Interviews - June 6, 2023

June's Expert of the Month: Sandra Hounkonnou!

Written by Olivia Mahaux 4 min read

The Solar Impulse Foundation Expert Community consists of professionals who possess expertise in diverse fields associated with sustainability, clean technologies, and innovation. These Experts contribute their knowledge and experience to assess and evaluate the solutions submitted for the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label. The community functions as a collaborative network, where Experts provide their insights and support the Foundation's mission of accelerating the adoption of sustainable solutions. Every month, the Foundation recognizes and honors a distinguished member of the community for their outstanding commitment. It is with great pleasure that we announce Sandra Hounkonnou as the Expert of the Month for June.

June's Expert of the Month: Sandra Hounkonnou!

Since joining the Expert Community in January 2020, Sandra has diligently evaluated 14 solutions, provided support for various projects, and represented us as an ambassador at numerous events. We are immensely grateful for her invaluable support, and her passionate commitment to sustainability makes collaborating with her an absolute pleasure.

Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself and share some insights into your educational and professional background that have influenced your career in sustainability?

After obtaining an engineering degree with a specialization in energy and environment, I initially started working as an energy efficiency consultant for 5 years in a leading consulting firm. Seeking to have a greater impact, I made the decision to transition to an in-house role and joined the Corporate Social Responsibility department of an industrial group, where I dealt with environmental issues on an international scale for 9 years. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to gradually witness a significant shift in mindset: whether in the corporate world or in civil society, climate change issues have become increasingly important.

This shift has sparked within me a strong desire to play a more direct role in influencing businesses on these matters, prompting my return to the consulting world. For the past 2 years, I have been working at EmC2 Conseil, a small consulting firm, where my primary focus lies in assisting organizations in the development and implementation of sustainable strategies.

As a Project Director at EmC2 Conseil, how do you ensure that the projects you manage align with broader sustainability goals and contribute to long-term environmental impact reduction?

As a sustainability consultant, my primary mission is to closely support clients in improving their energy performance and reducing their carbon footprint. One of the key factors for success is providing an external perspective, which sometimes allows for optimization without reinventing the wheel. For example, whether working with tertiary or industrial clients, it is most of the time possible to achieve significant energy reduction through low payback time actions, starting with better management of existing equipment. Building a trusted relationship is also crucial for long-term client engagement. Working closely with them to develop customized sustainability strategies and action plans that specifically address environmental impact reduction in their context is essential. Furthermore, I strongly believe in the importance of knowledge-sharing and best practices. By disseminating information and fostering collaboration, we can maximize the impact of sustainability initiatives. I am passionate about promoting sustainable practices across sectors and firmly believe that a collective effort is essential for building a more sustainable future.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges in the cleantech sector that can drive significant positive change in the near future?

From my perspective, there are several key challenges in the cleantech sector that have the potential to bring about substantial positive change. Firstly, all the innovations embracing a circular economy approach hold immense promise. By transitioning from the traditional linear "take-make-dispose" model to a circular one, we can minimize waste, maximize resource efficiency, and promote the reuse and recycling of products. Additionally, focusing on water and wastewater management is essential in the face of growing water scarcity concerns. And last but not least, advancements in climate change adaptation are also crucial in addressing pressing challenges, building resilience and minimizing the negative effects of climate change.

What inspired you to join the Solar Impulse Foundation as an Expert? 

In 2019, I started volunteering in raising awareness about climate change through impactful initiatives (like The Climate Fresk’s or Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project) but I realized that I was mainly reaching an audience that was already convinced and I was wondering how I could reach a wider range of people. In January 2020, I attended the Change Now summit where I was truly inspired by Bertrand Piccard's opening speech. He explained that to bring on board climate skeptics, it was necessary to focus more on solutions rather than problems and to demonstrate that ecological solutions were above all, logical solutions. It is that paradigm shift that motivated me to join the Foundation as an independent Expert: contributing to giving visibility to these solutions was already a significant step forward.

Can you share any Solutions you evaluated that you found particularly interesting, and explain what makes them noteworthy to you?

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate “Jardin de Pluie Urbain”, an innovation to reintroduce vegetation into the city through rainwater management that I found incredibly interesting. What fascinated me about this solution was its ability to address multiple challenges in urban areas. In addition to restoring biodiversity in the city, it effectively cleaned, stored, and utilized rainwater in urban environments, which is crucial for sustainable water management. Moreover, this solution contributes to climate change adaptation by reducing temperatures and thus combating urban heat islands. What I found particularly compelling was that it achieved all these benefits without requiring extensive technological implementation.

As an Expert, what insights have you gained from your involvement with the Solar Impulse Foundation? How has it influenced your perspective on the potential of clean technologies and sustainable innovation?

My involvement with the Foundation has allowed me to witness the brilliance of innovative solutions, mainly through the evaluation of innovations, and also more recently by having the opportunity to be a member of the jury for the Microsoft Environmental Startup Accelerator. All this has reinforced my belief in the potential of sustainable innovation to drive positive change and pave the way toward a more sustainable future. By thinking creatively, we can generate impactful approaches to effectively address environmental challenges!

In your opinion, what are the main barriers that prevent wider adoption of clean technologies and Efficient Solutions? How can these barriers be overcome, and what role does the Solar Impulse Foundation play or should play in this process?

I see several barriers. First and foremost, there is a widespread belief that sustainable innovations are either not profitable or not technically replicable at a large scale. The different criteria that we use to evaluate the solutions precisely aim to demonstrate that they can be both economically and technically viable, thus breaking down this barrier.
Besides, it is also often assumed that clean solutions have to involve cutting-edge technology or groundbreaking inventions, but that's not the case: all types of innovation are welcome, from low-tech solutions to social innovations! The Foundation's solutions catalog showcases this great diversity of solutions.
And last but not least, I am convinced that the biggest remaining barrier to overcome is awareness: it is necessary for everyone to understand and embrace the importance of environmental issues. This is crucial to rethink our behaviors and consumption patterns, and to keep finding new innovative solutions that will definitely make a difference.

Written by Olivia Mahaux on June 6, 2023

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