Gonzalo Muñoz, a mobilizer for climate action

Gonzalo Muñoz is Ashoka fellow and was nominated by the Chilean presidency as High Level Climate Champion for COP25, role from which he is mobilizing climate action in non-state actors all around the world.

Prior to this, he co-founded and ran TriCiclos, one of the more recognized Latin American companies on circular economy and recycling. He got the inspiration from 10 years running traditional food businesses where he witnessed the waste generated by the private sector. Using his business and entrepreneurial skills, he redirected his efforts toward his ideals and passion for sustainability and the environment. Gonzalo launched TriCiclos in Chile, then moved it to Brazil and it is currently operating in 11 countries in Latin America: the mission is to foster new designs for a world without waste. TriCiclos was also the first company to become a certified B corporation outside North America.

What does it mean for you to be the High Level Champion of COP25?It is a matter of gratefulness, because it represents a huge opportunity in generating massive impact in a very short period of time. At the same time, it is a big responsibility and therefore must be taken seriously in terms of building bridges between Parties and non-party stakeholders, all the while increasing the collaboration with non-party stakeholders. That is extremely important due to the increasing participation of non-party stakeholders, and something that needs to be taken seriously and be committed to. We see how much the non-party stakeholders are really connected, and they are doing the work. So, all of a sudden, it’s about looking for who is doing what in which areas, and at the same time helping them get connected.
Youth, startups, social entrepreneurs, who are not in governments, or big NGOs, they are trying to create or implement solutions.

What kind of help, support, funds, or networks are there to support them?
There are networks in each country and regions. And that’s very important because normally the youth are allowing us to be very well connected to what is happening on the ground. They know the reality of their very concrete regions, they know why the people in those areas are suffering and what are the opportunities. Which approaches increase the problem or facilitate a solution. First, it’s important to strengthen the possibility of youth to help us map the world in terms of what is happening and what can be done, in order to solve the crisis. But then it’s important to help youth to integrate worldwide, and Ashoka is a good example of that.

As you are an Ashoka fellow yourself, how do you see the role of this network, or perhaps other networks, to help fighting the climate crisis?
It’s critical on both ends. It’s fundamental to map everything that is happening all around to generate local networks, that maximize the trust between the members, while bringing their knowledge, experience, wisdom and care to a global level. There is the capability of generating a global net of collaboration that, if managed properly, can deliver good messages and good information for decision makers.
What other networks do you know where the youth could participate right now?
Well, I can tell you some of the networks that I participate. I am an Ashoka fellow, a BMW foundation fellow, I’m part of the schwab foundation and, through that, of the World Economic Forum. That arm of the World Economic Forum is fantastic in integrating all of their solutions. Skoll has a great network as well, and also the B Corp movement. In Latin America you also have the Avina foundation setting quite a good example. The Siemens Foundation is creating good connections, and on the entrepreneur side there is “Endeavour”, a good network of entrepreneurs, which is also delivering impact.

You funded TriCiclos. How do you see it beat the waste issue, and which is the biggest challenge that you, as an entrepreneur, have been facing?
Well, we set TriCiclos first with the idea to solve the problem of waste from the root. That’s why our motivation, our purpose is related to “waste is an error of design” and therefore want to correct all of the designs that are delivering waste. And that is by bringing us to have a look at how we design to produce and which type of materials and systems are being taken into consideration while delivering products and services into the market.

After the business idea was validated, and we started growing as a company, there were tensions and trade-offs whether to decide to grow or remain simple and small. And while growing geographically, we have been facing a lot of challenges on bringing our solution to other countries. Now we operate in 12 countries. It has not been simple, there are so many differences, not only between countries, but even internally in a country.

The waste management system, the culture in every region, being more or less connected, being more or less developed, all of those challenges have to be included while analyzing the way to develop the company. But at the same time most of the challenges are about the people whom you relate to, and how much you have to take into consideration the way you take care of the people, while allowing the company to grow and letting the people also grow and develop their skills. And it’s not only about the people that work for the company, but also those that are related to our company, through partnership with our clients or through our providers.

Circular economy does not mean reducing materials, consumption or production. What other ingredients are missing to make it into a complete solution?
Circular economy should be able to decouple growth from the use of materials and the generation of waste. Because circular economy is not only about recycling, it’s about reducing first. So, for example, when you analyze all the technical aspects of circularity, then you have to promote materials or products that can last longer. So, maintaining and prolonging the use of products is increasing circularity. That has to be embedded in the design of the product. And the same thing is about repairing or even sharing. Those elements, that are normally not well known as elements of circularity, are absolutely critical and have even more priority than recycling.

As youngsters, what can we do to achieve a systematic change?
I see 4 extremely relevant powers that the young generations have nowadays.
1. Voting. The most traditional power, but much of the problems that we are facing nowadays are related to young people not voting. We have to recuperate that power, in order to move to the needed solutions.
2. Power in purchasing. A well-known one. Once you use your capability of purchasing with purpose, and deciding what to buy and what not to buy, you are following your values, and at the same time determining to reward a certain company or somehow punishing another one. That’s a power that we all should be using.
3. The power of talent. This has appeared in the past 10 years. People should be using their talent and decide where to spend their time according to their values as well. And your generation is doing so. Most of the people now, when entering the workforce and deciding where to get employed, are doing it with a sense of purpose, they are doing it by following their values. They are asking their employers for the purpose of their organization and which are the values, and asking for that to be very strict.
4. The power of Love. By that I mean, the conversations that you have with your beloved ones are changing the world. You can not imagine how many times I meet a president of an organization, a major leader of the world, who changed their mindset because of a conversation they had with a grandchild, with a daughter, with a son. Those conversations, even having the possibility of interacting with the young generation that you love, and you care, with them somehow exposing and provoking the need for change, is creating a massive change that should not be diminished. That’s extremely important and you should continue doing so.

In one sentence, a powerful message for youth?
Be consistent. Consider that everything that you do, should follow your words, and should follow your thoughts. And therefore, if you have the capability of projecting your thoughts and your words with acts, then we have the possibility of solving this crisis.

You are involved with recycling and consulting for lower waste. I was wondering how is COP25 doing in these terms. And where are all the materials (of COP25) going to?
I know that this might be an element that may not be properly solved here in Madrid, because of the short time that we had to implement. If we were in Santiago, you would be seeing an incredible work that we did for 8 months, preparing not only the infrastructure, but also the street waste pickers, workers that were all organized to really sort the materials and manage them in a way that we could be very transparent in showing the result. I know that IFEMA has a waste management system, which I don’t know very well, and we unfortunately did not have the opportunity of establishing a better mechanism than the one they have.

How do you imagine the world by 2050?
A Net Zero Resilient world.

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