Inside Sustainable Finance; Interview with Ray Dhirani and Chris McHugh

The Finance Industry is one of the most powerful ones needed to move society towards a system change of a more sustainable and resilient planet. We wanted to know more about how the industry has changed in recent years and get an inside look at how professionals anticipate the future of Sustainable Finance. Two of the Student Ambassadors, Evelina and Vjorela, sat down via Zoom separately with Ray  Dhirani, Head of Sustainable Finance at WWF-UK, and Chris McHugh, Director of the  Centre for Sustainable Finance at LIBF, to talk about their perspectives, careers, and future outlooks on Sustainable Finance.

A Career in Sustainable Finance

The interview started with Evelina asking Ray about how he came to this place in his career, and how Sustainable Finance caught his attention

I used to work in traditional finance in the U.S. for almost a decade and I got to the point when I wanted to find something more fulfilling and something that made more of a difference to some of the bigger challenges we face. I came then to the U.K. to do a masters in Environment and Development, it was one of the few programs that combined those two fields, which I thought was important. I found this job at WWF, which wanted to engage the finance sector on conservation and climate, which seemed like a really good fit. I  still use my financial knowledge and you keep learning about the different aspects of it, but this way you use it to make a real difference for future generations. Now I have worked longer at WWF than I have in the private sector and that has been a good shift. In that time there has been an explosion in Sustainable Finance.”

It was sort of an accidental journey” that is how Chris McHugh answered Vjorela’s question on how he started off his career in this specific sector. 

For the first 25 years of his career, Chris McHugh worked as an investment banker in the quantitative end of finance. For various reasons, he left finance back in 2016 and took a job lecturing at the London Institute of Banking & Finance and still does some teaching at the Cambridge Judge Business School in Cambridge. He is also a Ph.D. student studying Development Finance and how to mobilize private capital in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

As a result of all these things, LIBS is quite an unusual institution, its part professional body, and part university. The institution itself decided to have a voice both in sustainable finance and in digital finance and because of his research and background he got asked to set up the Center for Sustainable Finance a project which he is in the process of doing and building out. 

Evelina asked Ray if he noticed any shift in the regular finance industry before leaving it

No, I didn’t, I mean I was not really looking for it and I had no knowledge about Sustainable  Finance at that time. Going back, it was probably small and niche. I left banking in 2010 and at that time it was around but very small, and I certainly had not heard about it within a very large global bank. There has been a huge shift. Of course, some institutions do more than others. Part of our role is to push the agenda to what aligns with what science is saying. The  conversation has certainly moved forward since the time I left.”

“Have you noticed any large changes in the area of Sustainable Finance during the past few years?” – asked Evelina

Yes. In my work, we started with policy work and climate change. Now we are continuing in those areas but also on ocean finance, food, deforestation, and biodiversity, on system change in finance and the wider economy. And now green recovery plans related to COVID.  It is blossoming into different related areas, getting much more mainstream and integrating into a lot of our programming at WWF. Big change externally and internally within the NGO sector in terms of the power in engaging on finance.” – responded Ray

An introduction to Sustainable Finance 

“So Ray – How would you define Sustainable Finance?” – was the next question from Evelina

“I think true Sustainable Finance is achieved when every investment has a positive impact on the planet and people. That is where we need to get to, but that is not where we are today. To me, I believe it is a higher bar than only ESG, Environmental, Social, and Governance. That is one lens and approach. What we talk about is a fundamental reform of the financial system that serves people and the planet. Eventually, we will need the large banks to put impact  alongside risk and return to make a difference while also generating enough sustainable profit as  well, but not at the expense of the whole system and everyone else.”

When Vjorela asked Chris about sustainable finance definitions, he didn’t even blink “I define  it as the Sustainable Development Goals plus the Paris  Agreement” “We could also talk about  ESG”- he added “but ESG is basically the flavor of the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs).” He continued by explaining how in his line of work definitions represent an important   part. When having a meeting with different financial institutions, it is the first thing they need to  understand; they need to know where they stand. 

 “If we define sustainable finance as the net-zero goals or the social goals and the institutional  goals from the SDGs it is partly a recognition that the financial system facilitates that corporate  activity and that is through that capital is allocated that we will make the change happen.” – he  said.

“We need to recognize that finance does have a duty to make the change  happen”  

                                                                               – Chris McHugh

“Speaking of risk,- asked Evelina- “do you see a risk connected to ecological and social investments? Do you see a specific risk in investing in  ethical initiatives?”

Ray: Well, it is a good question.  A lot of investment analysis is done by backward-looking data, but no one can predict the future. COVID is a great example, some people predicted something like it, but the timing, impact, and scale – no one could predict all of that.

Whether you invest in coal, oil, and gas or companies that invest in healthcare, afforestation,  and renewable energy, all investments will carry risk. A certain segment of that will make a  positive impact on society and a certain segment will not. Those different factors turn into risk over time as society is changing. We must think more long term. We need to build the society we want to see.

Asked by Vjorela about the presence of risks, Chris admitted that they are present, many and influenced by many factors. The factors themselves are unpredictable. He gave a very tangible example to make his case. 

“In the United Kingdom,”-he said-” not too far down in the future, the point will come when you will be unable to buy a fossil-fueled car, everything will be electric. If you do that, every single car dealer, every single car manufacturer has to start thinking: how am I going to change my production line? What is all my staff gonna do, how am I going to train everybody?  So in this big transition, companies have to start committing. Simultaneously, you suddenly  have created an incentive for investment in battery technology, and fuel efficiency, opening up  charging stations; all of this happens because of policy.”

So where does the risk lie in all of this? Well, there is no guarantee that parameters as they  are now will remain the same. What if a new voted government thinks that this goal is too  difficult, and wants to push the date years further. What if they stop subsidizing electric cars? 

Chris also raises another very interesting point : “The problem with risk managing as it is today,  to some extent is that you look at the past. So you build all your models and distributions on  past events, and almost by definition where we are heading is tail risk. We have very little idea  what it is going to look like.”  

“I think a lot of the statistical models that the financial industry is built upon won’t work,  we need to have new ways of looking at risk”  

                                                                              – Chris McHugh

Chris talked more about the big picture as well, about the communities that are heavily invested  in fossil fuel, what happens to those people, what happens to that city? “These are serious  social issues that need to be managed along the way”

“So, is it easier today to speak about both prioritize sustainable development and revenue?”- asked Evelina 

Ray: Yes, exactly. Sustainable investing does not have to come at the detriment of financial return – that is a myth. You can make a good long-term return while investing sustainably and therefore the whole market should shift in that direction. There are various studies that show this positive connection, one is the Mercer paper from 2015, which writes about asset allocation and climate change. The fact is that the younger generation is demanding the industry to include sustainable investments, or else you won’t have access to their money. There will be around $30 trillion transferred to the younger generation over the next three decades. That is a seismic shift.

Asked by Evelina if he believed that there are other benefits in going green in the finance industry, Ray responded: “Yes, there are the societal benefits and obvious environmental benefits. It will also enable you to attract talent to your organization, so people will genuinely want to work for you. And then the rising customer base who is demanding those types of products. There are a lot of checkmarks there, that is why a lot of institutions are adopting this because they see the business case of it. Ideally, they see environmental and social benefits as well. If we continue as we do today, we are eroding the very fabric of our society, the fabric that creates our economy. What we know today is that business, as usual, will cease to exist. Not to be overly dramatic but I think we only have some time and this next decade is quite important to turn the tide. If we set the right level of ambition. We can’t just be waiting around; we must  change mainstream business and finance.”

When Vjorela asked Chris about the positive sides of these risks, he brought her on a mental journey of success. Thinking about what the world would look like if we managed to achieve the Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. We then would have managed to switch and found our economy from a consumer economy into more of a cyclical, potentially we have sorted out gender equality, hunger, poverty, good work opportunities.

“How does it feel if we succeed in all of these? It is going to feel pretty good! It is going to be  fair and sustainable for the environment and for people as well!”  

