We have arranged to meet Oskar Metsavaht at one of the small beachfront cafés on Arpoador Beach, where we find him sitting on the terrace gazing out at the waves and the quiet ocean beyond. As soon as we introduce ourselves he leaps up with a big smile and warmly shakes our hands. “Welcome, have a seat, come and enjoy the view!” he says with a broad gesture.
“Congratulations on your new UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador title!” says Anouk, as we sit down.
Oskar recently received the honorary title of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for his work on sustainable development and social inclusion. And he is in good company: former UNESCO ambassadors include personalities such as former South African President Nelson Mandela, Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé and French musician Jean Michel Jarre.
“It’s an honour to have received such a title,” he says with a modest smile, “but you know, what is most important now is how I use it – if I can use it to show the world that sustainability is the future and that Brazil can lead the way towards the sustainable lifestyle, then I will be one step closer to reaching my goal.”
As he talks, the waiter brings us two lattes and an espresso for Oskar. “So tell us more about your vision for a sustainable future – what would that look like?” asks Anouk.
“It is all about what I call the ‘Brazilian Soul’,” he says. “This is what I think we Brazilians can really bring to the world: the energy of our people and our natural resources.” Oskar believes that the ‘Brazilian Soul’ has the potential to be one his country’s key assets on the international stage – Brazil’s premier export product. “Every region has its strength,” he says, waving his hand towards the ocean. “The US stands for entertainment, Europe for culture and luxury brands, India for spirituality and Asia for technology.”
He pauses and takes a sip of his espresso. “And Brazil? Brazil has nature: rainforests, water, rare plant and animal species, minerals… a huge wealth which too many of us don’t properly appreciate,” he points up the coast towards the Amazon Rainforest that lies 3,000 kilometres northwest of us. “Preserving this wealth is the mandate we have been given.”
“So how are you going to make that happen – do you think people are aware that this is your country’s mandate?” I ask. Oskar raises two fingers and says decisively: “We have two options: exporting raw materials as we’ve been doing for the past five centuries, or creating value by taking care of our natural resources and ensuring sustainability.”
He pauses and looks at us to make sure we understand the weight attached to each of these choices. “So you’re saying that Brazil is at a crossroads – it is a choice between further exploitation or preservation?” “Exactly, that’s it,” he says.
“I think I can guess what you think the right path is for Brazil: using the Brazilian soul to promote a sustainable way of life.” “Exactly,” Oskar answers with a twinkle in his eyes. “This is why I created instituto e, a non-profit organisation based here in Rio that promotes sustainable human development,” he continues.
“The aim is to make sustainability cool: too many people continue to associate sustainability with woolly jumpers and saving the birds and the bees.”
“So how do you change that image and make sustainability aspirational, something that people want to be part of?” I ask. “Aha!” says Oskar with a grin, “this is where the e-brigadiers come in!” He explains that this team of cool, savvy young people transforms the instituto’s ideas into action and implement a range of environmental, social, cultural and educational projects across Brazil. “The e-brigade works to promote sustainability in combination with design and lifestyle, making it cool to buy socially and environmentally conscious products.”
“So what does that mean in practice, what kind of projects do the e-brigadiers work on?” “Well, for example, one of the projects to come out of instituto e is e-Fabrics, which focuses on identifying materials that respect fair trade criteria and sustainable development. e-Fabrics are made from all sorts of raw material, ranging from recycled plastic bottles and reused jeans to organic cotton and silk. “ “But how do you make that cool? How do you make people interested in using or buying e-Fabrics?”
“By using them in my collections and showing their versatility and attractiveness. That’s how I get other companies interested. KENZO has also started using e-Fabrics for example.”
The more Oskar talks, the more impressed we are with the sheer scope and diversity of his activities, which all come together around that central and all-encompassing theme: sustainability. He looks out over the ocean as if he can see this sustainable world he wants to create right there, and as he talks, we understand that every single one of his ideas, projects and community initiatives is geared towards realising his vision. He sits back in his chair and looks down the beach. A big wave is rolling in from the ocean. A surfer who was waiting for this wave now climbs onto his board, accelerates, swerves onto the crest, jumps and disappears under water. Oskar turns back to us, as if he has been teleported from the surfboard back to the table.
“So, to summarise,” I say, “you are using your name and brand to promote sustainability as a way of life – a cool way of life. Starting in Brazil, but I’m sure you’re looking to make an impact internationally as well.” Oskar looks at the beach again, where the surfer is paddling along, waiting patiently for the perfect Hawaiian wave. “The world is changing,” he says as he turns back to us. “I can see it happening. Soon it will be irrelevant where you are from – there will be no more geographical nations. Instead there will be lifestyle nations, people all around the world will connect based on ideas and attitudes.” He pauses for a moment. “It won’t matter where you are born, or where you live – lifestyle will connect us. I want to be part of the sustainable lifestyle nation and I want to make sure it is a cool place to be.”
I look at Oskar and Anouk and then turn to the surfer floating on the waves, and I realise that I already live there, in a place that is not defined by geography but by connections to like-minded people around the world. My lifestyle nation.
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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