Button Program was accepted in 2018 for Mutiny – Accelerator for Changemakers. Now the registered non-profit has received 65 000 € funding from Ålandbanken’s Baltic Sea Project. They produce value for landowners with their sustainable development map and are the perfect example of academics in action. Button, map, and information condense the story from the initial hackathon-born idea to the stage they are in now, having a globally scalable idea and striving for complete carbon neutrality.

Interview: Sari Kivijärvi
Photo: Jenny Mujunen

Button Program – Academics into Changemaking!

 

I am sitting opposite to Button Program’s chairman Otso, vice president Venla and software development consultant Elias in Helsinki Think Company’s meeting room made out of natural stone and wood. We have a first-class view of Tiedekulma’s first-floor event “The Sixth Mass Extinction.” Change is in the air. Button Program is described in one sentence as a sustainable development network in the IT sphere. Any information expert or person passionate about the environment and sustainability can participate and join the network. Let’s get to know the team and action behind it all.

Tell us, who are you and what are your specialties?

Otso, the chairman, studied corporate environmental management at the University of Jyväskylä. Vice-president Venla studies business information technology in Haaga-Helia and Elias is the software development consultant, who in practice programs our sustainable development map.

Do you suffer from climate anxiety? How did Button Program exactly get started?

Yes, we do. We talk about climate anxiety a lot. It sparked the Button Program. Our objective is to offer solutions and not get stuck in the mess, hence our perspective to solve problems with sustainability.

In 2016 we made the button in Ultrahack and got really excited about it! A platform for fighting climate change as easily as pushing a button. The idea was accelerated through Mutiny in 2018, which made us realize we need to make many small steps and bring in the data. Right after that another hackathon for using open data on forests arrived, Elias joined us in creating a sustainability map and we were set! So first there was the button, then map and then came the information.

 

JOINING MUTINY 2018 – ACCELERATING THE BUTTON

 

Was it hard to get things going? You joined Mutiny last year. How did Button Program evolve through it?

We were still quite lost at the time of our initial button idea. “All of us finally took our activities more seriously, the way Otso always has”, Venla looks at the team and laughs. It was very significant for us to be picked. We suggest anyone partaking in Mutiny this year to really just go all in on it!

Mutiny helped very much with understanding strategy and the bigger picture, also the pitch mentoring was beneficial. Most helpful was meeting mentors and talking to them. There were very capable people, who pointed at the directions to explore. Nobody can tell you the right direction but help you to find it yourself.

Button Program produces value for landowners, how does this happen in practice?

We offer a map, with which you can understand the climate effects of very simple actions like lifting groundwater levels of peatland fields and forests. In addition to gaining knowledge from your forest or field adding value in itself, economic incentives could be built on top of them. The data can help with EU subsidies or even carbon crediting.

In addition, there are advisory organizations helping landowners, with whom they could view the map to reveal all possibilities. It is very important for us now to pilot the map with landowners and advisory bodies this summer and make the map to be a real planning tool for them.

You decided to accelerate a globally scalable idea. Who are possible Button Program clients?

Clients of our map could be at least everyone who owns land and forest. In Finland alone, over fifteen-year-olds, there are 679 000 landowners, making it 15 percent. Cities also own land and there are important firms in the fields of food- and forestry.

Through EIT Climate-KIC we build an exciting relationship with Norwegian cities of Stavanger and Trondheim and are currently looking into how we can map the agriculture and forest data in Norway. This is one of the first steps of building global scaling potential.

 

”BUTTON PROGRAM PUSHES TOWARDS EMISSION CALCULATIONS”

 

For the map you contacted researchers at the University of Helsinki, how did this happen? In which ways is scientific input seen in Button Program?

That was also an Ahaa! -moment. We had the map but did not know what to do with the data. Therefore, Otso went to knock on the door of forest ecology and management Ph.D. researcher Paavo Ojanen “We have this map and this data, but could you help.”, Otso describes the situation. He received a useful response “Those datasets can be transformed to these carbon figures, let me calculate in excel.” It was a really warm and important moment.

Paavo Ojanen knew academics from other departments and we began to figure out what else we could do with this data. Button Program pushes towards emission calculations, which all of the research institutes could agree upon, hence they are rather underestimated than overestimated.

 

FUNDING FROM ÅLANDSBANKEN’S BALTIC SEA PROJECT

 

Congratulations again for the funding you received! What is the sum and how will it boost your activities?

Thank you so much. It is 65 000 euros. Now we can possibly pay rent and don’t have to live in the streets. More seriously, the money will go towards developing the map. We are going to invest in our coding and differentiate between what is valuable and what is fun. The funding is budgeted into building map functionalities and stability and to pilot and improve the product with landowners. “This is fun but not necessary” helps also in other strategic ways.

So, from rags to riches then. How will the map further be developed?

Research institutes have promised to help with this, by which we are continuing to calculate not only greenhouse gas but also water emission reduction estimates for landowner practices. If agriculture and forestry practitioners get help with sustainability, the emission can be reduced cost-efficiently.

Were you in it for the money? Why did you become a non-profit association?

We wanted to be a non-profit right from the get-go. We were waiting for a good enough reason to register formally, as nobody wanted to give us money for over a year. We started really from scratch, but had a really strong vision and ambition to develop ourselves and help climate: “who would do it if not us?!”.

Finally, we became an association last summer when Sitra organized “Earth League/Maapalloliiga”, a challenge for associations and organizations towards getting Finns excited about environment-friendly actions. We applied but didn’t succeed at that time. Nevertheless, it made us register as an association and confirmed that it is the path. Belonging in a non-profit network of professionals and volunteers is motivating for everyone.

 

FINALLY, BUTTON PROGRAM AND THE MARCH FOR CLIMATE

 

Your network has grown big and versatile, which actors belong in it?

Our network has grown through hackathons, like Ultrahacks, where you apply with teams of max five. Otso has gathered the talented people he knows and meets to participate, usually getting a team of five, which then joins our network. Teams like this have participated now in ten hackathons.

There are mobile- and web programmers, data gurus and full stack programmers like Elias and designers and product developers like Venla. You can also go right ahead and contact us at our website if you want to join the network, team up and collaborate.

Do you feel like environmental responsibility of ecological crises has been piled too much on the individual?

Piling the responsibility on individuals and volunteers is a peculiar solution if not looking also at the big picture. In the company side, awakening should still happen faster. It would be fantastic if people involved in businesses manage to grasp the value in the longer strategy. We really need businesses and governments in on this. In the 10-year horizon, it’s expensive not to make the change happen and use the best available technologies.

Does this mean you are going to participate in the 2nd climate march on April 6th?

Yes, we are! And we encourage our whole network to participate as well! 💚