EKOenergy is a worldwide, non-profit ecolabel and a network of environmental NGOs. Initially launched in 2013, we aim to fight climate change, protect the environment and alleviate energy poverty. We chiefly focus on SDGs 7, 12, 13 and 17 but our work often targets other SDGs.
We setup the ecolabel in the spirit of ‘Deeds not Words’ to effect immediate and systematic change. The ecolabel is a tool, working within existing market mechanisms, for people to find energy produced through highly sustainable means and contribute to financing renewable energy projects in remote areas of developing nations.
EKOenergy has three main objectives which motivated the launch of the ecolabel and which make us an effective driver of the SDG agenda: broad structural change in the economy towards a more sustainable model; alleviating energy poverty; and communication about climate change and the adoption of renewable energy. Here we outline how the ecolabel works to meet these objectives.
The ecolabel provides a tool to effect broad structural change in society, in line with SDG 12. It does this primarily by targeting the energy sector, which is the largest polluting industry and contributor to climate change. EKOenergy maintains strict sustainability criteria for the energy that we label. In order to qualify for the ecolabel, power plants must be both renewable and also fulfill extra environmental requirements. For example, we don’t label hydropower plants that do not have a fish bypass or maintain minimum water levels in rivers, and we do not label wind farms that are built in important bird areas.
It's possible for all energy consumers, including companies and households, to choose EKOenergy-labelled renewable energy regardless of their method of purchase. This has the effect of signaling to the market that there is demand for sustainably sourced energy which we think has two implications: it drives the construction of more renewable power plants to replace non-renewable plants and also helps to change existing power plants to operate in a more sustainable manner. For example, changing the way operators run hydropower stations or where biomass plants source their fuel. The ecolabel therefore helps provide a mechanism in which people can easily find sustainable energy and help play their part in realising structural change in the economy in line with the SDGs.
Communication is the second key pillar of EKOenergy. Maintaining environmental issues, global warming and the injustice of energy poverty within public discourse is crucial for realising the SDGs. To do this, we have translated our website into 40 different languages and actively blog and share articles through our various social media channels. The more people we can reach, the more effectively we can promote change in people’s behaviour which, in turn, makes larger structural change more possible.
The third key objective of EKOenergy is to channel money into renewable energy projects that alleviate poverty and inequality in developing countries. For each megawatt hour of energy sold with our ecolabel, the seller contributes 0.10 € to the EKOenergy Climate Fund. Unlike a more conventional fundraising model, the Climate Fund allows for our efforts and impacts to compliment one another: our work encouraging people to buy ecolabeled energy brings all the structural and environmental benefits of supporting sustainable energy whilst providing renewable energy solutions to those who are in need of it most. Some examples of the projects we have funded include solar powered water pumps in the Ouonck village, Senegal and subsidising the cost of solar panels for local communities in Togo. Though EKOenergy does not run these projects, we make the projects possible through our funding mechanism.
Alongside the ecolabel, EKOenergy is also a network of local and international NGOs focusing on environmental issues. These NGOs form the board and maintain an oversight role.Our secretariat is based in the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation in Helsinki.
We cooperate with over 55 energy sellers to sell EKOenergy ecolabelled energy.
All the projects we finance through our Climate Fund happen with the involvement of local grassroot organisations.
We also involve young people interested in contributing to the energy transition. Our Secretariat hosts 6-8 volunteers through the Erasmus+ programme, alongside volunteers and trainees from further afield such as Japan and China.
EKOenergy was setup in 2013 as a project in the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation. Since our initial launch, we have grown annually with an increasing number of companies taking on the label. We initially worked only in Europe, but we chose to internationalise further in 2015 in order to reach out to people in markets where the renewable energy legislation is less established. We saw this move as fundamental to our goals of achieving structural change towards a more sustainable global economy.
To achieve this internationalisation, we follow the renewable energy criteria set out by CDP and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scope 2 guidance. We also work with the I-REC Standard (international renewable energy certification) because they provide a reliable electricity tracking system. This ensures that the energy tariffs that we label are sourced only from the power plants that fulfill our sustainability criteria. This has allowed the sales of EKOenergy labelled energy in China, South Africa, India and Mexico, for example.
Those who buy energy with the EKOenergy label must pay 0.08 € per MWh for the license of the label, which goes to funding the daily management and operations at the EKOenergy secretariat; at least 0.10 € per MWh which goes to financing the Climate Fund; and an additional 0.10 € per MWh if they are using energy sourced from hydropower plants, which goes to our Environmental Fund.
We setup the Environmental Fund in order to mitigate for many of the damaging effects of hydropower on river ecosystems. The fund supports river restoration projects to improve river habitats and is financed by those who choose to buy EKOenergy labelled hydropower.
Everyone who buys EKOenergy labelled energy must contribute to the Climate Fund. Once a year we launch calls for project applications and we select the most impactful projects according to a few key criteria including: how the project addresses the SDG goals, demonstrated involvement of the community who is benefitting from the project and long term monitoring of the project. This way, we try to ensure we fund the most reliable and impactful projects.
