The following article is an excerpt from Ecosprinter’s 2021 printed edition on a just transition. We decided to bring you the articles from this edition in a digital form as well. Article originally posted on Medium.
As I sip my afternoon tea made out of hemp grown 50 meters from where I am sitting, I imagine how distant this seemed in 2020. Relaxing on the deck at the top of the Križevci Institute for Regenerative Innovation, in our restaurant that carries only local grown food and products we processed, I’m enjoying the late summer breeze.
The waiter asks me if I would like to order some brunch. Todays’ special is a new salad mix, the Lab below managed to grow in just two weeks. I respectfully decline as my break is almost over. As I look across the restaurant, I notice people laughing while sharing new ideas. Some faces are not familiar, I suppose they are tourists staying at our self-sufficient hostel next door.
I look at the solar clock on the wall, it’s 3:05 pm, time to go back to work. I stand up and a whiff of sweet smell from the flower field border surrounds me. I am overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and happiness. I walk toward the staircase with a smile on my face, saying hello to everyone I see. On the staircase I bump into Marija, our Urban Development and Energy Innovation department manager, and she halts me with excitement: “We did it! We found the right consistency of the eco building material that can withstand all natural and unnatural catastrophes. The larger scale production starts next week! Oh, I have to go, I have to go.” As she swiftly walks away, I am overfilled with joy. We have been trying for so long to find the most efficient formula and to provide relief for cities still struggling with catastrophes that left their citizens without homes. I rushed into my office to call our partners in Congo, Brazil and Papua to let them know we made progress and that they can expect the materials soon. After I have finished the call, I go down to the Lab to congratulate the team and hear what other teams are up to in their departments.
First, I stop by the Alternative Food Production and Processing (AFPP) department, the one that served as the first idea for our Institute for Regenerative Innovation. The head of the department, Ivan, greets me with a frown. I ask him what is wrong. He immediately starts sharing that our indoor-outdoor insect pollination program has caught a snag- we lost the bees in the vents again and the team has to catch the queen, it’s taking hours. I tell Ivan that it sounds like we need more plants for them and that I will send a request to the City to acquire more space so we can relocate some of the insects. Our production is growing at such a fast pace, it seems it is hard to keep up. 6 000 square meters of indoor and 70 000 square meters of outdoor space in different areas of the Municipality seems a lot, but not at the pace our business is growing.
In 2021 we decided to take a leap of faith, invited all the local stakeholders to a meeting and presented to them our ambitious plan and the necessity for it, not just in our community but all over the world. Everyone decided to contribute to the development of the Institute, especially the Mayor who saw that the idea was aligned with the Development Strategy of the City. We contacted a few Ministries, managed to get some seed funding, then bought and renovated the building I’m in right now.
Two years into the Institute development, people started being more involved, giving their unused land as an investment for small-scale experimental projects and getting their return percentage from successful product sales. Soon after the Institute was officially opened, we started to employ scientists and workers from different backgrounds, being guided by inclusivity and equal opportunity. Most of the first job positions we opened were directed toward the employment of long-term unemployed citizens, for whom we provided education and training. Now we are employing 874 people at the Institute from all over the world — working across 48 pilot sites for green technology, building materials, food production, self-sustainable hostel and spa, small production facilities for plastic alternatives, a zero-waste store, and education programs. Who would have thought in 2021 that little Križevci could become such a destination for innovators and creators of a better future.
Our main facility – where everything started – now has 10 departments that are using sectioned and communal lab equipment and resources. After the AFPP was opened, next came the Green Technology department that started working on upscaling the technology we had and piloting new products. One of the most popular ones was the AI Solar Smart Home System for electricity, heating, water and waste purification that could be built into a home in one day.
After that, Urban Development and Energy Innovation department, Health and Climate department, Eco Tourism department, Regenerative Society department, Waste Innovation and Disposal department, Education department, Start-up Accelerator department and Local Economy department were developed. They work individually, but are also partnering and intertwining different projects, giving quality outputs that overcome many obstacles of climate change. We became a ‘go-to’ learning place for other cities and countries, scaling our model outside the City of Križevci.
Our food systems and green technology is implemented all over the world, solving small and big climate change issues. Our Regenerative Society department and Education department are acquiring governance solutions and educational opportunities in every corner of the world, as they have offices on every continent. The Health and Climate department works on solutions for health relief in areas that didn’t adapt to climate change quickly enough. We are supported by many industries, humanitarian organisations and governments, and we support them to change and to make the world a greener and a safer place.
To think that I’m still equally excited about this after 10 years of work is a sign that we’ve made a legacy on a simple vision of a better future. As I’m reminiscing, I take a walk through our food production facility, breathing in the smell of flowers and herbs, enjoying the subtle buzzing of bees. Between different plants I manage to pick a red strawberry and bite it, the taste reminds me of my grandmas’ strawberries- sweet and fragrant. It’s quite sad that many parts of the world are struggling to grow healthy food outdoors now, but luckily, we are finding new ways to overcome this every day.
On the street, I can see that the children are coming back from the forest preschool program. They pass the Green hostel, which was built from sustainable materials and is completely self-sufficient; my dream in 2020. Nataša, the preschool teacher waves and I call the group to come over. The production assistant brings a package of berries and children delightfully start eating. After a quick chat with Nataša and the children, I say goodbye and go home. 10 years ago I would have been deeply worried for their future, today I am again filled with hope.
Life in Križevci is thriving all around me. We made it.
Ivana is from Križevci. She’s an SDG ambassador for Koprivnica-Križevci county. She works at a local cooperative KLIK as an Expert Advisor. Her work is focused on creating educational programs and innovative approaches to citizen engagement while making Križevci a greener city. She likes art, animals and people that want to save the world.