Evelina: Is it becoming “common sense” that we must invest in a more green system  within the finance industry?

Ray: Yes, I think so, it is a mix of common sense and also policies and regulations are pointing in that direction. There are different paces and issues in different countries, but the direction is one way, and that is why we have to start to align there. You see the common sense of it. You don’t want your loan book penalized because it is too brown. Over time, that could lead to real capital charges. You don’t want your business to be positioned with stranded assets if policies continue to shift. That is the other big angle and I think Europe is probably leading in terms of the sustainable finance agenda on regulation. China is doing interesting things. The US is lagging in this aspect, but things are moving in only one direction – toward sustainable finance.

Policies today and tomorrow

Evelina: In the finance industry, are there a lot of policies and restrictions, sustainability wise? Do you have a track you have to stay in?

Ray: Some of the tracks are still developing, the climate track is most aware. Still, there are loads of issues around metrics, data, alignment to the Paris agreement, etc., and other issues like the broader environment, nature. We need to work on it with regulators the industry and civil society. I think there is still a lot of that to be done. It’s not just about issuing a sustainable product, it’s about aligning the business to sustainability in the time we have. I would rather have a harder conversation, with the right actors, to get the right results. Rather than doing little bits here and there; they’re not going to be enough to take us to where we need to be.

Vjorela: How big of a role do government policies play in Sustainable Finance?

Ray: Yes, a very big role. They set the enabling framework, within which the finance and business sectors operate. So, they are quite cognizant of this agenda, particularly in some countries, and they have a big role to play. But some are avoiding doing things that are more difficult, some are avoiding challenging the industry too much, or to put additional regulation in. But the EU sustainable finance action plan is a good example.

Evelina: If we think about this movement as stepwise, where do you see the finance industry going in the next step, what is the next step, or what you hope is the next step?

Ray: We are launching a finance film (http://www.ourplanet.com/finance) in September, that will help to answer that question. It is kind of a bit of everything, in the sense that you need leadership within the institution.

Certainly, you need commitments, in terms of lending policies, or investment policies followed through, and discussions amongst all the actors to know that this is going in the right direction scientifically. Of course, the policy and regulatory framework needs to be supportive of businesses that are actually moving. It is rarely that policy moves way ahead of  business, and we are seeing some leaders emerge that convince policy makers that they can  move and it can ratchet up things, I think that’s what I’m hoping we’ll see. We are seeing a bit  of that already, but we need to see more.

The hardships of Sustainable Finance career          

Vjorela asked Chris about the difficulties and the challenges he had faced in his career, He  talked about some very down to earth moments. Communicating, and communicating your  message clearly. Also, audience, the importance of trying to get your message through to  someone who might not think the same way you do. Those were some of the biggest  challenges he has faced. And when you think about it it actually makes complete sense. “If  you are talking to people that already agree with you,” -he explained, “how does that advance  things. So going out and talking to the people who have different views is a big part of my work.  That is why having a clear message is so important, a clear message that you can justify, in  order to change people’s minds”  

He thought for a moment, and then added: 

“I’ll give you a clear mission for what we are trying to do: whatever we produce, whatever we  are writing about, whatever we discuss, or help people with, we are very keen to make sure  that there is a practical use to the people that actually perform sustainable finance”  

“We want to talk to the people that make the money flow, whatever we do, needs to be  of practical use to those people”

                                                                         –  Chris McHugh 

Then got deeper into how these implementations come about and the challenges that arise.  He explained how it is true that if you look up a large financial institution, and look at their  annual report, you can just go to their website where you will see a very wonderful statement  of their sustainable finance  definition and an explanation of all their activity. 

“But when you run a bank with 100,000 people in it, how do you make that relevant to all the  staff in the organization so they understand what it means to do their job in that context; It  needs to be propagated and be meaningful to the people what work for you”

“There is a challenge,” he continued, “how do you create products and explain to all your staff  the importance of that. Now I have my own views, you do it through the pricing of products,  you make it better for customers, if you have sustainable products that are economically more  attractive, people will change their behavior; it might be slightly cynical but i think it is true.”

“You are always going to have some people who think it’s box-ticking, however in finance the way we deal with that is by having tight processes and good oversight. I mean, it is unfortunate,  but it is truth, somebody doesn’t believe it but they will do it anyway, you can have a discussion around the philosophy of ethics and things like that but..”- he finished the sentence with a slight smile.

“You want people to believe, but if they can’t believe, the next best thing is to get them to do it  anyway.”

Sustainable Finance and COVID-19

According to a publication by UNEP inquiry and FC4S (Financial Centres for Sustainability) the COVID-19 pandemic has had the largest impact on the financial sector than anything else in recent decades. After the challenge of the large health crisis we have to start thinking of how to rebuild the economy. This could be seen as an opportunity to build a resilient and low-carbon society.

Evelina: How do you want the world to shift after the COVID pandemic? And how  do you think it will change?

First and foremost, it has been really horrible and a health emergency affecting so many people.”- said Ray

As governments are putting in millions into the economy [at the moment], and as institutions start to rebuild there is an opportunity to ask ourselves what type of system we want. It is a  time to think about fairness, social and ecological sustainability, climate change and resilience. Future shocks could be worse. After the financial crisis, we didn’t really rebuild the financial system as we could have. I hope after this the right decisions are made to make the system more resilient and aligned to sustainable development.

And do you think this crisis leading us to become more digital will affect sustainability thinking within the business?

Hopefully,”- said Ray- “enough people will know the impact of going somewhere and learned that you need to think about if you really need to physically go somewhere, what is the impact environmentally. I think face-to-face interaction is important, but the amount of business travel was becoming too much. In WWF we actually have a carbon budget for our staff, in terms of work travel and we need to keep within that budget and sometimes it means you can’t go here or there or within Europe, you need to take the train. That’s the direction we  collectively need to be moving toward.”

Cautiously hopeful

Evelina: Well, with everything said, are you hopeful that society and finance are moving in the right direction?

Ray: I think so, generally. That depends on which day you ask me and what is going on. Generally, yes, the momentum is there, and it needs to accelerate and do so in the right way.  So, I am hopeful, on most days. It is a worthwhile battle because we do need this thriving planet, in order for us to thrive as a species. I am hopeful and also nervous about the direction that we are all in and that things are moving too slowly.

Grateful and hopeful 

“I actually feel immensely privileged to have a position where I have the ability to project  a view”

                                                                           – Chris McHugh

“I believe through my work that I can make a difference”- he said chuckling a bit, probably at  how poetic that sounded.

Sources:

McDaniels, Jeremy (2020). Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Sustainable Finance,  UNEP Inquiry and FC4S. https://unepinquiry.org/wp-

content/uploads/2020/05/Implications_of_the_COVID-

19_Pandemic_for_Global_Sustainable_Finance.pdf

A sustainable alternative to plastic packaging materials; Interview with Esa Torniainen, Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Paptic Ltd.

Plastic pollution is a global environmental problem and requires fast actions. We need to find sustainable solutions for the millions of tons of plastic waste entering nature annually. A huge amount of plastic materials that are used for packaging applications end up in the oceans and seas. To overcome such a big challenge worldwide, new ways of doing things by means of technology and innovations are inevitable. 

Paptic Ltd is a Finnish technology start-up company that focuses on replacing plastic materials in packaging with sustainable fiber-based alternatives. Paptic Ltd as a spin-off from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland was founded in 2015 by Esa Torniainen , Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski, and Tuomas Mustonen. This innovative company from Finland is a pioneer in the fight against plastic pollution.

The Paptic founders are in the list of Fairforce 100 Plastic Waste Reduction Professionals due to their impact-driven expertise on bringing sustainable solutions to the packaging industry.  I had the pleasure of having an insightful interview with Esa Torniainen to hear how Paptic products help us and our planet survive.    

A Sustainable Alternative to Plastic Films

According to Paptic’s Chief Business Development Officer: “We started our business to make the world a bit better place. The whole idea behind Paptic is to bring fast-impact solutions to the market. Likewise, the mission of Paptic Ltd. is defined as helping sustainably oriented companies in transition from plastics to eco-friendly packaging solutions.

