Climate change became a major topic as it’s regarded as one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity this century. In recent years, extreme weather events have revealed the direct consequences of climate change. Ocean warming and the melting of the polar ice-caps are creating alarming rises in sea levels, resulting in the sinking of cities like Venice.


Climate change is causing serious environmental problems that require urgent and collective action in order to find effective solutions to this global challenge. And thus, at the Climate Change Conference (COP25) held in Madrid from 2 to 13 December 2019, a call for action was launched to all nations to develop policies and initiatives to combat climate change at a global level. Non-state actors such as NGOs, companies, local authorities and individuals must now join forces to find solutions to the environmental challenges we face. Climate action is indeed needed more than ever and as we have already experienced, several initiatives attempt to introduce new approaches for a brighter future.


In this context, social innovation and the environment are closely linked to reducing or mitigating climate change. The main interest of social innovations in the environment sphere is a reduction in society’s environmental impact (SI-Drive project, 2017). Several initiatives around the world are being promoted in the quest for ideas to address these challenges.


Globally and regionally, we see huge differences in the conceptualisation of projects that address environmental challenges as social innovation initiatives. Following the definition by the SI-Drive project, social innovation in the environmental context is linked to the notion of ‘sustainability’. Thus, we find a myriad of social innovations covering areas from unaddressed situations or problems such as the destruction of environmental assets, the mistreatment of animals, to the wastage of resources and food consumption.


We can split social innovation actions regarding the mitigation of climate change into several missions. These include moving away from fossil fuels, seeking alternatives to the use of plastic or encouraging re-forestation, among others. For example, the challenge set by the European Social Innovation Competition of 2019 was to find solutions to the problem of plastic waste.


Increasing pressure on the environment is causing serious damage to ecosystems and threatening the lives of millions of people. Therefore, bottom-up approaches are needed to engage people directly in behavioural change and green financing, to complement the top-down climate action initiatives led by governments and non-state actors.


Actions to combat climate change have attracted the attention of social innovation competitions worldwide and address varied topics related to the challenge. Below, three of the most significant prizes or competitions are highlighted.


The European Social Innovation Competition (EUSIC) is a challenge prize run by the European Commission across all EU countries and Horizon 2020 associated countries. Organised in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos, the competition invites all Europeans to come up with solutions to the problems affecting our society. The topic for the 2019 prize was Challenging Plastic Waste.


 The UN Climate Action Award shines a light on some of the world’s brightest solutions to climate change. The Awards, spearheaded by UN Climate Change’s Momentum for Change initiative, showcase some of the most practical, scalable and replicable examples of what people across the globe are doing to tackle climate change. Momentum for Change provides a public platform to highlight broad-ranging climate change actions that are already achieving real results on the ground. By shining a light on the most inspiring and transformational mitigation and adaptation activities, known as ‘Lighthouse Activities’, Momentum for Change aims to strengthen motivation, spur innovation and catalyse further change towards a low-emission, high-resilience future.


Better Together Award. Led by Impact Hub Berlin, this is an international competition seeking collaborative innovations that solve local climate challenges. The competition highlights the value of impactful collaboration between start-ups, SMEs or NGOs and local governments that jointly implement innovative solutions for effective climate mitigation and adaptation.



8 examples of social innovation for climate action


For the purpose of this blog, we have gathered 8 remarkable climate change and social innovation initiatives that have been awarded in the above three international competitions. We describe these initiatives to illustrate the diversity of social innovations for climate change.


MIWA (Czech Republic), winner of the European Social Innovation Competition 2019. MIWA is a circular distribution and sale system for food and non-food products with reusable packaging. The system prevents the creation of packaging waste (pre-cycling) throughout the entire delivery chain, from producer to household.


SpraySafe (Portugal), winner of the European Social Innovation Competition 2019. SpraySafe offers an edible spray to preserve food items that reduces the need for plastic packaging. It tackles plastic waste by acting as a coating over foodstuffs, as a direct substitute for plastic wrapping and plastic containers such as Tupperware.


VEnvirotech (Spain), winner of the European Social Innovation Competition 2019. VEnvirotech is a biotech start-up that transforms organic waste into biodegradable plastics using bacteria.


Impossible Foods (Singapore, Hong-Kong, USA, Macau), winner of the 2019 UN Climate Action Award, ‘Planetary Health’ Category. Impossible Foods creates plant-based substitutes for meat products that are more sustainable and help displace market demand for meat products.


MAX Burgers (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Poland), winner of the 2019 UN Climate Action Award, ‘Climate Neutral Now’ Category. Creating the world’s first ‘Climate Positive’ menu. 


Campaign for Female Education’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Guides (sub-Saharan Africa), winner of the 2019 UN Climate Action Award, ‘Women for Results’ Category. Training young women from marginalised farming communities to become Agriculture Guides.


Beyond the Grid Fund (Zambia), winner of the 2019 UN Climate Action Award, ‘Climate Friendly Investment’ Category. Providing affordable, off-grid clean energy solutions that are quick to deploy. 


Carbonlites (India), winner of the Better Together Award 2019. This initiative promotes the creation of biogas stations that eat up organic waste. 


Written by Igone Guerra and Gorka Orueta


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