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The Next Generation of Enviropreneurs

Throwback Thursday: From the Vault

Image courtesy of Ewan Bellamy.

South Africa is facing one of the worst droughts in its recorded history. The agricultural union Agri S.A. has requested more than $1 billion in government subsidies for farmers affected by the crisis, but there may be a cheaper solution. Kiara Nirghin, 16, has developed a super-absorbent polymer out of orange peel and avocado that’s capable of storing reserves of water hundreds of times its own weight, which could provide much-needed crop irrigation during dry periods.  

Nirghin is an enviropreneur—or environmental entrepreneur—an innovator who finds new ways to enhance environmental quality with a market-based approach. Today’s youth are increasingly embracing the enviropreneur culture, and a new generation of environmentalists is starting to take matters into their own hands. Young people are looking for solutions to environmental problems facing us and inventing new ways to tackle them.

“If the idea was commercialized and applied to real farms and real crops,” Nirghin has said, “I definitely think the impact that drought has on crops would be reduced.”

In Kenya, Richard Turere is another example of an intrepid enviropreneur from this new generation. Turere grew up hating the lions that killed his community’s livestock. To his dismay, his community’s solution was to kill the big cats. Turere decided he had to find another way to reduce the human-wildlife conflict between local herdsmen and lions. Through some experimentation, he discovered that lions are afraid of a moving light. So with an old car battery, an indicator box, a light switch, a flashlight torch, and solar powering, he fashioned a blinking “lion light” that looks like a person walking with a flashlight in hand. Turere reports that his family has had no problems with lions since they installed the lion light two years ago, and he has since made additional devices for families in his community.

Nearly half of the world does not have access to a toilet. This sanitation problem contaminates water and spreads diseases. Shocked by this, enviropreneur Jasmine Burton, 23, collaborated with three other students at the Georgia Institute of Technology to invent an inexpensive, eco-friendly mobile toilet that converts waste into renewable energy. Their SafiChoo Toilet separates and filters waste while costing only $50 per unit, providing a cheap and sanitary solution to going to the bathroom. The toilet is currently being piloted in Zambia and Burton hopes to sell the toilet to U.S.-based customers and NGOs by 2017.

These are just three examples of the immense potential young enviropreneurs have to use their ingenuity and innovations to protect the environment. In the Winter 1998 edition of PERC Reports, economist Jane Shaw laid out a few steps for nurturing more enviropreneurs who will help create frameworks to ensure this next generation of environmentalists will succeed:

1. Let people know about these pioneers.

The environmental successes of most of nature’s entrepreneurs go largely unheralded. Enviro-capitalists don’t spent their time writing press releases. These are, however, success stories that are well worth reading about. For adults, they suggest positive new directions for environmental policy. For young people, they offer hope for the future and the inspiration to initiate their own enviro-capitalist projects.

2. Support property rights.

Government support of private property rights is essential to enviro-capitalists’ success. Property rights are the key ingredient of a market, and whether they are creating a wildlife preserve or restoring a prairie, enviro-capitalists rely on markets.

Government policies sometimes fail to uphold private property rights and, in fact, may challenge them. Fear of excessive intervention led Montana rancher David Cameron to give up his goal of restoring a native fish that had disappeared from many Montana streams. Indeed, the Endangered Species Act has been less effective than its supporters originally hoped because landowners fear that endangered species will bring government officials to their property.

3. Extend Property Rights

If upholding the rights of individuals is critical to enviro-capitalists’ success, extending those rights is essential to furthering private environmental protection. One place to begin is with private rights to fish through individual tradable quotas.

In other areas also, the government could extend rights to own or use resources that it currently controls. This process of extending rights will not be easy, but it will bring about tremendous opportunities for harmonious resolution of environmental conflicts.

4. Decentralize Environmental Control

Environmental regulation is sometimes necessary. When it is, local or state-based approaches are often preferable because they encourage environmental entrepreneurship.

Improvement in the quality of the Tar-Pamlico Sound in North Carolina came about when the Environmental Protection Agency decentralized its authority. While the EPA and the state had been tightening the screws on industrial polluters, runoff from farms and dairies was still polluting the rivers and the sound. The association, with the support of a diverse group including the Environmental Defense Fund and industrial executives, now supervises trades between industries and farmers. Industrial firms pay the farmers to reduce the runoff of nutrients.

Today’s youth have proven eager to protect the environment and capable of developing innovative approaches to doing so. To continue cultivating this culture of enviropreneurship, environmentalists should celebrate these innovations and help foster a political climate that’s open to new approaches. As we face increasingly complex environmental issues, the next generation of enviropreneurs continues to show its capability to step up to the plate and make a difference.  

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