The story of Paptic began around 2013, when Esa together with the CEO and Co-founder Mr. Tuomas Mustonen were in VTT. Their customers, meaning brand owners and big international companies, were repeatedly asking from them: “Do you have something to replace plastic films?”

As Esa Torniainen describes, “The situation was changing, and companies were ready to pay more for the sustainable alternatives. It was a very strong signal, so we studied different options and processes for creating a product or material that could challenge plastic films fast”. 

Entrepreneurship and Taking the Responsibility 

We are all aware of the current unpleasant environmental facts and the necessity of practical actions for our common futureThere is no time to waste. It is almost ten million tons of plastic waste ending up in the ocean every year; we cannot wait for another ten years, we need to react now,” as Esa implies.

Having worked for decades in the forest industry, Esa knew that there are many product opportunities using wood fibers in novel ways and the possibility of introducing totally new kinds of raw materials that bring new product features to paper. At this stage, Paptic’s third co-founder Dr. Karita Kinnunen-Raudaskoski came into the picture as Chief Technology Officer (CTO). She is an expert and a high-profile researcher in the field of paper & forest products’ industry, polymer chemistry, and nanomaterials. 

After defining the product and having samples ready at Paptic, it was time to meet brands and retailers. The feedback was positive, and they wanted to order the Paptic material. But they’ve faced a problem as Esa explains, “To whom we will introduce the idea?  If we start selling this idea or IP to big international chemical or forest industry companies, it will take years to make it operational. These companies could not make this reality fast enough”.

This was the very first time to ask, “should we become entrepreneurs, founding our own company, and start making our life difficult?” 

By looking twice at the reality of having the know-how, technology, networks, and connections in hand, there was no question at the end of the day. Paptic’s Chief Business Development Officer describes the moment they’ve answered their question; “We saw that we have only one choice. It’s actually our responsibility to do this. Let’s go and found Paptic. Either we do it or become lazy bastards”.

Overcoming Challenges 

There are always challenges for start-ups that differ depending on the company’s development stage and/or the industry they are operating in. Paptic could successfully turn bottlenecks into achievements.

The incapability to deliver large quantities of products is a very typical problem for a start-up company that Esa pointed out. According to him, “By choosing the contract manufacturing business model, we could bring the product to the market without having to invest tens of millions of euros in the production capacity. Since 2018, we’ve had an industrial material producer that can produce thousands of tons of material annually”.

Other common challenges of start-ups are lack of proof of concept, continuous capital need, and absorbing investors’ long process. Esa refers to the complexity of making a deal in the packaging industry, Paptic’s primary customers, indicating that “It’s a very slow and price-conscious industry that even 2 percent more expensive material than the current alternative is a nightmare. Although big companies are looking for ways to make their business more sustainable, it is a complicated process that takes time. For a start-up company that would very much like to get more income and turn over, waiting for a year before the final decision is a long time”.

Esa briefly explains their negotiation process with a customer company: “The first step is usually discussions with the marketing department to show the samples and sustainability credentials. Then meet the sustainability people. The next step is with the sales department.  In the end, the purchasing department sees the price per bag is somewhat higher than plastic or paper bags. In that stage, we have the marketing and sales guys behind us, and they say that this is not just a shift from one bag to another bag, it brings good values related to the brand visibility, it is a reusable bag, and that is what the consumer prefers”. 

He also brings up examples of deals with the two biggest department stores in Finland: “Paptic’s current customers aren’t an exception to this rule. We went through the whole of this process, and now the important thing is that in the forerunner companies Sokos and Stockmann there will be no plastic bags anymore”

Achievements and the Paptic® Tringa Material

Paptic products are now available in more than 30 countries. Paptic material has the liked attributes of both paper and plastic, e.g softness with no cracking sound and moist proof. 

Paptic customers, mainly brand owners in product packaging, have received positive feedback from consumers replacing single-use plastics with Paptic carrier bags at stores or taking Paptic e-commerce mailers in use for online shopping.  As Esa points out: “Consumers are actively following what the brands are doing, and they react to changes.” 

Recently, the Paptic® Tringa, a new packaging material solution for e-commerce, was awarded in ScanStar 2020. This award gives Paptic the right to enter the international WorldStar competition arranged by the World Packaging Organization (WPO).

The Paptic® Tringa is made with renewable raw materials and is a unique packaging material combining high performance and sustainability. Since December 2018, this reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, and water-resistant material has been available for sustainability-oriented brand owners and retailers. 

Stockmann e-commerce mailer (left), Paptic® Tringa roll (middle), Sokos carrier bag (right)

Thinking to the Biggest Impact

A significant majority of people are now aware of the environmental hazards caused by single-use products. Esa believes “If the brands or retailers present new alternatives, consumers are ready to change their consumption habits or help with the matter”. 

However, there is also a small group of extreme environmentalists, but Paptic’s focus is on the bigger picture and solutions in reality. As Esa indicates, “We bring such products to the market that a big mass of consumers would change the way they do things. If we think about the impact, it’s much more important to have the change in the big mass”. 

He brings the notion that “Typically light single-use products like packages blown in the wind are the biggest risk to nature, ending in the oceans and seas.”

According to him, “The focus of Paptic is on packaging applications as we see our impact to be the biggest there. Although e-commerce mailer is a fast-growing area where we believe we can offer sustainability benefits to the customers. Still, flexible packaging is a ten times bigger market, which not only means higher business potential, but it also means having a more significant impact”. 

Perspectives to the Future of Packaging Solutions Industry

There are valuable insights that Esa points out regarding the future of the packaging solutions industry and Paptic’s plans.

As constant product development is carried out at Paptic, one of the main development targets now is to make their products lighter. As he explains, “Less grammage per square meter results in savings in energy, raw materials and logistic costs that affect every business we are in.”

In recycling, paying attention to the aspect of being user-friendly and consumers’ comfort is very important. Paptic is among the very few materials that are reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable simultaneously. It can be recycled with paper and cardboard, in which the recycling system is available everywhere. Esa expresses that “I see no future for the idea of having more recycling bins for consumers to put the stuff in. Although most of us want to act sustainably but at the same time, we are lazy”.

Last but not the least, Paptic’s Chief Business Development Officer indicates the importance of delivering the right message from their customers to the end-users. “What will make our business boom is to find how our customers should tell about these new features, materials, and packages to the consumers. When consumers get the right information in an understandable format, it is more probable that they will start choosing the environmentally best solution“.

Ultimately, for having a greener planet, all parties or stakeholders, including big international companies, governments, and society members need to collaborate hand in hand. 

We are all in the same boat, aren’t we?  Any failure or prosperity affects all ecosystems and the lives of people on Earth. So, for taking steps towards a brighter future, we need to take our responsibility today.

 “We can heal our planet, starting from the oceans. We want to act, not just talk”, Paptic’s motto states.

Paptic Ltd | LinkedIn
Paptic® Tringa Packaging Material in Moomin Shops, #OURSEA campaign

Green Data Journey; Interview with Data Scientist Karina Cucchi

Environmental data science is nowadays known as the interdisciplinary field bringing together data science techniques and environmental business know-how for solving environmental issues. The high pace of technical development along with the explosion of environmental data and computing power motivated some data professionals to apply their skills to contribute to preserve the environment. The question is raised for whether it will be possible for humans to overcome the depletion of environmental resources, the speed of global warming, the rising pollution, the danger of hunger and poverty. In order to achieve sustainability, businesses need to have readily available tools for understanding how their decisions can impact the environment. And to achieve this goal, environmental data science can be key.

To learn more about the application of data science in the environmental industry, I had a great pleasure interview with PhD – Data Scientist. Karina Cucchi. 

