A candid look at what matters in the green transition

Every journey starts somewhere

The book was quite heavy for me to hold, but that did not stop me, as tiny as I still was. Turning my back to my grandparents’ library, a dusty space that had always intrigued me, I took the book into the living room and placed it carefully on the glass coffee table everyone was sitting around. The book’s cover was mostly turquoise, but it had big splashes of color here and there, which always used to catch my attention before I went ahead and lifted the cover-up, eager to explore the vibrant pictures awaiting inside. Even when I had done this same thing a million times before, I could never get enough of that book. Back then, I still did not know how to read, but I did know the name of the book by heart. It was called Wonders of the sea.

Maybe it was then when my fondness of nature took its shape, in the afternoons when we visited my grandparents, and when someone would explain to me that a beautiful fish could be venomous, that some starfishes could grow new arms if they had lost them, and that the scary deep sea creatures had actually come up with their own way of producing light, all by themselves. Although it could have also happened way before; a moment hidden away among those memories that children do not get to keep from their very first years of life.

Or perhaps this appreciation for nature appeared sometime else, and somewhere else, down in the South of Spain and far away from the last village insight in Sierra Morena; in the long walks my grandpa would take me on, during which he would tell me the names of different plants, herbs and flowers, now forever etched into my memory.

The making-of: human detachment from nature

While I am not sure if anyone can pinpoint exactly when this sort of awareness emerges, or where it comes from, I do believe that it is something intrinsic to all human beings. That sense of wanting to know more, to step on a puddle with your rain boots, or to try and touch a small animal, is probably the real reason why we have gotten so far as generations have gone by. Far away from the caves and into homes, villages, temples, cities, then cars and skyscrapers.

Much like what happens in our individual lives, human civilizations have grown in complexity at every step of the way. In the last two hundred years, progress has accelerated at an exponential rate, bringing security and affluence to millions of people worldwide. As a result, absolute extreme poverty numbers have fallen to unprecedented levels, as the below graph shows (found through Professor Dina Pomeranz, from the University of Zurich—@DinaPomeranz).

Roser and Ortiz-Ospina (2020), based on Ravallion (2016), World Bank (2019) and Bourguignon and Morrisson (2002)

Nevertheless, sociocultural development has also meant that in many places around the world, we can now lead lives that are quite detached from nature and our local climates. We do not run out of water easily, nor do we have to walk long distances to find safe sources of water. We do not have to grow our own vegetables or livestock. In reality, we do not even have to go outside to socialize, thanks to social media, or to buy groceries and other utilities, given the online alternatives. We can even work at night and sleep during the day, if we want to. When it is cold, we can turn on the heating. When it is hot, we can use an AC system, and keep on living our lives as usual.

These developments are not bad in themselves, but they help explain why in the last century we have become increasingly forgetful when it comes to nature and the preservation of the environment. So much has changed, in such little time, that we have not had the time to react in a sustainable way. Or have we?

Three keys to the green transition: transparency, uncertainty and antifragility

Every day, more and more people get involved in the sustainability forefront. Individuals are taking steps to support eco-friendly businesses, change their diets, live by the four R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), or purchase their electricity from renewable sources. In the bigger picture, global stakeholders are creating and transforming organizations and businesses with updated objectives; just think of the many nonprofits, social enterprises and companies who are striving to come up with new climate mitigation solutions, alternatives to plastic, sustainable forestry initiatives, affordable off-grid solar systems, water and sanitation technologies, etc.

I see these examples as efforts to redirect our attention to something we had been leaving in the background for far too long. They are all bold attempts to adapt to the increasing complexity and uncertainty of today’s world, remembering what really matters for our survival, and acting on it with the tools we have come up with until now.

In the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who has written extensively on the issue of uncertainty: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty”. Such things are what he calls ‘antifragile’.

There is a green transition underway, one where antifragile businesses will be the ones to succeed, as long as they demonstrate their robustness with transparency and accountability. Why? Because in a world of Internet-informed customers, remaining detached from natural and social impacts is no longer an alternative. And having “skin in the game” (another gem by Taleb) is key for a business to remain fair, strong, and agile in today’s world. In fact, this scrutiny is what will drive the right changes, and promote the growth of sustainable players.

My reasons for joining Fairforce

Fairforce fits right into this picture as a community that will enable the right changes. We have set off to maximize the reach of carbon neutrality among businesses, climate advocates and organizations, so that everyone involved in this new community has more opportunities to thrive sustainably, collaborate and bring others on board, in a way that is both uncomplicated and transparent.

Joining Fairforce felt like a natural step for me (pun intended). By the time I graduated high school, the world I was living in was a lot different to the one in those early recollections from my childhood. We had gone from landline telephones to mobile phones, and then in the span of just a handful of years, we found ourselves with the world at our fingertips thanks to smartphones. Of course, I had also become a different person by then; a conflicted teen with endless dreams and doubts about the future. In the end, I settled for a bachelor’s in Translation and Interpreting, which turned out to be a great way to open my eyes to the world even further, as I connected with people who spoke other languages aside from Spanish and English.

After interning at a small unit in the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and graduating from my bachelor’s, I found a nine-to-five job that had little to do with what I had studied. Soon enough, I realized I wanted to be doing something a lot more meaningful. That something ended up being International Development, and a master’s at the University of Edinburgh. It was thanks to this experience that my interest in sustainability really took its final shape.

I was particularly keen on migration studies, and since climate change has become a key driver of displacement in the last few decades, it completely changed my frame of reference for environmental issues and their impact. I was also chosen as a Research Assistant to perform an analysis of social entrepreneurship in Edinburgh, which helped me understand the ways that businesses can work for the common good. Finally, I submitted my dissertation about the Venezuelan diaspora, remittances and transnational relationships, which I chose to do in light of the people who had really inspired me to pursue this new career path in the first place.

Some last thoughts looking ahead

There are chapters in life that feel particularly truthful, and Fairforce might be the beginning of a new one; just like finally studying something that spoke to me on an entirely different level. I have joined the Value Hawks and Academia teams, and provided leadership, research and even my own designs to better support Fairforce’s vision, and to fine-tune how we engage with stakeholders in green business and academia. While doing so, I have taken a closer look into the exciting off-grid solar sector in East Africa, which I had wanted to do since graduation, and identified ten key entrepreneurs who are changing the game and creating opportunities for people and local economies in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda.

I have met new people from all around the world and exchanged ideas, words of encouragement and moments of laughter, even in the distance; and these connections are already extending into the future, even beyond the internship. Overall, there is such positive energy in the community, since everyone is glad to chip in and help others whenever needed. While only time can tell, this internship has all the signs to become a turning point for me; something worth remembering, despite the apparent uncertainty of everyday life.

Inés Escobar Borruel
Fairforce Student Ambassador

Bourguignon, F. and Morrisson, C. (2002) ‘Inequality Among World Citizens: 1820-1992’, American Economic Review, 92(4), pp. 727–744. doi: 10.1257/00028280260344443.
Ravallion, M. (2016) The Economics of Poverty: History, Measurement, and Policy. New York: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190212766.001.0001.
Roser, M. and Ortiz-Ospina, E. (2019) Global Extreme Poverty, Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty (Accessed: 15 May 2020).
Taleb, N. N. (2012) Antifragile : things that gain from disorder. First edition. New York: Random House.
Taleb, N. N. (2019) Skin in the game : hidden asymmetries in daily life. UK: Penguin Books.
World Bank (2019) PovcalNet. Available at: http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/.