From plates that grow food to certified cocoa: UN awards innovative green enterprises


Biodegradable plates that are implanted with seeds and provide food after use in Colombia, a social media website that promotes car-sharing in Viet Nam and sanitary pads made from banana waste — these are just some examples of the 34 winners of the 2013 SEED (Supporting Enterprises for Sustainable Development) Awards, announced today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the Green Economy Symposium.

Founded in 2002 by UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the SEED Awards identify and support innovative social and environmental start-up enterprises that tackle key sustainable development challenges at a community level in developing and emerging economies.

They also include two SEED Gender Equality Awards, which have been given to enterprises in Colombia and Peru. Funded by UN Women and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the awards focus on enterprises that are women-led or owned and prioritize gender equality or women’s empowerment as a core objective. 

In Colombia, Provokame trains and employs local women from rural areas to produce 100 per cent biodegradable plates that are also implanted with seeds. The process contributes not only to sustainable waste management, but also creates jobs for women.

In Peru, Life Out Of Plastic is a 100 per cent women-owned organization that designs and sells green products such as reusable bags and fleece made from rPET fibre - a textile derived from bottle recycling. 

“With their innovative entrepreneurial approaches and unfailing attention to women’s empowerment, the SEED Gender Equality Award winners are advancing sustainable development, both locally and at global level,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “In every region, women are coming forward with new ideas to combat poverty and improve living standards, while protecting natural resources. Women’s economic empowerment and full and equal participation in decision-making are essential to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and should be prioritized in the post-2015 development agenda.”

UNIDO DirectorGeneral Li Yong added, “Promoting women’s economic empowerment is an integral part of UNIDO’s work. As half of the world’s population, women play a crucial role in economic growth, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. This year’s SEED Gender Equality award winners should be recognized as social innovators who are paving new roads towards not just the empowerment of women, but also towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development. They are pioneers at the local level but make considerable impacts at the global level, shaping new opportunities for themselves, and more importantly, other women.”

As in previous years, the 2013 SEED Awards overall placed a special focus on Africa, with 20 awards for enterprises in Ethiopia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. This is part of a larger project entitled Stimulating the Green Economy in Africa and funded largely by the European Union. A separate project funded by the Government of Flanders (Flanders International Cooperation Agency) grants two more awards in the South African provinces of Free State, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo.

Award-winners also include Uganda’s Nuru Energy, which sells generators powered by pedals to provide clean, sustainable power to off-grid households, and MoWoza, a mobile phone application in Mozambique that empowers female traders by providing fast information on prices, payments and deliveries. 

All award winners will receive a package of individually-tailored support for their businesses from SEED, as well as US$5000, technical assistance and access to other supporting institutions. 

The 2013 call for proposals  saw applications from 85 countries. Most of the applications were in the agricultural and rural development sectors, as well as in energy, climate change, and ecosystem management. 

The winners were selected by the independent SEED International Jury of experts and were honoured at a high-level international awards ceremony at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, on the day of a special SEED Symposium, Green Entrepreneurship: Local Solutions that Make a Difference.