100TM spoke to Jaime Alvarez and discussed why it is imperative to reduce our environmental footprint and how he will achieve this with 100 Thousand Million.
What is your background?
Originally from Chile, where I grew up during the '70s and '80s. During that time, I witnessed the transition from a very unequal and low-income to a middle-income country. Today, Chile is part of the OECD, but inequalities still remain. This is a pattern that, unfortunately, can be seen in many other parts of the world.
For the last ten years, I have worked in innovation and consulted the Chilean government’s National Council of Innovation, primarily on topics related to technology and anticipation. This is how I became aware of the existential threat of climate change, which has already had verifiable impacts on parts of Chile, like the desertification of zones contiguous to the Atacama desert.
But how did you get from Chile to Finland?
I grew up along the Northern coast of Chile, where there are places with massive amounts of wind combined with abundant solar radiation. In the last decades, a few wind farms have been built around this area, making me think, why could we not fully power a city on renewable energy? And more so, why not build a new type of city this way?
My friend Andro Lindsay – with whom I had previously discussed this idea – got selected for Helsinki Partners' 90DayFinn program and told them about this.
This led to two crucial decisions: firstly, to invite Alberto Scherb from Silicon Valley to strengthen our team; and secondly, to present – as a team – an expanded version of our project to Business Finland, proposing to build not only one city but many cities worldwide.
Consequently, we were able to apply for a startup residence visa, which was swiftly granted. I then came to Helsinki with my wife and two little girls and formed 100 Thousand Million with Andro and Alberto to fulfill this goal.
What is your role at 100 Thousand Million?
Let me think! [laughs]
For me, I see two roles:
First, a better understanding of the context in which our project operates and the dynamics of its different dimensions. This aspect is critical for identifying opportunities with potential partners, investors, and customers.
For example, connecting the sustainable and resilient characteristics of our cities to the goals of institutional investors. There is vast potential, but you must understand the different incentives and time horizons to identify the best match.
Second, it involves refining our narrative and being able to adapt it to different audiences. You can be creative and sharp, but if you can't clearly communicate your vision, you won't get the expected results, especially in a startup.
This ability is crucial in a complex project like ours, where most people can perceive the extraordinary value we can bring to the world. Still, they struggle to put it in terms they can later incorporate into their decision-making process. As our proposal is non-traditional in several ways, it is our task to translate it into terms that will make it easier for anybody to revise and expand their investment or purchasing criteria.
Lastly, as a co-founder, I pull up my sleeves and collaborate with everything related to our company.
What attracted you to co-founding 100 Thousand Million?
The trigger was becoming a father.
I was previously aware of climate change and sustainability. Still, at that moment, I realized I had even more responsibility to enable a viable future for my children. This is a somewhat selfish approach, though. I have friends who decided against having children because they felt this responsibility way before I did, out of concerns about overpopulation and climate change.
Why is reducing our environmental footprint important?
We have a physical problem due to the past and current amount of emissions. We have to change our way of living to reduce them drastically unless we come up with a magic wand.
For example, one key figure that should worry everyone is that we are using resources equivalent to 1.8 planets per year. This is based on estimates of the environmental assets that a given population needs to replace the natural resources it consumes. If the number is equal to or less than 1, then we are ok. If it's over 1, we should be concerned and plan to go back to a number below 1.
Also, we need to consider that if our population keeps growing and their standards of living rise, people will consume more resources. It is unfair to ask poorer people not to raise themselves out of poverty because they might impact the environment. In contrast, others like us already do that.
How do you plan on achieving this?
When we looked at the numbers, we saw that the current available cost-effective technology could make new sustainable cities – built from scratch – extremely profitable.
We don't need to create new technology; we have what we need already. And what's more, it is way less expensive than retrofitting current cities.
Why not make our existing cities more sustainable?
Well, for several reasons, it is desirable to make existing cities more sustainable. Still, existing cities have infrastructure and cultures that inhibit significant changes. And it does not make sense economically.
It's why it's more profitable and suitable to build newer cities and get people to move to them and grow.
Earth cities are getting more and more attention. Why do you think so?
It's a concept that is ripe to be understood and accepted. Ten years ago, we would have been labeled crazy, yet today, 80% of those we talk to are very enthused about what we are doing and don't understand why we did not do this sooner.
Those we speak to are so excited that they immediately share their network with us, so we get more and more connections.
Plus, the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated that people were willing to relocate and live in better, healthier places rather than remaining in their current industrial and overpopulated cities.
With virus pandemics and war taking the headlines recently, how easy will it be to convince society about the need to reduce our environmental footprints?
It is all related.
We cannot be better in only one way.
We all want to live a better, healthier, and more sustainable life, whether we seek better education and living standards, flee from war and pandemics, or even avoid lengthy travel commutes in large cities.
If we manage a better Earth city, we can better manage our life characteristics and reduce our environmental footprint.
Is it the role of governments or businesses to ensure we have a sustainable planet?
This is tough to answer.
Governments want a better society for their citizens. However, businesses have the urgency to make the change, especially if it is profitable.
For example, when Chile suffered a devastating earthquake in 1960, a large percentage of the buildings and infrastructure collapsed. As a response, universities improved their construction engineering research and teaching; the government passed new regulations, and businesses began to comply immediately. When Chile suffered another colossal earthquake in 2010, 50 years later, the impact was minimal, with only a few buildings suffering significant structural damage.
Clearly, as in any complex societal issue, everybody has a role to play.
What has been the greatest challenge to 100TM so far?
Definitely convincing the world that we have to do it now. In a way, people are convinced; they need convincing that we, 100TM, can do it.
We don't need billions of dollars, new technologies, or to wait until we understand how to 'engineer communities'. We need to believe that companies like ours can achieve this and make it happen in a short timeframe.
About Jaime Alvarez
Jaime is a futurist focused on detecting and enabling the rise of emergent futures worldwide.
He is a multidisciplinary systems thinker with a strong engineering background combined with a broad range of intellectual interests.
He has demonstrable experience in tackling complex challenges from an anticipatory perspective; sustainable mining, natural disasters, and water availability.