Start-ups are increasingly finding themselves on the front line in the battle against climate change. Their innovations are playing a key role in driving transformation across sectors from food to transport, fashion to robotics, and making them more sustainable in the process.
One problem that continues to grow in line with rising populations is the issue of waste and what to do with it. According to the World Bank, in 2016 the world’s cities generated 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste, amounting to 0.74 kg per person per day, and anticipates that figure to rise by 70% to 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050.
In addition to poorly managed waste being a breeding ground for disease spread by vermin, it contributes to global climate change through methane generation. But the costs associated with dealing with it can be prohibitive. The World Bank suggests that waste management can account for as much as 20%–50% of municipal budgets.
Finnish company Zen Robotics has come up with an AI robot which could be the future of our waste problems. Safer and faster than humans, the robots are able to sort everything from plastics to scrap metal, construction waste to packaging. Research began back in 2007 at Aalto University, trying to overcome inefficiency in the waste system. With recycling that relied on inefficient manual labour, precious raw materials were simply being dumped away.
The first ever tech unicorn in the waste industry, Rubicon Global, has been dubbed “Uber for Trash” by Forbes. It was founded in Kentucky by entrepreneur Nate Morris, an American from Indiana who had been in the business of trash as a young Army vet in 1971, and his friend Marc Spiegel. Now, through cloud-based data heavy solutions, the company provides businesses with affordable on-demand rubbish removal services as well as data-heavy feedback to help maximise efficiency in recycling and waste management, with the goal to incentivise businesses to reduce costs and divert waste out of landfills. It now has more than 1.5 million service locations worldwide dealing in waste and recycling. The platform has had a wealth of accolades and investors of massive caliber, including Uber founding CTO Oscar Salazar, who became an investor, board member and pipeline to tech talent.
Textile production is believed to be one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. As a result, fashion is among the worst industries for contributing to climate change, producing around 5% of total global emissions. But several companies are trying to do better. One of these is Everlane, a relatively young fashion start-up founded in California by a then 25-year-old Michael Preysman. The company uses recycled water bottles to make its men's and women's collections in the ReNew line and has committed to having no new plastics in the supply chain by 2021. Instead it will focus on replacing all synthetic fabrics with renewed materials, and eliminating all single-use plastics in their offices. It has already used more than three million plastic bottles since the collection's launch and has also vowed to replace all virgin plastic poly bags with renewed versions in its packaging.
Electric scooter sharing app Lime, established by innovators Brad Bao and Toby Sun in San Francisco in 2016, has become so popular it's now in 100+ countries. Originally a bike sharing app, it has branched out into electric scooters as an alternative to cars, for affordable, more sustainable transport solutions for shorter distance travel. Further still, it made a pledge last year to do even more to become carbon neutral and will fund carbon-reduction projects through NativeEnergy to offset the emissions from its management vehicles. While Lime’s bikes and scooters are already electric-powered, the company is making extra efforts to ensure that electricity comes from renewable sources such as utilising Texas’s Capricorn Ridge Wind Farm to power its vehicles in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.
From the raging rainforest fires in Brazil to images of a melting Greenland, the daily challenge to combat the effects of global warming and climate change are undeniable and presented to us endlessly. The changes or even the revolution needed, range across so many fields that to many, it is an overwhelming battle. However, it is the entrepreneurs, the tech start-ups, the change makers, who are paving the way for this battle to at least find a ceasefire, if not to fully make peace, but the battle is without a doubt, more urgent than ever.
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