2016 Climate Champions: ECO4CLIM16 winners’ interviews
26 impactful ecopreneurs won the 2016 Global Week of Green Business and the Climate Movement –ECO4CLIM16. 26 Climate Champions that we now interview to spread the word on sustainable business solutions to climate change. This week, we travel to Hamburg, in northern Germany, to meet the founders of Breeze, a tech-based, big-data-crunching company providing necessary tools for monitoring and making sense of air quality data on local environments.
City or community: Hamburg
About your project1. Tell us a bit about your project, company or organization; from your mission and objectives to your products or services, passing by your value proposition and key beneficiaries
Seven million people die every year because of polluted air – more than from malaria and AIDS combined. The yearly economic damages from smog and air pollution are estimated at about 1.6 trillion USD. Even so, we know much too little about what is happening in the air around us and how it is influencing our health and our lives. We lack the necessary tools for monitoring air pollution on a very local level and for making sense of large amounts of air quality data.
Breeze provides those tools. We develop a cloud analytics platform for environmental data and offers low-cost air quality sensors for large-scale indoor and outdoor deployments. Using machine learning and big data technologies we provide actionable insights and recommendations to increase the liveability of buildings, cities and communities. Our service is targeted at businesses and enterprises, as well as municipalities and city governments.
2. Regarding your business model, what are your main sources of revenue and how is financial sustainability achieved?
We make our sensors and our analytics suite available in an attractive licensing model. For smaller deployments, customers pay around 50 EUR per month and sensor. The analysis of the gathered data and recommendations are included. For larger deployments, as well as for city partnerships, we offer individual packages.
3. Any magic ingredients in your communication strategy?
We care about our environment and especially about the almost unnoticed topic of air quality and air pollution. Talking about air pollution, the public discussion often only focuses on climate change. The more direct impact on our health and our lives in general are often given too little attention.
Therefore, we focus on making people see the bigger picture. Pictures from China, but also from European cities like Paris or Sarajevo, showcase the extend of the problem very impressively.
It is also very important for many clients the elimination of data contained in hardware. In this sense, revertia certifies the secure elimination of data using software which complies with over twenty international standards. It is impossible to subsequently recover any data whatsoever contained in the memory of the device.
4. What are your next steps in the short-to-mid term?
We are very excited for 2017. In the short term, we are focusing on improving our product and delivering even more value for our pilot partners. We will also continue our partnership with the Fraunhofer Morgenstadt smart city research network and this year will see us exhibiting at EXPO 2017 in Astana, showcasing our innovation to the world. Additionally, there are some things we cannot share yet – but stay tuned on our social media channels!
5. Looking ahead, what is your long-term vision, say in 5 years from now?
We believe that hyperlocal air quality data will play an increasingly important role in decision-making processes in urban planning. Only if we know where problems arise and what measures are most likely to improve the situation we can plan our cities effectively. Cities are getting smarter, too. Their IT systems are becoming more connected. It is therefore thinkable, that the city of the future will control its traffic flow based on indicators like real-time air quality. To be able to achieve that, we need a lot of data. Therefore, we plan sensor deployments in major national and international cities, together with our partners.
On a smaller scale, building automation also plays a role. In five years from now, it will be the de-facto standard that your office space is continuously adapting to create the healthiest and most productive atmosphere possible. Again, you need indoor and outdoor sensors, and you need to make sense of the data you are gathering.
6. What would your advice be for green SMEs starting up?
Create an MVP and start selling it to potential customers. Acquire pilot partners as early as possible. If you cannot find anybody willing to test it, or better to purchase it, chances are that the problem you think you see is not really there, or that your envisaged solution is not a good fit. Get back to the drawing table, then. Asking questions is the most important thing you can do. You need to really understand the problem to be able to create the best product or service to solve it. After you verified that you found a great solution, find partners to develop it, to test it, to market it. Do not try to do everything on your own. A great partner is the most valuable thing you can find.
7. Select the three (3) UN Sustainable Development Goals your project can make a significant contribution to:
- SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being– Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities– Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production– Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
8. Elaborate your answer a bit. Tell us concretely how your project is creating impact in relation with those 3 SDGs, now and in the future. Also, if some significant part of your project’s environmental or social impact is not covered by the SDGs, please describe it here too.
