Thane Kreiner

Social Entrepreneurship and Global Warming

The latest alarm to sound about the global impact of climate change comes from Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project’s recently released interim report, which examines what it would take to keep increases in global mean surface temperature below 2°C this century. The verdict: it would require “a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century,” without which unmitigated climate change poses “extreme risks to future human wellbeing.”

The consequences of a temperature rise greater than 2°C would be catastrophic for all of humanity, but the greatest impact would be on the planet’s poorest people, who face profound loss from flooding, displacement and food scarcity.

Social entrepreneurs are among those best positioned to improve the lives of the poor and mitigate global warming. Clean cookstove entrepreneurs, for example, aspire to limit deforestation and reduce carbon emissions, while simultaneously providing a safer way for the poor to prepare their food than open fires, often fueled by charcoal.

In partnership with the UN Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), Santa Clara University recently piloted a GSBI BOOST program to help early-stage clean energy entrepreneurs in East Africa develop compelling business models. In early August, we will pilot the BOOST program in Bangladesh. The GACC is also sponsoring four clean cookstove entrepreneurs in the GSBI Online program, which provides six months of executive mentoring to help businesses grow in a financially sustainable fashion.

Indeed, through generous support from the Skoll Foundation and Applied Materials, the Center has had a four-year focus on off-grid clean energy social enterprises. Santa Clara University’s Energy Map, the results of which were explained in NextBillion’s Going Off Grid series here and here, summarizes technologies and business models emerging from social entrepreneurs that provide clean energy for the underserved. This represents a clear convergence of social enterprise and climate change mitigation.

Deforestation to generate charcoal for open fires and make way for agriculture is a significant contributor to climate change. Social entrepreneurs are chipping away at it from the Amazon to Zambia. Our Global Social Benefit Fellows work in interdisciplinary teams with alumni of our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs to solve particular challenges faced by the social enterprises. Jack Bird and two other students spent last summer in Zambia capturing local knowledge in Chikuni Parish and producing an agroforestry manual that promotes sustainable practices. The students learned how the virtuous cycle of agroforestry can reduce energy poverty and environmental degradation and thus replace the vicious cycle of deforestation and charcoal production.

Social enterprises that offer solar-powered lanterns as alternatives to carbon-producing kerosene lamps afford another example of climate change mitigation converging with benefits for the poor. Team Solar Sister conducted action research in Uganda with three GSBI Alumni: Solar Sister, Angaza Design, and Kiva. However, social entrepreneurship alone cannot solve the inextricably linked problems of global warming and poverty.

Government policies must change. The UK-based Overseas Development Institute reports that global fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 totaled $523 billion, equating to $7 per metric ton of carbon released. GACC lists nearly 50 projects offering carbon credits; the market price for carbon credits as of this writing was below 6 Euros per metric ton, barely more than the emission subsidy. Fossil fuel subsidies are fueling a carbon market failure. Governments are funding global warming at the ultimate expense of the global poor.

This must change. Governments should shift these subsidies to clean energy, deep decarbonization technologies and to programs that accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship in service to the global poor such as USAID’s Global Development Lab.

More educators need to take up the cause: the displacement and destruction wrought by climate change could dwarf all other humanitarian issues. On July 20 -22, in Seoul Korea, the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools (IAJBS) held its 20th World Forum Mobilizing the Worldwide Jesuit Network: Collaboration for Global Sustainability. An entire day of the forum was devoted to the convergence of social enterprise and global sustainability. The idea of transforming finance teaching to support global sustainability emerged as a collaborative opportunity, led by Fordham University in New York.The idea is to transform the way finance is taught so that sustainability is included in the principles of accounting. Indeed, the IAJBS vision is to prepare leaders who share the Jesuit values of fostering a more just, humane and sustainable world. With over 92 member business and management schools around the world, it is poised to have a significant impact in mobilizing business and government for social and environmental justice.

Poverty eradication and global warming mitigation, which have sometimes been viewed as separate pressing problems, are intersecting in multiple and critical dimensions. Recognizing this dynamic and responding with urgency is essential.

Thane Kreiner is executive director of the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University, home of the Global Social Benefit Institute.

Energy, Environment, Social Enterprise
renewable energy, social enterprise