Impact Goal Rush
Impact Goal Rush

Episode 20 · 10 months ago

Francesco Cara - Digital Innovation For Sustainability


Francesco Cara is a serial entrepreneur and an academic. He teaches digital innovation in sustainability at the IED Milan, Institute of Design in Milan and he shares his observation of why innovation in sustainability is growing exponentially and how some of the technology is becoming mainstream. 

Francesco also talks about the If You Want To platform, a project where I had the opportunity to be a part of his team when we built a platform curating sustainable digital solutions.

You can find Francesco's work here:

Time Stamps

[1:33] What Francesco teaches his students at the European Design Institute

[5:18] Role of students in sustainability

[6:30] The If You Want To project

[9:19] Business model issues with the project

[11:55] What has changed in the last five years in the green technology and sustainability space

[17:11] The question of shortage of funds or shortage of entrepreneurs

[18:49] Example of sustainability entrepreneurship - Rifò

[22:03] Franceso’s advice for podcast listeners

[26:21] How to get in touch with Francesco  

How to make innovation insustainability more mainstream. That's what we're going to be looking at inthis episode, episode number 20. Hello and welcome to the Impact Goal RushPodcast. This is the podcast for impact entrepreneurs. This podcast aims toamplify the voices of impact entrepreneurs addressing the UnitedNations global goals AKA The Sustainable Development Goals. Listenin to fellow impact entrepreneurs on their journey in this new goal rush ofmaking a bigger impact. Get inspired to learn how through entrepreneurship, you cangrow your impact to make the world a better place, leave a legacy and live amore meaningful life. I'm your host Woon Tan. In this episode we have Francesco Kara,a serial entrepreneur and academic He teaches digital innovation insustainability at the IED, Milan, Institute of Design in Milan, and heshares his observation on why innovation in sustainability is growingexponentially and how some of the technology is becoming mainstream.Francesco also talks about the if you want to platform one of the projectsI've had the opportunity to be part of, when I joined his team, when webuilt this platform curating sustainable digital innovations somefive years ago. If you missed the previous episode, wehad Carl Pratt of Future Planet share his journey of growing a superengaged community of sustainability professionals. Francesco Cara, welcome to The ImpactGoal Rush. What have you been up to? I've been teaching quite a lot. I had80 students between November and the end of February, with the exams on the course, which is called theDesign for the Anthropocene. And so I take these design students who come fromdifferent disciplines, from industrial design, communication design, fashiondesign, interior design, marketing, photography. I take them through like360 degrees journey from climate change and the environmental crisis. We getinto all the different domains of human activity, starting with energyproduction and use, moving into food, into agriculture and the food system. Thenwe look, spend quite some time on industry, trying to understand both the impact of industry and circular economy, how the circle economy is changingindustry, and then we're going to transport and then we end up withbuilding and construction. So we really, you know, it's a it's a big tour andfor each topic, we try to understand what is environmental impact. What arethe strategies to reduce the carbon and environmental impact. And then we ask the question, "what can design in that space, and sometimes design can play arole in shaping communication. Another time it's really very much aboutmaterial choice or the way products are designed for being repaired or now beingreconditioned or to get to components. So you know, we, it's kindof, you know, journey through all those topics and we end up with the politics,so we adopt with the Paris agreement and everything that has happened aroundthe Paris Agreement, which is very interesting from the C40 CT networkto the Investor's network, to the brand's companies network, the re100 for the renewable energies in big corporations. We look greenhouse gas protocolas a common language to measure carbon...

