A chat with Steven Vanholme from EKOenergy, jurist, nature conservationist and climate activist

Thank you very much for accepting this interview with us. Can you briefly explain us what does EKOenergy do and what is your role inside of it?

Okay, so my name is Steven Vanholme, I’m originally from Belgium, but I’ve been living in Finland for the last 10 years, I’m an employee of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, and about 10 years ago I contributed to the starting of the EKOenergy project. My background is strongly in environmental organizations, I’ve been volunteering and working in Climate, Energy and Biodiversity for basically the last 25 years of my life.

EKOenergy is an international not-for-profit ecolabel for renewable energy. Moreover, the energy sold with the EKOenergy label fulfils additional sustainability criteria and finances projects that combat energy poverty. This way, the EKOenergy ecolabel brings additionality to renewable energy certificates such as Guarantees of Origin, RECs and I-RECs. The ecolabel proves that the consumed energy fulfils extra quality criteria, set by a network of environmental NGOs. Using the ecolabel also helps consumers make a concrete and additional impact through our Climate Fund and Environmental Fund.


In short, what is the role and the added value of EKOenergy into the Guarantees of Origin system?

We want to help and encourage consumers switch to renewables. We are to convince them to make this switch faster. Then obviously if they want to consume renewable energy, they will have to prove it somehow, and they will eventually need Guarantees of Origin for that.

Our added value can be idenfied with our action of taking a step further than just labelling renewable energy. In fact, as EKOenergy we have some criteria power plants need to meet, such as biodiversity criteria, the promotion of the energy transition worldwide,  the contribution to the Climate Fund and many others. Our role is not to focus too much on all the technical details, but to show that the switch to renewable energy is possible, that green energy is available and customers can take that extra step.


And what are, in your opinion, the main drivers why consumers choose you?

I think for the most part of large consumers the most important factor is additionality, since they want to do something more, someyhing extra than consuming 100% renewable electricity. Another main driver for us is that we are a non-profit organisation, and finally the fact that they can use our logo on their products and advertising. But honestly, there is no main reasons, but all reasons, included the flexibility we offer and the strict quality criteria we stick to, are equally important.


So, how can EKOenergy contribute to the achievement of the Net Zero goal?

Renewables represent a crucial step in achieving a carbon neutral society, and ultimately in the fight against climate change. The first thing we all have to do is to get rid of all fossil fuels. The more renewable there is, the more it becomes mainstream, the less fossil fuels we will need. All the people choosing renewable energy and working in this sector are squeezing fossil fuels out of the market. Even though this process is not going fast enough, that’s our contribution to a zero carbon world. As we always say, we should not wait for the 2050 and 2030 targets, everyone can switch to renewable energy now.


What would you answer to those who believe that GoOs are a means of greenwashing?

It’s very simple. GoOs are a powerful tool to prove renewable energy consumption and, in order to contribute to the fight of climate change and join the energy transition, people and organisations must switch to renewable energy. Guarantees of Origin are a neutral tool per se, what’s important is how to use them correctly. For example, by consuming renewables guaranteed by an eco-label as ours, consumers can have an additional reassurance in terms of the quality of the energy they consume.

The truth is that people still rely heavily on gas and I agree that Guarantees of Origin are not enough alone to solve climate change, but not taking an initial step just because it’s not enaugh doesn’t make sense either. Our goal as EKOenergy is to inform consumers and help them understand that even through simple steps they can offer a great contribution, and that’s what really counts.


What is the future of Guarantees of Origin and where do you see them in 5 to 10 years from now?

That’s a difficult to say. As long as there is interest in knowing the origin of the electricity and the energy consumed, you will need a tracking system, and I’m sure that in 5 to 10 years, the origin of the electricity will still be very important, and people will still have specific requests concerning local consume, energy type and so on. Obviously, I hope that there will be much more that one can do in terms of turning green, but as long as keeping track of the origin of electricity we consume and the condition and standards of the plants producing it will be relevant, GoOs will still be part of the ecosystem.


In the race to Net Zero, what do you think could be a true game changer?

You know, we don’t have to wait for the game changer. Everything we need is there, the game changer is already in our hands. The key is how to use it: people need to understand that the time of fossils is over, that fossils are killing us and we should not switch to renewables in 2030, we have to do it now and massively.


Finally, what are your goals as EKOenergy for 2022?

Well, we hope that we can continue on our path of growth and to reach out to larger and larger consumers, to gain more licenses, more partners, more consumers, more projects. And then, on a largest scale, also to see that our work inspires many others to switch to renewable energy and to enter the business, because the transition, as I said, is not going fast enough, and we need more actors such as EKOenergy and Nvalue on the field.


Go visit EKOenergy website here.

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