International label for renewable electricity and new projects: Interview with Steven Vanholme

Steven Vanholme, Coordinator at EKOenergy, shares why EKOenergy, the first truly international label for renewable electricity was established and how it works.

Take us all the way back to the beginning – how did the ecolabel come about?

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC) created the first ecolabel for renewable electricity in 1998. This was one of the first ecolabels on the market. In 2011, FANC felt it was time to thoroughly rethink the label and establish a new approach. At the same time, Latvian and Russian NGOs were looking to create a similar European label and international companies wanted an international, transparent label to document their renewable electricity consumption. In addition, the European electricity market was changing with the recently implemented Renewable Energy Directive.

Around that time, I moved from Belgium to Finland. I had been closely following the climate and energy policies in both countries and noticed renewable energy sources were documented differently. Together with my Finnish colleagues we decided to grab the opportunity and create an international ecolabel.

We started by mapping out the energy market, and interviewed environmentalists, electricity producers and sellers, and consumer organisations from more than 30 countries. The results showed a clear demand for an international ecolabel, so in 2013 we established EKOenergy.

So why is EKOenergy important and what is it?

EKOenergy is a tangible and transparent label that helps you choose an electricity provider with a renewable electricity profile and guarantees your electricity is derived from a renewable energy source. Choosing EKOenergy is recommended for anyone looking for their purchase of renewable energy to have a real impact. When you purchase EKOenergy you know your electricity will have been tracked, and documented by Guarantees of Origin. We also choose power plants that have minimal impact on biodiversity. EKOenergy can also be part of your communications and marketing program, highlighting to the market that you’ve made a sustainable decision.

We also want to bring more and better quality renewable energy to the market while respecting biodiversity. So part of the EKOenergy cost goes to the Climate Fund, which finances renewable energy projects in developing countries. Last year we invested EUR 50,000 to finance the installation of solar panels in schools in Tanzania, Cameroon and Indonesia.

A lof of the EKOenergy sales still take place in Finland, but we are gradually expanding. In the last 12 months, EKOenergy has entered the Spanish, Italian and Latvian market, and in November we are launching in France. We hope to launch in Germany soon thereafter. We have achieved this with no marketing spend, thanks to the enthusiasm and support of friends and associates. We are confident that we have reached a point where we can sustain rapid growth.

So how does EKOenergy work?

EKOenergy is made up of a network of environmental not-for-profit organisations that want to share their experiences from the electricity market to ensure biodiversity while creating more renewable energy. The members have the decision power. But decisions can only be taken after consultation of all relevant stakeholders. EKOenergy also has an Advisory Group, with experts from all sectors. The daily management of the ecolabel is the task of the EKOenergy Secretariat, which is located in the offices of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

Different members have different areas of focus, spanning a wide-ranging and dynamic set of specialties. We count large biodiversity organisations among our members, including nature conservation organisations in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium and Portugal. While other members focus more on climate change and the promotion of renewable energy.

What is the difference between EKOenergy and other labels?

There are ecolabels in other sectors that I am sure that you are familiar with, such as Organic and Fairtrade, but we are the only international ecolabel for electricity. There are a few national labels, but our product is also offered in markets where there are no other ecolabels.

What are the general trends with regards to EKOenergy?

We are advancing on all fronts, continuously growing throughout Europe. A pleasant surprise this year came in the form of NGOs from outside Europe starting to show an interest in EKOenergy. In addition, we have recently welcomed Taiwanese and Indian members to our network. As the green electricity market spreads to other countries, so will EKOenergy.

We can also show our first concrete results. We have conducted river projects in Finland and Latvia, and even won a prize for our river restoration work at an Italian ecological festival. EKOenergy is also a key partner in an important river restoration program for the Finnish State, financed by the EU.

Our climate projects are expanding too. We are hopeful that our Climate Fund will not only receive money through EKOenergy, but also attract external donations, a process that has already started.

Our first success has brought along new market opportunities. We now have ten EKOenergy sellers in Finland, and are training a network of freelance sellers in cooperation with the German company Energysolutions24. If this commercial model works in Finland we will take it to other markets as well.

What are your predictions for the future?

I am very confident that we can achieve 100% renewable electricity reasonably soon; the big question is whether or not it will be fast enough to avoid dramatic climate change. We need to do everything in our power to create a market that uses 100% renewable electricity. Change of this nature does not happen automatically but EKOenergy gives people a concrete tool to do something meaningful and showcase it to other people. These are qualities people and companies both appreciate. Our supporters and consumers will continue to grow, fueling our enthusiasm as our network goes from strength-to-strength.

If you would like to discuss EKOenegy please contact Steven Vanholme, phone +358 50 568 7385 or steven.vanholme@sll.fi