How can businesses not only reduce their carbon footprint, but also manage to go “carbon negative”? And why is a thriving economy no contradiction to a healthy ecosystem? Our make_shift speakers prove: we have the means, the human abilities, the technology, and the resources to tackle climate crisis and change course! Meet Martin Stuchtey, Geanne Van Arkel, Stefano Venier, Chad Frischmann and Katherine Foster and learn more about their innovative business models and personal tool kits for a sustainable future!
Meet Katherine Foster
Katherine Foster – one of our speakers at make_shift – is the Chief Intelligence Officer of the Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance (SDFA). This initiative focuses on reshaping the financial system in a way to better align it with the needs of sustainable development. In our interview the former diplomat explains how the political attitude regarding global warming has changed lately and why even technology falls victim to biases.
“Technology is not neutral. Values are embedded in the code.” Could you please elaborate on this statement of yours?
Values and societal biases are embedded in the systems we create and the purpose they serve. Emerging technology adds an even greater risk of embedded bias as we assume data and code are neutral. For example, blockchain is seen as revolutionary in part because it does not rely on a central authority to verify information or transactions. Instead trust is built into a system through the governance rules and code defining what actors can do or even how they can behave in a specific system. So how the solution is designed, who is designing it, where the system will be implemented and who has access have real intentional and unintentional consequences.
Significant research including at MIT’s Media Lab has already underscored that facial recognition technology is subject to gender, race and age bias based on the system or algorithm creation conditions and the data sets provided. Imagine the implications for identity (i.e. granting to white males over 18) or resource allocation based on erroneous boundaries. New technology is underpinned by data whether from a paper spreadsheet or satalite imagery, errors and assumptions orrur and these will not only lead to bias or errors in a blockchain system but they will be immutable.
In addition, there are massive assumptions about infrastructure readiness (network, electricity, data readiness, interconnected systems, cultural norms, and even the regulatory space) that underpin inefficiencies in legacy SDG solutions and will certainly impact new technology systems.
Finally, the same value structure and processes at the core of SDG initiatives and programs which have resulted in heterogeneity (multiple disjointed operations, lack of standardization and governance), incentive misalignment (high-volume, least-cost projects, leakage, double spending, etc.) and credibility (transaction costs, access to markets, lack of data inputs for project evaluations, etc.) are also at the core of the current approach to procurement of innovation and the emerging technology solutions. The challenges and solutions need to be defined in collaboration with stakeholders and actors across any ecosystem or value chain.
As a former diplomat, how would you say has the political attitude towards global warming changed in recent years?
I began working on climate in 1996 and was the Canadian Representative on Climate at the embassy in Washington DC in 2000-2002 where I was mandated to advise on US and Multilateral climate policy. But I left the foreign service in 2004 when it was clear Canada was to at that time follow the US shift and would indeed eventually pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. The political attitude was very polarizing and remains quite divisive due to political posturing around purported economic effects (and even a strong hold of climate change deniers). Climate policies particularly in the US focus on localized or regional effects or actions around specific visible consequences of the climate crisis (flooding, forest fires, drought, etc.). It is the sub national governments and other actors including some key corporations leading action but the Green New Deal dialogue (i.e. economic inequality, renewable energy and resource efficiency) is more aligned with the integrated policy approach I witnessed first hand in Europe. I moved to Switzerland in 2004 and later served as business development lead for the EU’s Climate-KIC which reflected the policy approach of integration across sectors (education energy, agriculture, transportation, etc.) and action (both mitigation and adaptation). More recently working with the World Bank and now with Ant Financial and UNEP under SDFA, and this brings a perspective newer to me on the diversity of policy within Africa, Asia and Latin America. But overall the shift globally has been to this approach of addressing climate change and the SDGs through integrated policies and initiatives across sectors, silos and stakeholders.
Especially in the context of the cryptocurrency “Bitcoin”, “Blockchain” has increasingly become an important keyword when it comes to the digital finance industry. Therefore, could you give us a brief understanding on what blockchain is all about and further discuss the relation between blockchain and social impact?
There are a myriad of definitions of social impact with most of these focusing on a net positive effect that something has on a community. My work both with the Sustainable Digital Finance Alliance and as an advisor, focuses on emerging technology and impact in relation to progress on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and specifically the “green” sustainable development goals (such as affordable clean energy, cities, consumption and production, climate action). These goals are actually a result of more than 40 years of negotiations. Through every iteration, progress has been achieved, but it has been slow and limited in scale with key challenges around coordination, replication, monitoring, and accountability of initiatives. These challenges have diminished the efficiency and credibility of initiatives, and are being framed as a “12 Trillion” transformation gap.
Since 2016, we have witnessed an increase in Blockchain pilots and “initiatives” to address the gap and “to revolutionize” the delivery on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) from the banking of the unbanked and the provision of digital identities, to the tracking of aid, natural resources or carbon credits. The core components and elements of blockchain including a common distributed data base, cryptography, and smart contracts providing the core elements of security, transparency, and accountability has been quite compelling for the core inefficiencies in delivering on the SDGs. But we also witnessed a significant overestimation and massive assumptions about capacity and readiness to scale in reference to legacy systems, policy and regulatory frameworks. In addition, the focus on “capitalizing” on the opportunity gap and a conflation of actual solutions with fundraising for potential initiatives through initial coin offerings means we are perpetuating the old paradigm of how we incentivize action.
