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How climate change is set to drive innovation in 2019 and beyond

7 minute read

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Unless you’ve been under an eroding rock for the last quarter of a century, you’ll have heard about climate change and how we, as a species, are now rushing to reduce the damage we are inflicting on our home planet.

But, before you click away, sighing at yet another doom and gloom story about the end of days due to humanity’s avarice, stop! This article isn’t here to scare or shame or any of those tactics. It is a positive tale of innovation, ingenuity and hope.

I’m going to take a look at how businesses are meeting the challenge head on with unique and, sometimes, bizarre concepts that may not just change the world, but save it.

What went so wrong??

To understand how business is reacting to the shift in attitudes around the world towards the prospect of climate change, we need to look at what got us into this pickle and what steps can be taken to roll back the damage we have done.

The term “Climate Change” is a little misleading. Climate change is always occurring on Earth. Millennia have seen the world as a glistening pearl spinning through space under a thick carapace of ice. In other cycles, the lands have been consumed by steaming jungles that echo with the enigmatic hoots and roars of fantastic creatures now lost to history.

What we’re actually talking about, is human caused climate change. Over a hundred years of industrial activity, population booms and mass farming have filled our atmosphere with far more carbon dioxide and methane than the planet can process. These are known as “Greenhouse Gases” and they act as an insulator, preventing excess heat from escaping into the chill vacuum of space.

This rise in temperature has already led to partial melting of the ice caps, disrupted weather systems and, in an indirect way, natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

Because of all these environmental changes to natural habitats as well as manmade farmland, the delicate chain of ecology is threatened which, if unchecked, could lead to etiological breakdown where great swaths of land become deserts, water becomes scarce, food production stops and… Well, I said I wasn’t going to be all doom and gloom in this article so let me just say, things get a little uncomfortable for us humans.

What changes do we need?

On mass, society has to change. It needs to examine how we all live and make enough adjustments to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses put into the atmosphere and slow the heating of our planet… And this is where human ingenuity and innovation comes in.

Startups are already working to provide effective, sustainable and profitable solutions. Industries such as farming, fashion and energy production are being disrupted by alternatives that consumers can easily access and, with significant numbers, start to roll back the damage.

The direct solution

Some businesses and organisations are working to reverse human caused climate change directly by schemes such as The Trillion Trees Project. Through petitioning governments and organisations, the project intends to plant a trillion trees thereby letting nature itself clean out all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the added benefit of living in leafy green forests again.

An alternative has been suggested by unromantic scientists who are presumably scared of the outdoors, looking at carbon capture solutions which can suck carbon from the atmosphere however, the technology is still very much in its infancy and businesses exploring the technology are scarce.

As with any of these solutions there is no one right answer. One may gain better traction than another however, it is going to be through a combination of technologies, services, and solutions that we stop global warming.

Mitigating the damage

Other businesses, the majority, in fact, have solutions that address the human influence on climate change and they are developing sustainable solutions for everyday life that will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give the planet a chance to recover.

Food

If you haven’t heard, either in the news or from your vegan friends, the meat and dairy industries are bad for the planet.

With vegetarianism (don’t eat meat), veganism (don’t consume meat or animal products) and flexetariansim (eats meat rarely) on the increase, startups have been working to fill that gap in the market, and the stomachs of hungry Earth loving children.

So, for the newly minted vegetarian, vegan or flip-flopping flexitarian, where can they get that juicy burger hit from on those ever more scorching summer days?

People have developed plant-based meats, of course. A patty packed with all sorts of goodness to simulate real beef burgers. With startups such as impossible Foods and Beyond Meat vying for the gap between your burger bun, and other smaller startups such as The Meatless Farm bringing their burger to market, it looks like this summer will give us a great number of options to have guilt-free barbecues.

The other issue with food is wastage. How many times have you taken a look at a “Best before” date and chucked something from your fridge? Of course, we want to be careful to not eat spoiled food but with the UK wasting up to eight million tons of food each year, there are opportunities for startups.

