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Green business spotlight: Paolo Narváez

Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven business owners and ecopreneurs from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.

Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!

Today’s guest is Paolo Narváez from Sargassum Solutions Thalasso Ocean.

Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and what you did before starting your own business.

Hi there! I’m Paolo Narváez, originally from Cancún, Mexico. My background is a mix of environmental science and community development. I grew up near the ocean, so I’ve always been passionate about marine conservation and sustainable living.

Before diving into my own venture, I worked with several NGOs focusing on coastal preservation and community empowerment. I spent a good chunk of my early career facilitating workshops and projects that helped local communities develop sustainable practices to protect their natural resources. It was through this work that I saw the massive potential and equally massive challenges posed by sargassum seaweed, which inspired me to start my own business transforming this issue into an opportunity for both environmental and social good.

This blend of hands-on community work and environmental science paved the way for me to innovate in the field of biochar production and carbon credits, aiming to create a sustainable, scalable solution to the sargassum problem while benefiting local communities.

What inspired you to create a purpose-driven company and how did you come up with the business idea?

The idea of creating a purpose-driven company came from a combination of my background and a deep desire to make a tangible difference. Sargassum, for those who might not know, is a type of seaweed that has been washing up in massive amounts on the beaches of the Caribbean, causing environmental and economic issues for coastal communities.

One day, while working on a coastal cleanup project, I realized we were treating sargassum purely as waste, but I saw potential in it. I started researching and discovered that through pyrolysis, we could transform sargassum into biochar, a valuable resource that can sequester carbon dioxide and improve soil health.

The real “aha” moment was realizing that we could not only address the environmental issues but also create social and economic benefits for the communities affected by sargassum. By involving locals in the process, we could empower them economically and build a market for biochar. This led to the idea of integrating blockchain technology to enter the carbon credit market, ensuring transparency and scalability.

So, the inspiration came from wanting to solve a pressing environmental problem while creating a sustainable business model that empowers and benefits local communities. It’s about challenging the status quo and proving that regenerative business models can work and thrive.

In your experience, what are the main challenges of starting and running a green business?

Starting and running a green business comes with its own unique set of challenges. For me, the main hurdles have been:

1. Securing initial investment: developing innovative technologies, especially those aimed at sustainability, requires significant R&D. Convincing investors to take a chance on a new, eco-friendly approach can be tough. Many traditional investors are wary of the risks involved with unproven technologies.

2. Finding practical applications: once we developed the technology to transform sargassum into biochar, we had to figure out how to use it effectively. Identifying and developing markets for biochar, such as using it in construction for social housing, required creativity and persistence.

3. Community involvement and education: getting coastal communities involved and aligning their incentives with our mission was crucial. This meant not only educating them about the benefits of sargassum transformation but also ensuring that they could make a decent living from it. Building trust and a sense of ownership within these communities took time and effort.

4. Managing growth: sargassum arrives in massive quantities, about 5,000 kg per kilometer of beach each month. Scaling our operations to keep up with this influx, while maintaining quality and efficiency, has been a constant challenge. It’s a balancing act between growing fast enough to handle the supply and not outpacing our capacity to manage the process sustainably.

5. Navigating regulations and markets: entering the carbon credit market via blockchain-based credits involves navigating complex regulatory landscapes and ensuring transparency and credibility. Keeping up with changing regulations and market demands can be daunting but is essential for long-term success.

Overall, these challenges have taught me that persistence, adaptability, and a strong community focus are key to running a successful green business.

What is your business mission & purpose and why?

Our mission at Sargassum Solutions is to transform an environmental challenge into an opportunity for ecological and social regeneration. We aim to tackle the sargassum seaweed problem plaguing the Mexican Caribbean by turning it into biochar through innovative pyrolysis technology. This process not only sequesters carbon dioxide but also creates a valuable resource for improving soil health and supporting sustainable construction.

Our purpose is twofold:

1. Environmental stewardship: we are committed to reducing the negative impact of sargassum on our beaches and marine ecosystems. By converting sargassum into biochar, we capture carbon dioxide, helping mitigate climate change and promoting a healthier environment.

