Written by: Eric Meunier

A couple of weeks ago, I visited ChangeNow, the World’s largest event of solutions for the planet according to the organizers. Created in 2015 when France hosted the COP21, the event has indeed grown into a major gathering of the global impact ecosystem. After 2 years of videoconferences, the 5th edition of the summit was back IRL in Paris, at the Ephemeral Grand Palais built on the Champ-de-Mars, bringing together thousands of entrepreneurs, corporations, investors, NGOs, local administrations, institutions, artists and media – as well as citizens on the last day.

Over 3 days, the event showcased hundreds of solutions in 12 distinct zones mapping the world’s most pressing challenges: circular economy, ocean & water preservation, sustainable mobility, energy carbon reduction, biodiversity, food & agriculture, changing habits, sustainable fashion, health, inclusion & education, sustainable cities and impact finance. Alongside that, ChangeNow hosted nearly 150 sessions and workshops with inspirational speakers across 10 different stages – special mention to the Eiffel stage displaying views of the iconic tower from the bay windows. The event also included a film festival, artistic performances and ChangeNow By Night for partners and communities to extend the experience after-hours. Last but not least, an outdoor food court proposed organic, local and seasonal products and zero plastic bottles.

My plan was to spend a couple of days at ChangeNow to make sure I made the most of the event. Spoiler alert: I have not been able to visit all booths – there were simply too many. 

DAY 1

Thursday’s visit started in a line under the Paris sun to get my zero-plastic badge – the line was impressive but the wait was hopefully not too long. Rushing into the hall, I went straight to the Gaia stage to attend the ‘Opening ceremony’ kicked off by Santiago Lefebvre, founder and CEO of ChangeNow. “Every degree, every fraction of a degree, every species, every person. Any action you can take matters,” he said. During the session, Mike Horn, the Globe explorer, urged us to « change the way we think. » « Working together is the new competition » he added. And Yamina Saheb from IPCC advised attendees to read the summary of the latest report focused on climate mitigation, in other words on solutions. For the first time an IPCC report as looking at « what would be the impact of reducing the demand ». Meaning, the report asks what do people from all around the world need for their well-being and how to satisfy these basic needs within planetary boundaries. « A game changer » compared to the previous reports.

Later on, I attended a session called ‘Driving business differently’. I was really impressed by the Vaude journey to the smallest possible footprint described by its CEO, Antje Von Dewitz. The German outdoor clothes and gear manufacturer started by taking care of the well-being of the employees before addressing the supply chain challenges one after the other. « When I took over the company in 2009, I already had 4 children. I had the strong and wild desire to really be able to one day look them in the eyes and say: I really tried my best » she said. In my humble opinion, she did more than just trying. The story of Clotilde Delbos from Mobilize was also quite interesting. The new company is the mobility operator of the Renault group proposing a vehicle as a service (VAAS). It’s an « activist brand wanting to change the paradigm of the auto industry » from the inside. At Mobilize, they plan to represent 20% of the group turnover by 2030 without selling any car. Quite a bold objective.

After having seated for a couple of hours, I needed to exercise so I began my tour of the start-ups, starting with the Circular Economy gallery and the ‘Changing habits’ area. Orange (telco) and Back Market (second-hand) booths were standing out – maybe a subliminal message to question our relationship (addiction?) with technological objects! More seriously, I spent some time with the Ethikis team who were presenting the ‘longtime’ label designed to promote durability best practices of manufactured products. Interesting to indicate in a few seconds that the product shoppers are considering to buy is going to last. A valuable signal in a context of tension on purchasing power. I also stopped by the Opopop booth who were showcasing their reusable soft packaging service for online deliveries and I had a chat with the NOA start-up who offers a portable appliance recycling waste to produce renewable energy and Snowball Effect who help adapt social entreprise best practices.

After having a quick lunch break in the food court and an informal chat with a responsible investor, I went to the Eiffel stage to join James Bidwell from Springwise to hear about ‘Changing the business as usual mindset’. Monika Frech from Yunus Social Business asked the audience to do 3 things: internalize impacts, shift to long-termism, and adopt systems thinking. During the panel, Brune Poirson from Accor encouraged us to « be radical », not just try to do the same things better, Ulrike Decoene from AXA suggested to « unlearn » and Katie Hill from B-Lab to « collaborate ».

DAY 2

Friday’s visit was mostly dedicated to solution discovery. But I could not resist to listen to Kate Raworth, the inventor of the doughnut theory. She started by shaking the audience: « All high-income countries are overshooting their pressure on the planet. There is nothing developed about that. We must all transform. » More specifically, she asked us to shift from the current degenerative and divise economic system to a new regenerative and distributive one. She illustrated her speech with examples of cities who have been using the doughnut concept to drive change for the citizens: Amsterdam, Leeds, and Birmingham. She also announced that the Doughnut Economic Action Lab was exploring how to apply the concept for businesses without falling into the trap of greenwashing. She finally advised start-ups to stay true to their purpose when scaling up. A very inspiring speech and a great way to kick-off the day. 

Later in the morning, I sat down at the Gaia stage to learn about ‘Fostering collaboration’. « Partnerships are like romance, it’s all about relationship. » said Kevin Tayebaly from ChangeNow during the discussion with Dr Sabrina Cipullo from Solar Impulse Foundation. Valerie Keller from Imagine said: « the planet and the business agendas are aligned ». But she warned that business leaders didn’t always know what to do concretely; Cyril Garcia from Capgemini Invent called out the need for « national and local roadmaps » and « coalitions » to build the world of tomorrow; and Saeed Amidi from Plug and Play compared tech and green start-ups: the former can scale up alone whereas the latter need help from large corporations. « Success comes when big companies invest and pilots ».

Early in the afternoon, I spent some time listening to the speakers of the ‘Circular economy to change the game’ session. Dimitar Vlahov from rePurpose shared his view on how to fill the « intention-to-action gap »: simplify how it works, make it an attractive choice, empathize with people. He urged to « bring psychologists to the table. » Joe Franses from Coca-Cola and Jules Coignard from Circul’R zeroed in on the huge role circularity can play to reduce GHG. Anne-Sophie Michel from Citeo highlighted 3 challenges: be coherent across the value chain, circularize the business model, and measure impact.

During the day, I kept on touring the solution zones spending time with start-ups: AXA climate, offering consulting and training to help tackle climate change; AWorld.org helping to engage, measure and educate stakeholders in partnership with the UNFCCC; Citeo, a French non-profit promoting waste management and circular economy; EcoLearn, bringing practical sustainability content for professionals; Fruggr, operating ESG monitoring of digital activities; Grain blanc, an agency helping SMEs transform and deliver positive impact; Lizee, providing SAAS for management of e-commerce circular business models in retail; Nature metrics, using environmental DNA to provide biodiversity data and nature intelligence at scale; and Tom&Josette, who are creating intergenerational daycare centers (a place to consider for my old days maybe). And finally, I spent my last bits of energy to come and say hello to B-Lab and 1% for the planet in the Earth Village. What a day!

WRAP-UP

All in all, visiting ChangeNow event was a great way to discover concrete actions and innovations to accelerate the transformation of companies and societies. Kudos to the founders Santiago Lefebvre, Rose-May Lucotte and Kevin Tayebaly, their teams and the volunteers who turn this grassroots initiative into a big yet responsible summit for entrepreneurs and change makers. A « tour de force » in just a few years punctuated by a global pandemic!

https://www.changenow.world | https://www.linkedin.com/company/changenow-world/