Interview on ecolabels with EKOenergy's Merve Güngör and Steven Vanholme

Tuesday, 03 September 2019

EKOenergy, an ecolabel for renewable electricity and renewable gas, is perhaps best described as a solution for environmentally aware consumers who wish to take greater steps towards sustainability. The label was founded in 2013 and is now available worldwide. The secretariat of this non-profit initiative is hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, in Helsinki, Finland.

The following interview with Merve Güngör (Liason Coordinator) and Steven Vanholme (Program Manager) explores some of the details, motivations and successes of EKOenergy’s operation in the ecolabel market.

Which countries are the most important markets for your label? How many suppliers use your label and what is the total volume of electricity supplied accredited by EKOenergy?

Steven Vanholme: I know that when people ask for the most important markets, they usually mean the markets where highest volumes are being sold. As a relatively young non-profit initiative, we see the things a bit differently. We are launching the label in about 40 markets/countries at the same time. Many of these are European, but we are also focusing on East Asia, several Latin American countries and on the Arab world.All these markets and countries are all equally important for us. To some extent, we even give a bit more attention to the countries where there are less renewable energy sales, because these are the countries where we can really make a difference.

Merve Güngör: The climate crisis is a global crisis and we want to raise awareness globally. We translate our materials to over 20 local languages and we get in touch with like-minded national and regional stakeholders, looking for ways to promote renewable energy together.

But when it comes to the sold volumes, our main markets are European countries, especially Finland, Germany and Italy. China is catching up. In many other countries the volumes are still very small, but we have observed that growth in several small markets result in more sustainable growth and allow us to be more visible. In 2018 we ecolabelled around 2,5 TWh in total, sold by over 50 licensed EKOenergy suppliers.

What is the total production certified for the EKOenergy label, and what percentage of the certified production is sold in a normal year?

Steven Vanholme: We don’t certify production. EKOenergy is an ecolabel for consumption. Instead of calculating how much of the world’s production would potentially qualify for EKOenergy, we focus on the demand from consumers who want to do more. As an ecolabel we guarantee several things to consumers. The characteristics of the power plant are only part of what we take into account.

Merve Güngör: For example, we guarantee that the sold and consumed energy is tracked in a way that fulfills the requirements of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and CDP. For European energy companies and for consumption in Europe this may seem obvious, but for companies with premises in many different countries, it may be quite a headache to know what tracking system is acceptable where. We follow the market developments in emerging markets and promote best practice.

Steven Vanholme: We also guarantee to consumers that their energy comes from power plants that fulfill additional sustainability criteria. E.g. from hydropower plants with fish passages. We don’t label the power plant as such, but we label consumption of energy that comes from eligible power plants.

But it doesn’t stop there. We also ensure that through consumers’ demand for EKOenergy, new renewable energy projects are born. Through our Climate Fund, we finance renewable energy installations, mainly PV panels, in developing countries. This is how consumers, households or corporates, can contribute to the realization of several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by simply choosing EKOenergy. In our newest EKOenergy video, we give a good summary of all this (See here).

Merve Güngör: Through the consumption of EKOenergy-ecolabelled electricity, consumers also help us to promote renewable energy in general and EKOenergy in particular in more than 40 countries. This further increases the positive impact of their purchase.

For each MWh of hydropower with the EKOenergy label sold, the seller pays a minimum of 10 eurocents to the EKOenergy Environmental Fund. How do you choose projects to support?

Merve Güngör: To be more precise, for all consumption of EKOenergy, minimum 0.10 € / MWh go to the Climate Fund and only for hydropower an extra 0.10 € / MWh go to EKOenergy’s Environmental Fund. The Climate Fund is used for financing new renewable energy projects in poor areas of developing countries. The Environmental Fund finances river restoration projects to revitalize river ecosystems and to mitigate some of the harmful impacts of hydropower dams.

We don’t set up our own projects, but we finance projects of experienced non-profit organisations. The selection of these projects always happens in a transparent and independent way. Once a year we have an open call for projects, published on our own website and in other specialized media. After the end of the application period, an independent jury makes a ranking of the proposals. EKOenergy consumers and sellers are also invited to submit comments and tell their preferences. After this, we finance the selected projects based on their ranking and on how much money is collected in our Climate Fund and Environmental Fund.

Steven Vanholme: We regularly communicate about all the steps of the selection on our social media channels and newsletter. And after the selection, we regularly share updates of the progress of the financed projects too. On our website you also find short leaflets for each of the finished projects.

What do you believe are the reasons for the success of EKOenergy?

Merve Güngör: EKOenergy is a pragmatic and easy-to-apply solution for consumers who want to do more. We are transparent and open for cooperation with different stakeholders. We have a growing group of satisfied suppliers and consumers because we don’t shy away from cooperation with other environmental organizations, government authorities, companies and others.

Steven Vanholme: We have been involved in the development of Greenhouse Gas Protocol Scope 2 Guidance. I have also been involved in advocacy work regarding the new EU Renewable Energy Directive. EKOenergy has been one of the pioneers on the renewable energy market in countries such as Russia and China. Our materials are available in many languages. We are also eager to help consumers to communicate about their consumption of EKOenergy. We do the background study and offer help with communication and marketing texts so that consumers can save money and time to start taking action NOW.

Merve Güngör: Our approach towards nature conservation and energy consumption is very realistic and we are also building up steadily. Instead of focussing on an idealistic utopia, our ecolabel guarantees concrete results. In the first 6 years of our existence we have financed over 50 projects. Our Climate Fund and Environmental Fund have cumulatively contributed over 1,2 million euros to the realization of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (such as SDG 3 – good health and well- being, SDG 7 - clean and affordable energy and many others).

As a market-based tool, the EKOenergy ecolabel combines all these benefits in a readily available package.

Do you have any good stories from the supported projects you want to share with us?

Steven Vanholme:  All of the supported projects so far are great stories. We regularly share pictures and stories from the beneficiaries on social media. It is always nice to see solar panels on the roofs of schools and hospitals that had until then no access to electricity at all. Access to reliable, clean electricity changes lives by improving healthcare, education, safety, irrigation and also provides opportunities for income generation.

Some of the beneficiaries also send us short videos. You can see one of them at https://youtu.be/MKEOVj4rZJw and follow our Youtube channel for more.