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Less talk, more action: Estonia takes the global green transition from buzzword to reality

Estonia’s GreenTech sector is ready to make the green transition a tangible reality, local tech founders proved at the tenth Estonia’s Friends International Meeting (EFIM) in Tallinn.

At EFIM, a sizable international crowd looking for investment opportunities in Estonia joined an all-star lineup of local community leaders and innovators to see how Estonia’s tech ecosystem is standing up for the natural ecosystem.

On stage at the event, Merit Valdsalu, CEO and Co-Founder of Single.Earth, painted an evocative picture of a bleak future for the planet, pointing out the irony of paying landowners for the destruction of nature — think deforestation, for example. Valdsalu is one of a cohort of Estonian tech founders taking action to harness technological innovation to create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Single.Earth’s approach to the world’s most pressing problems is to incentivise landowners to protect their lands and resources instead of depleting them. The company does this by minting the world’s first nature-backed currency: the MERIT token, a virtual currency issued to landowners based on the ecological value of their lands. “We’re literally making money to save the world,” Valdsalu said. “For the first time in history, we can connect planetary health to our wealth.”

The tech industry certainly needs to step in where policy is failing — the world’s climate goals are ambitious but the reality falls short. “Looking at current government commitments in the world, greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise by 14% by the end of the decade,” Valdsalu warned. “The entire economy needs to go through a huge transition.”

Today, the first MERIT tokens have already been minted, from Estonian forests and Brazilian rainforests. In its first five weeks, Single.Earth added one million hectares of land and forest to its platform.

 Merit Valdsalu

But forest preservation is only one facet of a massive global problem. Other Estonian founders at EFIM shone a light on different applications of sustainability technology across industries. Ann Runnel, Founder & CEO of Reverse Resources, took the stage to expose the convoluted supply chains in the fashion industry — an industry that creates 20% of global wastewater and enormous amounts of waste material.

By founding Reverse Resources to facilitate the recycling of waste fabric and decrease the amount of virgin material used, Runnel set out to prove that circularity can be a profitable business. “A systemic approach is needed to rewire the market,” she said. Headquartered in Estonia and working with recyclers, manufacturers, and waste managers across the globe, Reverse Resources is changing the fashion industry from within and finding ways to rework the supply chains to work more sustainably.

GreenTech innovators: VC-backed and ready to change the world

It’s clear from this year’s EFIM lineup that Estonia’s tech founders have no lack of ambition and a strong sense of mission when it comes to innovating for sustainability.

But it’s not only a desire to do good that is propelling this shift towards systemic change. As noted by a bevy of EFIM panellists, the green transition today represents a massive business opportunity.

Erki Ani, CEO of Cleantech Estonia, noted that CleanTech has seen major growth in the venture capital (VC) world in recent years. Fabrice Bienfait, Partner of ETF Partners, added, “There are big issues to be solved and entrepreneurs are very good at finding solutions that make commercial sense. Consumers, businesses, and governments are much more aligned than 15 years ago. The infrastructure is in place and innovators can start building on it.“

Indeed, business opportunities abound, and the Estonian startup and tech world is making a big move towards further establishing itself as a hotbed for innovation. Priit Lepasepp, CEO & Co-Founder of Sunly, pointed out that even though a lot of work lies ahead, Estonia is a great testbed for new ideas. ”The administrative part is very simple, one of the best in Europe, and so it has been for ten years.”

One only needs to take a slightly closer look at the Estonian startup scene to confirm that this is true. A panel discussion about smart cities brought together Maarja Rannama, CEO of ITS Estonia, Sander Sebastian Agur, CEO of Cleveron Mobility, Silver Sova, Head of Business Development of Mobi Lab, and Teet Praks, Founder of Comodule — all making strides towards creating more liveable cities centred around the human experience in a changing world.

Estonia as the next trailblazing GreenTech hub

Already producing world leaders in solar, hydrogen, GreenTech, and autonomous vehicles, Estonia’s goal is no less ambitious than building the greenest and most digital knowledge-based economy.

Andres Sutt, Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship & Information Technology, emphasised that the green transition shouldn’t be thought of as a cost exercise. “It’s not about cost,” he said. “It’s about the future.”

All the evidence suggests that this is a future Estonia is investing heavily into. Lauri Lugna, CEO of Enterprise Estonia, also reaffirmed the country’s commitment to taking the green transition past buzzword status: “Estonia aims to create the most progressive business environment,” he said to the crowd gathered at EFIM.

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