Meet Chad Frischmann
Chad Frischmann – one of our speakers at make_shift – is Vice President and Head of Research of Project Drawdown, in which a team of international scientists, policymakers, business leaders, activists, scholars and many more came up with 100 viable and science-based solutions to reverse global warming. In our interview Chad Frischmann explains what Project Drawdown is all about and how art can contribute to fighting global warming:
What is Project Drawdown all about?
Project Drawdown is becoming one of the world’s leading sources of knowledge on viable climate solutions. It is a living research and communications organization that assesses the potential implementation, climate impacts, and financial costs and savings of solutions to achieve drawdown and begin the process of reversing global warming. It is an international collaborative effort of individuals and organizations together creating a model to enable action through rigorous, data-driven tools designed to be useful and meaningful to on-the-ground decision-makers. Our common mission is to do our part in solving global warming by enabling a new, regenerative system that has cascading benefits to human well-being in concert with nature, while training the next generation of global citizens and thought-leaders.
What is your take on citizen science and how can we all become climate enthusiasts in order to save our planet?
All models are wrong but some are useful – and fewer still are meaningful. To make our collective work truly useful and meaningful to implementers, continued research and development needs to focus on regional, sectoral, and local applications. Creating this unprecedented decision-support ‘engine’ requires an open, distributed network of researchers, developers, and contributors to co-create, maintain, and make these tools accessible to users. Citizen science can play an important role in collecting and improving our collective knowledge of solutions at-scale.
You hold a master’s degree in Art History. How can art contribute in fighting global warming?
My research as an art historian focused on how art, language, and material culture influenced the creation, transformation, and continuation of political and economic institutions. Language and art play an essential role on conveying messages and stories that can inspire and empower new ways of thinking. At Project Drawdown, we seek to change the discourse of the climate crisis from one of fear, confusion, and conflict to solutions, possibility, and opportunities to create the future we want.
Meet Martin Stuchtey
Martin Stuchtey – one of our speakers at make_shift – has dedicated his work to circular industrial systems and sustainability: He is a Professor for Resource Strategy and Management in Innsbruck, author of the book “A good Disruption” and the Founder of Systemiq, a company focusing on innovation and investment in new landuse, energy and circular industrial systems. In our interview Martin Stuchtey explains why a thriving economy is no contradiction to a healthy ecosystem and what global economy can learn from his organic farm in the Austrian Alps:
In your book „A Good Disruption“ you claim that a thriving economy is no contradiction to healthy ecosystems. What can be done to speed up the process of achieving that balance?
The concept of an economy that prospers whilst natural systems thrive seems awkward or daring at best from today’s vantage points. However, we do know that we have to return to economic practices that will allow natural capital to be maintained or even improved. And we have enough examples that demonstrate that this could be possible. We know agricultural practices that are improving soil, not depleting it; we know energy companies that are entirely based on renewable energies; we know chemical companies that are reusing 100% of their products and sell it as a service; we know mobility providers who are providing 3-5 times higher utilization of the fleet and whose revenues are entirely decoupled from the sales of new cars; we know hygienic companies whose diapers can be used as soil enrichment. None of that is common practice today and we are too used to the idea that any level of production and consumption will deplete nature – but technically speaking, there is no need for that.
Is the Circular Economy the solution to it all? What are the challenges?
The Circular Economy is a very comprehensive and broadly applicable theme which provides the ability to decouple wellbeing from economic growth, and economic growth from resource use, and resource use from environmental impact. That is exactly the formula we need as our economy is bound to double over the following 20 years, and then double again over the next 20 years. Of course, the concept departs significantly from today’s way of production and consumption, in that there are challenges in the transition. We need new business models that reward access over ownership and turn products into a service; we need a digital infrastructure which makes it easier to share assets and products and to trace materials post use; we need significant research and development in order to develop those new materials and products, and we need new sources of blended finance to stem the investments that are needed to develop those new systems.
Being an organic farmer how has that changed your view on production and consumption?
It is very simple on our farm in the Austrian alps. We have introduced exactly one rule: everybody has to leave the farm in a better state than when we arrived. So, the value of the farm needs to increase through its use, not decrease. And that is exactly what we do. Since we started to farm, biodiversity has increased, productivity has increased, and also the fun time that we have with interesting guests has increased. Therefore, it is a triple win, and that is what the global economy should be about. I do acknowledge that it might be easier on a farm – but we all have to start small.
Meet Geanne Van Arkel
Geanne VAN ARKEL is Head of Sustainable Development at Interface and one of our speakers at make_shift in Alpbach this year. As one of the first companies to publicly commit to sustainability, Interface is poised to reach its goal to become a restorative company by 2020. After this Mission Zero® their next step is Climate Take Back™. In this project Interface aims at going carbon negative and creating a climate fit for life:
Can you provide us with a brief overview of Interface and the company’s quest for Mission Zero?