2. Community empowerment: we believe in the power of local communities to drive sustainable change. By involving coastal communities in the collection and transformation of sargassum, we provide economic opportunities and foster a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the environment. Our goal is to create a scalable, sustainable model that benefits both people and the planet.

Why do we do this? Because we see a unique opportunity to create a positive impact that goes beyond environmental benefits. We’re driven by the belief that innovative, regenerative business models can challenge the status quo and provide lasting solutions to some of our most pressing global issues. We want to inspire others to see that sustainability and profitability can go hand in hand, creating a better future for all.

How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?

Our work at Sargassum Solutions tackles both societal and environmental issues in a comprehensive and interconnected way:

Environmental Impact

1. Sargassum management: we address the problem of massive sargassum blooms that wash up on beaches, causing ecological disruption and economic damage to coastal areas. By collecting and processing this seaweed, we help restore the natural beauty and health of these environments.

2. Carbon sequestration: through pyrolysis, we transform sargassum into biochar, which effectively sequesters carbon dioxide. This process helps mitigate climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a stable form.

3. Soil health: the biochar we produce is used to enhance soil fertility and health. It improves soil structure, increases water retention, and provides a habitat for beneficial microorganisms, promoting more sustainable agricultural practices.

Societal Impact

1. Economic opportunities: we create job opportunities for local communities by involving them in the collection and processing of sargassum. This not only provides a source of income but also fosters a sense of community ownership and pride in environmental stewardship.

2. Education and empowerment: we educate coastal communities about the benefits and uses of biochar, empowering them with the knowledge and skills to participate in sustainable practices. This helps align their economic incentives with environmental conservation.

3. Affordable housing: we are exploring the use of biochar in construction materials for social housing projects. This not only provides a sustainable use for the biochar but also addresses housing shortages and promotes eco-friendly building practices.

4. Blockchain-based carbon credits: by entering the carbon credit market through blockchain technology, we ensure transparency and scalability in our efforts to combat climate change. This innovative approach helps attract investment and support for our mission, further amplifying our impact.

In essence, our work bridges the gap between environmental conservation and social development, creating a model where both people and the planet thrive together.

What are the most common mistakes you see green businesses make?

Starting a green business comes with its own set of challenges, and over the years, I’ve noticed some common mistakes that can hinder success:

1.Lack of clear vision: not defining a clear mission and goals.

2. Ignoring community involvement: overlooking the importance of engaging and educating local communities.

3. Insufficient market research: failing to understand market demand and applications.

4. Overly complex solutions: implementing impractical, overly technical solutions.

5. Neglecting financial sustainability: lacking a solid financial plan.

6. Inadequate education and awareness: not effectively educating consumers about their products.

7. Poor measurement and reporting: not tracking and reporting impact properly.

8. Overlooking regulations: ignoring regulatory compliance.

9. Scaling too quickly: growing too fast without ensuring quality.

10. Lack of flexibility: being inflexible and not adapting to changes.

Avoiding these pitfalls requires a balanced approach that integrates passion with practicality, community engagement with innovation, and a strong mission with financial viability.

What makes your business unique?

What makes Sargassum Solutions unique is our holistic approach. We involve coastal communities directly, providing jobs and training. Our innovative pyrolysis technology turns sargassum into biochar, capturing CO2 and improving soil health. By leveraging blockchain, we ensure transparency in the carbon credit market. Additionally, we’re pioneering the use of biochar in sustainable construction, addressing both environmental and social needs. Our comprehensive model balances environmental impact with economic viability, proving that green businesses can be profitable and beneficial for the community.

Is there anything that you do outside of your business that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?

Absolutely! Outside of my business, I’m actively involved in local environmental initiatives. I volunteer with coastal clean-up projects and run workshops on sustainable living practices. I also collaborate with schools to educate young people about the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainable development. These activities help spread awareness and foster a community-wide commitment to sustainability.

In which area of your business are you struggling the most to reduce your environmental impact?

One of our biggest challenges is managing the transportation and logistics of sargassum. Moving large quantities of seaweed from the beaches to our processing sites requires fuel and resources, which can contribute to our carbon footprint. We’re actively seeking more eco-friendly transportation solutions and optimizing our logistics to minimize this impact.