...emissions, and this is how the courseends and we do lots of case studies so students prepare every week, can studyof the brand or the climate hero and since everything is online, you know,we try to have everything really interactive. What are people reacting to, youknow, what are people picking up? So it's um, so what is interesting is that I teachin this school, which is called a European Design Institute and they doa lot of work on sustainability, like sustainability in fashion tofind an alternative to the fast fashion too very chemical-heavy and water-heavy processes. So they are very competent on particular sectors, inparticular domains. So what they really appreciate of the course, which issomething that fills me with joy, is that they really look at everything.Obviously, we cannot cover everything, everything. But we cover a lot ofground and by covering a lot of ground, we see all the similarities from onedomain to the other. And this is really you know, something that theyappreciate a lot. And then, since it's a big group, it's an internationalgroup, half international, half Italian group, each of them has there own passion, so some people are really big and activists some people are, they do alot of canoeing and very concerned with hydro electric power. Some people arereally into reusing fashion, so they push the boundaries of reusing fashion. Some people are really exploring materials, are getting into materials sothey really know well, and bamboo is a material very critical, with organiccotton, because, because they think it's an oxymoron, you cannot haveorganic cotton because cotton is so, uses so many resources, youknow? So, so what is really nice is we try to have a lot of conversationswhere they can bring in their own concerns, their own passions, thesolutions that they're working on. I have known you since, I think, I don't know, five years,five or six years ago now. And we started working together on the "If YouWant To" project. So for people who want to, you know, explore that, canyou share, you know, how it started and what was your vision and where it isright now. So essentially, sort of, I met Woon at Cleanweb meet up,and Woon was one of the organisers of this meet up and coming from a sort ofdigital background, in the sense that I worked on services, digital products,applications, for many years, I found what Cleanweb was doing incrediblyinteresting, which was essentially look at innovation in the area ofsustainability. Let's call it let's use a very broad term, where the besttechnologies and the best technologists were were used and involved.And, and I found through the meet up where start ups and innovators andresearchers were presenting the latest results. I thought that they contentwas really worth a platform, a dedicated platform, where people couldboth point out interesting Cleanweb, so digital products andservices to live more more sustainably,... well as discover some of thoseservices. And so, if you want to, was born out of the idea of creating acollaborative platform where people could tell us about things thatthey thought were really good, who effective in this environmentaltransition, as well as commenting as well as waiting. And this was was howif you want to was born. And we started very, very fast that thanks to theinput of of a number of very dedicated and passionate people. So wegrew our database very fast. We established some connections with some ofthe startups and new businesses, and, um, and you know, we had a really niceprice in January of the third year, since the platform was born and the Rushlight Prize for sustainable innovation in the social space. Andthen we were part of a climate launchpad programme with EIT. So, sortof, you know, lots of things happened. Then we really, in a sense had troubles,on the one hand, personal issues and, and so sort of, in mycase, since I was I was driving the project, I had to to reduce myengagement on the project itself, and then we really struggled with thebusiness model. We're really, really struggled with the business model,because I think it was a little too early as the platform. The market wasmore a forming market and is so much more much mature now. This was 2015when we started. Now in 2021 the market is matured a lot and if youwant to, we're still up! We're still up and running because it's been built in avery solid way. Haven't had resources to update it much, but it's up running,is welcoming. I got an alert from Google yesterday, saying that, you know,we had 1000 visitors last month, February so you know, it's it's it's alittle it's a little resource in a very wide space. In the meantime, there aresimilar things that have been developed. I got in touch with Unbuntu recently,which is more of a business to business platform, but very, very similar to whatyou want to. So I think I think some of the drive, the project, the idea is stillthere, is still there. Amazing. I think it's been such ajourney, isn't it? Building that and then learning about what's happening ingetting the platform up and running for me was my first ever venture, firsttime outside of the insurance, where I was previously in the career path. Soyou give me that that first opportunity my first ticket out of insurance, soI really appreciate that. And it was such a good fun starting that and buildingit together. And we learned so much. Every day, we were discovering thesepeople doing amazing things, trying to capture and share those insights. It hasbeen a wonderful, really wonderful couple of years? Yeah, If people wantto check it out, the website is So, at thetime when we started your real base in London and you've moved back to Italyan then, now you're sort of involved in the academic side of things moregiving back through teaching. What do you think has changed since, you know,in the last five years? What are the big changes you've seen? Many things, actually. The main thing is and I...

