How to lead a good life (and create a sustainable start-up along the way)?

Climate-KIC summer school student Tessa Leferink blogs about her first week lessons on The Journey in the Netherlands.

You know how climate change often feels like a large and complex problem?

Far too large and complex for an insignificant person like yourself? I do. I am 24 years old, lucky to be born in the Global North, getting opportunities to learn and currently working towards my graduation. A question often troubling the mind is how to live a “good life”.

While figuring this out, the world just keeps spinning, the climate keeps changing, but I have done near to nothing to have an actual impact on it. This summer I have been given the opportunity to participate in Climate KIC’s the Journey. After one week, I am already confident that it will turn some of these troubling questions into motivating answers and impactful actions.

What the Journey does is take 36 motivated students from European universities and put them all together for an intensive 5-week summer school. Add two great coaches, a programme with a handful of institutes and over a dozen enthusiastic start-ups, and you have a pressure cooker for innovative and sustainable thinking and learning. At the end of the five weeks we will pitch our ideas for green businesses in small teams.

In this post I’d like to share two lessons that I learned this week. Challenge your surroundings by asking “Why?” and generate ideas from these observations by asking “How to?”. The method is simple. Wherever you go, observe and ask the question “Why?”. For example: “Why do we move by car?”, “Why are the lights in my hotel on 24/7?”, “Why don’t sound walls take up GHG at the highway?”, “Why do we eat meat?”. You can dive further into these questions and challenge your underlying assumptions by asking more why’s.

Then, get the creative juices flowing by changing “Why…?” into “How to…?”, for example: “How to eat less meat?” or “How to drive the car less”. This way of mind shifting leads to challenging the status quo and thinking towards innovative solutions.

Take the people from Urban Farmers De Schilde we visited, who wondered why greenhouse plants aren’t fed by nutrition from fish waste. Good question, why not? So they made it happen! Consider the researchers from Wageningen University who are excited about making the world eat duckweed or turning algae into energy. They went to work and built an Algae Parc which facilitates all steps in the supply chain. On Friday’s visit to De Ceuvel in Amsterdam, Climate KIC’s alumni from Metabolic showcased a whole range of solutions to problems you deemed hopeless of until you ask the right questions.

This week I learned that entrepreneurship means challenging your surroundings. Rather than a big dooming challenge, climate change then becomes a collection of small, solvable issues. Leading a “good life” seems possible.

In fact, The Journey has only just begun. Let’s see what innovative ideas will boil up in the pressure cooker!


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