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  • Writer's pictureAmy Shoenthal

These Founders Are Optimistic About Tackling The Climate Crisis

It’s easy to get discouraged by the lack of progress around the climate crisis, from the increase in natural disasters to the social and economic impact driving more poverty, food insecurity and homelessness. It’s clear that this pressing global issue requires urgent action to minimize its harmful effects and safeguard the future of our planet.

Despite the doom and gloom, there has been significant progress made in sustainability across all industries. With increased awareness and a new generation rallying their passion around the urgency of this issue, governments and private sector companies are more motivated than ever to take a stand, from examining their supply chain, reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Many remain optimistic that the effects of climate change and the ability to create a sustainable future for the next generation is still possible.

In fact, several founders are working on programs that will help society achieve that goal.

Eliminating Plastic Waste

Nanette Medved-Po’s background as a scuba diver gave her a close up view of how plastic pollution threatens the ocean. So she created one of the first global plastic waste offset programs, the Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX.) The organization works to remove plastic from nature by collecting, tracking, monetizing and repurposing plastic to offset its negative environmental impact.

Nanette Medved-Po, PCX founder PCX / HOPE

How exactly does a plastic offset exchange work? It starts with accountability. “Companies can use PCX’s calculator to determine their footprint, which is then validated by a third party auditor to ensure accuracy and integrity,” Medved-Po says. “Then, based on their net plastic footprint, PCX activates its ecosystem of verified projects to physically collect, transport and process the amount and type of plastic waste, equivalent to the offsets needed by the company.”

So far, according to Medved-Po, her company has diverted more than 88 million pounds of plastic waste from nature and driven 67,000 tons of carbon reduction from coal replacement. She hopes to help companies achieve the coveted status of zero plastic waste through this circular offset program.

The impact she’s been able to have so far and the attention from large corporations to sign on to PCX makes her optimistic that these goals are attainable. So far Medved-Po has signed on companies like PepsiCo and Unilever as partners in working towards plastic neutrality.

“We actually could be the generation that solves the plastic pollution crisis,” she says. “Even in a very imperfect world, we have proven that plastic waste can be cleaned up at scale. That signals that there really is hope.”

Using Solar Energy to Bring Clean Water to Communities

Sivan Yaari created Innovation: Africa, a non profit that uses solar energy to bring lighting to schools, solar vaccine refrigerators to medical centers, and water pumps to rural communities to ensure access to safe and clean drinking water.

Over the past 15 years, Innovation: Africa’s projects have reached 900 villages and 4 million people across 10 different countries, including Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia and more.

Sivan Yaari working in the field C/O INNOVATION: AFRICA

To Yaari, the work is an obvious and effective solution to a number of problems. “The construction of solar water pumping systems is simple, cost-effective and instantaneously transformative,” she says. “To construct these systems, we work with local contractors to drill into the aquifer to harness the energy from the sun and retrieve the clean water that is trapped just meters beneath the ground. Then, distribution points are constructed throughout the village to ensure that all community members, sometimes as many as 10,000 people, will have equal access to clean water.”

In the next four years, Yaari hopes to complete work on an additional 1,200 solar and water projects to impact a total of 10 million additional people across the continent.

Jennifer Charles is a 32-year-old mother of three who lives in one of the villages Innovation: Africa has impacted. "I used to wake at 4 a.m. and spend up to six hours each day collecting water,” Charles says. “We used to suffer terribly from the illnesses it brought. But now my life and the lives of my entire community have been transformed for the better. I am even growing my own vegetables to feed my family."

“Access to clean water is a basic human right,” Yaari says. “Renewable energy is the key to breaking cycles of poverty and so with every new water system installed, we are one step closer to breaking those cycles and addressing the climate crisis.”

Measuring the value of women’s work to address climate change

After working for the past decade on projects that address climate change (such as the United Nations’ REDD+ model, referenced in the Paris Agreement), social entrepreneur Rachel Vestergaard created Empower Co. Her company serves as a brokerage for measurable units of women’s work that have undergone the rigorous W+ Standard certification process.

Vestergaard believes that women are critical to climate mitigation and adaptation. She is on a mission to prove that by measuring the value of their social and environmental contributions.

Empower Co's Agroforestry Project in Brazil C/O EMPOWER CO

“The climate crisis will not be solved solely through offsetting, which neutralizes negative behavior, or insetting - changes within individual companies,” she says. “We need to make substantive investments in onsetting, which means creating a voluntary market around quantifiable and positive contributions to community and climate.”

Vestergaard believes that if companies invest in these onsets, they can rapidly scale the advancement of women globally, something that will be critical to solving the climate crisis.

“Despite how incremental and slow progress has been, there are many proactive options we can take rather than throwing up our hands in defeat,” she says. “Women are on the front lines of climate mitigation and adaptation, not just because they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but also because they are the community experts in resource management, in disaster response, in agriculture and much more. Amplifying the power of these women is a critical catalyst for effective climate solutions.”

Helping companies adopt sustainable practices

Diana Verde Nieto is a sustainability pioneer whose work in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) practices led her to create Positive Luxury, a collaboration platform focused on educating companies around sustainability and ESG. She guides organizations to rethink how they can craft their businesses with environmental responsibility and sustainability at their core.

In her years working in this space, Nieto has seen a significant transformation. “It used to be that we needed to convince people of the science behind climate change,” she says. “Today we simply need companies to transition to a new climate economy by assessing their ESG performance, forecasting social and environmental risks and opportunities and future proofing their business against societal and legislative shifts.”

Diana Nieto, founder of Positive Luxury C/O POSITIVE LUXURY

Nieto also created the Butterfly Mark Certification, which is awarded to lifestyle brands in recognition of their commitment to having a positive impact on people and the planet.

“There is so much innovation and momentum in the space,” she says. “I'm hopeful and positive about the future. We just need to collaborate to achieve it. People are no longer consumers, they’re citizens who can vote with their money and make choices about the companies they support.”

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