• To meet targets set by the Paris Agreement, we will need to see innovations that work for people and planet on an unprecedented scale over the next decade.
  • Ecopreneurs put nature and climate at the core of their business models, ensuring that income for local livelihoods is generated and putting societies on a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable path.
  • We need to build and continue to support an innovation ecosystem in which these ecopreneurs can emerge, thrive and multiply exponentially around the globe.

"We need an ecopreneur revolution, and we need it now." This was the passionate call-to-action delivered by Simon Mulcahy, Salesforce's Chief Innovation Officer, during the recent Sustainable Development Impact Summit.

And with good reason. Fifty-percent of the carbon reductions needed to get to net-zero will come from technologies that have not yet been invented. These innovations will likely come from 'ecopreneurs' — entrepreneurs whose businesses models are not just driven by profit, but by a desire to have a positive impact on the environment. And many of these innovators are only now beginning their journey of building their start-ups.

To meet the Paris Agreement target of staying well-below a 2°C atmospheric temperature rise compared to pre-industrial levels, we will need to see innovations that work for people and planet on an unprecedented scale over the next decade.

While governments are increasingly designing new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and businesses are accelerating towards net-zero emissions, there is also an ecopreneurship revolution on the horizon: a growing number of start-ups all around the world are building next-generation businesses using innovative approaches that are good for people, planet and prosperity and will help to set the world on a path toward net-zero.

These ecopreneurs put nature and climate at the core of their business models, ensuring that income for local livelihoods is generated and putting societies on a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable path.

One great example of ecopreneurship is Sea6 Energy. They have modernised tropical seaweed farming to produce large quantities of inexpensive seaweed in deep ocean waters, which can then be used in a variety of environmentally-friendly products.

Another example is United States-based start-up Kiverdi, which converts carbon dioxide through NASA-inspired technologies into people and planet-friendly nutrients and bio-based materials, such as a new class of organic crop nutrients that improves crop yields and returns organic carbon to depleted soil.

It is obvious that neither of these two innovations, nor any other innovation on its own, will be the silver bullet that solves climate change. If we are to meet the Paris targets, we need a broader shift that enables thousands of ecopreneurial businesses to emerge and to scale rapidly. For such a change to be successful, we have to go beyond helping these innovations to accelerate and scale – we require an innovation ecosystem in which these ecopreneurs can thrive and multiply exponentially around the globe.

Over the past year and a half, UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, has started to bring together such an innovation ecosystem. Through its innovation challenges it has already received over 2,800 solutions and has selected over 180 Top Innovators who are solving some of the world's most pressing issues. To help accelerate and scale their impact, UpLink is creating a fertile ecosystem in which the cutting-edge innovations are brought together with experts, established corporations, investors, and public-private collaborations to create the visibility, connections and funding they need.

The potential and momentum for such innovation ecosystems to flourish and drive an ecopreneur revolution that can deliver tangible change towards a net-zero economy is increasing rapidly. This mounting impetus is underlined by various announcements around the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow:

  • The First Mover Coalition, a partnership between US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and the World Economic Forum announced at COP26 will help to accelerate the demand for zero-carbon technology. Moreover, many businesses, such as some of the top agricultural commodity companies, have announced action that is consistent with a 1.5°C pathway. Connecting these efforts to an innovation ecosystem can enable the necessary partnerships for ecopreneurs, such as Treeconomy, who are revolutionising the forest carbon offset industry via the use of remote sensing technology and an end-to-end business model that creates a new source of income for rural landowners and transparency for responsible tree growth.
  • New investments vehicles, such as the $3 billion Innovative Finance for the Amazon, Cerrado and Chaco (IFACC) or the pledge by governments for indigenous peoples to get $1.7 billion in recognition of their role in protecting forests can provide the necessary capital for the growth of community-based innovations. One such innovations is Shiwi, a Peruvian company dedicated to the trade of products from protected areas in the Amazon that supports local communities who work in harmony with nature and are guardians of protected areas.
  • Increasing corporate investments, such as the $300 million investment and funding for ecopreneurs for ecosystem restoration and climate justice from Marc and Lynne Benioff, Time and Salesforce, are helping innovations to get off the ground and generate the necessary awareness and visibility that enables ecopreneurs to take their next big leap. For example, they can help to bring to scale ecopreneurs like the Katingan Mentaya Project that is protecting and restoring natural forest ecosystems in partnership with local communities in Central Kalimantan, earning the communities an income through 7.5 million triple gold certified carbon credits annually.

Bringing together these COP26-related and other initiatives, the rising ecopreneur revolution, as well as effective public-private cooperation, can show the world that there is a scalable way to protect the planet and deliver action towards a net-zero economy. With UpLink, such innovation ecosystems are already emerging under the umbrella of the Trillion Tree Platform, the Friends of Ocean Action, and the Global Plastic Action Partnership, creating a mutually reinforcing system where new innovations sprout like mushrooms, businesses and states deliver more climate action and new finance is unlocked.

But we have also seen that this isn’t happening quickly enough. We need to scale-up our efforts to build and foster these innovation ecosystems for forests, oceans, circular economy, energy, food system and many more to nourish new ecopreneurs and create fertile ground for them to grow and scale. Only by embedding cutting-edge innovations within an ecosystem of established corporations, experts, investors, and public-private collaboration can we truly unleash and catalyse the ecopreneurship revolution that can address the climate crisis.

For more on this topic, watch the Forum COP26 Live session 'Driving an Ecopreneur Revolution' on 9 November 2021 at 17:00 - 17:45 CET.