “carbon pollution” any human being has ever breathed in. The middle class is shrinking or stagnated pretty much everywhere. Local businesses are vanishing to ever-soaring multinationals. Just like the majority of animal species that once populated Earth are succumbing to us, humans, in what’s already being dubbed as the Sixth Massive Extinction, within a new geological era -the Anthropocene-, where humanity is the main driving force. Decent-paying jobs are in decline, with vulnerable employment turning into a systemic ailment. Human rights are frequently under threat as well in multiple countries. Consequently, people are unhappy, and social unrest spreads like a virus. Discontent, in all its forms, including ballots on election day, is a factual symptom, a painful reminder of the need to effectively and systematically address these fundamental issues before it is too late, and people suffer.
A different path forward
But let’s not despair. The future is not written on the walls, we create it for ourselves, every day, through every individual and collective action. And there are alternatives out there. Viable, positive, and empowering solutions, weaving the fabric of a different world. We have seen loads of them at COP22, and even interacted with their dreamers and makers. Recapping from our side, on November 16, the 2016 Global Climate Champions from the Ecopreneurs for the Climate movement (ECO4CLIM), pitched their sustainable innovations to the world, in a live chat hosted by GreenEcoNet, within the far-reaching Earth to Marrakech Global Digital Surge initiative led by the UN Foundation.
We heard the story of Karima Kerkeni, a Tunisian ecopreneur who co-founded Green Essential, a social enterprise specializing in the extraction, by rural women, of essential oils from medicinal herbs such as rosemary, mint, geranium, etc. The project was born for a double purpose: providing a livelihood to women in rural regions of Tunisia, so that they could support their families and communities; and protecting and valuing natural, endogenous resources (medicinal herbs) through sustainable management. Preserving biodiversity, building climate resilience, empowering women, rekindling life and spreading opportunity in rural environments … all in one, game-changing project!
Also in Tunisia, Rebeka Gluhbegovic, project manager at Lingare (a social innovation space in the city of Mahdia), told us how her experience as an ECO4CLIM climate organizer had been both tough, due to low levels of environmental awareness; and rewarding at the same time, as a diverse and young crowd discovered the wonders of crafting their own climate-championing jobs.
And then, somehow, we leapfrogged into the future. Diana Moret from Barcelona (Spain) brought us the healing spirit of Pandorahub, a movement building an alternative lifestyle, through a network of startups, digital nomads, makers, and organizations. A place where nature and people co-exist in harmony. A more “conscious” side to globalization, where two seemingly opposing realities (digital nomads and local cultures) complement each other. The former bringing talent and diversity to rural landscapes; the latter grounding the digital age back to the land and the pleasures of manual labor and face-to-face interaction.
2 days later, on November 18 -the COP’s closing-, as negotiators regained their hope and summoned their resolve to march on, the voice of the “small people” got on the world stage, and spoke on behalf of millions. At the SDGs Solutions Hour, ecopreneurs from Morocco, France, and Spain enlightened us all with their impactful sustainable business solutions implementing the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It was an informal, lively conversation, with participants drawing from their own experience, and openly debating with the audience, both on site and on the Internet (streaming).
Firstly, we dove into the depths of the Paris Agreement to see how ecopreneurs and SMEs put its magic formula to work. Cyril Colin, co-founder of Elum Energy, a software-as-a-service company developing the ”Energy OS”, illustrated to perfection how their innate agility and flexibility allows for sustainable innovation (SDG 9) to blossom, as they are able to adapt and cater to the rapidly changing nature of their beneficiaries’ needs, as well as environmental conditions. Concretely, Elum Energy harnesses the potential of energy intelligence to provide microgrid solutions, tailored to each client, which dramatically reduce the energy consumption of their buildings and facilities, and thus CO2 emissions.
Naturally, to compensate for their small size, SMEs tend to cooperate (SDG 17) with like-minded organizations, seeking complementarity and added value. It can either be other SMEs or more institutional partners like it’s the case with Elum Energy receiving research support from UC Berkeley and “L’École Politechnique – Université Paris – Saclay”. This collaborative approach extends over to the whole supportive ecosystem of stakeholders around ecopreneurs. Ecopreneurs for the Climate, as explained by its International Coordinator –Jesus Iglesias-, embodied this mindset since its very inception, remaining small as an organization, while growing the model, and thereby its impact, thanks to a vibrant network of climate organizers (community leaders and managers of climate innovation labs), who in turn animate vast local ecosystems of partners, each contributing with unique value to propelling ecopreneurs.
ECO4CLIM’s key partner in Morocco, the Aribat Moubadara association, represented at the COP22 by its president –Rachida Yacoubi-, shares the same philosophy, forging a public-private partnership, encompassing public agencies, universities, and NGOs; to provide extensive support and funding to responsible Moroccan entrepreneurs. All in all, this so-called “collaborative economy” positively contributes to job creation (SDG 8) and a balanced wealth distribution (SDG 10). “Greatness comes in small packages” the saying goes, but perhaps they meant “small and well interconnected”.
