Startup Weekend Singapore 2021: Seeds of Tomorrow was held from April 23rd to 25th in Singapore, with a focus on sustainability. Yann LeMoël, an angel investor and the Founder of Living Labs Federation, was a mentor at the event, which was joined by innovators from over 21 cities from around the globe to drive awareness and innovation in sustainability.

The event was kicked off by Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and Environment. Over 2,500 attendees tuned in to watch the Facebook live for the kick-off, and the event wrapped up the final pitches with Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education.

Close to 30 ideas came out from the event, with a common goal of tackling challenges arising from the climate crisis.

Below are highlights of a TechNode Global Q&A with LeMoël.

Yann LeMoel, Founder, Living Labs Foundation
Yann LeMoel, Founder, Living Labs Foundation

What are the trends driving the need for more sustainable business practices?

The reality of Climate Change, the fact that businesses have been responsible for most of it via creating an ever-growing demand, and the new generation of consumers asking for more meaningfulness.

What are three key challenges that innovators need to overcome in addressing regional and global sustainability concerns?

  • Losing purpose: Keep control of your mission. Do not compromise your purpose by involving “stars” who do not share your convictions.
  • Finding capital: Be open to new ways of financing, have a reasonable roadmap, do not be hypnotized by big fundraise announcements.
  • Don’t die by over-ambition: Replication of small-scale successes is often the most secure way to grow.

Are there any sustainability challenges unique to Southeast Asia? Can these be addressed through global solutions, or will we need localized efforts?

There is no unique sustainability challenge to Southeast Asia, it is the solutions to tackle them that differ depending on the local reality.

SEA is characterized by many islands, for instance, bringing constraints on the right solution for logistics, energy production, etc.

To minimize negative impact, everything physical should remain as local as possible. Only what is immaterial (knowledge, capital) should be global.

Also, even if we have all the technology to achieve that, we have done quite the opposite over the last century: Any product can be ordered and delivered all around the planet. However, wealth generated and knowledge progress have been focused on a smaller portion of the world population.

“Glocalization” is a way to address global issues through a local reality.

The main difficulty in Climate Change is that impact of a local decision (I want to eat beef) has an impact on the other side of the planet (Deforestation in Brazil to plant Soy).

What part are you or your company doing to contribute toward sustainability?

Our primary focus is to build sustainable models associating local impact projects (initiators) and emerging innovations.

These models bring multiple actors with different time horizons, financing modes, geographies to support these innovations–bringing the power of global networks to support local initiatives.

We also promote the education of the new generation of business leaders and students to the scale of the problem and the science behind it.

How do you define impact, from the perspective of sustainability?

I can define it as providing a solution to an environmental or social issue with financial and governance models that ensure its success in the long term.

Do you think that sustainability issues should necessarily be addressed by drastic or disruptive changes, or can we do incremental solutions that will contribute to an overall improvement?

The emergency of climate change requires drastic changes.

However, a lot of issues do not need a disruptive technology (often then contrary: old tech, low tech, symbiotic tech), but a disruptive change in behavior.

Sobriety has a faster chance of success than developing alternative solutions to support the consequences of pursuing overconsumption.

The main problem in the race for climate change is the global energy demand that keeps on exploding.

Therefore the true fight in this race is to limit the demand, not to reduce the negative impact of supporting its growth.

Most of the demand has been artificially created in consumers’ heads:

What was nonexistent (Mid XXth: No one was thinking about eating avocados in Norway) …

… became a desire (End XXth: I can eat an avocado in Norway if I want) …

… then a need (Beg XXIst: I need my avocado for breakfast, even if I am in Norway).

All this demand has been artificially created: no Norwegian had poor health due to lack of avocado in their diet.

Some technological advancements have had a negative impact on sustainability, e.g., power consumption by certain blockchain technologies. How can we balance out the negative effects of increased consumption with the benefits of innovation?

I don’t think technology advances have a negative impact on sustainability: It is what we use them for.

Using blockchain to improve and simplify ownership and transmission of a physical asset (e.g., real estate) when there is a lack of central trust is progress.

Using 5G to download videos way faster than we can watch them and with a resolution useless to a phone and the human eye is a terrible application of great technology.

So first, let’s focus on technologies that really serve a social and environmental impact.

Then, if a technology brings an indisputable social impact at the expense of environmental footprint, the 3 questions I would ask are:

  1. Is there absolutely no other way to do it (my favorite question when presented with a blockchain solution)?
  2. Are you using the most sober technology available (in your BC example: Proof-of-Stake instead of Proof-of-Work)?
  3. Do you include nature capital accounting in your business model, i.e., offsetting your negative impact by a ratio >1 through positive impact actions (carbon capture, reforestation, etc.)?

Featured image credits: Unsplash