Our daily work involves regularly publishing articles and blogs on our website, communicating actively on social media, organising annual campaigns promoting our ecolabel to specific target sectors, participating in political protests on environmental issues and forming partnerships with other environmental NGOs. We work to bridge the gap between environmental NGOs and energy suppliers, we find and promote power plants that fulfill our sustainability criteria and we contact governments and regulators to inform them about the need for infrastructure to support the development of the renewable energy industry. We work closely with other networks such as CAN Europe and the Finnish Association of Nature Conservation.
To have an international reach, we also have translated our website into 40 different languages. All this work is done thanks to international volunteers. We host an average of 6 volunteers annually at the EKOenergy secretariat, funded through Erasmus+.
EKOenergy has been growing every year since we officially launched in 2013. The number of energy sellers that offer EKOenergy labelled electricity started at 16, predominantly in Finland, and is now more than 55 in countries spanning all over the globe. As the number of sellers using EKOenergy increases, the source of our income becomes more diversified. This is really important in a volatile energy market for allowing us to have a stable income ensuring we can support larger and longer term projects through our Climate and Environmental funds.
The total Climate Fund budget has grown significantly in the past 5 years: 1,307€ (2014); 53,644€ (2015); 98,761€ (2016); 161,816€ (2017); 254,734€ (2018). This growth has allowed us to fund an increasing number of climate projects. We funded 11 projects in 2018 and while most the projects we fund last for one year, in 2016, we were able to fund two projects over a 2 year period for the first time. One of the 2 year projects we funded was in Jinotega, Nicaragua, which setup a revolving loan fund to allow a cooperative of small coffee producers get access to cheap loans in order to buy solar panels. Over time, the money that is paid back for the loan goes to providing loans to other producers in the cooperative to do the same. Other projects include: providing solar lanterns to communities in North Darfur, Sudan; funding the installation of solar panels on 5 medical buildings in Guinea; the installation of a solar internet cafe in Nisur, Tajikistan; the setup of solar powered spinning machines in Marangani, Peru. A full list of the projects, complete with information leaflets that describe them, can be found on our website.
The Environmental Fund has also been growing. We supported 4 projects before 2016, 5 in 2017 and 7 in 2018. An example of this work is the role EKOenergy played in building a fish bypass around a dam in Vihtijoki river, in southern Finland, and supporting the building of new gravel beds which the fish need in order to spawn.
Other, more qualitative results include the number of people our website and social media presence is reaching. As an example, the most visited page on our website is our Climate Change: Causes and Consequences page, which is particularly popular in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
We have also launched several successful campaigns out of the secretariat, spearheaded by our volunteers. These campaigns targeted specific industrial sectors, for example, our hospitality, chocolate or brewery campaigns. We were finalists at the EU Sustainable Energy Award in 2018 for our brewery campaign which saw more than 10 breweries and soft drink companies transition to using EKOenergy labelled electricity. This year, we are launching a campaign for the fashion industry, the second biggest polluting sector after the energy sector.
The growing interest in renewable energy worldwide makes our work possible. Energy markets are developing rapidly due to both economic factors and growing public concern over climate change. The need to address climate change is growing immensely as climate effects become increasingly visible. On the other hand, due to the development of new technology, renewable energy is getting cheaper yearly. Therefore, EKOenergy is getting more relevant as our ecolabel functions as a guide to highlight the best renewable energy choices available.
One of the most significant factors which has enabled our work is the existence of tracking systems for renewable electricity. These include the Guarantees of Origin system in Europe and I-REC certificates which we use in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The existence of renewable energy legislation is really important for allowing a renewable energy market to exist which, in many countries, it currently does not. This is why we vocally support governments who are in the process of introducing this kind of legislation.
Renewable energy tracking systems allocate certificates to each megawatt hour of renewable energy produced by green power plants. As the electricity on the national grid is a mixture of renewable and non-renewable electricity, you can only claim your energy is renewable by additionally buying a corresponding renewable energy certificate. The work of EKOenergy relies on these tracking systems to ensure that all the electricity we certify originates only from power plants which fulfill our sustainability criteria. Additionally, by using tracking certificates we follow the criteria set out by international standards of CDP and GHGl in order to ensure the ‘greenness’ of energy is not double-counted.
Volunteers are another major enabling factor for our work on a daily basis. Volunteers funded through the Erasmus+ have allowed our label to grow much faster than it otherwise would have. These motivated young people bring many ideas for promoting sustainability into our team. We would like to host native language speakers also from countries outside of the EU, to help spread the EKOenergy label further afield. Funding bodies like the Erasmus+ and government funded volunteering programmes make this possible.
The launch of the label was financially supported through funding from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland with 50,000€ in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Our label is based in the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation who helped provide connections and further funding allowing us to establish ourselves.