Air pollution is, while not clearly highlighted in the SDG’s structure, included in a lot of them. It is explicitly mentioned in 3 of the 17 SDGs, and closely related to nearly all the other SDGs, including those on hunger, health, water, energy, growth and jobs, infrastructure, cities, sustainable consumption and production, climate, water, and land.
Goal 11.6 of the SDGs states: “By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality […].” Breeze can, using our low-cost air quality sensors, create high resolution measurement networks that help cities and communities to identify pollution hotspots. Our analytics suite can compare them to previously encountered situations and suggest the best intervention projects from a machine learning-driven database of measures able to improve air quality. This facilitates the creation of a knowledge transfer process between cities, making intervention projects both more efficient and effective.
Cleaner air also means less deaths and illnesses from air pollution (SDG Goal 6.3). Extending our sensors from air quality to other air-born particles, sensor networks can also help in tracking violations of emission standards to achieve environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes (SDG Goal 12.4).
9. Let’s focus now on climate change. Firstly, is your project substantially reducing CO2 emissions, compared with similar “business-as-usual” alternatives? How and how much (approximate %)? Please define the “business-as-usual” alternative you use as benchmark
Our project is not focussing on reducing CO2 emissions. However, our sensors are able to track short-lived climate pollutants like ozone and black carbon, as well as CO2. Additionally, we will extend our sensing capabilities in the future to other greenhouse gases like methane.
10. The consequences of climate change are upon us already. In what ways does your project help communities cope, and become more resilient in the face of these impacts?
Our analytics suite gives the municipality government and city management access to a huge database of measures that can increase the liveability of a city – and therefore combat negative climate change impacts. Additionally, as air pollution interventions become more efficient, our tools can save costs and free up budgets to invest into resilience projects.
11. As you may know, the Paris Agreement strongly emphasizes the need to adopt cooperative approaches at all levels, and boost innovation, in order to be able to accomplish the rapid and across-the-board transformation required to rise to the challenge (climate change). How does this formula (cooperation + innovation) apply both to your strategy and daily operations?
We see our customers as strategic partners whose input we use to actively develop our product further.
12. This year at the COP22 in Marrakech, the goal is actually to move from negotiating an accord to fostering real action towards impact. In your view, what is and must be the role of ecopreneurs and SMEs in implementing these agreements on the ground, and actually building a new, more sustainable, and equitable economy? What do SMEs bring to the table that large companies, NGOs, or governments don’t?
Startups are much faster in developing new products and services and better in testing them in a real customer landscape and adopting user feedback. Especially in times of changing policies they have it much easier to adapt and provide the tools needed to turn those policies into reality. As Breeze we are at the forefront of small-scale sensor development; not from a research-driven perspective but with real-world use cases. Cooperation is key, though. Ecopreneurs and SMEs have to work together with corporates, NGOs, governments and research entitites to be able to drive change most effectively and deliver real innovations to the market.
13. In the past, businesses and NGOs from the so-called “Climate Movement” have kept their distance, and even seen each other as “enemies”? What’s your particular take on this? Do you think they have to work together? How does your company relate to civil society organizations and movements?
It does not really make sense to be “enemies” when you are fighting for the same thing – a healthier planet and a better tomorrow. NGOs are just as essential to achieve this goal as businesses. We actually have a lot in common. Take the citizen science movement: At Breeze, we have worked together with several NGOs from this field and their input was just as valuable for us as ours was for them. For 2017, we are actually planning a practical research project together with one of these organizations.
ECO4CLIM16 and climate innovation labs
14. What did you get from participating in #ECO4CLIM16? Any highlights?
We received great feedback and made valuable contacts, some of which we might be working together with in 2017. We are excited to see the things to come!
15. The next phase of the “Ecopreneurs for the Climate” movement, concerns the deployment of a global network of climate innovation labs, where new climate-champion green business ideas will emerge, and also impactful models and best practices will be shared and replicated across the world. Given your current needs, what would you like to see happening in these labs to scale up the impact of your project? For example, would you fancy embarking yourself on a climate innovation journey to explore green economy ecosystems, meet fellow changemakers, and forge international partnerships in other cities and countries?
The best thing would be to get different stakeholders together: Sector-specific events where ecopreneurs can meet corporates, NGOs and especially also government representatives: both on a national and international level.