Q&A: SANTIAGO CLIMATE CHANGE HERO
Whilst in Chile, we met up with Thomas Kimber, CEO of Karün, an innovative recycling company turning waste into high performance sports sunglasses...
First of all, tell us about yourself…
My name is Thomas Kimber; founder and CEO of Karün. I live in Patagonia, Chile and consider myself to be a passionate person, enjoying the simple things in life, especially when I’m outside. Indeed, I’m especially passionate about nature, outdoor sports, and enjoy meeting people that are actively working to change the way we interact with nature.
When did you first start taking an interest in climate change? And why do you feel you can make a difference?
When I was 18 years old, I went into university to study Economics. In Chile, the career normally lasts 5-6 years. After only 2 years, I started reflecting about what my teachers where telling me on how our economic model works; ‘the main purpose on any company is to maximize profit’ they used to say.
If you think a little bit about it, if the main purpose of a company is pure profit maximisation, then the incentives will hardly benefit society or the environment, as all decisions will need to lead to lower costs, higher production thus higher profits; paying low wages, using synthetic materials, polluting the rivers, oceans, air and mountains and considering it as normal “externalities” of the system.
After quitting university, I got to travel a lot in the wilderness of Patagonia on extreme adventures looking for wild horses, pumas and many of the native animals in the southernmost part of the world. The contrast between these pure magical places and the stressful environment of the city led me to understand that it was imperative to deeply change the way our economy works.
After some reflection, I decided to quit and try to dedicate my life into doing by example. In the process I realized that the fashion industry is among the three most contaminating industries in the world and that the particular thing about fashion is that it reaches billions of people with a message.
Sunglasses then became quite obvious, as they are a very iconic element in this industry. My thought was to use sunglasses as a tool to spread a message. To prove that we could make the highest quality eyewear – made from an entirely different process. Instead of using a linear and extractive process (like almost every company in the world) we could use a circular and regenerative process. From Patagonia to the world.
You’re the Founder of Karun World – for those that don’t know, what is the company?
Karun is an eyewear company based in Patagonia in which we turn different sources of waste (old fishing nets from the sea, old jeans, wood from demolitions, carbon fiber waste and others) into a source of income for low income rural entrepreneurs and into high performance sports sunglasses. It is a circular and potentially a regenerative model that gives us full traceability of our entire supply chain.
Can you give us an overview of some of the main climate change issues effecting Chile at present?
As we all know, climate change is affecting the entire planet and it is very difficult to isolate it to one country or one region – everything is interconnected so what affects Europe, also affects Chile and vice versa.
If I had to identify one very clear symptom of climate change that is specific to Chile is the melting of the glaciers. Very recently there was an enormous breakage in one of the iconic glaciers in Torres del Paine – the Grey glacier. It is hard to put into words how frustrating and how it deeply hurts to see these kind of events happening ever more often.
Chile has been in the news lately as a champion of solar and wind electricity. Officials have also announced they plan to produce 90% of its electricity needs using clean energy by 2050. In your opinion, how achievable is this?
I think there is no doubt that that would be the most logical thing to do in a country that has one of the biggest and the driest dessert in the world. In my opinion, if we are to achieve something like this, the first priority is to create an energetic national plan for the long term – setting a clear path on how to get there and making sure that it is embedded on the country’s energy plan for the long term. I am sure we can make it.
You recently got back from deep Patagonia on a special climate change project, can you explain more about it? Also, what other similar projects you’re involved with?
At Karun we have been working for the last 4 years in making sure that we not only make a high performance product with recycled materials, but to propose a completely different value chain for the entire company.
For us, it all starts with people. We are building solid relationships with local rural entrepreneurs that don’t have any access to capital and have created a model in which they have an economic incentive to collect the waste in their communities. We then buy this waste from them and turn it into high performance sports sunglasses. The income the entrepreneurs generate is then used by them for investing into the growth of their own micro businesses and we support them – together with our partners Balloon Latam – in the process of expanding their businesses. This way, what used to be trash is now a valuable resource that can support rural communities and become a product that can compete in international markets.
Formula E has its first ever race in Santiago – what sort of vibe has this created in the city? What impact do you think it can have with people to help promote electric vehicles?
I am sure this can help change the perception of electric vehicles, and not only that but also prove that changing our habits is not only possible, but extremely necessary. Using the formula E to replace old fashioned competitions (like Formula 1) I think is a very good way of showing what is cool in the modern world.
The Virgin Racing team is one of the leading teams in Formula E in terms of sustainability and has its own Race Against Climate Change programme. In your view, how important is this work in order to help raise awareness?
I think it is very important. People follow sports and people follow what is “cool” and “successful”. So far, what has been “cool” hasn’t been necessarily positive for our society and the environment. We need to change the perception of what “cool” is and what “success” really means – we need to change the role models for our society. If we do this, I think change will happen much faster. Virgin Racing team is doing exactly that.
In your opinion – what is the single most important action people need to take in order to slow down global warming.
There is not one single action. There is only one single thought: we humans are nothing but a part of nature – we don’t own it and we are not above it. If we look at the world from this perspective I am sure almost all of our actions will change.