Environmental Entrepreneur: The Fight Against Climate Change Needs to be Driven by Facts and Data
Lubomila Jordanova is a female entrepreneur who chose to tackle the complex issues of climate change with a clear actionable tool. Her venture Plan A was started in 2016 in effort to solve her own problem – the difficulty understanding what climate change actually was and why it was so complicated for science, media and institutions to agree on a universal agenda to tackle it. The company uses data to predict where and why climate change will hit the hardest and then based on these insights crowdfunded capital is channeled to environmental organizations and innovators that solve these issues. In December 2018 Plan A was one of the three companies selected among 1000 applicants at the WeWork Creator Awards in Berlin.
Two weeks later the Berlin-based company officially launched the platform and has since then listed over 60 projects across 100 countries. Projects focus on an incredible variety of issues – from gathering data about the breeding strategies of humpback whales in the US to cleaning up 500 beaches in Japan. Plan A is not another charity organization, but a for-profit venture with a solid business plan. We talked to founder Lubomila Jordanova about building a business upon environmental causes.
Trending Topics: You often say half of the world population doesn’t see climate change as a personal or serious threat. How is Plan A changing that perception?
Lubomila Jordanova: Understanding climate change, the science behind it and placing yourself in this big picture is not a simple task. I founded Plan A in effort to solve my own problem, which was a difficulty understanding what climate change actually was and why it was so complicated for science, media and institutions to agree on a universal agenda to tackle it.
Once I started digging, I found out that all stakeholders were choosing a separate strategy for tackling or not tackling climate change. For people who hadn’t felt the reality of negative effects of climate change it was challenging to adapt their lives to changes happening in decades and understand the severity of expected climatic changes, as climate change alerts were rarely making the headlines of mainstream media. On the other hand, the people who had experienced extreme weather events with increasing magnitude due to changes in the climate were not given the visibility or voice. In the meantime, scientists were sending the ever more definitive messages about the threat ahead. Finally, governments would choose to be onе or another extreme of the discussion. As you can see an incredibly complex picture.
Why do you think crowdfunding is the right model?
We aim to empower people to see themselves as actors of change in a fight worth uniting for. We want to demystify the topic of climate change, make the science and data understandable to people and breakdown addressing climate change in accessible solutions. The reason why we chose the crowdfunding model from businesses and individuals is to be able to build a community that engages some of the main stakeholders, who hold the key in acting quickly on climate change. The voice of individuals is incredibly strong and has the power to drive drastic changes, while businesses should be championed if they choose the greener path. We want these to meet and work together with the people on the ground, the NGOs, the scientists.
Why is data important in the fight against climate changes? Where does all the data come from?
One of the key reasons we focused on while building an algorithm was the necessity for quick and effective responses to climate change related issues across the globe. At the moment, funding for NGOs requires a lot of time and marketing capacity, while green startups are not the first priority of traditional VCs or angel investors. With our technology, we can identify geographies and environmental problems that need immediate attention. This allows us to select the right partner who after getting funding on our platform can implement a much-needed change in the affected location. For the building of the algorithm, we are using publicly available data, related to six themes, Oceans, Forests, Wildlife, Sustainable Living, Waste Management and Sustainable Energy. By finding correlations between these issues, we create priority list for countries and industries, understanding the problems at their core.
Could a cause be business as well and how are you doing it? Do you see Plan A as an NGO or as a for-profit company?
Plan A is a registered for-profit company in Germany. We charge a fee on each donation. The choice of this legal structure was quite straight forward – I come from a business background and truly believe that a for-profit model can create value, while also keeping you on track with your goals. By building a model around the climate change cause, we are capable of transforming the well-established mindset that “shareholders come first” – in our case the shareholders benefit only if the planet benefits.
What has happened since the official launch in December? Can you already outline some trends?
What we noticed already when looking at the data is that the whole world has a problem with its energy mix and waste management. Sustainable living is a huge issue in Asia and Africa with climate change resulting in disturbing the livelihoods, requiring from them to adapt their living at a high costs. Waste management is a huge issue across Asia, while in South America one can see a drive towards protecting nature and the communities there. The problems of waters are visible and in need of attention all across the globe – the way the water cycle works makes sure that there are ripple effects of all the pollution, coming from plastic, oil, toxic chemicals, among others. All these conclusions we made at a data analysis level are reflected by the projects on the platform and the applications we received. The data doesn’t lie.
Why do you think this model would work better than the established ones of organizations like WWF etc.?
Plan A is not a charity and we are not aiming to compete with big charities, rather promote and support all necessary action that can tackle climate change. There is a growing number of scientists, green startups, NGOs and businesses, which should be talking to each other, working together and their efforts on fighting climate change should be championed. This is the transition Plan A aims to facilitate.
How are you managing the transparency issue?
From the project owners we get detailed financial breakdowns about how they are going to spend the money. After they get the funding, they are obliged by the T&C to report back to their donors until all money are allocated to the progress and spending. With this structure, we wanted to tackle an often-observed issue in crowdfunding, where after an intense marketing campaign and a successfully funded project, the owner stops communicating about the results and sometimes disappears. The businesses we work with have no activities in the oil industry, are not involved in illegal cases, and also recognize the severity of the negative effects of climate change. Thankfully, there are many out there.
What is the most crucial factor for Plan A to succeed? What is your goal for 2019?
Visibility of what we do is the most crucial factor for Plan A’s success and will only be possible if we have the capacity to invest in building our community and market our activities. The creativity and ideas are already there. In 2019, I aim to make the Plan A platform the largest online community for climate change, engaging scientists, NGOs, green startups, data analysts and activists. Also, get funding.
Imagine Plan A working in full capacity the next five years. What would be different then?
One thing is for sure and it is that the negative effects of climate change will be visible across the world with more extreme weather events happening also in Europe. There are two scenarios on what we could be doing in five years.
The first one is that the world would be still discussing whether climate change exists or not and we all would be on the path of destruction, with hundreds of thousands of people on the go as climate refugees. The second scenario is for us to have recognized the challenge ahead and to have united around a common agenda, tackling climate change. What I am certain of is that in both scenarios Plan A will continue its efforts to make the world a fairer and cleaner place for all.