Karina is an applied mathematician, data scientist and environmental engineer, working at Suez company. She was selected as one of 100 Green Data Driven professionals having great impact in the field of green data. With a background in mathematics, Karina uses mathematical representations of environmental processes to better understand and forecast them. She has previously used these techniques to better understand how water moves in the environment, how health and environmental data can help predict infectious diseases, and how environmental conditions influence yields in crops. Her current work mostly concentrates on utilizing innovative sensors to measure carbon concentration at different locations and building a digital solution supporting the climate transition. 

As a data scientist with a strong quantitative background, Karina Cucchi was willing to share with us her experience in carrying out a career in the environmental industry 

“ I really want to work on designing digital solutions that directly help us make better decisions for the environment” – Karina Cucchi shared in the interview. 

From environmental research to digital solutionsthe first career experience to the ambition to make better environment 

Before stepping into her current role focusing on low carbon solutionsthe current company for working about carbon management, Karina spent several years as a researcher in the department of Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Her PhD work focused on the development of low-cost environmental sensors to monitor water movement in the soil, and on the assimilation of the collected data using advanced mathematical techniques.

She then joined a tech company in she used to have time to settle her career path in the first company about digital agriculture, with the goal of applying her skills for real world applications. The goal is applying big data, environmental processes to support farmers to manage the farming operation. The idea of the work is making recommendations for farmers to use less of the input, optimize the financial investment and try to maximize the productivity of the operation. Since working for the first company, she holds a big ambition for making the environment better and still nurturing doing it so far. The goal of the digital agriculture industry is to help farmers manage their operations using data science and domain expertise.

When being asked about the obstacles that she met when in  working with environmental data, she did not hesitate to  share:

“ You had a lot of data, but at the same time this data is messy and it available and it doesn’t cover all the cases that you’re interested in understanding. So in order to interpret the data , you need to understand the physical processes that underlie them. This is what allows to link , in order to understand what are the important factors such as crop genetics and fertilizers inputs, to the outcome you’re interested inhat explain the certain outcomes. “

It can be clearly seen that to get an appropriate decision in environmental impact, it not only requires the data background but it also needs to combine with having the understanding  about the physical processes of operation. In the talk with Karina Cucchi, she pointed out a part of the picture about data application in the agriculture field. As we can see that, the introduction of big data in agriculture brings a lot of benefits for farmers and reduces a lot of physical work. DThe data scientists inor agritech companies utilize real-time data from on site can utilize the sensors and satellites and their understanding of environmental processes to help farmers maximize yield on fields while minimizing inputs. or different measurements for updating the real-time data in the field, weather prediction or water irrigation controlling. However, as a data scientist, their responsibility is to interpret the data under an algorithm and apply it to specific cases, try to minimize the input data like use less water, fertile or energy and maximize the yield of crops.  

Future activities in the career path 

When being asked about what she would like to do to make the environment better, Karina Cucchi shared that she would like to keep pursuing the career in the application of data science for in building solutions for the environment, bringing data science to environmental solutions. She wants to talk, continue talking with customers to better understand what issues they are running into and they need and building the solutions that fits their needsbased on that. 

Otherwises, she also would like to challenge herself to  have more experience and try in different fields or new domain knowledge because she believes that there is the transposition between different fields and domain knowledge. It will be great if having a connection or switching between these different fields. She is excited to start her new position helping cities monitor carbon emissions and implement low carbon solutions at Suez.

In her personal life, Karina has also taken action by In the last interview, I was impressed with her sharing when it comes to her personal activities that make the environment better, she tried to minimizinged herto eat meat consumption to less than  just for once a month, and by usinge the carbon compensation to compensate herfor the carbon emissions from her activities and would like to have a living home involving in eco-friendly life. 

Tips for having a more sustainable lifestyle; Interview with Monika Poppy and Alba Sueiro Roman

Sustainability has no longer been an odd term, but when talking about how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s always really elusive. We have had the opportunity to interview two influencers on the Fairforce’s 100 Green-Influencers- list about what we can do to live more sustainably. They are Monika Poppy –  founder of Sustainability is cool and Alba Sueiro Román – Founder of the first sustainable holiday apartments in Cantabria (Northern Spain) The Cantabrian Eco-apartamentos.

Below are some incredibly insightful and inspiring tips given by Alba and Monika.

  1. “Start small” – Monika says

It means you can start consuming less meat, or using less disposable goods, since according to the UN environment programme (UNEP) Animal agriculture’s greenhouse gas footprint is rivaling that of any car, truck , bus, ship, aircraft and rocket ship combined. According to the October Alert issued by the UNEP, Meat consumption is growing rapidly and meat production currently accounts for 10-35 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas ( GHG ) emissions. The largest share of agricultural-related GHG emissions is from methane (CH4 ) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

  1. “Buying second hand products” Monika says

Another suggestion would be buying second hand clothes and giving second lives to your items whether it’s clothes or pieces of furniture. There are a lot of great applications and websites built to help people give or sell their old stuff nowadays. Monika suggested that before buying any items, it’s better to use trustful platforms that sell items with good quality, good services and allow users to sell their stuff as well.

Welovebudapest 2020. http://gg.gg/m5iy7 
  1. “Re-evaluate what you really need” – Alba says

It is very important to realize and be certain about your needs in this modern society where consumerism is increasing globally, not just in developed countries but also in those fast-developing economies. Initially you can start asking yourself before buying any new items with the question “Do I really need this?”. Determining your actual needs will help you avoid contributing to the environment an unwanted amount of waste or emissions.

  1. Start buying sustainable brands – Alba suggests

“When you have to buy, buy from people and brands that actually care about what they are doing to our planet, are their products environmental friendly as well as how they care about their employees’ benefit”

Few words about responsible brands

Alba’s suggestion reminds me of a sentence that was given by Professor Richard Appelbaum in a speech at the TEDxUCSB event about the harsh working conditions that many corporate factory workers around the world face daily, and suggested ways that we, as consumers, can help combat this injustice. In the speech, he said, “It doesn’t take millions of people to make a difference. It takes a small group of committed people”. It’s up to us to decide whether the world is watching or not, and “it is really incumbent on all of us to reach out and do something to make a difference in the lives of people who make all the stuff we enjoy every day” – Professor Appelbaum said.

In our Fairforce 100 Green Influencers, we included those who utilize their social media profiles and blogs to inspire environmental change and sustainable paths. We want to share with the world how hard professionals are working in their fields to make a difference for our planet in an attempt to improve sustainable practices.

Thank you Alba and Monika for spending your time joining the interview and give us such useful information. For the future, we will try to have more conversations with more influencers from around the world to learn about their positive actions on the environment as an influencer. If you find these tips useful and want to know more about Monika and Alba’s green lifestyle, here are the links to their Instagram accounts Alba Sueiro Román, Monika Poppy

Sustainability data – From data explosion to smart access; Interview with the CEO of SustainLab: Maria Svantemark

Lost in the explosion of data

As we know, the environmental problems and climate change issues are big concerns to our whole world. The development of technologies along with the introduction of big data, machine learning and others data application could be seen as promising approaches for curbing greenhouse gases emission, fighting climate changes and placing a key stone for green data driven solutions to get a more sustainable life. 

Nowadays the role of data and the approach to access it keeps an important position for many companies solving environmental issues. However, there will be a tough challenge for environmentalists or green companies on the way to access the right and high quality data sources under the pressure of huge green data quantity.

According to United Nation estimation, about 90% data have been created in the last two years and this number can be raised by 40% each year. The increasing consumption of digital devices today such as mobile, sensor, images,  makes the data source even more enormous and the collection of data becomes easier than ever.

A question is:  in the explosion of data like nowadays, how individuals or businesses can access the right way to the high-quality data and proper data source so that they can base on this data to make a right decision or green solutions which could be considered to contribute to the sustainable development of the world. 

The advent of an intelligent platform for accessing high-quality data

To tackle this obstacle about green data access, I had an interview with Co-founder and CEO of SustainLab  – Maria Svantemark. She is selected to be in the top 100 of green data-driven professionals with a significant impact on the environment with related activities by Fairforce.

