Creating the right climate for change

Posted on 07 Mar 2024

By Greg Thom, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Climate change innovation ideas

Entrepreneurial not-for-profit start-ups with innovative ideas to tackle climate change are banding together to help save the planet.

Most people agree on the urgent need to respond to climate change.

The team at Subak Australia are convinced it’s just as important to identify bright sparks with great ideas to address the climate emergency and help turn them into action.

Subak Australia founder and executive director Chris Wilson said the organisation was launched in mid-2021 with the aim of helping climate-focused not-for-profit start-ups to accelerate their growth and avoid making common mistakes.

“There are very few challenges that are truly global by nature, and climate change is one of them,” said Mr Wilson.

“We wanted to focus on the entrepreneurs looking to make a difference, looking to innovate around climate action.”

Chris Wilson
Subak Australia executive director Chris Wilson.

Armed with the knowledge that many start-ups fail early because of a lack of support, Mr Wilson said his team was determined to lend a guiding hand.

“I’ve worked with many start-ups and have been a founder myself, and it can be a very isolating experience with high expectations that you know what you are doing every day.”

The first step was to identify purpose-driven founders working on smart solutions focused on data analysis to drive policy and mass-market behavioural change.

Over time, Subak Australia has evolved into what Mr Wilson calls a “climate start-up village”.

“Surrounding our members with a supportive and collaborative network to help them build skills and achieve their milestones is critical to the success of their missions and that of Subak Australia.”

Rather than offering assistance for a defined period, Subak’s climate village concept sees participants as “lifelong alumni.”

“They continue to build their businesses, share knowledge and collaborate with each other and grow their impact publicly,” said Mr Wilson.

“We also have an amazing roster of mentors and coaches who share knowledge and provide connections and opportunities to extend our members' reach.”

Subak Australia’s efforts come as philanthropic funding for environmental and climate change causes is increasingly rapidly.

The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) has just announced a $280,000 funding boost for 16 community-led climate initiatives across Australia.

In a recently released report, the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) found there had been a national and global spike in philanthropic giving to environmental causes, especially from private and public ancillary funds.

The report said the findings showed “a pivotal shift towards greater climate and environmental giving in recent years, prompted by a global awakening to the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises”.

Parents for Climate Action
Australian Parents for Climate Action is one of the groups being guided by Subak Australia.
"At Subak Australia, we recognise that innovation will be required to tackle the climate crisis, and many new ideas and technologies will be created to help solve the problem."
Subak Australia CEO Chris Wilson.

Subak’s roster consists of a mix of like-minded not-for-profit organisations and projects focused on slowing climate change and protecting the planet.

Open Corridor

One of Subak’s four inaugural members, Perth-based Open Corridor describes itself as “democratising sustainability intelligence”.

It has developed a suite of sustainability tools and platforms including software tools to help cities measure their environmental footprint.

Successful pilot programs with local government authorities in Western Australia have shown how cities across the country can build resilience in their communities, boost the economy and protect the environment.

The organisation was founded by data scientist and values-driven entrepreneur Josh Hopkins, winner of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award in the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) Community Conservation Awards in 2021 and the innovation category in the inaugural WA Climate Awards in 2023.

“We believe in a community-led approach to transformation, where all Australians are equipped with inclusive, science-based tools to guide our transition to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable world,” Mr Hopkins said.

Uncharted Waters

Uncharted Waters (Australia) is building a real-time digital twin of the global food system.

The aim is to harness the power of critical global trade flows and the most pressing climate risks to water and food security to inform policymakers and society in a timely manner with real-time data.

Unchartered Waters founder Christian Siderius said the firm had created a unique real-time process-based crop data platform as the basis for its modelling.

”It provides a seamless link between historic and current conditions and enables future projections so we can track, compare and assess.”

Josh Hopkins
Open Corridor founder Josh Hopkins at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

Australian Parents for Climate Action

Australian Parents for Climate Action is a nationally connected group created to engage millions of Aussie parents and empower them to advocate for climate action in the own communities, as well as business and governments.

Its focus is the millions of Australian parents already engaged in climate action because they are determined to ensure their children live safe, healthy, happy lives, and those looking for ways to become involved.

Australian Parents for Climate Action (also known as Parents for Climate) provides tools and support to help parents and their families achieve these goals.

State Clean Electricity Transition Tracker India (Scetti)

Scetti is a tracker dashboard that identifies, collects and synthesises electricity data from each Indian state into a single data platform.

India is the third-largest carbon emitter in the world, and Scetti provides useful data to accelerate its transition to clean energy.

This unique tool provides crucial information to help policymakers federally and, in each state, to speed up an effective transition from coal.

Surfers for Climate, Australia

A group created to mobilise an alliance of surfers to care about climate change.

Pursuing goals such as stopping new coastal and offshore fossil fuel developments, the group’s campaigns put the onus for action on individuals with slogans such as “It’s on me as an environmental steward to make it not break it.”

Through a combination of fun local awareness-raising events and hard-core advocacy, Surfers for Climate aims to harness the collective power of the world’s 35 million surfers to convince politicians and communities to champion climate action.

New Zealand-based uses artificial intelligence to accelerate wildlife conservation.

It does so by giving communities tools and training to capture and share data as “citizen scientists”.

Teams use a variety of methods to record details of biodiverse ecosystems threatened by climate change – for example, using cameras to record animals in the wild so they can be identified using AI.

The aim is to mitigate the impact of climate change on the biosphere through initiatives such as sequestering carbon by maintaining forests and habitats. hosts community events, seminars and educational activities to build skills in using AI to record and share data and to reduce the current rate of species extinction.

That sense of urgency is not lost on Mr Wilson, who said Subak Australia was determined to revolutionise how the world responds to climate change.

“Our very name was inspired by the cooperative farming system of 9th-century rice farmers in Indonesia who shared water in order to grow and thrive despite difficult environmental conditions,” he said.

“By uniquely focusing on not-for-profit, data-driven organisations and scientists, we facilitate collaboration and demand core data is shared openly, unencumbered by the confidentiality issues of the for-profit world.

“In this way, we allow new ideas to be born and for our members to progress more rapidly through their growth cycle.”

As well as providing a collaborative platform on which to share expertise, knowledge and research, Subak offers financial backing where possible through access to grants.

“In any industry facing disruption, innovative and adaptive solutions are required, and those solutions will often present as start-ups, founded and managed by entrepreneurs looking to solve a problem or present a new and innovative way of doing something,” said Mr Wilson.

“Climate change is one of the pressing issues and disruptions of our time, with catastrophic impacts globally if we do not act to mitigate and reverse the damage done to date.

“So, at Subak Australia, we recognise that innovation will be required to tackle the climate crisis, and many new ideas and technologies will be created to help solve the problem.”

Mr Wilson said none of this would be possible, however, without access to support ranging from funding and business advice to human networks that allow entrepreneurs to scale their solutions over time.

“[That’s why] we wanted to focus on the entrepreneurs looking to make a difference, looking to innovate around climate action.”

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