With the passing of new regulations in support of the Paris Climate Agreement, the paradigm has shifted around the globe concerning the seriousness of our planet’s climatic condition. Societies are now feeling the heat—both figuratively and literally, and aims to achieve to net-zero CO2 emissions are causing integral systems to shift as businesses scramble to navigate tumultuous economic terrain.
A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute examines what an economic transformation to net-zero emissions would actually entail, and its findings indicate a truly disruptive future ahead. The consultancy indicates that the transformation to net-zero will affect every country and every sector of the economy, either directly or indirectly.
This will cause every nation and industry to have to make a huge adaptation towards a more eco-conscious future. Adversity breeds innovation, however, and one might even argue that sustainability is really just the evolved offspring of innovation—because it is the true art of accomplishing more, with less.
There is much fertile ground between sustainability and technology, and many pioneering and promising originations have been born in the current call to action. Here are The Sociable’s top 20 sustainable technology innovators for 2022.
Lightning Fast Electric Car Batteries
Doron Myersdorf, Founder and CEO, StoreDot
The transition to electric cars has been somewhat slow-moving, and that is probably because of the difference in the time it takes to fill up a car with gasoline versus the time it takes to fully charge an electric car. It takes a typical electric car (60kWh battery) just under eight hours to charge from empty to full with a 7kW charging point. It isn’t hard to deny the modern world’s value of convenience, but even still waiting eight hours to get where you need to go is asking a lot.
Thankfully, An Israeli company StoreDot has invented a battery that can be charged to 100% in just 10 minutes, with no damage to the battery cells, which has been a large deterrent in the quick-charging solutions to date. A sure sign of speedier charging to come, their innovation will help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
Biodegradable (and Edible!) Food Packaging
Akin Onal, Founder and CEO, Mori
Today, we produce about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Not shockingly, nearly 50% of the plastic ever produced is used once, and then thrown away.
Single-use plastic is a recipe for disaster for mother earth, and food packaging is a major perpetrator. According to a report by Greenpeace Korea, 78.1% of domestic plastic waste comes solely from food packaging used in daily life.
Thankfully Boston-based start-up Mori has created a plastic-like food wrap made from natural silk protein. Applied in place of a thin plastic film or packaging, it can keep food fresh as it’s shipped to stores. Best of all, it’s totally natural, so unlike plastic, it will biodegrade. You can even eat it if you want to. Mori uses nature-inspired protection for all kinds of foods, from produce to protein, and their all-natural protective layer can even double a product’s shelf life.
Machine Learning Manufacturing
Arjun Chandar, Founder and CEO, IndustrialML
Manufacturing, logistics, and building materials—essentially the summation of the supply chain—are collectively some of the leading producers of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to McKinsey, most of the environmental impact associated with the consumer sector is embedded in supply chains, accounting for more than 80% of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90% of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources.
We live in a consumer culture, and oftentimes in factories, products are overproduced or overstocked—ultimately wasting resources through the actual production of items but also leading to increased emissions from the toll on shipping and storage. There is a technological solution for this consumeristic bad habit of waste, thanks to company IndustrialML.
Machine learning is a capacity that Artificial Intelligence possesses and helps it to continue to learn and improve itself over the course of time as more data is input. IndustryML wields the power of machine learning to make factories smarter so that they can use less raw material for production and eliminate waste in their processes, allowing manufacturers to increase their capacity while minimizing their impact on the environment. This sustainable-tech advancement will help to refine manufacturing processes, which leads to improved efficiency, less energy consumption, and reduced emissions.
Making Plastic out of Wood
Ossian Aschan, established the central lab for research at the VTT
Researchers now estimate that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s, with 60% of that plastic ending up in either a landfill or the natural environment. Unfortunately, single-use plastic isn’t a new environmental problem for the world, and its functionality and purpose within our society is deep-seated.
The best solution to our overuse of plastics is to find a viable replacement for them, and that is exactly what the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has done by creating a compostable multi-layer material from agricultural and forestry byproducts that mimics the utility of plastics. Their proprietary material can be used for all stand-up food pouches for products such as muesli, nuts, dried fruit, or rice.
These wood byproducts contain cellulose, the most abundant renewable polymer on the planet, making this novel material an environmentally benign alternative to fossil fuel-based, multi-layered plastic packaging.