Maria Svantenmark founded SustainLab in early 2020 with the goal to create next-generation technology to help businesses gather, process, and understand their sustainability data.  This is done by making data handling so simple that companies can have visibility of sustainability data as often as financial data and review it in every management team meeting, instead of reviewing the performance once yearly. This enables companies to make more informed decisions, ripe the benefits of having an active sustainability work, and accelerate the change to more sustainable business models.

During the talk, she expressed the extensive perspectives in sustainability data  and motivation that inspired her to found SustainLab.She also reflected the exactly real problems that not only green companies usually meet but also for the community of data science currently are facing: 

“The quality  of data to measure the sustainability impact of companies is usually very low and infrequently collected. This  makes it impossible to steer companies’  sustainability agenda in an effective way and take action in a timely manner” – CEO Maria Svantemark shared about the current issues with lack of accurate and frequently collected data  to make decisions in the field of sustainability in companies. 

The green data world with the exponential increasing speed highly requires an intelligent access way to exploit it, bring it to the light.  The more high-quality data being accessed, the more accurate decisions or solutions are made. The birth of this smart access like SustainLab attracts a lot of attention and interest from investors, individuals who have interest in the field of sustainability , academia and any data professional.

 “ SustainLab enables access to up-to-date,high- quality data and performance visibility. Without having companies measuring their performance accurately, a climate safe future is very far away.

Our globe is immersed in the world of digital technical devices and environmental or sustainable problems nowadays are being easily tackled based on the availability of data sources equipped with smart accessing ways. Big data will shed light on diversified sides of problems about human rights, environment, climate, equal genders, racism, poverty and other sustainable and social issues. 

When being asked about what motivation prompted Maria to come up with this smart company, with this intelligent product, she proudly shared one of her childhood memories when she was 8 years old, when she ensured that her family stopped buying chlorine-bleached toilet paper after being inspired by a school project.Since that moment, the passion for making a greener world grew up inside her day by day and brought her to become a green-hearted professional with an intelligent company named SustainLab, having a real impact on sustainable development. 

Before closing the interview, I was very impressed with her words spreading about her personal green life: “ I am a vegetarian. I don’t own a car. I travel preferably by train and in election, sustainability is my most important question“  These words from her also on behalf of many green hearted professionals would like to send the green messages to everyone to make this world become greener. The world becoming greener will not only lie on the digital technical devices, beyond that is an eco friendly lifestyle of each individual. 

Moving Plastic Wastes to Circularity: Interview with Dr. Feliks Bezati, Tristan Algera and Marko Kärkkäinen

Our planet is increasingly being used as a dumping ground for unwanted plastic, polluting the oceans and presenting a health hazard for both humans and wildlife. Thankfully, driven and committed business people across the world are finding innovative solutions to reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in our environment.

We have recognised some of these individuals on our list of “Fairforce 100 Plastic Waste Reduction Professionals” due to the significant contributions they have made in this area. Not only that, but we also had the pleasure of interviewing three of them: Dr. Feliks Bezati, Global Sustainable Packaging Manager at Mars, Tristan Algera, the Co-founder of PackBack and Marko Kärkkäinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Clewat Oy. Their insight and expertise provide food for thought on how businesses can help alleviate the problem of plastic waste.

Thinking Circular

Having worked in the area of sustainability at different companies, Dr. Feliks Bezati is a “strong believer in the circular economy.” At Mars, his role was created one year ago in order to look at how packaging could be made circular.

To make that happen, Feliks explains, two strategic pillars needed to be revisited: design and waste management infrastructure. “We can simplify the design of our packaging to give it more chances to be recycled, but it is much harder to influence how the packaging will be collected, sorted and recycled. We rely on waste management infrastructure, but we can only improve it by working together with other companies and governments.

Tristan Algera’s brand, PackBack, presents another circular solution. Restaurants re-use PackBack containers for food deliveries over and over again, reducing the amount of plastic disposed of after a mere 30 minutes of use. Tristan tells us that “every time restaurants reuse container, they make money out of the container.” As a result, “profit and sustainability go hand in hand, which could prove to be a very good business model for the future. It is in our incentive to be as sustainable as possible” he explains.

Whilst Packback containers are made from polypropylene, their light, flexible and durable nature means that this type of plastic is ideal for the job in hand. Both Tristan and Feliks are advocates of plastic, where it is used responsibly and repeatedly. Tristan explains that “reuse is more important than using a different material. For [PackBack’s] concept, plastic is the best way.” Similarly, Feliks reasons that “plastic plays an important role in improving our daily lives but is a problem if it ends up in nature. If circular, it is a great material and it’s our role to make it happen.

Being Green is an Advantage

When asked whether or not being environmentally friendly could be considered a competitive advantage, all three of our professionals were keen to explain that this is indeed the case. Marko Kärkkäinen, CCO at cleantech water-clearing company Clewat Oy, tells us that “now, everyone has time to talk; packaging companies are open to dialogue about how we can help them and what they should do”.

Marko explains the significance of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which has already committed $1.5 billion USD to alleviate the plastic problem. “Global companies have already woken up,” he says. Eco-friendly business models are becoming increasingly embraced worldwide.

Tristan agrees that being green is a competitive advantage in his industry, too. Tristan often says to friends that he’s “never had such an easy sales conversation” than those he is having presently. He adds that “everybody wants to jump on the environmentally friendly bandwagon; everybody wants to join in.” PackBack is liaising with large organisations, supermarkets, large packaging companies and takeaways, who are all eager to shift to a green business approach. “Everybody likes us and everybody wants to help out, so for now, it’s really working out,” he says.

Feliks also believes that companies who don’t go circular “will have big to lose in the long term.” To him, operating within the circular economy is “about protecting business, managing risks and creating strategy that makes your company flourish in the long run. He adds that rather than creating minor changes which are intended to improve public relations, a larger systemic change is required. “It’s the responsibility of mass-production companies to take a “leadership role” in delivering this transition, with smaller businesses following suit.

The Challenges

Whilst going green can be considered great for both business and the environment, it’s not always plain sailing. Marko describes bottlenecks for a relatively new company as funding and lack of proof of concept despite of many research and pilot projects. Another significant obstacle for businesses with green initiatives in this area is the lack of effective infrastructure. Regarding cleaning oceans, rivers and lakes at Clewat Oy, Marko brings an example from parts of South Asia where besides recyclable plastic material in the rivers, more than 90 percent of river wastes contain organic materials or vegetations that can be delivered to bio-gas or composting plants. He indicates that “when we have built up those value chains, saving the seas or rivers goes to the next level”.

No alt text provided for this image

Tristan remarks that PackBack relies on cleaning its containers so that they can be re-used, but there are “only two big cleaning facilities in the Netherlands and not many in Europe at all.

This is significant as drying plastic is a complex process. As a result, Tristan explains that it has been “difficult to scale the business up quickly.

Additionally, Feliks tells us that building infrastructure can be time-consuming, taking “3 to 5 years just to prepare the land, plant and machinery for recycling”. The collection, sorting and recycling of packaging is also complicated because it is country dependant. “What we are missing today is scale and better collaboration with governments and municipalities,” Feliks explains. He adds that this is particularly true within developing economies. “Many of those countries across the world severely lack in infrastructure. There, we do not even talk about recycling, we talk about getting the waste out of nature. We need waste management infrastructure urgently in those areas, especially considering future pace of growth and consumption.

Moving Forward and Collaboration

In order to overcome hurdles in plastic reduction, Marko tells us that “collaboration is the key.

Although Clewat Oy is a commercial business, he hopes to foster partnerships with non-profits such as the Ocean Cleanup. He adds: “one company can do only a small effort, but if you are joined together you can do a lot.” Being involved in many beach cleaning projects worldwide, Marko explains that “if we build up the value chain and companies, governments and people work together, we can pool research materials and begin recycling an industrial amount of plastic waste”.

Similarly, Feliks stresses the importance of collaboration.

As brand owners, he says, “we are the ones who are blamed for plastic waste but unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones in this value chain. We need to collaborate across the whole value chain.” Although he believes that large companies have a responsibility to put the “right” product into the market, collaboration with a range of entities is necessary to make a systemic positive impact.