A key challenge we face is the popular concept that renewable and sustainable products are very expensive. Yet as costs of renewable energy drop every year, that popular assumption is often no longer the case. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the price of photovoltaic modules, for example, fell by 80% between 2009 and 2017 and therefore the cost of solar electricity fell by almost three-quarters over this time.
The EKOenergy Climate Fund is a highly replicable approach to supporting the SDGs. We annually finance projects in developing countries run by local NGOs. We evaluate the projects according to certain criteria which we ask projects to meet. The most significant of these are: addressing multiple SDGs, demonstrating engagement from the community that the project is aimed towards, auditing and long term maintenance of the project. These conditions are designed to ensure that the projects are highly impactful and effective over the long term.
We keep the selection process of new projects as transparent as possible. We work in collaboration with the EKOenergy Advisory Board and setup a public jury consisting of experts, members of environmental NGOs and interested members of the public to carefully read and select the projects we fund.
Our sustainability criteria for selecting power plants was developed together with 42 environmental NGOs from all over the globe. All our criteria are stated in the official document “EKOenergy - Network and label”.
The main elements of our sustainability criteria include:
- Solar, wind or geothermal plants are not accepted if they are built in protected nature or important bird areas.
- EKOenergy-labelled hydropower musn’t prevent continuous water flow and has to take the issue of fish migration and the habitat loss for aquatic species into account.
- Bioenergy can only be certified if organic waste or wooden biomass is used for the energy generation. The wooden biomass must not include large logs, roots or stumps to ensure that no trees are cut down specifically for the electricity generation.
- We only label biogas plants if the fuel is sourced from agricultural waste and not from plants grown specifically for the purpose of generating electricity.
-Our criteria for renewable heat includes heat pumps and recovered heat.
We are still in the early stages of our internationalisation project and plan to continue promoting licensing and promoting our ecolabel in new countries. By collaborating with international organisations and stakeholders in the energy market we manage to extend our work year by year. Recently we expanded our work in Latin America with our first Brazilian licensee. Through the help of numerous eager volunteers reaching out, communicating and creating campaigns about our label, EKOenergy continues to spread worldwide. We are currently hosting seven European Voluntary Service volunteers, one trainee and we are welcoming our 2nd Arabic speaking volunteer to help us communicate about sustainable energy in the Arabic speaking world. Through different ideas and approaches to our work by our international team, our work is more impactful and international than ever before.
Through the EKOenergy ecolabel, our Climate Fund and our Environmental Fund, we work to realise the Sustainable Development Goals. This is achieved by giving consumers the choice of buying highly environmentally friendly energy through our ecolabel; our communication and outreach work, where we focus on educating the public about climate change and stressing the importance of climate action; and through directly addressing energy poverty through our Climate Fund.
Our label is growing year by year, thereby our impact is increasing in the same way. We have steadily raised more money for our Climate Fund, visible in the 254,734€ having been raised in 2017 which allowed us to fund 11 climate projects in 2018. In 2020, our contribution to several SDGs through new clean energy projects to fight energy poverty has exceeded 1 million euros.
Furthermore, EKOenergy is unique because we have in-depth knowledge about different energy markets in countries all over the world. We are actively helping individuals and companies to switch to more sustainable energy, regardless of where they are. By offering knowledge and a concrete mechanism, our ecolabel, we work within existing market structures allowing people to take action immediately.
One of our primary goals is to communicate about environmental and climate related issues, even though getting visibility is an ongoing challenge that we face. Yet through partnerships with other environmental organisations, energy sellers and companies who promote clean energy, and our gradual growth into new markets around the world, more and more people are learning about our ecolabel. We highlight the importance of buying sustainable energy and, through our communication, we try to encourage the public to account for sustainability issues by demonstrating small yet impactful practices people can incorporate in their daily lives.
EKOenergy breaks new grounds as it functions as a two way approach to achieve broad structural change in the energy market, to fight and raise awareness about climate change and to reduce inequality. On the one hand, the label works as a fundraising tool. On the other hand, the label helps to change the behaviour of consumers and raise awareness for the impact our daily lives have on the environment. We highlight easy approaches to incorporating sustainability into people’s lives by buying ecolabelled products.
As six years of our work have passed now, we can proudly look back at our achievements and see the impact EKOenergy has made in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We have financed 30 Climate Fund Projects, 16 River Projects and have over 55 energy sellers all over the world offering EKOenergy certified sustainable energy. We are informing and empowering people to get involved and fight climate change and we have had many great results. We gladly look forward to the next five years of our work and, throughout our journey, the Sustainable Development Goals will constantly guide our work and help us realise the change we want to see in the world.
EKOenergy website: https://www.ekoenergy.org/
Our Five year report: https://www.ekoenergy.org/first-five-years/
Climate Fund Project leaflets: https://www.ekoenergy.org/our-results/climate-fund/
Articles about EKOenergy on other websites:
Youtube account: https://www.youtube.com/EKOenergy-ecolabel/