...looked at, I see it very closelywhen I prepare my courses, is that the material I use, the content I useessentially needs to be revised every six months. This gives a sense of howfast things are changing in the space, which is sort of the ecologicaltransition space, sustainability space, the green technology spaces. We can usedifferent labels, but essentially all this new world that we're building.And I find it amazing that in six months I really need to update most ofthe material because uptake of innovations is going much faster thanwhat was expected. Because new regulations are happening that maybetransforming the market because their new innovations, new things coming in tomarket that are really giving a new perspective on things, because societyis adopting, is picking up so many behaviours that were really amongearlier adopters five years ago and now are, you know, truly late adopters, youknow, they're really in the mainstream, and this is the first thing that amazes me.The second thing that I find really interesting is that the knowledge, I'mthinking of my students and my friends colleagues, the knowledge is growingexponentially. So people have moved very fast from an awareness state, ofawareness to a level off engagement with the topic. And now what mattersreally is action. So what I can do in practice in my life, this is really thedriver. So the driver is more. It's not why any longer. It's not what,because people have a pretty good idea. what needs to be done, it's how I could doit. And this has been a transformation you know, where we're starting,discovering all these innovations, these new opportunities. Frankly, wedidn't think it would have got so fast. Now many of those innovations are mainstream, and many of those opportunities are behaviours that we see on a dailybasis and this can be, you know, switching to a renewable energy and a renewableelectricity provider to using sharing mobility, transport systems. You know, all thesethings that were just popping up five years ago. Now, are we truly mainstream. To remember all the time we spent looking at applications thatbrought food grown locally to people in cities big and small. And these werethe first attempts, the first trials of those systems. So now we have amultiplicity, practically across the world, and this entire in the marketare having a larger and larger way. We saw, if you remember, you know, we hadthis company with electric taxis in London who was launched and we were thelaunch or you were at the launch. I couldn't believe already. Nowwe have electrified vehicles that are sold in larger numbers than these vehicles across Europe. But we started in July and we have these fleets ofcars, electric cars that are among us, you know, like, they're partof our battle. And then the third thing, that really strikes meis the new way we're doing business So we, so five years agowe saw innovators and entrepreneurs were coming on the scene and theywanted to do sustainable innovation to...

...enable sustainable lifestyles andsustainable services. And they also were looking at the social dimensionthings swears no to repeat what theprevious generation of entrepreneurs did, which was really go for profit andtake any shortcut to achieve those goals. These brand of entrepreneurswere quite different. And this thing this another change. I think that fiveyears on or six years on, there are entrepreneurs can really manageat the same time their financial objectives that are better mental goalsin their social goals. And there are more and more of those companies thatwere more and more in networks. And they're operating according to differentrules. And, you know, with my students we spend quite a lot of time analysingthose startups, you know, and they are very smart and it's in your way ofdoing business. Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned the entrepreneurship. Youknow, what do you think? Do you think that there's a shortage of peopletrying to innovate in the entrepreneur space? Or is there like because oneof the one of my my podcast clients, he just interviewed someone who is, so he'sinterviewing a lot of the big impact in the impact investors, like theinstitution impact investors and he was saying, or he was observing that there is stillshortage of entrepreneurs. And it's not that there's a shortage of impactinvestments. The money's there, it's that the entrepreneurship is nottaught enough and there's not enough entrepreneurs. What? Do you have a viewon this? You know, I think I, from my perspective, I, I see more an issueoff market, of matching in the market. Um, I more on the entrepreneur sidesand the entrepreneurs I know have real trouble getting funds and investment,but they do, so I listen to you. I hope we're not ina situation where, where the two communities are not talking to eachother. What I'm seeing, I am seeing verycapable entrepreneur, we had the last, the last course was the beginning of Februarywhen we had exams and we had as guest, Niccolo from the Italian company calledthe Rifo, R.I.F.O. with an accent and they started, I think, twoyears ago with a crowdfunding in the city of Prato which is in Tuscany.And this is the capital of the reuse of textiles. The Italian capital. The verylong tradition, going back hundreds of years with very active Chinesecommunity in Prato, and he and a friend went to get down on the trip and cameback and they were really appalled by the textile, the presence of this verylarge textile plants in Vietnam, with the hundreds of thousands of peopleworking for them under very harsh conditions in most cases. And theyreally wanted to do something against fast fashion. So they went back toPrato, and they created a network...