Feliks also hopes that in 10 to 20 years, positions like his will exist in every company. “All my roles were newly created as these types of positions didn’t exist before,” he points out. Such jobs are important as they help companies understand the entire life cycle of packaging and assess the business and environmental risks. Feliks asserts that “it’s extremely important to have this big picture in mind.” By analysing the bigger picture, companies can help develop the value chain and work together to deliver a positive, systemic and lasting change.

Likewise, to Tristan, “connecting all parties” in the network is important to make re-use efficient and widespread. He also hopes to facilitate the development of infrastructure in order to shift to re-use on a larger scale. With effective collaboration and the right machinery, PackBack’s operations have the potential to be replicated for different products and services all over the world. That could prevent a whole lot of plastic from being wasted.

Having an Impact

Markko, as being a diver who sees the underwater world and coral reefs reminds us to put efforts for keeping the beauty of nature. He indicates that we can do more things every day as likewise he uses public transportation and sustainable brands. He also added that “I’ve been like an influencer with my family and friends towards sustainability”.  

Feliks is proud of changing the mindset of companies he was involved with and creating a network of circular ambassadors. Coming from a scientific background and believing in systemic change which requires educating companies and individuals, Feliks says that “I’ll do my part in the system, and I try to educate my network and friends about recycling and responsible choices they can make.

Tristan tells us that founding PackBack was the best decision he’s made in his life and career. “Now, every day I do something that I’m really happy with; every hour I put in I hope that I’m making the world a little bit better. That’s also an incentive to work really hard and to be very passionate about what I’m doing.

Thanks to the impact-driven and sustainable business solutions that our three professionals are carrying out to protect the planet Earth. Their inspiring words make us rethink to take action today for adapting our businesses or lifestyles to reduce plastic waste. As Tristan once asked himself:

Do we want to be the generation that turned our head away and thought this problem will solve itself, or be the generation that started something?

Sustainable Fashion: Interview with Shalize Nicholas Designer Director at Madia & Matilda and Valerie Goode Creative CEO of Kitty Ferreria

I had the opportunity to interview two of the women on our Fairforce list of Top Female Sustainable Fashion Innovators in Europe to discuss what it takes to make green clothing a reality. Shalize Nicholas of Madia & Matilda, and Valerie Goode of Kitty Ferreria, both based in the UK, shared some of the benefits and challenges of pioneering sustainable fashion models. 

Sustainability Values

For them, starting sustainable fashion brands was first and foremost about what they could do for the planet, rather than making a lot of money. Shalize explains that being sustainable is the foundation of everything that they do at Madia and Matilda, so whether or not this was a business advantage or not was never on her mind. Valerie expressed similar feelings, saying that her goal was to demonstrate that creating a sustainable fashion brand was possible and that bringing in massive profits was never the intention of the business. 

“This is more to do with a moral backbone, ethical codes, and your own personal value system,” Valerie says. “But in the business world, I think it does translate into a much more talked about product at the very least. Of course, you always have to find the right target market to sell to.”

Challenges in sustainable fashion

I asked Shalize about some of the challenges that she has experienced in building her sustainable brand. Since using recycled and upcycled materials is the main strategy of her company, Shalize expressed that “it’s always a challenge to try and repeat what we produce. Because we have such limited amounts of material, it’s always been really challenging to be able to repeat the process. That’s why we tend to do things very minimalistically, because if we have a print, then we only have so much of that print.”

However, one advantage of only using recycled materials for Shalize is that creating affordable garments is easier. Shalize often sources her fabrics from car-boot sales or textile recycling centres where the fabric would have otherwise been scrapped. In this way, Madia & Matilda produces clothes that reduce waste. Calculating the carbon footprint of each garment is something Shalize is currently working on, because she believes it will help to inform consumers of what they are buying and what their impact on the planet is. 

Educating the public on the importance of sustainable fashion and how they can live more sustainable lifestyles was a major point that both Shalize and Valerie emphasised. When Shalize first started Madia and Matilda in 2013, many didn’t understand her sustainable approach but were drawn in by her designs. 

“That’s where it became useful to become a part of small movements, and do get involved in hack-athons and workshops,” Shalize says, “just to educate people on what could be done and why we’re doing what we’re doing. I think it’s really important to be a part of that. Now we have customers that come to us to have alterations or repairs because they understand they can make their clothes last longer instead of throwing them away. They’re mindset is to do better for the planet and we work with customers like that. They like purchasing our stuff because they know it’s doing something good and it’s not wasteful, and that’s what’s important.”

Shalize’s workshops teach people how to take their old garments and create something new, thereby recycling their clothes and reducing waste. 

Valerie too runs workshops, as well as speaking at universities and running a community organisation called Cocoa Collective. Teaching participants practical skills like how to repair their clothes is one aspect of education for Valerie, but she highlights that it’s important to first demonstrate to young people ways that they are already living sustainably. 

“When you talk to young people about ethical fashion,” she says, “I think the first thing is to draw out what they are already doing, rather than trying to draw a disparity in what they’re doing. For example, I will say: “I’m sure some of you are already customising clothing, that is a sustainable model. Now imagine if you customise your entire wardrobe over a period of every season, then you are already living out a sustainable fashion.” When you put it like that to them, then they realise it’s not an elitist mindset around ethical fashion, it is actually very accessible because they’re already doing that.”

Honouring cultural heritage is a key element at Cocoa Collective, where people from black and ethnic minority groups come together to discuss sustainability. Valerie explains that many cultures outside of the western world, including the Carribean where her family comes from, already execute sustainable lifestyles through their traditions. Celebrating and harnessing those traditions, rather than perpetuating a false idea that everything outside of the west is inferior, is something Valerie sees as essential for fighting climate change on a global scale. 

“We talk about their own traditional techniques for making fabrics and making clothes that I wouldn’t know about because I’ve never been to their country,” Valeria explains. “In Africa there are 54 countries, the Carribean has multiple islands, all of which have their own traditions and approaches to fashion. In the sustainable field, we don’t speak about that because we’re very focused on European viewpoints. So, I just felt that there’s a slight gap there and this is where Cocoa Collective comes in.”

Future of sustainable fashion

I asked both Shalize and Valerie what they think needs to happen for the fashion industry at large to become sustainable.

Shalize noted that since 2013, the number of sustainable brands has increased and awareness about the fashion industry’s impact on the planet is growing. 

“So, it’s definitely changing,” she says, “but as a whole it comes down to the consumer as well as the manufacturing process. We need to change our thinking when it comes to shopping. This is why brands like mine need to first educate people on why sustainability is important.”

Valerie agreed that the culture and mindset around fashion needs to change. She described what has been termed the “hippie capitalist” approach, that is, instilling a moral backbone ethical perspective on how we trade with and educate people. But more importantly, Valerie highlighted the need to value traditions and cultures from around the world, explaining that negative perspectives of non-western nations can be detrimental to fighting climate change. First and second generation immigrants in Europe often come to her workshops believing in the inferiority complex that mainstream media still suggests regarding foreigners. The value of their diverse cultural techniques for producing sustainable and ethical clothing is thus emphasised at Cocoa Collective. 

“You cannot fight climate change without first dismantling systemic racism,” she says, pointing out that this is something the fashion industry needs to recognise. 

Finding new protein alternatives to substitute meat – Interview with Eslam Salah, Founder of Lupinta, and Madeleine Linins Mörner, Director for Future Food Program at Axfoundation

Have you ever wondered how plant-based businesses are growing so fast lately? This Summer, Judit Olofsson and I, as Fairforce Student Ambassadors got the great chance to interview Eslam Salah, an award-winning entrepreneur who founded and manages Lupinta, a startup developing meat substitutes from locally farmed lupin beans; and  Madeleine Linins Mörner, a professional who has developed her career in sustainability and now is the director of Future Food program in Axfoundation, where they plan to change the way food is produced nowadays.

