01 Apr 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

Meet the entrepreneurs leading the transition to a green economy

Watching yet another truck dumping a load of vile-smelling fish processing waste at a landfill located next to Kisumu’s largest informal settlements, the foremost thought in Newton Owino’s mind was “we can do better.” A leather chemist by profession, Owino decided to explore creative ways to utilize the waste produced by the many fish processing plants around Kisumu, in Kenya’s Lake Victoria region.

Fifteen years later, the energetic entrepreneur runs a thriving leather business that specializes in shoes, jackets and other accessories made from fish waste. In addition to providing employment for 300 local women and 17 factory staff, Owino is creating market opportunities for 80 local farmers who supply the leather factory with a range of sustainable products, such as papain, a papaya extract used as a leather softener, and bleaching agents and dyes made from moringa, hibiscus and other locally grown plants.

“Our philosophy is to make as much use of locally available products as possible and to create market opportunities for low-income groups in the community,” Owino explains. His ventures were featured at the Sustainable Innovation Expo on the sidelines of the recently concluded fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly—the world’s highest decision-making body on the environment.

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Owino is one of estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized enterprises that have received support from the European Union-funded SWITCH to Green Initiative. Implemented by UN Environment, the Initiative brings together inclusive green economy programmes in 34 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. Collectively, the SWITCH-Asia, SWITCH Africa Green, SwitchMed and EaPGreen projects have contributed to 350,000 green jobs and leveraged more than US$1.1 billion in investments.

As diplomats from around the world convened at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly to discuss the world’s environmental problems, the SWITCH to Green Initiative came to show what could be achieved. It illustrated how the world could move towards a circular green economy through a focus on sustainable consumption and production, the Assembly’s main theme.

Evidence shows the SWITCH to Green Initiative’s methodology is working.

In the Mediterranean, 2,200 green entrepreneurs in the region received support and training on circular business models from the SwitchMed programme. This has led to the creation of 200 green companies and 1,000 new green jobs.

As Satya Tripathi, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the UN Environment Office in New York noted, “Until now, the focus has been on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how.’ The SWITCH to Green Initiative is playing an important role by linking science and innovation with policy and practical implementation on the ground.”

The graph below summarizes the Initiative’s global impacts.

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The SWITCH to Green Initiative’s results are far-reaching: eight southern Mediterranean countries covered by the SwitchMed programme have all adopted their respective national sustainable consumption and production action plans, as well as a regional one. In the region, the focus on resource efficiency has resulted in the savings of 76,667 GWh per year, equivalent to the residential energy consumption of 50 million people or 18,570,856 tonnes of carbon emissions; and the savings of 700 million metric cubes of water, or the domestic water consumption of 11 million people. In Asia, the Initiative has provisioned nearly US$564 billion in European Union funding for the period 2007-2020, for projects spanning 19 countries.

Achieving together, showcasing results

The Fourth UN Environment Assembly provided the first-ever opportunity for partners from the four regional SWITCH to Green Initiative programmes to convene a joint event to celebrate their successes and share lessons learned. At a high-level round-table, participants discussed the SWITCH to Green Initiative’s innovative suite of projects and how they are enabling the literal switch to a more inclusive, greener economy. Building on highlights of project experiences across the four regions, the discussions noted the huge potential of sustainable business across entire value chains.

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SWITCH to Green: an incubator for innovative green businesses

The SWITCH to Green’s contribution was also formally recognized in one of the Assembly's resolutions, which noted the role of such initiatives in promoting sustainable business, “including but not limited to green business practices, such as resource-efficient and cleaner production, SWITCH Africa Green, SwitchMed, SWITCH-Asia Programmes, among others.”

The Initiative is showing what can be done and the world is taking notice. The Ambassador of Barbados and Antigua requested the European Commission to establish a dedicated SWITCH SIDS (Small Island Developing States) programme.

In the end, it’s about showing, not telling. And this is what the SWITCH to Green is achieving.