Floating Solar Panels
Børge Bjørneklett, CEO, Ocean Sun
Solar energy is one of the most abundant and cheapest types of energy that exists. Unfortunately, the biggest hindrance in fully adapting to more sun-powered energy lies in the fact that solar panels tend to take up a lot of space. This in turn has spurred much debate about how much land should be given up for solar farms.
A promising solution can be found in floating solar panels, which instead sit on top of large bodies of water. These panels can be placed on the surface of lakes or reservoirs, where they can absorb energy even more efficiently than land-based solar panels thanks to the cooling effect of the water. What’s more, these panels have even been found to help protect lakes from some of the harmful effects of climate change.
Norwegian startup Ocean Sun has created an efficient, low cost and durable solution for floating solar power generation. Their proprietary non-permeable membranes quickly and securely attach to the floater solar panel unit using a unique fixation mechanism. As a result, their modules enable improved thermal contact with the body of water and could turn the tide for solar panels becoming a primary resource for the world’s electricity needs.
AI to Help Replace Meat and Synthetic Additives in Our Food
Priyanka Srinivas, CEO and Founder, The Live Green Co
A major new study has found that the global production of food is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity, with the use of animals for meat causing twice the pollution of plant-based foods—with meat accounting for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases emitted by food production.
The Live Green Co, a sustainable food tech company that aims to accelerate the world’s transition to healthy and sustainable food, has thankfully manifested a solution. Charaka, their AI-powered recommendation platform, blends ancestral wisdoms of plant nutrition with biotech and machine learning to prescribe plant-only replacements for the animal, synthetic and ultra-processed additives in food products.
This recommendation engine aims to replace the tastes of many of these foods, but with more sustainable, healthy, all-plant alternatives—serving as a major agent of change towards sustainability for the worldwide food industry.
The company has said that it is spearheading the next phase of the plant revolution, moving beyond plant-based products, which still contain harmful artificial ingredients, to an all-plant diet.
Indoor Vertical Gardens
Matt Barnard, CEO, Plenty Farms
In 2019, the EPA reported that 12% of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions came from land-use including farming, forestry, and peatland. So, in order to get to net zero, we’re going to need to seriously rethink how farming works and how we utilize mother earth’s soils.
Vertical farms are a growing (literally) solution for this. Vertical farms are indoor structures that stack plants on top of each other so that lots can be grown in a relatively small space.
California-based start-up Plenty, for instance, has recently prototyped a 2-acre farm that can produce 720 acres’ worth of food. Their method utilizes machine learning and AI to make sure the plants are getting all the light and water they need, ensuring that any type of fruit or vegetable can be grown all year round.
Plenty’s farms are designed to increase the yield of crops over 350x relative to traditional farming—a seriously promising technological solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also feeding our growing population!
Leveraging AI to Tell Sustainable Stories
Anand S., CEO, Gramener
In 2021, in the US alone, there were 18 extreme climate-related disasters with monetary losses related to each incident exceeding $1 billion each. It is clear that if societies continue to do nothing, dire circumstances loom near on the horizon for humanity.
Sustainable solutions on a broader spectrum, such as in the context of business, societal, and socioeconomic problems are never simple, however. They often take complex analytics that are nearly impossible to comprehend without the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and interactive data visualizations. Gramener is a design-led data science company that employs all of these techniques to help solve complex business problems with compelling data stories using insights and a low-code analytics platform.
Using a wide spectrum of techniques, Gramener can help solve some of the most pressing societal sustainability disparities through collaborations with public health professionals, enterprises, local governments, communities, nonprofits, and technology partners. Helping to create a cross-sector of intervention where technology is democratized, this company works to rectify sustainability solutions for wide-scale infrastructures.
Reducing Pollutants Caused by Electronic Devices
Eva Gouwens, CEO, Fairphone
Globally, we generated an estimated 57.4 million tonnes of electronic waste, or e-waste, in 2021 alone. It is estimated that it will constitute 15% of global emissions by 2040, which is equivalent to half of the entire world’s transportation sector emissions.
Fairphone introduced a special design for their new Fairphone3 in 2020 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Their proprietary design can extend a phone’s lifetime from an average of 2.7 years to about five years, which leads to a significant 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per year of use, across the entire life cycle of the phone.
The company has also increased the number of fair materials integrated into the supply chain for their new phones. Each Fairphone 3+ is made with 41% post-consumer recycled plastics – a jump from the 9% for the original Fairphone 3. In 2020, Fairphone also successfully refurbished about 40% of the smartphones that were collected, and what couldn’t be reused were safely recycled. What’s more, through the company’s European takeback program, Fairphone compensated 18% for collecting old devices—making it one of the leading sustainable tech companies in the world.
