Meeting Martina Hauser, a peacekeeper driven by curiosity

Meeting Martina Hauser in Rio de Janeiro

Meeting Martina Hauser, a peacekeeper driven by curiosityToday we are meeting Martina Hauser, an Italian expert who works on sustainability projects in 48 countries around the world. Overlooking the ocean from her beachfront apartment in Arpoador, she tells us how curiosity and a relentless drive to find sustainable solutions have led her from the war in Bosnia to assessing water footprints in Brazil.

“In 1996, the Italian government sent me to as a peacekeeper to Bosnia to assess the environmental and humanitarian effects of large-scale bombing during the war,” she says. “This conflict sparked my curiosity: why is this war happening? What was behind it? I never found the answer, but it led me from one project to another.”

Since her mission to Bosnia in 1996, Martina has continued to work for the Italian government and now runs a range of projects in 48 countries. She has created her own job within the Italian Ministry of Environment, a task force that offers companies around the world tools and advice on how to implement more sustainable production techniques. “I work in the ‘voluntary’ market,” Martina explains. “With companies that have no obligation to cut down on CO2 emissions, but that want to do something.”

“So how does that work?” asks Maarten. “What do you do concretely?”

“We offer companies a free CO2 audit, to give them an idea of what they consume and, more importantly, what they emit,” says Martina. “They are usually shocked by the results and keen to do something to cut down on their CO2 emissions. We help them achieve that.”

“So you’re a kind of consultant?” I ask.

“Kind of, not really: our goal is to transfer knowledge and build local capacity so that when we leave, local organizations can take over. In Brazil, we are working with instituto-e and we have a range of projects to help companies become more sustainable. For example, there is TRACES and Water TRACES, two projects to track the environmental impact of six e-fabrics developed by the Brazilian fashion brand Osklen. Now instituto-e is one of our partners, who will help spread knowledge and build the movement further in Brazil.”

“That’s just what I was going to ask,” says Maarten. “What happens when you leave? How do you make sure you don’t lose momentum, that the project stagnate or die out?”

institutoe, instituto e, instituto-e

Anouk Pappers, Martina Hauser and Nina Braga (instituto e)

“Well, we already started,” says Martina. “We have developed a curriculum that we are implementing at design academies and universities to create teams that can do our job and that can teach new teams. Train the trainer as it were – and so by the end of the year, I want to have 100 people working on our projects.”

“Wow, that’s ambitious,” I say.

“It is and it isn’t,” says Martina. “We actually need the team to grow: we’re currently working for 100 companies and we have another 100 on a waiting list. We need to expand.”

“So listening to you, I can’t figure it out: are you a pragmatist or an idealist?” I ask with a smile.

Martina laughs. “Actually, I’m just doing my job. All this talk of sustainability and saving the planet, I’m done with that. It’s time to do something. If we try to live in a sustainable way, we are doing what we can. We can’t force emerging markets to stop consuming or not to drive cars. We don’t have the right to. No matter how you look at it, we have a shortage of resources. The world population is going to keep growing and will require more resources.”

“That sounds ominous,” says Maarten. “What’s the way out?”

“There isn’t just one answer to that, but everything we do makes a difference. There are sustainable ways of living and the options are growing as we speak. Even large countries like China and India are making major efforts in this domain. Every individual can contribute, even if it is small. In the end, this is going to have to be a joint effort by individuals, companies and governments to find as many solutions as we can.”

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