Fresh from Impact Hub’s 2019 Global Social Innovation Festival in Florianópolis, Cristianne Close, acting WWF Markets Practice Lead, and Tatiana Glad, Director of Impact Hub Amsterdam and Impact Hub Global Board member, share WWF and Impact Hub’s entrepreneurial journey, and remind us that when it comes to solving ‘wicked problems’ and innovating for nature, we can all contribute.

Living in the red

We all know we depend on nature. It gives us clean air, food and water, the foundation for healthy, prosperous societies and economies, and services worth an estimated $125 trillion per year — two thirds more than global GDP. And yet our appetite for all manner of consumer goods and services is destroying life on Earth and using resources faster than natural systems can replenish them. Populations of vertebrates have plummeted by 60 per cent since 1970 — in less than 40 years. We’re living in the red and nature loss is putting everyone’s future at risk.

Accelerating investment for system change

Without a dramatic shift beyond ‘business as usual’ — in both business and conservation — natural systems that support modern society will collapse. Traditional approaches aren’t delivering fast enough — but using philanthropic funding as risk capital, we have an opportunity to accelerate prototyping, fast track new business models and ventures for sustainability, and unlock some of the $502 billion in impact investment assets already available. And since 2011, WWF and Impact Hub have developed a growing partnership, bringing innovators and entrepreneurs from different sectors together with WWF conservation and markets teams to accelerate and scale innovation for nature, ‘future-proof’ businesses and deliver transformational impact.

Innovation for conservation and impact

Our shared mission is to find solutions that work — by nurturing a culture of innovation within WWF, and by connecting our business partners and entrepreneurs, and encouraging them to invest in innovation. With emerging technologies redefining how we live, work and play, and ‘wicked problems’ like climate change requiring unorthodox approaches and unusual allies, there’s a huge opportunity for organisations like WWF. Using design thinking, we’re driving an ‘innovation for impact’ approach to conservation and sustainability and a not-so-quiet cultural revolution within WWF that’s harnessing its global brand, expertise, partners and access to market. Together, Impact Hub and WWF can break down sectoral barriers, convene social enterprises, communities and big business, and deliver high impact, scalable ventures.

From Panda Labs to gorilla coffee

Our innovation journey so far shows great promise. With Impact Hub, we’ve supported 156 ‘ecopreneurial’ ventures and delivered 24 programmes. And we’ve launched Panda Labs — a growing WWF innovation programme designed to unlock new business models and finance. Through Business Renewables Centres in Australia and the US, we’re helping to accelerate large-scale renewable energy use by simplifying and streamlining corporate purchasing of large-scale wind and solar energy and storage.

Our Impact Ventures initiative with New Paradigm Ventures facilitates investment that transforms grant-funded projects into for-profit conservation businesses that benefit local communities and support the ecosystems in which they operate. Gorilla Conservation Coffee, for example, is a Ugandan social enterprise helping small farmers produce branded coffee that supports conservation and improves the incomes and well-being of 100,000 people living around the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

And our Impact in the Forest initiative brought us together with Ennovent and Clarmondial to stimulate innovation countering deforestation and climate change in Indonesia, Nepal and Vietnam. We’re now prototyping solutions with the ambition of protecting 5.22 million hectares of forest and securing 55 Mt CO2e emission reductions, and if successful, we’ll scale solutions in other tropical forests.

While all these initiatives show potential, they tap into only a fraction of the $12 trillion worth of economic opportunity afforded by the SDGs, and we’ll only achieve impact at scale if many more companies invest in new and innovative business models.

Taking a moonshot for a plastic-free ocean

Preventing climate change, reversing nature loss, and eliminating plastic pollution all require ambition, audacity and a moonshot mindset. A key initiative for WWF in which Impact Hub is playing a central role is No Plastic in Nature by 2030. Last year in the Netherlands, we developed the Plastic Free Ocean Accelerator to support social enterprises in reducing plastic pollution. One enterprise called Upp!, for example, upcycles plastic waste into eco-friendly, affordable and durable construction materials for use in boardwalks, decks and balconies. Having established a market for European imports in south-east Asia, the next step is manufacturing in-region to process and reduce local plastic waste.

And driving a ‘new plastics ecosystem’ has become a top priority for the Impact Hub network with Impact Hubs Amsterdam, Bogota, Jakarta, Lisbon and Manila all now developing plastic-free initiatives.

We’re all responsible

To paraphrase Picasso — who said, ‘Inspiration exists but it has to find you working’ — innovation exists but it has to find us working. We cannot leave it up to someone else or wait for ideal conditions. We must all go beyond our comfort zones, take risks and put in the hard graft.

We encourage social entrepreneurs and environmental innovators to work with WWF and Impact HubPanda Labs, and WWF Impact Ventures.

We encourage NGOs and civil society organisations to adopt design thinking and forge new, agile collaborations and alliances.

We invite business to collaborate and partner with us to develop new business models and invest in innovation for conservation and sustainability.

And as citizens and consumers, we can all help nature by making simple but powerful changes in our everyday lives.

Find out more about WWF’s work on Markets here and more about Impact Hub here.