What do you like the most about the work you do? 

What I love most is the tangible impact we’re making. Seeing coastal communities thrive, transforming environmental challenges into opportunities, and knowing we’re contributing to a sustainable future is incredibly rewarding. It’s also fulfilling to work directly with passionate people who share the same vision for a better planet.

What’s your day-to-day like?

My day-to-day is pretty dynamic. I start with team meetings to check on project progress and address any issues. I spend a lot of time coordinating with coastal communities, ensuring they have the support they need. There’s always some research or development work on improving our technology. I also handle investor relations and explore new market opportunities for our biochar. In between, I try to get out to the beaches to stay connected with the hands-on work and the community. It’s a mix of strategic planning and on-the-ground action.

How do you grow and scale your business, and what are the main growth constraints and opportunities?  

We grow by expanding our community partnerships, improving our technology, and entering new markets for biochar and carbon credits. Main constraints include securing funding for scaling operations, managing the logistics of large-scale sargassum collection, and educating communities about the benefits of our processes. However, opportunities lie in the increasing demand for sustainable solutions and carbon credits, as well as the potential to replicate our model in other coastal regions facing similar challenges. By staying innovative and community-focused, we can overcome these constraints and seize new opportunities for growth.

What green businesses/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?

Battery-based solutions and resource extraction processes might become the new fossil fuels, posing similar sustainability issues. However, regenerative visions that align economic benefits with making communities and the planet healthier will take center stage as the true innovative models. Consumption patterns will be revisited, leading to significant redesigns in materials and products. Developments in reuse, upcycling, and the sharing economy will create new dynamics, with technology playing a central role in facilitating these sustainable practices.

In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be a successful eco-entrepreneur?

1. Systems thinking: understanding how various parts of the ecosystem interact and impact each other.

2. Empathy: deeply caring about both people and the planet, and using that empathy to drive meaningful change.

3. Storytelling: crafting compelling narratives that inspire others to join your mission.

4. Resourcefulness: making the most out of limited resources and finding innovative ways to overcome constraints.

5. Network building: creating strong, diverse networks to support and amplify your initiatives.

6. Cultural sensitivity: respecting and integrating local cultures and knowledge into your projects.

7. Holistic vision: seeing the bigger picture and balancing economic, environmental, and social goals.

Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with aspiring or current green business owners?

Absolutely! Here are a few lessons learned:

1. It’s harder than a normal job: running a green business is tough. It requires more dedication, resilience, and passion than a conventional job. Be prepared for the extra effort it demands.

2. Embrace the ups and downs: the journey is full of highs and lows. Learn to integrate these fluctuations into your “normal.” Each setback is a learning opportunity, and every success is a step forward.

3. Stay true to your mission: despite the challenges, always stay aligned with your core mission. It’s your guiding star and will keep you focused and motivated.

4. Build a strong support network: surround yourself with people who believe in your vision. Mentors, partners, and community supporters can provide invaluable advice and encouragement.

5. Celebrate small wins: Don’t wait for the big milestones to celebrate. Acknowledge and appreciate the small victories—they keep you motivated and moving forward.

Running a green business is demanding but incredibly rewarding. Stay resilient, keep learning, and never lose sight of the positive impact you’re making.

What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?

What inspires me every day is seeing the tangible impact of our cleanups—restored beaches and healthier coastlines are incredibly motivating. Knowing that people in local communities are making extra income from these efforts, becoming more independent, and changing their perspectives on nature and resources is truly rewarding. It’s amazing to witness how our work not only helps the environment but also empowers people to value and protect their natural surroundings.

Paolo Narváez, an entrepreneur from Cancún, Mexico, founded Sargassum Solutions to turn sargassum seaweed into biochar, capturing CO2 and enhancing soil health. He empowers coastal communities by providing jobs in seaweed collection and processing. Using blockchain, he ensures transparency in the carbon credit market. Paolo is committed to sustainability, volunteering in coastal cleanups and running workshops on sustainable living.



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