“If we replace 15-20% of the total land used today for animal farming in Europe with lupin farming, then, we will have enough plant-based protein for animals, human consumption and we will free space in the rainforest to replant 30 billion trees.” One of the interesting facts Eslam talked about was how much environmental impact they could make by switching from animal farming to a plant-based one. In addition, he affirmed that we will not need to transport 32 million tonnes of raw material from outside the EU. On the other hand, Madeleine pointed out the issue regarding plant-based protein crops in Sweden, affirming that it is not easy to grow soy crops because of the weather conditions and the climate disadvantages the bean presents nowadays. – “there is a big gap in the infrastructure around handling, particularly protein crops. We are lacking in infrastructure: there is an infrastructure in Holland, Germany… but in Sweden, we don’t have it in the same sort of way. Like, to isolate the protein and get the sole protein out of it, that sort of proteins we don’t have here.” As soy is an increasing seller crop nowadays, she is worried Sweden can not produce itself and the negative environment it has when importing it. She believes businesses would be the fastest ones to fix this issue, as soon as they are aware of the financial and operating benefits it brings them. “For us, business is the best vehicle. If you get a business to realise they can either make money, save money or build the brand; if they decide to take a sustainable stand, the change will come quickly.”, as time is an issue and we do not have much left. The key is showing companies how benefiting it is for them to switch to a more sustainable way of working, according to Madeleine. She also mentions the customer influence in plant-based food consumption. “Showing them that healthy soil will produce healthy superfoods and it will also be good for our planet would be great, but there is a lot of research to be done so all of that can be proved.”

Moreover, these green professionals shared the view that there should be a better connection among the food value chain “There are great silos in the agriculture and food sector chain: every part of the chain encloses itself in its little world: you have to get the value chain to work together” declared Madeleine. She believes in bringing together at the table the farmer, the scientist, the chef, the professor and the market. They discuss who needs to do what, for them to be able to move from here to there and you get the value chain to work together and realise the reality that they are all facing. Because “the silos are so intact that this part might not have any idea of what is the part over here. So, just realising the reality that all the different chains are facing helps a lot. If you want change to come about quickly you have to make the value chain work together.”

Eslam relates how satisfying it is when they bring a sample of their finished product to the farmer who has grown the lupin crop and the farmer sees what has become of the crop. Eslam also discussed how important it is to get a diverse team to work together and provide different ideas – “We don’t want to have a formal discussion on what is the team culture going to be like. I think our culture is to be genuine, to be ourselves. Our culture is to accept the diversity within the team.” Madeleine also supported this idea: “There is a great movement in the right way. When we talk about young professionals, when companies are trying to recruit, they have realised if they don’t have a vision larger than just selling, they won’t attract the top candidates. Because the younger people now want a reason bigger than themselves, they want to contribute, I can see that clearly. That brings a lot of hope.”

The last part of the interviews consisted in asking a personal point of view on being green professionals. Both interviewees showed interest in the human-related topic. Eslam declared “I’m doing my business because I am very interested in people. If you are interested in sustainability, you are interested in people.” Madeleine appeals for everyone to add that sustainable way of seeing things no matter what our job is “If we get everybody to just start thinking like that, there will be a big change. Do it where you are, add that perspective and run with it!”

Sustainability and Innovations in Packaging Solutions: Interview with Janne Asikainen, Co-founder and CEO of Koepala

Sustainability is increasingly getting the attention of people and all companies in different industries. The professionals’ hard work to make a positive impact and implement sustainability practices in businesses is admirable. I had the pleasure of interviewing Janne Asikainen, CEO and Co-founder of Koepala. Janne is an expert on innovative packaging solutions who is placed in the Fairforce list of “Green Professionals in the Packaging Industry, Finland”.

Janne’s skills as a packaging designer and engineer in food technology lead to develop award-winning smart packaging products which are flat, functional, and light. The innovations in the design of ready-to-go food packages and the use of sustainable materials by Koepala made them easy to transport and economical with lower logistic costs that result in less carbon footprint of the company as well as providing a unique meal experience and increased carbon handprint for the consumers.

Environment as a core towards sustainability

The three main pillars of sustainability, namely profit, people and planet refer to the economic, social and environmental aspects of this concept which are in fact interrelated to each other. Due to the global climate change problem and our common future challenges, the environmental dimension of sustainability requires a more significant attention. Janne expresses that the environment is the core of what they do and they build their business around it. He defines the mission of Koepala as getting rid of packaging waste and solving the problem of littering.

Janne indicates the importance of environmental perspective for Koepala in every step, saying: “We started moving towards sustainability with commitment to it internally and following certain agendas like Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation to get rid of single-use plastic for instance”. He also mentioned that they’ve recently hired a sustainability specialist to their team, a strategic level decision. A successful business is faithful to its core mission and values from the ground to its concrete actions.

Sustainability for a successful business in the long term

In almost all industries, sustainability is becoming a major trend. However, there’s a long way to go for implementing sustainability practices in real-life context. The SDGs as 17 global goals have made companies to consider the key role of sustainability for success of a business in the long term. Janne believes that “It’s a business thing to be sustainable and being part of that”.

According to Janne, “In terms of business and company, sustainability and making an impact is a MUST. It’s not required yet but sustainability is essential for building a successful business in the long term. It has to be a fundamental part of any business and we have started from the beginning at Koepala”.

Benefits of going green

The proactiveness of a company to be sustainable and green is not only beneficial for its brand image but there are also advantages for other parties like their client customers and consumers. Janne indicates that a company with a sustainable strategy not only shares good but sharing its success story can help other companies, people and the environment to succeed. He reveals that Koepala’s success in the journey of going green was “firstly because of a strong crave for sustainability and then learning on the way and taking steps towards it”.

A good example of a win-win scenario for all stakeholders in a sustainable ecosystem of people, profit and planet is the smart packaging product Ateriamo developed by Koepala. The sustainable packaging solution into Ateriamo made it multipurpose and convenient according to consumer needs besides reducing the amount of waste by 50% and CO2 GHG emissions compared to existing alternatives. It also requires minimal investment for foodservice and retail businesses as Koepala’s client companies.

Being sustainable will bring more than just financial benefits as the green food-packaging solutions by Koepala does. “We are changing the urban food system, making that for better, and having an impact on how people can enjoy eating in the environment, big cities, without affecting the surroundings and nature”, Janne explains.

Going green may bring new opportunities but it does come with challenges

There are both internal and external challenges to struggle for a company in going green. The packaging industry hasn’t really changed much from the beginning of the industrial era a hundred years ago as Janne points out. The innovation within the industry has been simplified basically into how we can produce more and make it more efficient. He adds that in the packaging industry, there are lots of linear business models which are conservative to change. According to Janne, “This makes it difficult to bring new business models, new types of partnerships, sustainability and impact as such”. He implies that it’s quite challenging for a small company to prove its business model, especially when it is trying to change the attitude and mindset.

Regarding internal challenges, Janne describes that “We are thinking how to combine sustainability into a profitable business model and scale it, or building a team who share the same goal and motivation”. He also expresses another important matter in business cooperation which is thinking on how to work with the partners and clients to keep them aligned with the same values, impact and sustainability point of view.

Making value is the future of packaging solutions

For the future of packaging solutions, Janne has an insight saying that “It is about value, as putting the value of a product into packaging makes it valuable throughout the whole value chain, so you’ll not consider it as waste anymore. No one wants to get rid of value. It’s also a natural way of saying that there is actually a circular model”.

Janne believes that packaging will become smarter and the smartness has to target what relates to consumer experience. Then, this is the evolved value which will bring a new type of business model.

Sustainability practices create new innovations

As mentioned earlier, the improvements in the packaging industry so far have only been limited to the existing production and technology. Janne says “I won’t call these incremental changes innovation”. He believes that with this conservative industry, the first thing is to show that developments in packaging solutions can be compatible with the current technology. Meanwhile, moving to more circular systems can be considered as an extension to the business. The packaging industry as a whole is in need of radical innovations for shifting from the linear business model of take-make-dispose to the circular model of make-use-return.

