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Felix Finkbeiner

Founder of the initiative Plant-for-the-Planet

What does Sustainable Entrepreneurship mean for you personally?

The future.
Without sustainability, we children have no future.

To what extent do you think that the notion of Sustainable Entrepreneurship is already rooted in the minds of people and the actions of companies in particular?

Much too little if you think that the term has existed for 300 years. The chief mining officer in Saxony, Carl von Carlowitz, established the principle of sustainability in 1713 because he wanted to secure long-term timber supplies for use in mining. Today companies are proud of their profits. But is it an achievement to make a profit at the expense of us children, like harvesting trees without reforestation? We children often ask ourselves why so few adults are concerned with sustainability and so we came across the example of monkeys: if you let a monkey choose if it wants one banana now or six bananas later, it will always choose one banana now.

You founded the Plant-for-the-Planet initiative. What role does Plant-for-the-Planet play in promoting sustainable development?

For us children and young people, Plant-for-the-Planet is about having a future. It creates an awareness of the environmental and poverty cycle because there will not be a peaceful future unless these two cycles are broken. The solution for both crises (which are interlinked) is sustainable behaviour, i.e. not living at the expense of poorer people or children and future generations. Perhaps we children bring emotion to the rather unemotional term ‘sustainability’. Adults know why they need sustainable behaviour. And we show how easy it is. Perhaps we can make sustainability ‘cool’ somehow or vice-versa, non-sustainable behaviour may become uncool like wearing a fur coat. We are certainly making a contribution to this trend.

How important to you is it to think in a sustainable manner and to what extent do you do that?

In Germany and neighbouring countries, I always travel by train. Where possible, I give talks outside of Europe via Skype or I send video messages. We hold our global conferences via internet platforms. Our offices are all close to train stations and all of the employees travel by train. As a family, we live in a station building so that we only need the car to transport lots of shopping. We children all became vegetarian one after another and now we have convinced my father too.

To what extent can we all help spread the significance of sustainability?

As entrepreneurs and politicians, we should check that these decisions will still be beneficial to the 7th generation after us and then make a decision.

As consumers, we should only purchase from companies which are more sustainable than their competitors. We can achieve a great deal together: a mosquito cannot do anything about a rhino but thousands of mosquitoes can cause a rhino to change direction.

You are the first SEA child ambassador. A very honourable task …

… honourable? I’d be more inclined to say sad. My friends and I would rather play football or chill out than have to be committed to politics to secure our future at such a young age. Adults have been taking about reducing CO2 emissions for 19 years – longer than we have been alive. Yet CO2 emissions are continuing to grow each year.

Each year, the SEA acknowledges entrepreneurs involved in exceptional projects which put Sustainable Entrepreneurship into practice. What made you decide to support this idea?

We need people and entrepreneurs who can show others that sustainability does work and that you can be successful and earn money with sustainability. These role models are essential to the survival of us children.

And the last question: what is the most impressive example of Sustainable Entrepreneurship you can remember?

Tesla Motors gives us youngsters great hope. One individual person is managing to turn an industry around as a complete outsider. The car industry has been braced against sustainability for decades, instead focusing on SUVs and short-term profit; now it is starting to sweat.

Or the people who set up Invanpah, a solar power plant in the Californian desert which produces as much power as a nuclear power plant yet without radioactive waste and without the sun sending an invoice! Ivanpah is one of approx. 120 concentrated solar power plants in the world which use simple mirrors to concentrate the sunlight to power steam turbines 24/7, i.e. producing energy around the clock. Pioneers who show others that sustainability is possible – these are our heroes who will one day be part of our history books.