Next, we also discussed about gender equality (SDG 5), and how eco-entrepreneurship offers a viable option for women, particularly in rural areas, to gain economic independence and empowerment (SDG 10). Rachida, who is also the president of “Entrelles des Femmes Entrepreneures”, a Moroccan association promoting entrepreneurship among women, provided meaningful insights on the impact these supportive, networking-oriented associations of female entrepreneurs have on the well-being of communities (employment, sustainability, equality…) She also underscored their important contribution to facilitating access to, and improving education for children (SDG 4), and especially girls, who look up to female ecopreneurs as aspiring role models.
The road ahead is still a long one though, given how, still to this day, there are far more male entrepreneurs than female ones in most countries, certainly in Spain, Morocco, and France. Some levers to act upon and potentially eliminate existing systemic barriers on this matter, include proper eligibility criteria and well-adapted governmental programs supporting entrepreneurs and SMEs; dynamic associations and networks; and above all, an inclusive, diversity-promoting, and gender-conscious education at all levels.
with Jesus Iglesias from Ecopreneurs for the Climate, Rachida Yacoubi from Aribat Moubadara/Entrelles, and Cyril Colin from Elum Energy.
Lastly, we broadened our scope, and debated on the link between social justice and climate justice (SDGs 16 & 13), from the ecopreneurs’ perspective. SMEs around the globe are essential job creators, a fact accentuated in vulnerable communities, where they account for up to 80% of all formal employment. And it is local, quality, fair-trade, and green employment that sets the necessary foundations for economic equality and opportunity to occur, leading to more empowered, democratic, cohesive, and peaceful societies.
Let’s focus now on those communities most affected by climate change’s devastating effects. A colleague involved in the Blue Zone negotiations –Rémi Parmentier, co-founder of the Varda Group and renown ocean expert-, shared a compelling story with us, while dining together on the last evening. While working on his laptop in one of the conference rooms, all of a sudden he heard this powerful, neat voice in the background that grabbed his attention, as well as everybody else’s. Looking up, they discovered it was a 14-year-old girl powerfully, adult-like talking about the rapid disappearance of lake Chad, having shrunk by as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998, and what disastrous consequences it implied to her family, community, and the 68 million people living in the four countries surrounding it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria) on the edge of the Sahara Desert. As you may imagine, this entails famine, conflict, migrations, and even terrorism. And it constitutes precisely the purpose, goal, and work of climate ecopreneurs. To supply viable, sustainable business solutions that help stop these massive droughts (mitigation), and build resilience and adaptive capacities in vulnerable communities. Ecopreneurs like Karima from Green Essential, or Diana from PANDORAHUB, or Cyril from Elum Energy, or these 14-year-old climate champion in the making. They are our greatest hope and best possible future.
A partnership for the ages
Talking about social & climate justice, if business is to be a force to reckon with, we need a new deal in place. A triple-win partnership between civil society organizations and ecopreneurs, that redefines the rules of the game, and restores collaboration. Today, the climate movement comprises all sorts of nonprofits, yet most times it leaves aside businesses, due to mutual mistrust. Indeed, typically, large NGOs like Greenpeace or Amnesty International, act as watchdogs on corporations, scrutinizing their behavior, and demanding change when human and environmental rights are not respected. This approach, while extremely necessary, is insufficient and rather reactive. It comes late, because these citizen-powered campaigns are launched precisely in response to negative impacts already taking place.
Moving forward, what we suggest is a proactive, design-focused approach, where NGOs participate in the very early stages of business development, actually co-creating business models with the ecopreneurs themselves. This way, through this fundamental partnership, we ensure that social and environmental value creation lies at the core (and purpose) of all new companies. This is how we make every enterprise a social enterprise, and take eco-innovation to the next level. Real impact happens at the intersection between business and civil society, and so mutual trust must be restored by working together, shoulder to shoulder.
Taking it a step further, in order to yield great rewards for all people, what we need is an open-minded, radical approach to eco-entrepreneurship, abiding by some basic principles:
- Joining and propelling social movements, by enabling climate action from civil society.
- Partnerships with other sustainable organizations.
- Breaking stereotypes, and ultimately the status quo.
- Engaging in shared, collaborative and circular economy practices.
- Exploring new technologies.
- Envisioning a better future and then bridging the gap with present scenarios, by turning current “green signs” into mainstream lifestyles. A technique called Futures Thinking.
The Agora & the people
Around these lines, in the afternoon, we held a debate in one of the spectacular Agora spaces located along the main hallway of the Green Zone. And, as noted, it was only fitting that ecopreneurs met with civil society in such an arena. Encouraged by this engaging format, Cyril, Rachida, and Jesus, talked openly about their different projects, reaching out to a diversity of potential ecopreneurs.
