10 Sustainable Innovations
From Solar-powered suitcases
to floating classrooms
Tackling global challenges including Bangladeshi floods, water scarcity, fashion waste and death in childbirth, the runners up for the Sustainia awards showcase business innovation.
The 2014 Sustainia Awards, chaired by Arnold Schwarzenegger, attracted more than 900 submissions for projects and technologies representing 10 different sectors from food, fashion and, city development to transportation and healthcare. Collectively, these projects are deployed in more than 84 countries.
1. Food finalist: Netafim (Israel) – gravity-powered irrigation
Netafim is behind a low-tech irrigation system for smallholder farmers in developing countries which increases and secures yields while saving water and cutting costs. It drips precise quantities of water and nutrients right at the root zone of crops while an elevated tank distributes the water using gravity.
This minimises the need for electricity and investments in infrastructure. The UN estimates that 500 million smallholder farmers provide over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. Irrigation systems are vital to sustain agriculture as it addresses water scarcity and soil erosion. The solution is commercially viable with a payback-time of about a year, making it fit for microfinance projects.
2. Transportation finalist: 8D technologies (Canada) – bike sharing app
As a mode of transport, the bicycle is one of the lowest emitter of greenhouse gases – even with the CO2 emissions of the food you need to power a bike. This helps explain why bike-sharing systems are being adopted increasingly by cities. The Spotcycle app from 8D technologies aims to make bike-sharing more convenient and smartphone-friendly. The app locates nearby bike stations and communicates availability, maps out bike paths and helps with navigation. The app is already in sync with cities in North America, Australia and Europe.
3. Buildings finalist: Advantix (USA) – air-conditioners which use saltwater
Air conditioners use about 5% of all electricity produced in the US. As a result, 100m tons of carbon dioxide are released each year. Advantix's air conditioning system uses saltwater which means it needs 40% less energy than normal systems. Whereas air-conditioning systems normally chill the air to remove humidity and then reheat it in a highly energy-intensive process, Advantix’s air-conditioners funnel the air through non-toxic fluid saltwater instead. The process dehumidifies the air without the need for re-heating.
4. Fashion finalist: I:CO (Switzerland) – textile recycling
Clothes are often discarded after the first or second life cycle, and apparel accounts for up to 10% of a western consumer's environmental impacts. Through an advanced take-back system, I:CO works to keep apparel, footwear and other textiles in a continuous closed-loop cycle. Used shoes and clothing are collected in stores and retail outlets, where customers are financially rewarded for depositing their used items. Once collected, the textiles are sorted according to more than 350 criteria for designation. Used clothes can be labeled suitable for: second-hand sale, recycling into fibres and paddings for new products, or upcycling.
5. IT Finalist: Fairphone (Netherlands) – A smart-phone with social values
Through development, design and production, social enterprise Fairphone works to create positive social impact in the consumer electronics supply chain – from responsible mining, decent wages and working conditions to reuse and recycling.
Fairphone began by redesigning the processes behind the production, making phones that use conflict- free minerals and are assembled in a factory with a worker-controlled welfare fund. To date, Fairphone has sold nearly 50,000 phones from its first two production runs.
6. Health finalist: We Care Solar (USA) – solar suitcases giving life
Preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth claim 800 lives daily and 99% of cases happen in developing countries. We Care Solar has created a sustainable solution. The Solar Suitcase provides solar electricity for medical lighting, mobile communication and essential medical devices for rural areas and humanitarian settings. This enables safe and timely obstetric care, which ultimately improves maternal and neonatal outcomes. Additionally, the innovation allows emergency surgeries to be conducted around-the-clock in rural hospitals. The Solar Suitcase has been introduced to more than 600 healthcare facilities in 20 countries.
7. City Finalists: Wecyclers (Nigeria) – Pedal-powered recycling (2014 SUSTAINIA AWARD WINNER – read more …)
In Lagos, Nigeria, Wecyclers is fuelling social and environmental change by enabling people in low-income communities to make money from unmanaged waste piling up in their streets.
It is a response to the local waste crisis; the municipal government collects only 40% of city garbage. The Wecyclers initiative has deployed a fleet of cargo bicycles to pick-up, collect and recycle garbage in low-income neighbourhoods. Families are encouraged to recycle their bottles, cans and plastics through an SMS-based programme. For every kilogram of material recycled, the family receives Wecyclers points on their cell phone. Families can then redeem points for goods such as cell phone minutes, basic food items or household goods. The initiative adds to the local economy by hiring personnel locally.
8. Resource finalist: Newlight Tech (USA) – carbon-negative plastic
With its novel technology that converts greenhouse gases into plastic material, AirCarbon has disrupted the market by replacing oil-based plastics with a sustainable product that is competitive in both price and performance. It is made from a process where carbon in the air is captured and used in manufacturing. AirCarbon uses pollutants as resources to make products otherwise made from oil. Products made from AirCarbon are carbon-negative even after calculating the emissions from the energy used in production. AirCarbon is currently used to make chairs, bags and cell phone cases.
9. Education finalists: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha (Bangladesh) – school boats combatting climate change
More than one million Bangladeshis could be displaced by rising sea levels by 2050. One consequence is that children cannot attend school for long periods of time, making it harder for them to escape poverty. By building a fleet of solar-powered school boats, the Bangladeshi initiative Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has secured year-round education in flood-prone regions of Bangladesh. Each floating school boat collects students from different riverside villages, ultimately docking at the last destination where on-board classes begin. Solar lighting makes the schedule flexible, which provides for additional educational programs in the evening. Shidhulai's floating schools model has been replicated in Nigeria, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia.
10. Energy Finalists: Opower (USA) – personal energy-efficient expert
Through use of big data, Opower has given energy utilities a new way of engaging with customers in order to improve energy efficiency. The software solution combines cloud technology, big data and behavioural science to produce data analyses and personalised information on how to save energy. To motivate reductions in energy consumption, utilities use Opower to share money-saving insights with custumers. Opower can also show households their energy usage compared to neighbours; an effective method in motivating people to save energy. Opower has enabled savings of over 4TWh of energy, which is equivalent to $458m (£283.1) in bill savings.
The above article by Laura Storm first published on theguardian.com in Oct, 2014.
Laura Storm is executive director at Sustainia.