The intense heat of the two sunny days at The Next Web (TNW) conference underscored the importance of a prominent, though not central, issue: sustainability and climate impact.
TNW attendees were able to listen to sustainability talks on side stages and visit booths from climate-focused companies while enjoying a vegetarian lunch menu and beverages in single-use plastic cups.
Intended to showcase the latest technological innovations, TNW2022 focused on advances in finance, the success of startups, and corporate inclusion. Sustainability was a smaller part of the program, with just one in 10 theme talks, by The Ocean Cleanup founder Boyan Slat, taking place on the main stage.
‘We try to have a general coverage of all things new in technology. Sustainability is part of that,” says Martijn Vrijken, senior events manager at TNW. Attendees were able to hear about creating circular business models, the advent of climate finance technology, increasing the climate impact of products, and financing the climate transition.
Market based climate
Several speakers pointed to a new generation of consumers as the driver of change. “Gen Z wants the weather in their product,” Bram Veenhof of South Pole he stated in his talk ‘Simple ways for your company’s product to have a climate impact’.
Simultaneously, it was understood that further change in consumer behavior is necessary to spur commercial climate action. “Consumers don’t put their money where their mouth is,” said Patrick Layer, one of the speakers.
Layer’s statement was met with fierce disagreement from one audience member, who argued that it is businesses, rather than individual consumers, that need to change. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has also argued that highlighting the role of the individual is a favorite. narrative from the business community, as it allows corporations to inch forward on climate action.
Carbon offset, other disputed The climate option was also high on the agenda, present in talks on stage, various exhibition stands and organizational aspects. For example, attendees could offset emissions related to their travel to the conference.
in the cabins
The most innovative exhibitors focused on sustainability used technology to reduce climate change or set out to address the environmental problems that new technologies bring.
The winner of the finalists of the Pitch Battle for TNW Start-up Program, the study exchange, built a blockchain-based platform for exchanging clothes. Each item is tokenized, meaning its parameters are placed in a publicly available ledger. “In this way, fashion producers can see their product circulate and measure the environmental impact of their e-commerce,” said Nilofer Christensen, co-founder of Swap Studio.
Start-up based in Amsterdam cloudleaf aims to tackle ever-increasing emissions from data centers by connecting waste heat to heating showers in commercial venues, such as hotels. The company already operates some data centers in the Netherlands.
Simultaneously, several exhibitors proposed solutions that were already well established, for example another reusable water bottle. TNW, Vrijken said, aims to give space to “not just startups, but also the ones that have already done it, to show what they’ve done to make this world a better place.”
TNW has the ambition to be, in Vrijken’s words, “a great sustainable event”. organizers fiance to work on eight areas of sustainability, from powering the stages with reusable energy, to reducing the amount of waste, to saving water through a fully vegetarian menu.
Vrijken says TNW’s goal of meeting 75% of the conference’s energy needs with wind power was achieved, with the remaining energy coming from biofuels. Another solution was the less wasteful construction of the exhibition area, using recycled materials. “We built without anything new,” said Vrijken.
Two water refill points and a seaweed burger were more obvious to the general public. So was the ‘recycling center’ which encouraged visitors to separate their rubbish, although the design of the bins did not fit certain plastic cups.
The single-use cups, even if they are biodegradable, were what drew the most attention to the event’s sustainability claims. Vrijken cited “logistical issues” such as hiring staff to collect reusable cups, along with advice from partners, as the rationale behind this choice. “Plastic cups were a big topic this year,” she said. “We’ll see what to do with them next year.”