When it comes to reshaping cities and creating community, a smart redeployment of social capital can be a more potent force than a chequebook. Lauren Scott-Harris is the founder of Earnt, an initiative that unites great brands with causes, incentivising people to do good deeds in return for access to in-demand products, services and experiences.
“When I had my son, I questioned the world in which he was going to grow up, with climate anxiety and consumption anxiety,” says Scott-Harris. “The premise of Earnt is to consume with more intention. We ask artists and musicians what bothers them. They might say, ‘If you really like me, if you really want to come to my concert or my restaurant, this is what’s important to me. I’d love you to go and volunteer and to do this for me.’ If they get 30,000 people to do it, they don’t have followers, they have an army.”
Though this is certainly a model that works for an engaged public, are there entrepreneurial fixes that can benefit those who are often omitted from the discourse altogether? Alex Head (pictured, on left) is ceo of Social Pantry, a catering and events company that offers former offenders a chance to escape the vicious cycle of recidivism via a new path in hospitality. For Head, the solution is about opportunity. “If the judicial system says that these guys should be back in society, why wouldn’t we offer them a job?” says Head. “Many have transferable skills. They’re ambitious and clever. Lots of them have gone from care home to care home, prison to prison, but haven’t had much opportunity. We say, ‘There’s a paid job here if you want it.’ We support in several ways, from buying them a bus pass to doing that first commute. It changes their chances.”
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During his 30-year naval career, Michael Williamson spent plenty of time at sea but paid little attention to the topic of seaweed. Today it’s front of mind for the former commander of Canada’s West Coast Naval Base. He is now ceo of Cascadia Seaweed, the largest kelp grower in Canada. The firm has a suite of seaweed-derived agricultural products hitting market this year.
When Williamson retired from the armed forces, he started frequenting a monthly breakfast business meet-up. Over coffee in 2018, geologist William Collins, who ran a successful train-electronics company, extolled the economic and environmental virtues of seaweed farming. Williamson soon saw the potential for seaweed to join the ranks of salmon and shellfish as valuable components of British Columbia’s ca$1.4bn (€960m) aquaculture industry. There is broad scientific consensus that cultivating seaweed offers valuable environmental benefits, including sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and providing habitats for aquatic life.
Along with oceanographer Tony Ethier, the pair toured a seaweed farm in 2019 at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center, a world-class research facility on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. Wild kelp forests are abundant in the cold waters of the North Pacific but replicating the conditions in which they grow naturally has taken years of study. Convinced that they could farm seaweed at scale, the trio met a consortium of Canadian indigenous groups who already held aquaculture licences. Six months later, Cascadia Seaweed had two farms in the wild seeded with baby kelp. Today the firm works with seven First Nations groups across coastal British Columbia.
After experimenting with seaweed-flavoured snacks and spices, Cascadia Seaweed is embarking this year on a new future in agriculture. The company pulled some 250 tonnes (227,000kg) of seaweed out of the water during this spring’s harvest, which will be processed by autumn into a liquid extract for plant food, a bio-stimulant for commercial agriculture crops and a food supplement for cattle that reduces methane emissions. Williamson believes that supporting global food production with seaweed products is a net positive for the planet. “Whatever you make with seaweed, it’s better than making it with harsh chemicals,” he says.
Along British Columbia’s vast coastline, there is plenty of room for more seaweed farms. Williamson’s team charted the course for commercial seaweed aquaculture in the province but are willing to share in its abundance. “We’ve done the hard work of setting the sector up,” he says. “But the demand and variety of products is such that it would be co-operation not competition.”