Interview COP26: Gonzalo Muñoz, UN climate champion for businesses

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Passionate and persuasive, Gonzalo Muñoz will be a decisive figure in Glasgow during the COP26.

While participants in the Blue Zone in the coming days will be career diplomats, government officials and headline-hunting politicians, Muñoz speaks for businesses, be they micro-enterprises or d ‘companies.

He is a South American entrepreneur and social change actor at the forefront of environmental innovation in Chile, who reinvented the country’s recycling industry through his company, TriCiclos.

He is one of the main representatives of the circular economy and one of the founders of B Corps, which exposes the virtues of the green economy and certifies companies and organizations that meet verified social and environmental objectives, to public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. .

He was named COP25 Champion at the Santiago Climate Change Conference and he can’t wait to be in Scotland.

“The proof of the climate emergency is all around us, we have known about this problem for so long, the way we live, on a finite planet, with industrial activities which have a definite impact on the environment shows how life is fragile in many ways. . “

Humans – and science – have known about catastrophic damage since the turn of the 20th century, and Munoz refers to a book that warned of the consequences of climate change, caused by human activity and the use of fossil fuels, in 1912.

“There have been so many blind spots and denials about climate change, this is an awesome example of the human species not being as smart as they think they are,” he said, speaking exclusively from Chile.

He cites his parents as key influencers in his sustainable journey. He was born on the coast just outside of Santiago, the country’s capital.

“It’s impossible to talk about my professional background without saying that you never start from zero or zero – all the time you are standing on giant shoulders and, in my case, those are my parents.

“My father was an entrepreneurial engineer who was also interested in the social impact of businesses. “

In the 1980s, his father established Chile’s first microcredit bank to help small businesses thrive.

“My mother at the same time founded one of the grassroots environmental and social groups in the country.

“Indeed, my mother was the country’s first Ashoka member – Ashoka speaks to social entrepreneurs and engaged citizens who have the global distinction of being the only mother and son Ashoka members in our country.”

Muñoz immersed himself in the debate on environmental impact as he traveled across South America and witnessed the vast destruction of natural resources. In Chile, the melting of the Andean glaciers used for fresh water has had an impact on the quality of drinking water in the country.

“It has helped me to question everything I have done in my life.

“Primarily around what you do as a human and whether what you do is good or bad for the planet in terms of endless, unconstrained growth and continued demand for resources. “

This, he says, poses a question everyone should ask themselves: “Is this good for everyone?” Or is it only good for me? Is the world a better place if what I am doing is simply consuming more and more of our finite and precious resources? “

From his parents and with his siblings, he learned not only the importance of having positive impacts throughout his working life, but also the understanding that he was born in a relatively prosperous South American nation where he received many privileges.

Chile is the ridged backbone of South America is a unique nation in that it stretches several thousand miles from Patagonia, but never more than 80 miles wide when it rises to the Andean peaks. The country is a stable democracy with a GDP per capita of $ 24,000, while the cost of living is very low and all citizens have access to free health care.

“We have received a high level of education and the right conditions to develop and in that sense it brings a substantial level of responsibility and opportunity at the same time,” he says.

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This topic of individual responsibility is likely to be at the heart of discussions in Glasgow during COP26. He gently points out that all those in Scotland who have enjoyed the benefits of a safe and secure life in a beautiful country have been born lucky.

If they have also benefited from a quality and rewarding education, then he feels they have a social responsibility – even a duty – to take concerted action to fight against customer change.

Muñoz’s older brother became a university professor researching public transport and how cities work, while his younger sister became an environmental architect using solar power and a light source for energy. .

“In my case, I decided to do business and the first ten years of my career I learned how companies were run – I became an executive very early at age 28 – I was already CEO of a port in Argentina.”

He has also lived and worked in different countries including Spain, Brazil and Chile.

“As I learned about the business world, I regularly confronted the distinctions and values ​​around impact, inequalities and environmental vulnerability with each type of business I ran. “

During this pivotal period, the primacy of shareholder return and investor value was the dominant credo of business leaders.

“Many times I have proposed ideas to various boards of directors on how to better manage impacts, improving our ability to generate positive social or environmental benefits, but all too often the boards would reply, ‘are we liable to’ a fine for violating a regulation? “”

Businesses, he argued, would grow in a more sustainable way if they were able to deliver the best possible social and environmental impact to the communities where they worked. Yet most of the time, the instruction of the council would be to “pay the fine” and not worry about the environmental mess that has been made.

Muñoz’s experience led him to become a founding figure of the B Corps. He said he could see that the business leaders were in conflict and that they needed to connect the two elements of their soul. It was a crusade for the Chilean.

Few boards today can ignore environmental, societal and governance (ESG) issues, which are at the heart of virtually all serious strategic decisions today.

“If we are committed to maximizing the positive impact of a business in all ways, we cannot operate with shareholder value as a restriction – it has to be a balance of people, planet and profit. “

His mission was charged by personal events. The youngest of three girls fell ill with cancer at the age of three. There was no established medical route and she had to face experimental treatment. In August, to the delight of her father, she turned 20.

“When my daughter was sick, I realized that our lives are short and we are weak as human beings, so you need to use your time and talent in a way that you flourish and satisfy others, rather than to deceive you. “

While his daughter was ill, he struck up this enduring conversation with three close friends, one of whom died soon after in a motorcycle accident.

“At that point, as part of his legacy, the other three decided to give up our corporate jobs and work for sustainable organizations fighting climate change,” he said.

His mission continues in Glasgow.

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