For the launch of our global Environmental Strategy, we spoke to Anne Merkle, Environmental Lead at Impact Hub Network.
Q: First things first, tell us, why do you do what you do?
A: Simply put, because I carry a deep love for our planet in me and want to know that I did everything possible for future generations to have the chance for a vibrant, peaceful and content life.
I CARRY A DEEP LOVE FOR OUR PLANET IN ME AND WANT TO KNOW THAT I DID EVERYTHING POSSIBLE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO HAVE THE CHANCE FOR A VIBRANT, PEACEFUL AND CONTENT LIFE.”
When I grew up on a small island in the Baltic Sea in Germany I had no idea about what harm was already taking place. The Club of Rome already pointed to the threat in 1972 but growth was more important and too little did people know and understand.
Now most of us do understand that there is a crisis – one that impacts us all. I just could not pretend and simply continue with the “good life” I envisioned for myself when I was building my sandcastles on the beach.
I decided to listen to science, educate myself, change what I can in my own life and dedicate my work to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss in my unique way. The environmental emergency we all face can seem far away but just let this sink in: half of the island I grew up on will disappear with sea levels rising and this is just 80 years away. My home town will be almost completely gone. It might not happen in my lifetime but that doesn’t make it matter any less. I had two options: get paralysed or do what I could. You can guess what I chose – using my area of influence, my skills and taking it one step at a time.
Even if it is small steps – moving is what matters. If we all – governments and non-greenwashing corporates, but also start-ups and us as humans – do the same, let’s see what might be possible. I want to be a climate optimist!
Q: Incredible story, Anne. Thanks for sharing. You’re leading the launch of the Environmental Strategy of the Impact Hub Network. What is this all about? Who’s involved?
A: When the Impact Hub Network decided last year that environmental action as well as diversity, equity and inclusion will be our two key focus areas in our 2030 strategy, my heart jumped! The potential for all 100+ Impact Hubs to stand behind and put their energy on these two crucial and very interconnected topics… WOW. Don’t get me wrong, Impact Hub has already had so many great successes in social innovation and many environmental programs. Still, this strategy can take us to a whole new level – so much is possible.
The Impact Hub Network stands side by side with the local, regional and global communities that are aiming to tackle our climate emergency. As a network, we aim to contribute to building a regenerative economy while focusing specifically on actions in the areas of Net Zero (energy, mobility and construction), Food & Agriculture and Circularity.
AS A NETWORK, WE AIM TO CONTRIBUTE TO BUILDING A REGENERATIVE ECONOMY WHILE FOCUSING SPECIFICALLY ON ACTIONS IN THE AREAS OF NET ZERO, FOOD & AGRICULTURE AND CIRCULARITY.”
Of course, we acknowledge our limited climate expertise – but we want to use our unique innovation and start-up support knowledge, our influence and our locally rooted globally yet connected networks, to co-create with key partners. We can’t – and won’t – do this alone but we are ready for serious and large scale action. Doing this with three core values in mind: being grounded in science, daring and positive.
The strategy was co-created with Impact Hubs across the globe and we are now moving into implementation. I hope in a year from now we can say: everyone – every Impact Hub employee, every member, every partner – thinks about and acts on our environmental action strategy and it is fully integrated within our work. Making it a priority will offer all our members a great chance to grow in this area and receive targeted support while opening the doors for many new strategic partnerships.
Q: Sounds ambitious! Can you elaborate on some concrete actions we’re taking as a network?
A: We have three key areas of action for now. And being honest, we will learn (a lot!) together as a network and with our partners and adapt as we go. Nevertheless, this is our starting point:
- First, to empower our members to have either neutral or positive environmental impact. It doesn’t matter what SDG they work on. We want to support all our members to consider their environmental impact and act on it. Let’s not forget we are talking about 24.000 people and counting!
- Second, to support green ventures to scale their impact faster, especially in our focus areas (net zero, Food & Agriculture and Circularity). We want to run more thematic local, regional and global programs; convene key stakeholders to co-create actions; and create more visibility for the existing solutions of our members.
- Lastly, to role model through our spaces. For us, looks both at becoming a CO2 Neutral Coworking community by 2025 (and eventually net zero) but goes further by looking at all our operations and aims to fully integrate the topic in a locally fitting manner.
Q: Which two actions are you personally most excited about?
A: I would first choose our recent Circularity Program. In 2021, we started a prototype exploring how to integrate circular design principles into all our programs across 12 Impact Hubs in Africa and Europe. The idea is simple: equipping start-up founders with this knowledge early on to anticipate the environmental impact of their ventures and make different choices when it is still easy to make changes.
THE IDEA BEHIND OUR CIRCULARITY PROGRAM: TO EQUIP START-UP FOUNDERS WITH CIRCULARITY KNOWLEDGE EARLY ON TO ANTICIPATE THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THEIR VENTURES AND MAKE CHANGES.”
After this pilot, the intention is to have all 100+ Impact Hubs incorporate this knowledge in all their programs. This is already pretty exciting as we run 240+ start-up support programs a year across the network.
We also want to make this knowledge and approach accessible to other social enterprise support organisations – so can you imagine everyone supporting start-ups includes education on circularity as a standard for their programs across the globe? Nice, right?!
The second? I will keep it brief. We already have a lot of excellent programs globally and within local Impact Hubs, such as the Ikea Supply Chain Innovation on food and packaging or the 35ish programs we run with WWF – one of our global strategic partners for almost 10 years tackling topics from deforestation in the Amazon, to innovative solutions to protect biodiversity in Austria, to sustainable energy in Rwanda to a recent program on plastics in China. I am super excited to identify the programs that work best, bring the concepts to more Impact Hubs and get back to the drawing board to come up with some completely new program ideas with partners.
And of course, there are many internal pieces we will need to figure out. One example is how do we measure, compensate and reduce our CO2 as a community operating in 60 countries, each facing different realities. We are excited to get started!
Q: Love the excitement! Now, let’s dream a little. What’s the potential impact we aim to make through these actions?
A: Today’s start-ups are tomorrow’s multinationals. When talking about environmental action it takes a lot of effort from governments (big time!) and of course, companies and citizens are just as important. Yet, start-ups and their contribution is often overlooked. That is the unique role that Impact Hub can play: getting the start-up world (starting with our network… but you asked me to dream!) to come to play and not on the side stage but joining the others on the main stage. It is not just the start-up solutions but also the entrepreneurial spirit and the innovative energy that we need so badly to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis we face.
When we reach 2030, I hope we will look back and be proud of the change we co-created with our members and partners. We are ready – it won’t be perfect but we are hungry for change and want to contribute in our unique way as a network.
Q: Thank you, Anne, for this inspiring, action-filled, story.