Young activists in France want an ecological awakening

Businesses are becoming more aware of environmental challenges and we think young campaigners and environmental activists play a special role in increasing public awareness. See our previous interview with climate activist Nakabuye Hilda Flavia from Fridays for Future Uganda and chat with climate activist Arshak Makichyan from Fridays for Future Russia.

Every year, the nonprofit EKOenergy label hosts 6-9 young volunteers and trainees to help raise awareness about the use of sustainable renewable energy. In addition to being renewable, EKOenergy-labelled energy fulfils additional sustainability criteria and finances projects that combat energy poverty.

Following up the École Polytechnique students’ speeches highlighting the environmental impact of their industry, our current French EKOenergy volunteer Quentin Le Thiec talked to Pierre-Adrien Bréard, a French activist from the student collective  Pour un réveil écologique to learn more about young people’s environmental activism in France and exchanged ideas with him about our EKOpixel campaign for the gaming industry.

“We need to make the solutions, or at least the awareness, appealing for people”

Pierre-Adrien is in his final year in engineering studies. In October 2021, he joined the French student collective Pour un réveil écologique (“for an ecological awakening”), which is structured around the manifesto carrying the same name. The manifesto, written in 2018, highlighted how the companies where students are expected to work upon their graduation turn a blind eye to the environmental crisis and keep depleting the planet’s resources. The manifesto was signed by more than 30,000 students.

Pierre-Adrien says it’s not because of his studies that he became aware and sensitive to environmental topics – not so present in his lectures – and Pour un réveil écologique wants to change that. 

Quentin: Transforming our activities and way of life as quickly as possible is key. At this point, environmental activism, particularly among young people in France, is increasingly being heard. What is your experience of environmental activism in France? 

Pierre-Adrien: If we think about the people who will experience the biggest environmental problems, it will be the younger generations. Young people are becoming more aware of this and we’re questioning our practices, particularly in the professional fields. It’s becoming more and more apparent for us that our concerns regarding the climate emergency are not represented in today’s society or job market.  AgroParisTech students’ strong graduation speeches about the ecological devastation reflects this

Environmental activism has found a more progressive expression in France: organisations and  people call for civil disobedience, start marches or organise cultural events. Nowadays, we see more concrete actions such as people blocking the Total Group’s board of directors meeting, something quite new in terms of ecological activism in France. 

The collective has set up several successful actions of other kinds such as the popularisation of the IPCC reports through communication. Some of the summary texts and infographics we prepared were on existing advertising boards in more than 100 metro stations for a week. 

Quentin: That’s quite remarkable. As EKOenergy volunteers, we’re starting our EKOpixel campaign to encourage the gaming sector to switch to renewables that are generated sustainably. For us to see that change, what do you think needs to happen in these circles?

Pierre-Adrien: I used to be a gamer, now I don’t play much but I do think the video game industry has a pretty powerful leverage as part of pop culture. It has the power to highlight environmental issues and make a larger audience aware.

There is a lot of work for this industry to do for sure, to initiate changes within the industry itself and to integrate climate issues into the centre of the art-making process. 

It is important to draw attention to a number of problems in this industry, especially when we consider the greenhouse gas emissions from the digital economy as a whole. The demand for technical advancement requires increasing consumption and results in a more varied environmental impact.

“If we manage to change and make being green attractive through pop culture and video games, the impact and people’s awareness of climate issues will be significant. Then it can even become part of the common code of conduct.”

Showcasing the industry’s dedication to the battle against climate change is important, and video games’ influence, particularly on the public’s imagination, should be taken advantage of to speed up environmental protection efforts. 

Quentin: At EKOenergy, we reach out to different sectors to promote the use of renewable energy. We share information to raise awareness and to initiate tangible climate action. Do you see any tendency among the students or young graduates to bring this kind of attitude to the sectors they’re starting to work in? 

Pierre-Adrien: The recommendations and demands made by the collective seek to integrate contemporary issues regarding the environment into the curriculum in a comprehensive manner. Recommendations ranging from waste treatment to renewable energies stop at the university curriculum, but the general position of the collective is to promote low-carbon energies, and we will promote the use of renewable energy ourselves.

It is the collective’s wish that recent graduates will choose to work for environmentally responsible businesses. The urge to deliberately select the future employer based on this is therefore widespread. We propose locations and platforms that enable young workers to make a choice which reflects their environmental commitment. Pour un réveil écologique also provides tools such as the guide “How to choose your job: the right questions to ask” (in French). 

”In my previous job, I took the train and declined travelling by plane. This, and my vegetarian diet, raised questions”

It can be challenging to change things from the inside when you’re fresh to the firm. I think that when you arrive in a company, motivated and interested in environmental issues, you can engage in discussions or actions at your level and propose them to your team. Your actions can raise awareness and open discussions.