Delivery Robots to Reduce CO2 Emissions
Felipe Chávez, CEO, Kiwibot
Kiwibot is an innovative company changing the way food is delivered, and better yet their solution could considerably cut down on emissions. This is vital because if changes aren’t made, it’s projected that carbon emissions from food delivery will rise 32% by 2022, equating to around 6 million tons. Much like last-mile delivery apps like DoorDash or UberEats, Kiwibot enables customers to order food from participating restaurants in their local area, but rather than dispatching a delivery person, the food is delivered by a Kiwibot—an autonomous robot on wheels.
Kiwibot’s 400 robots have made over 150,000 deliveries, making them the number one robot delivery platform globally since their induction in 2017. Since then, the company has been making big strides, striking partnerships with industry giants and expanding across the globe from Medellín, Colombia, to California, USA, to Taipei, Taiwan.
Sustainable City Planning
Dan Doctoroff, CEO, Sidewalk Labs
In just a few decades, the planet could eventually warm to levels it hasn’t reached in at least 34 million years, leading to more melting glaciers and floods than ever before—this will cause significant changes in urban areas such as heatwaves, higher rents, and dwindling resources.
Sidewalk Labs is a startup that aims to transform urban spaces into sustainable and affordable communities, partnering with city organizations and corporations to create new models for city planning.
Sidewalks Labs’ multidisciplinary team of engineers, technicians, and city planners design technologies and spaces with affordability and sustainability in mind. Using generative design services leverage the power of AI and machine learning to help city planners design spaces that meet everyone’s needs, they will help to ensure that cityscapes can adapt to the changing times.
Mitigating Food Waste in The Supply Chain
James Rogers, CEO and Founder, Apeel Sciences
According to McKinsey, most of the environmental impact associated with the consumer sector is embedded in supply chains, accounting for more than 80% of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90% of the impact on air, land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources. Furthermore, a good portion of the waste contributing to global food waste also occurs during the shipping and transport stages in the food supply chain from food spoiling before it reaches its final destination.
Apeel Sciences is lending a hand in solving the food waste crisis by helping to extend the longevity of perishable foods, developing edible, plant-based sealants that can help maintain moisture and freshness levels for produce. Their patented technologies lock in water and slow oxidation, making fruits and vegetables last for longer periods of time.
This shows great potential in helping to eliminate food waste and mitigate the overall resource wasting that occurs in the supply chain, creating a more sustainable food industry for tomorrow.
Efficiency as a Service
Arvin Vohra, CEO, Redaptive
Putting the world on a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a substantial increase of capital-intensive clean energy assets – such as wind, solar PV, electric vehicles, and hydrogen electrolyzers – which have relatively high upfront investment costs and lower operating and fuel expenditures over time. This can make it seem daunting to companies that either rent or own their office spaces to transition their pre-existing environments to cleaner power.
Redaptive lends a hand by helping companies deploy energy-efficient solutions across all their properties. The company markets their services as EaaS (Efficiency-as-a-Service), helping guide its clients through the processes of planning and installing clean energy solutions, and helping companies maximize their savings by only charging for energy usage with a monthly utility bill.
Redaptive’s team of business and technology experts deliver a groundbreaking platform that accelerates energy efficiency and sustainable energy adoption. Helping C-suite executives, sustainability directors, and facility managers at Fortune 500 companies around the world overcome capital and contractual barriers to lower energy costs and reduce emissions.
Displacing Wasted Energy in Boat Storage
Josh Bremmerer, CEO, Komodo Covers
One of the SDG goals is to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. This begs the question of how we can truly become energy efficient while many not only own unnecessarily large living spaces but also several other storage units for their excess material items. One of which is storing boats for the winter—using energy in the forms of heat and electricity for months.
Komodo Covers are designed to be impervious to the elements, protecting your boat from anything mother nature can throw at it. An “intelligent boat cover”, the design embodies usability, durability, and versatility while keeping boats dry no matter the conditions. Its name is inspired by the scaly skin and expanding rib cage of the Komodo Dragon.
Combining key features like expanding beams that act like a rib cage, and a control unit that keeps the cover taut and the interior dry with integrated heat and dehumidification. This makes the boat cover not only beneficial for daily use, allowing boats to dry out overnight, but also allow for effective, long-term outdoor storage. All this at less than half the cost of heated boat storage for one winter.