...of people who can process the, I don't know how to call it, the reused fabrics in a very effective way,very nice ways. And they created this brand recuperating cashmere, having thisnetwork of companies that process like the cashmere in the best possible way andthen the other plans doing the meeting, and they and they, you know, theproduct themselves. They were designed in the province, and they moved reallyswiftly. They started with scarves, gloves with accessories because theywere one size, so you easier to learn as a trade. They did very well. Theymoved into jumpers, then they moved into cotton, then they moved into jeans witha very simple brand, and a very broad network of suppliers thatshare with them a number of values. So they work with natural colours so theydon't need to use chemical colourings. And they wanted to engage a sort offranchise populations, people, in the process. So they're really puttingtogether these three elements of the of financial profitability,social impact and environmentally impact. Just to give you an example, Icould give you several more examples. I'm very impressed. I think there is alot of innovation, actually there. Lots of people, extremely smart, very openminded, very transparent in the way they operate. So it's uh, it's adifferent rulebook, playbook. Yeah, interesting. For someone who islistening to this podcast like, what advice would you have for them, youknow, if they're starting out their journey into creating more impact, youknow what, what advice would you have for them? What I find particularlyvaluable is openness. I think it's really important to start with the idea,communicate that idea, circulate that idea, find partners, supporters, reallycreate a network around around the project, around the idea. I think this isreally fundamental and within the network identify the people that sharethe values of the entrepreneur, so that there is a real strong bond at the mostimportant level, which is the value driver emotional level. So this isreally important. The second thing, I think that is looking at the bestcombination of financial sustainability, environmentalsustainability, social progress, I think is the really right mix, because yousee that more and more of the markets of your potential customers are verysensitive and recognise really well. these new players in the market. Transparency is something that is veryimportant. So from the beginning, the very clear, that we have to give asmuch visibility as possible to all the inner workings of the company, on thepartners, who the partners are, whether it is hardware, if it is a productcompany, where the materials come from, you know, the whole value chain,transparency only on the overall value chain and then the last thing because Imean talk too long in my answers. But...'s learning. I think learning isreally phenomenal, learning in the sense of saying well, at the beginning.I cannot embrace the whole of my value chain, but I can keep experimenting,learning and extending the sustainability of my value chain. Andthere are some examples, there is one of the best examples I know it's a VEJA,which is an accessories French firm doing sneakers shoes and the productionis in Brazil of those shoes. All the logistics is handled by a comparativeof franchise people. So when the containers arrive in Marseille to bedistributed across France and other places they're handled by acomparative, which is a social partnership with a social enterprisethat shares your same values and then in Brazil, what they've been doing being isextending the value chain. So they have the suppliers of latex and you know, they they start buying the raw material. And then they teach thepeople who are collecting the forgot the name now, sorry, Latex. Theyteach them techniques to dry and prepare the latex, so they buy from them,not raw material, but ready processed material. So they transfer more valueto these local people in the Amazon. You see what I mean in constantly andthen and then you know the experiment on leather from the big fish of theAmazon. And they so keep on experimenting, learning and extendingyour sustainable behind the change over time in a very creative way. And, youknow, and there are many examples of that to me is a new way, and entrepreneurs have always innovated. But I think this innovation, looking at allthese three aspects, is has in your flavour a new dimension. Those are super important points of view that as entrepreneurswe need to be very open minded, very for learning and experimenting. So,Francesco for anyone who wants to reach out to you, what's the best way to get intouch? I think the best, I'm an old school person. So my email is the best.Which is the frakara@gmail. com, which is F for Fox Romeo Alpha KiloAlpha Romeo Alpha at gmail dot com. Amazing. Thank you for Thank you forbeing here. Yes. Yeah, he's been fun. Good! Lovely to be with you. So there you go. That was from Francesco Cara. What's been your biggest takeaway fromthis episode? Let us know in the comments section on our social mediapage. If you haven't subscribed yet, please do subscribe. This will reallyhelp us grow our podcasts. And if you can think of someone that would benefitfrom listening to this podcast, please do share it with them. In the next episode we have Dr Poochtalk about the holistic health education revolution he's a part of,and how he plans to get more kids and adults eat healthy with the "Get WellJohnny" books. So tune in to next week's episode.Thank you very much for listening into the end of this episode. We reallyappreciate you. This is the Impact Goal Rush. My name is Woon Tan, and I'll seeyou in the next episode.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (22)