Rachida showed us the material relevance of local supportive ecosystems around ecopreneurs, especially for women, young people, vulnerable communities, and minorities. Through their work at Aribat Moubadara, committed entrepreneurs receive training, advice, assistance, and public funding (“honor loans”). On the other hand, Entrelles des Femmes Entrepreneures focuses on peer-to-peer mentoring, quality networking, and exchanges of best practices among female and gender-driven entrepreneurs.
Jesus presented the impressive results of the 2016 Global Week of Green Business and the Climate Movement, which gathered more than 650 green economy professionals, and 100 ecopreneurs in 22 cities across 15 countries; seeking to identify climate challenges, outline promising sustainable business opportunities, and promote impactful green SMEs and ecopreneurs. He put emphasis on the fact that eco-entrepreneurship represents a viable career and lifestyle alternative for everyone, and then passed the word to Cyril to prove the point.
Ecopreneurs for the Climate’s presentation at COP22: impact of the 2016 Global Week of Green Business and the Climate Movement.
Mr. Colin described Elum Energy in detail, from how energy intelligent management saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions, to the social component of community energy and democratizing production and consumption. To conclude, he took us along his personal journey as an ecopreneur, from a research project at university, all the way to his current cool & international startup, co-founded with his friend and Moroccan business partner Karim El Alami, which is already providing green jobs to 7 happy employees.
Dozens of passers-by joined the conversation, many youngsters got deeply inspired, and numerous interesting questions were posed. November 18th being a national bank holiday in Morocco (Independence Day) put the icing on the cake, attracting children, young people, and families; and mainstreaming eco-entrepreneurship to the four corners of the country. And so, wrapped in this magic atmosphere, we ended on the most positive note imaginable: we let everyone and anyone grab the micro and convey a message of hope from Marrakech to Earth. A little boy summed it all up in style: “Vive la Terre, vive la Nature.” (Long live the Earth, long live Nature.)
The Ecopreneurs for the Climate Marrakech Action Proclamation
The entire summit finished on the ascendancy fortunately. From the initial shock on November 8 (US election), going through the anger and frustration that followed, to the determined resolve to join forces and build on the extraordinary momentum created by the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, as well as the various multilateral fora demonstrating firm engagement from all stakeholders worldwide.
We all agree now. The path to sustainable development, a zero-carbon and climate-resilient economy is irreversible. Unstoppable. The undeniable proof is obvious to the eye: the price of renewable energy, particular solar & wind, has not only reached parity, but become the cheapest energy source in many parts of the world like Mexico, Morocco, or India. Investment in new renewable power is beating that in fossil fuels by 2 to 1, at least. Add to that, the quick expansion of community solar (collaborative energy!), the boom in electric vehicles, the cheaper-than-tiles solar roofs just launched by the ecopreneur in chief -Mr. Elon Musk- … Strong signals that markets interpret unequivocally, by relentlessly rewarding the winner, and wiping out the loser (fossil fuels).
Our commitment to pursue this common endeavor is now engraved for posterity in the Marrakech Action Proclamation for our Climate and Sustainable Development, reading: “We, Heads of State, Government, and Delegations, gathered in Marrakech, on African soil […], now turn towards implementation and action, reiterating our resolve to inspire solidarity, hope and opportunity for current and future generations.”
Proclamation to which we make the following contribution:
“We, the Ecopreneurs for the Climate, bring solutions. Effective, bold, empowering solutions to climate change and inequality. We call for a “glocal” economy, or an economy of local economies, where cultures and traditions are respected and preserved, and yet talent and knowledge flow across man-made frontiers, breaking stereotypes along the way. We call for a human-scale, community-centered, collaborative economy, built upon a fabric of small businesses and civil society organizations cooperating for the common good. We call for an inclusive economy, where diversity is embraced as the source of all innovation, beauty, and life itself. We call for a democratic and equitable economy, where resources, wealth, and power are shared, widespread, and balanced. We call for an economy that strives for zero-carbon solutions, and builds and strengthens the resilience and adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities. An economy that respects the bio-physical limits of Earth, and values the interdependence of all beings and ecosystems. We, the Ecopreneurs for the Climate, call on Humanity to unite, bravely face the challenges ahead, turn them into opportunities for improvement, and collectively advance towards a better future.”
In a poem:
We are at a crossroads in time.
Big challenges lie ahead,
but with them come opportunities,
opportunities to re-invent ourselves.
Because big is powerful,
and our movement is big.
But small is beautiful,
and collaboration is fun.
So let’s have some beautiful fun,
Ecopreneurs for the Climate and the power of the Sun.
The future is now. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for 😉