Companies with business related to the packaging industry are in the pressure of finding new solutions in terms of legislation, consumer or changing consumer behavior. They are really pressured to implement new innovation and now I think the discussion and conversion have changed somewhat. And these types of innovations are regarded as possibilities to retain or get new customers and build the business in the long run and packaging manufacturers are struggling with hide margins in their businesses”, Janne explains.


Innovation is the key to accelerate sustainability which is the current requirement of packaging companies, their clients, consumers, and legislations all together. Revolutionary innovations open new windows to circularity and sustainability in this industry based on value creation and smartness for consumers.

Having a positive impact as a consumer

In addition to implementing sustainability practices in Koepala company, Janne is a green person himself, being vegetarian. He admits it’s not easy though. Janne describes it as an environmental and sustainability act as well. Moreover, as founder of a green company, Janne says “I feel relaxed”. He believes what he’s doing is the right thing and Koepala is the right place for him. He adds that personal motivation to one’s career is a significant driver to learn more and grow.

From the writer

Sustainability is the present essential need of the planet, people and businesses. This Fairforce internship has given me an amazing opportunity to engage with professionals who are working hard to have green impacts in their industries. Thank you again, Janne Asikainen for taking the time for this interview. It was so insightful to hear your perspectives on the current and future needs of the packaging industry.
Hopefully, in the near future within a circular system, the packaging waste is not wasted anymore.

Carbon capture, usage and storage: Interview with professors Larry Baxter, Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul and Berend Smit

A factory under a cloudy sky

Description automatically generated

Carbon capture, usage and storage is considered one of the key technologies in our fight against climate change, but most people are still unaware of it. Mrinal Abhinav and I had the opportunity to interview three leading experts on their research work and on the issues surrounding this technology: professor Larry Baxter from Brigham Young University, Professor Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul from the University of Regina, and Professor Berend Smit from Berkeley and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Here is what they had to say.

The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement marked the start of nearly 200 countries’ efforts to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, in order to limit the current increase in global temperatures. One of the climate targets, as set out by the IPCC, is reaching “net-zero” emissions by 2050, meaning that 100% of emissions will have to be withdrawn from the atmosphere by then (read more about it here).  

Scientists believe that reaching net-zero by 2050 will probably not be achieved on time with renewables alone, explains professor Tontiwachwuthikul. Different technologies will be needed, and Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) is considered one of them. 

What exactly is Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS)?

A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated
Schematic representation of CCUS

Carbon capture is an emissions reduction technology consisting of capturing CO2 from industrial pollution sources (or directly from the atmosphere). The CO2 is then compressed and stored underground (CCS) or, alternatively, it can be used for other purposes (CCU). Hence the term CCUS. 

The IEA estimates that CCUS facilities around the world currently capture 35 Million tonnes of CO2 per year, roughly the equivalent of Ireland’s 2017 emissions. But how does carbon capture work? In a nutshell: a solvent captures CO2 and then releases it upon heating to allow recycling, explains professor Tontiwachwuthikul. 


The experts on carbon capture

A person standing in front of a tree posing for the camera

Description automatically generated
Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul

Professor Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul

Professor Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul, from the University of Regina, is the co-founder of the Clean Energy Technology Research Institute in Canada and does research on carbon capture solvent, design and operation. 

He has been working on carbon capture process optimization since moving to Canada in 1991. “At first it was just a job”, he explains. But then he became involved in the Weyburn-Midale project in Saskatchewan: the world’s greatest project to use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery and underground storage (read more about it here). “CO2 is a supercritical fluid and it can be used to move the oil”, he says. If it can be injected underground to facilitate oil recovery, why not leave it there for good?

Professor Larry Baxter

Our second expert is Professor Larry Baxter, from Brigham Young University. He came up with an innovative way of doing carbon capture while serving a sabbatical in Denmark. As of today, he has done £26M dollars’ worth of funded research on cryogenic carbon capture (CCC), a process that is half as expensive and about half as energy intensive as its traditional counterparts. 

What professor Baxter is developing is a built-on technology that can be added to any process that generates CO2, without the need to rebuild infrastructure. And it brings other environmental benefits, too: it captures other pollutants such as SOx and NOx and it recovers water from flue gas, significantly reducing water demands.

Professor Berend Smit

A person looking at the camera

Description automatically generated
Berend Smit

Our third expert is Professor Berend Smit, from the University of Berkeley and EPFL. He does research around finding new materials for carbon capture and storage since around 2008. Together with Jeff Reimer, Curt Oldenburg, and Ian Bourg, he authored the textbook “Introduction to Carbon Capture and Sequestration”. 

But how did he get into carbon capture? “When I moved from the University of Amsterdam to Berkeley” he says, “I wanted to do something new”. He got involved with the Energy Frontier Research Centre (EFRC). “They said: CO2 is not going to go away anytime soon. If you want to work on something, that may actually be a very good thing to do”, he adds. So he started writing a proposal for them. 


The issues:

Carbon capture is a pretty energy-intensive process, no matter how you capture it” says Professor Baxter. 

Energy and money are interchangeable. A process that uses more energy costs more”, explains Professor Tontiwachwuthikul. In carbon capture, he continues, the more steam you need to heat up the solvent, the more expensive it becomes to capture CO2“If carbon capture costs more than paying a carbon tax, then the easiest thing is to just pay the tax. But if you were to capture the CO2 and store it at a cheaper price, you would do that”.

Today, there are broadly 300 different solvents that can be used for carbon capture. “One solvent alone won’t cut it. We need to mix different technologies”, he adds. In the next 5 to 10 years, the goal of professor Tontiwachwuthikul and his team is to mix various technologies in order to reduce the energy consumption and bring down the cost to 30 dollars per tonne of CO2 captured. “This way, a lot more people would do this”.

“CO2 is a waste product. If you are not willing to pay for it, we will never solve the problem. Every waste product costs money to treat” says professor Smit. He believes that the we can overcome the public cost of carbon capture, but that unwillingness to pay for it is one of the main problems surrounding the implementation of this technology. “All the technologies are there. We can use them. We just need to start”. The other problem, according to Prof Smit, would be the need for global participation in carbon capture.

The road to net-zero

A view of a city next to a body of water

Description automatically generated
Renewable energy and CCUS: is this what the future will look like?

“There are very few reasons not to like solar energy, but the problem with it is that you need to store it, and you make it significantly more expensive”, explains Professor Smit. On the other hand, according to Professor Baxter, carbon capture “has the potential to solve the energy storage issues associated with intermittent renewables”.

Professor Tontiwachwuthikul explains that moving to a low-carbon economy is going to take us a long time. “Today, gasoline and jet fuels are still the preferred alternatives to power big trucks and cargo ships”. To repress this, he says, will be very difficult. “We need to be practical”, he adds, “carbon capture can be a breaching”.

Furthermore, we can find innovative ways to utilize the captured CO2. Professor Tontiwachwuthikul says we can store carbon dioxide permanently in concrete at a reasonable cost. This also increases the material’s strength (read more about it here). A win-win situation!

“We are too addicted to fossil fuels and they are not going to disappear anytime soon”

These are the words of Professor Smit when he explains to us that carbon capture is not 100% sustainable, but it is still better than keeping up with business as usual and doing nothing. In fact, he says, what people may not realise is that CO2 does not disappear from the atmosphere once you stop emissions. Instead, it stays there for thousands of years, with the potential to affect future generations for centuries to come. For this reason, he says, it is unacceptable to say “we don’t care”. “The CO2 needs to go down, that’s the most important thing”.

Carbon capture is the way forward

According to all three experts, a mix of renewables and negative emission technologies such as carbon capture, usage and storage could be a balanced way forward to reach net-zero by 2050. “Carbon capture is an essential part of the solution, not just an option”, says professor Baxter, “it is not the only one or the most complete, but it is one of the most important ones”. 


In order to recognize the beneficial impact that they are having on the environment through their work, we selected professors Larry Baxter, Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul and Berend Smit to be part of our Fairforce List “Top Researchers in Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage Technologies”.