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Climate Change

Saving The Planet Is Possible, So Let’s Get To Work

An interview with myclimate CEO Stephen Neff on the non-profit’s projects and mission.

These days it can be difficult to shake the feeling of despair that comes from reading article after article explaining how badly we are f***ing up the planet – and how many people don’t seem to care. A sense of paralysis sets in, a feeling of powerlessness overwhelms us, and we are suddenly at a loss for what to do.

Photos courtesy of myclimate

And yet, there’s plenty to be done. There are many individuals and organizations that have leapt into action and are working not only to find solutions to the various crises we face today, but also to raise awareness and encourage others to join the race to save our planet. One such action-oriented organization is myclimate.

myclimate is a non-profit foundation based in Switzerland that works on climate education, consultation, and protection projects both locally and globally. With a range of education programs for children and young-professionals, consultations with companies on how to reduce their carbon footprints, and global initiatives to raise climate awareness, myclimate is making huge strides. In the last year alone, the foundation offset over 1 million tonnes of CO2 in its efforts to work towards climate neutrality.

To learn more about the important work myclimate is doing, we talked with CEO Stephen Neff about the foundation’s mission and ongoing projects.

myclimate CEO Stephen Neff

Why are you passionate about myclimate’s mission?

Good question! Our mission is to facilitate and support the change to a low carbon society. For me personally it is a great feeling to be able to contribute to this goal together with a motivated team and our partners. Being in Switzerland and seeing the impact climate change has on the glaciers at your doorstep really gives you the motivation to work passionately with the many actors to develop a low carbon society and climate friendly economy. With the world-wide strong interest in climate change it is invigorating, motivating and a rare privilege to be able to follow one’s passion.

When was myclimate founded and how has it grown since?

myclimate’s roots can be traced all the way back to 2002. As a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) spin-off we started off as two entities: an association and a foundation which consolidated into the present foundation myclimate. We are a not for profit foundation and have grown to a staff of 80 people, including scientists, engineers and education specialists.

Can you tell us a bit about the various education initiatives and climate protection projects that the non-profit works on?

As an integral part of the foundation’s missions we develop educational programs for a wide ranging audience, from school children right on through to senior managers. For instance, the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein has just awarded us a 5 year project to develop awareness among kindergarten, primary, and secondary school students. In addition apprentices receiving vocational training will also be part of the overall program. Our educational initiatives focus on empowering people to make informed and better decisions in relation to their daily behavior.

One of the most exciting programs we have launched together with Tourism Switzerland is targeted at reducing the carbon footprint of tourists in Switzerland. It is supported by a wide range of active partners ranging from hotel chains, youth hostels and railways like Niesenbahn and Pizolbahn. In the meantime we have had well over 300,000 climate-neutral hotel bookings in regions like Engadin, Interlaken, Andermatt, Sass Fee, and many more.

Besides education and consulting we have more then 100 offsetting projects located across the world that help private individuals and companies to voluntarily offset their unavoidable emissions to achieve climate neutrality. Last year we offset over 1 million tonnes of CO2.

myclimate offers consultation to businesses as well. Why is this an important aspect of the non-profit’s work?

We work with both SMEs and large companies in helping them reduce their carbon footprint and becoming carbon neutral. Since you can only improve your carbon footprint if you know what needs to be managed, we consult and offer solutions to allow organizations to measure their initial ‘baseline’ and then the impact that the improvements have had. Our foundation’s philosophy is not to point fingers but to work with all parties to reduce their greenhouse gases in a fast, effective and permanent manner. We see this, like our education initiatives, as an integral part of our mission as there is still so much potential in both industry and service organizations.

Can you give us a few examples of some of the clients that the myclimate foundation works with?

Besides the example noted above in the Principality of Liechtenstein, we also are working closely with the Swiss Federal Railways on developing an offering for young people called ‘Shape Your Trip’. The goal of this program is for travelers to determine what the right means of transport is when planning a trip and how the CO2 footprint is kept to a minimum.

In Germany we work with the Lufthansa group to offset both business and private customers’ flights. In addition we also offset the Lufthansa group’s own staff flights.

We have also had major success with the largest Swiss retailer in developing their own projects within the company but also with their external suppliers. This very innovative ‘insetting model’ is financed through an internal price for a ton of CO2. In the meantime the projects range from optimized rice plantations in Thailand through to the introduction of delivery e-trucks.

How is the foundation funded?

By a mixture of clients, partners, grants and donations. As a Swiss non-profit foundation we are very prudent and transparent in the management of our funds and their use.

What are some of the biggest obstacles facing myclimate?

On the one hand I think it would be fair to say that we have done a commendable job in reducing CO2 in both Switzerland and Germany, but on the other hand there is still a lot to be done to reach the IPCC goal of less than 2°C temperature increase, let alone the 1.5°C that is needed. We feel that an unwillingness to put a price on carbon which reflects the true costs will hamper any short term paradigm shift which is drastically needed. This of course is not only a myclimate obstacle but a global one.

What do you believe is the most effective way to combat climate change and protect our planet?

It’s not just about protecting our planet in the short term but it’s about shaping the future and working towards a desirable future worldwide. In essence it can be summed with: avoid producing CO2 in the first place, reduce CO2 wherever possible and then only offset that which cannot be avoided. This sounds like a tall order but there are already many means available to do just this without a huge financial cost or impact on a high quality of life. I think that we need more courage to try new business ideas and socio/economic models coupled with innovative technologies as a start.

It’s hard not to become pessimistic about the future of our planet these days… Can you tell us about some of the positive outcomes you’ve achieved at myclimate thus far?

Yes there are many challenges and not only climate change. One just needs to think of micro plastic in the oceans, lakes and rivers, or deforestation and the impact on the coral reefs. But there are many engaged organizations, like myclimate, with dedicated people working together for a sustainable future.

If we look at the positive impact that our offsetting projects have we can be proud that they do more than just reduce CO2. For instance, by supporting the construction of more than 12,000 small scale biogas plants or the fielding of more than 600,000 efficient cook stoves we have improved the health and quality of life for an estimated 5 million people.

Also, our contribution in raising global awareness about the impact of climate change has lead to an open discourse in both the public and private domains. This is a very positive development.

How do you see the fight for climate protection changing in the next few years?

We hope that the word ‘fight’ will hopefully be replaced by a word that is less adversarial. This does not imply that we need consensus every step of the way and for every topic – time is running out for that, as was made clear in the last IPCC report. What we do need to strive for is a bi-partisan approach that is free of the political dogma that has been associated with political parties. We are aware of the challenges, but there are many international agreements that have been ratified and implemented for a better future. After all, CO2 emission is simply a waste product problem and like other waste problems in the past we will need a combination of various solutions and cannot just hope for a single silver bullet to materialize. For this to happen we will firstly need to accept responsibility for the problem at hand. Anything else could be construed as treason to the coming generations.

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Written By

Erika is a writer and artist based in Berlin. She is passionate about sharing stories of climate change and cleantech initiatives worldwide. Whether it’s transforming the fashion, food, or engineering industries, there’s an opportunity and responsibility for us all to do better. In addition to contributing to CleanTechnica, Erika is the Web and Social Media Editor at LOLA Magazine and writes regularly about art and culture.


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