My world, my action, our planet: meet the young innovator who wants to outsmart climate change
Putting pressure on policymakers to take climate action is crucial. At 23, European Climate Pact Ambassador Sofie Winge-Petersen, from Denmark, is part of a young, environmentally aware generation doing just that. An innovation engineering student, a social entrepreneur, and a born problem-solver, Sofie is showing us how targeted solutions, together with effective grassroots organisation, can make a real difference – and how the European Climate Pact can support these ambitions.
My world: immersed in innovation
When she had to give a presentation about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals at school, Sofie picked the one related to climate: ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ (SDG 13). “I realised that addressing climate change was the one goal that can impact virtually every other challenge we face,” she explains.
Later, Sofie decided to combine her commitment to tackling the climate crisis with her passion for creativity and inventiveness. She enrolled in an innovation engineering course at the Technical University of Denmark: “Innovation engineering is about tackling complex challenges that we don’t yet have answers to. That’s where my course really ties in with addressing climate change.”
But Sofie is not just practical – she’s political too. Since 2019, she has been a member of the Danish Youth Climate Council, where she helps to ensure that the voice of young people is heard by national policymakers: “We were selected to work voluntarily for the Ministry of Climate, Energy and Utilities to make recommendations on concrete climate actions. There were originally 10 youth climate representatives, and now there are 14 of us.”
Sofie has also set about establishing local youth climate councils in different regions of Denmark to connect young people and feed ideas up to municipal and national policymakers. “We now have five local climate councils in Denmark, five municipalities that have approved the establishment of such councils, and a lot more are expressing an interest.”
My action: painting a whole new picture
Last year, Sofie and other engineering students were recognised for their innovative design to help make the paint industry greener and less polluting. It all began with a startling discovery the students made: an estimated 575 million plastic paint buckets are produced and thrown away every year in the EU alone, resulting in 360 000 tonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere.
Where most people might just see a problem, Sofie and her five fellow students saw an opportunity for innovation. They came up with Paint’R – a packaging solution that replaces single-use paint pots with a recyclable cardboard container that holds two recyclable plastic bags of paint. The team estimates that this reduces the total plastic used in packaging by as much as 75%.
As such a big reduction in the amount of plastic produced would also mean less emissions generated in the process, the positive impact on climate is clear. But, Sofie says, “one of the most important parts of innovation is to make sure that you take the industry with you.” To be sure of that, Sofie’s team ran workshops with paint professionals.
Sofie and her team are now looking into bringing Paint’R to market. They are in talks with a number of large painting companies in Europe and will start ongoing product trials. They also recently featured on a Danish television show, pitching their green ideas to experienced entrepreneurs.
“While our product is not yet professionally available, we have seen great interest in it,” she says. “About 98% of professionals responding to a survey last year said they were aware of how much plastic was being thrown out, and 72% said they would try our solution if they could buy it in stores.”
Our planet: connecting with other curious souls
For Sofie, experiences in innovation have demonstrated the importance of building networks to push for change. She sees this as a key strength of the European Climate Pact. “Fighting climate change can be a lonely endeavour,” she says. “It is motivating to see people of all ages across Europe making a difference.”
The Pact connects people with a shared commitment. “In Danish, we call these people ‘fire souls’ – people with an energy and a passion for something,” Sofie explains. “I’ve had conversations with other Pact Ambassadors, and making these connections shows me how others are tackling climate challenges, and helps reinforce what we are fighting for.”
Looking to the future, Sofie believes that the Pact also has a role to play in expanding and connecting grassroots youth movements such as her youth council. She would love to expand the concept of local youth climate councils across Europe. While changing policy at national level inevitably takes time, taking local decisions to address local problems can be highly effective. And as Sofie’s experience has shown, connecting with like-minded people is often the key to meaningful action.
The European Climate Pact could be the perfect tool for spreading this message, exchanging innovative ideas and uncovering lesser-known issues. As Sofie sees it, “connecting with people from other parts of Europe can also make us aware of climate issues that might not be directly affecting us yet.”