Eliminating Styrofoam For Good
Founding team: Nils Bachmann, Sophia Scherer, Henning Tschunt and Lisa Antonie Scherer (from left to right)
It is no secret that Styrofoam is bad for the environment, seeing that it isn’t biodegradable. In fact, styrofoam products alone fill up 30% of our landfill space, and landfills are fast becoming full. Despite the fact that styrofoam cannot be recycled, it still remains in wide circulation.
Company Proservation in Germany has developed a natural alternative using grain husks. The company says it has all of the same shock-absorbing, insulating and lightweight credentials, while being 100% biodegradable. The packaging has individual shaping, high functionality, and an appealing design. By making the switch, landfills can lose 1/3rd of their weight.
Michael Cervenka, President, Vertical Aerospace
If electric cars are a thing, why not electric planes? At the moment, there are around 170 different projects worldwide, all working on developing viable electric aircraft.
This electrifying race for the skies has probably been spurred by the fact that aviation is responsible for 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources. Although this percentage wanes in comparison to the 74% from road transport, the more that globalization grows, the more this percentage is bound to grow as well.
Rolls Royce recently successfully pulled off a 15-minute maiden flight in their first 100%-electric aircraft in the UK. This maiden voyage was spearheaded by Vertical Aerospace, a British company owned by OVO founder Stephen Fitzpatrick, who has the vision of decarbonizing air travel using the best technology from the aviation, energy, and automotive industries. With several partnerships already underway and pre-orders for up to 1,350 aircraft from Amajor airlines across the board estimated at $5.4bn, it seems as though electric airlines aren’t such a high-flying fantasy after all.
Repurposing Debris in the Ocean
Julen Rodriguez, Co-CEO and Co-Founder, Gravity Wave
An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, a sad statistic considering what a vital part of our ecosystem the ocean is.
Thankfully, Spanish social enterprise Gravity Wave has come up with a solution. By partnering with Mediterranean fishermen to collect plastic from the seabed, the company then turns that waste into sustainable products, such as mobile phone cases and filament for 3D printers.
The social enterprise also helps companies become ‘plastic neutral’ by collecting the equivalent amount of plastic that their employees generate—a sure-fire way to help businesses reach net-zero.
Returnable Takeaway Containers
Viktoria Berger, CEO and Founder, And-less
While the average American generates 234 pounds of plastic waste every year, no more than 9 percent is typically recycled. Although we haven’t quantified exactly how much plastic waste comes from takeaway specifically, in the US packaging as a whole—for food, beverages, cosmetics, and medications—accounts for 30 % of municipal solid waste. In 2017, this amounted to 80.1 million tons.
And-less is the work of creative minds, clever engineers and dedicated restaurateurs, all pursuing one goal: to free our environment from pointless disposable waste. Founder and Austrian designer Viktoria Berger has been developing sustainable packaging since she won a City of Linz innovation award in 2019, and when Covid-19 hit, she focused her attention on creating reusable takeaway containers.
She ran a successful pilot phase with the reusable containers in Vienna, Linz, and Graz, and now the scheme is now being rolled out to more restaurants. Customers register via an app, scan the QR code on top of the lid, and return the containers to the original restaurant within 14 days, with reward vouchers as an incentive.
Dr. Fabiola Polli, PhD – CEO & Founder, BioFashionTech
Unfortunately, a whopping 87% of used clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators.
On a mission to recover all these resources for use in greener supply chains, Dutch startup BioFashionTech has developed a cost-effective, low-energy, circular recycling process that turns textile waste into new materials.
Using their own innovative process, they are turning unused textile waste streams into new raw materials, while also upcycling plastics fibers and dyes that are usually blended in the textile themselves. Through this process, they save textiles from incinerations and replace the need for new raw materials, plastics, and dyes at the same time. What is more, their process also extracts plastic fibers and dyes that can then be sold to create a closed-loop solution.
This will help to transform complex waste streams into a circular and profitable flow and change the current bad cycle of perpetuating material waste.
Josh Brito, Co-Founder, MakeGrowLab
New food trends and an escalating population will require a 70% increase in food production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This will cause societies all over to start rethinking how they produce and package their food and create a need to start working smarter, not harder.
Taking recycled packaging a step further is our final innovative contribution, MakeGrowLab. A high performing solution which is durable, 100% free of plastic and home compostable, this company based in Poland has invented a material that can be grown from food waste in just a couple of days. It’s approved for food contact, is resistant to oxygen and water, and is 100% compostable. We would definitely count that as working smarter.