At Interface we’re convinced a fundamental change needs to happen in our global response to climate change. We need to stop just thinking about how to limit the damage caused by climate change and start thinking about how to create a climate fit for life. After decades of hard work, Interface is poised to reach our Mission Zero® goals by 2020. Climate Take Back™ is our new mission and we want to share it with the world. We commit to running our business in a way that creates a climate fit for life—and we call on others to do the same.
Out of the many approaches there are, such as Blue Economy, Natural Step etc., how much of these guiding principles are you able to incorporate at Interface?
Paul Hawken has inspired us back in the nineties to change course with his book The Ecology of Commerce and more recently again with his Project Drawdown. He introduced us to both Janine Benyus from Biomimicry and Karl Henrik Robert from The Natural Step. These guiding principles, learning from nature, applying the Life’s Principles, and working within the planetary boundaries while enabling people to fulfil their basic needs, we summarized in 7 Fronts. These fronts have been guiding us in the past 25 years.
Sustainability is your daily business at Interface. How do you inspire sustainable behaviour in your personal life?
It is all about the power of one. Through working for Interface, I learned everyone can make a difference, so can I. When you look at the Project Drawdown solutions switching to a plant-based-rich diet is the number three in reducing our global carbon footprint. I have been eating mainly vegetarian for over 25 years, invested in solar panels and try to travel consciously. I feel that everyone has the possibility to find his or her way to contribute to supporting a climate fit for life!
To stay competitive and secure a spot in the circular economy, business transformation takes center stage. To achieve such transformation, what needs to change?
Be ambitious, our Mission Zero goal; becoming a restorative company, focussing on having positive impact, while working hard to eliminate any negative impact we might have we have become more creative and innovative, and ofcourse a higher purpose is also reflected in a companies culture and therefor’ist values. We have raised the bar with Climate Take Back, our goal to become a regenerative company and this has already inspired new ideas, flooring solutions with even a negative carbon foot print, like our Circuit Bac Green backing and working on factories that are functioning as a forest. Imagine if that would be the goal for everything we design, make, build and construct in this world!
Meet Stefano Venier
Stefano Venier is the CEO of Hera S.p.A. and one of our speakers at make_shift in Alpbach. His background includes working for a petrochemical company yet now he promotes a more sustainable way of doing business: under his leadership Hera S.p.A has become a frontrunner of the Circular Economy. We asked him how he manages to balance a busy CEO life with the values he stands for:
Can you elaborate on the principle of “shared value” and why companies increasingly (re)build business models around this concept?
Often and often Companies are required and called by civil society and by some financial investors to regain “a social role” and take the lead in the fight against some of the most worrying threats to our planet, namely the climate change, the resources depletion, or social inequalities. Governments and institutions have not fully played their role, as they were locked in a ‘tit for tat’ game, with no winners and a lot of room for opportunistic behavior and free-riding.
Thus, most of the stakeholders are aligned in asking for more commitment and engagement by reputable companies, and we are ready to play our role and lead this shift. As Gruppo Hera we have introduced the CSV – Creating Shared Value – as a core purpose in the corporate strategy, to guarantee a sustainable development in the long term. It’s a matter of combining the company development with the perspective of the call to action underlined by the relevant SDGs that represent the ultimate benefits for the society and the environment. Properly shared with stakeholders, this perspective of our activities has helped our workers and stakeholders to fully understand the way we want to be a modern “YOUtility”: a new way in managing and delivering the services with the joint and shared purpose of preserving the environment.
“Lead by example” – how has your belief in the concept of shared value shaped your work as CEO at Hera?
My task to spread the CSV concept within Gruppo Hera was made easier as we had a long habit in promoting sustainability in our activities. Nevertheless, the CSV was a new concept and it underlined our commitment to choose those actions able to couple the generation of margins with a growing positive impact on our stakeholders’ territory. Therefore, as CEO I started my task by introducing CSV to all our employees and to inspire them with the CSV as our new “Why”. Their reaction was remarkable: having a clear understanding of the positive impact of our activities on the society as a whole increased everyone’s commitment and awareness. Then, we introduced CSV in our reporting, planning activities, rewarding framework, and our shareholders’ and investors’ feedback was one of great appreciation and interest. I have been personally engaged in promoting the importance of a balance between business and society from the very beginning, as the mountain territory I come from taught me how a balance between behavior and nature is the key for a win-win solution.
What actions do you take to keep the balance between a busy CEO life and reducing your carbon footprint?
Everyone’s carbon footprint matters, a CEO has to lead by example in this respect as well. I can mention some simple behavior everyone can adapt to as well: paying most attention on sorting waste properly, travelling by train the most (as far as possible!) and using e-mobility in the city, choosing zero-Km food and drinking tap water for my personal canteen (that is always with me), keep best energy efficient house, reducing paper prints and going for digital and for video-conf as much as possible, and always ask myself what is the most responsible way to do any single thing.
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