An annual sustainability study, SUSTAINIA100, names the top-100 eco-innovations 2015 after reviewing more than 1,500 projects and businesses from six continents. The 100 cases point to a paradigm shift in eco-innovation: More than half of this year’s selected innovations are not only competing on sustainability criteria, but also on affordability and convenience with for instance new reuse, recycling and take-back models.
In Brazil, they are producing solar-powered hearing aids, which are equal in price to disposable alternatives, but last up to three years. Non-sustainable alternatives, such as polluting zinc batteries, last approximately one week. Further North in the kingdom of Denmark, a young start-up saves parents up to $2,100 in the first year of their baby’s life by renting out clothing and exchanging it for larger sizes as the child grows.
“It is the year for eco-consumers,” says Laura Storm, CEO of think tank Sustainia behind the study. “In the new Sustainia100 study, it is remarkable to see how creative developments in particularly the circular economy are resulting in products and services highly competitive with non-sustainable alternatives. This empowers sustainability opportunities like never before.”
“This year’s Sustainia100 are fantastic, because they show how practical and affordable sustainable alternatives are for everyone,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Gov. of California and Honorary Chair of Sustainia. “As a matter of fact, anyone can be a champion for a healthy lifestyle and more livable communities, while demonstrating that none of us should wait for our governments to solve big challenges. Thank you Sustainia100 for showing us that the time for action is now!”
By identifying 100 readily available innovations for cities, corporations and consumers, the Sustainia100 partners wish to highlight the potential for bottom-up transformation ahead of the much-anticipated climate change negotiations, COP21, in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. The partners behind Sustainia100 are UN Global Compact, Connect4 Climate, Regions20, WWF, DNV GL, Realdania, Storebrand and International Federation for Housing and Planning.
Two Factors Driving Competitive Innovation
The increasing competitiveness found among this year’s leading sustainability innovations is especially seen in circular economy innovation and new business models for underserved markets.
“First of all, a growing private sector interest in circular business models is a vital explanation for the rise in competitive sustainability innovations. An increase in commodity prices over the last 15 years has erased the real price declines of the 20th century, giving businesses and consumers a good reason to break free of the linear model of resource use,” says Storm.
One in five of the identified innovations are circular economy models, where businesses are exploring economic incentives attached to circular consumption. These innovations include food waste turned into biofuel; reused air-con filters; and 100 percent recycled workwear.
Additionally, the rising focus on underserved markets, in especially developing countries, is now beginning to create sustainable business models. With a large portion of the world’s population living on around or less than eight dollars per day, also referred to as “the base of the pyramid,” this represents an enormous global market. Twenty-three of the 100 innovations are making profit or providing affordable solutions directly addressing the need for reliable energy, sanitation, waste management etc. at the base of the pyramid. These innovations include insurances to protect West African smallholders against extreme weather by way of satellite data; and a low-cost cooking ingot made of recycled metal to treat people with iron deficiency.
The new Sustainia100 study is the fourth publication of leading sustainability innovation. The innovations are screened and selected by independent sustainability experts from 18 international research organizations including Yale University, World Resources Institute and the Acumen Fund. Over the past four years, Sustainia has identified more than 3,200 sustainability solutions.
Selected Cases from SUSTAINIA100:
Danish startup Vigga.us is a subscription service that is leasing organic children’s wear through a circular model. For a monthly fee, parents receive clothing and can return for bigger sizes as the child grows saving time, money, and resources. Vigga.us saves parents up to $2,100 in the first year of their baby’s life.
Delta M (Canada):
The air-con filters from Delta M are 100 percent reused and recycled unlike disposable alternatives that create large amounts of solid waste. The company provides a service where used filters are picked up for cleaning and the customers are reimbursed with rebate credit for every filter they return.
Dutch aWEARness (The Netherlands):
Dutch aWEARness uses 100 percent recycled polyester fabric in their closed-loop manufacturing of workwear. No waste is generated from the production process, and water consumption is reduced by as much as 50% compared to conventional work wear manufacturing.
Solar Ear (Brazil):
Low-cost hearing aids with rechargeable solar batteries. The hearing aids are equal in price to disposable alternatives, but last up to three years. Non-sustainable alternatives, such as polluting zinc batteries, last approximately one week.
Olleco collects organic waste from the food industry (cooking oil) to produce biogas, compost, and biodiesel that is looped back to companies, who also benefit by avoiding waste disposal fees. It recycles more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste each year, which results in the production of 16 million liters of biodiesel as well as renewable heat and power.
ACRE (Kenya, Switzerland):
The Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE) makes use of automated weather stations, satellite data, and mobile technologies to bring affordable insurance to smallholder farmers in East Africa. This technology makes it possible to reach thousands of remote farmers without amassing high transaction or delivery costs.
Lucky Iron Fish (Canada, Cambodia):
Lucky Iron Fish is an ingot made from recycled scrap iron packages in biodegradable or recycled material. Simply boiling a Lucky Iron Fish ingot for 10 minutes in water can release up to 75 percent of a person’s required daily iron intake. One fish costs less than $10 and lasts for five years, benefitting an entire family with each use.