There are many factors in how long food can stay fresh, such as temperature, sunlight, storage, and moisture, so Mimica Touch has developed a label that actively assesses packaged food removing the need for arbitrary best before dates. This technology minimises wastage from both consumers and suppliers which leads to a smaller carbon footprint and a happier planet.

Though plastic packaging causes other problems such as pollution, destroying natural environments and threatening wildlife, for the most part it can’t be recycled or composted meaning that it is a one use item. To combat this wastefulness zero waste shops are popping up all over the country where shoppers bring their own reusable containers to transport items home. Of course, this isn’t ideal as one of the advantages of plastic packaging is that food can be sealed and therefore last longer so the overall amount of waste saved is questionable. However, with big brands such as Tesco trialing zero plastic lines of fruit and veg, it seems that the concept is gaining traction.

Food wastage in restaurants is another big problem with over half a kilo of food being lost in preparation and scraps. Education in the industry is now helping businesses to reconsider processes which, aside from being better for the planet, is better for the business’s bottom line. 

Finally, certain coffee shops and vendors are minimising their waste by composting leftovers that may then be used to grow more products on local farms. Such practices do require extra effort from small businesses however when considered alongside brand identity and the ‘feel good’ factor that such work brings, it becomes worthwhile.

With most adults eating up to three or four times a day, it would appear that ‘food’ is a pretty fashionable thing and isn’t likely to go away soon. Options of how our food is sourced and armed with greater knowledge of where it comes from or how long it keeps, food choice, and minimising waste is the best way that we, as individuals, can combat climate change. With restaurants and supermarkets also being more mindful of where food comes from and where it ends up, great strides can be taken.

Energy

Despite the development of higher efficiency electronic devices, we are still a power hungry species with the average UK home using just under 4,000 kilowatt hours per home… A rather meaningless statistic until it is compared with the United States usage of about 12,000 KWH per home.

All this energy has to come from somewhere. Naturally, natural gases and fossil fuels are a big no no as, you burn something and it produces carbon dioxide, but there are businesses looking at solutions beyond that of just wind farms or solar panels.

SEAB Energy uses an old but proven technique of, well, burning stuff to make energy. In this case, it is waste that is converted into heat and electricity. Though this might sound just as bad as any other energy production that produces CO2, the fact that the waste does not need to be transported from site makes it a far cleaner way of dealing with waste and producing energy.

A more novel way of clean energy creation is the startup Kite Power Systems who want to provide an alternative to expensive, static and weather dependent wind-farms by creating electricity with kites. The idea is that the kites may fly higher to catch more predictable winds and, due to their collapsible nature, are more easily deployed.

With large scale coal-fuelled power-stations and the continual suspicion of anything nuclear, power generation is seeing change through many startups with brilliant ideas. Maybe one of them will become ‘The next big thing’, however, it is more likely that power solutions will be matched to the requirements of the customer rather than vast, inefficient power stations that inefficiently send electricity down inefficient cables to be inefficiently used in our homes… You get that power stations are kind of inefficient, right?

Sustainable solutions

As discussed earlier, waste impacts climate change. Energy used to create something that isn’t used is considered waste which is why our society of fast spending, quick replacing, throw away culture is in this jam.

A simple yet effective business concept is to create repeat custom by producing products that have a limited lifespan. Though this may not be the only driving factor behind product design, the desire to improve and replace has become a huge problem, especially in the smartphone and tablet market.

But with sales of giants such as Apple slowing, it appears customers buying habits are changing, so too are business offerings.

Chilly’s Bottles have taken note of this change in spending attitude and created long-lasting bottles that can keep drinks hot or cold. The idea is to abandon plastic bottles in favour of having more functional, more fashionable and longer lasting solutions to on the go rehydration.

Another reflection in the market is the prevalence of reclaimed furniture, or as I used to call it, second-hand tat. By reusing such products it is not only cutting down on the carbon footprint of disposing old junk, but saves on the carbon footprint created by the manufacturing and transport of new products.

Becoming a sustainable business

Of course, it’s not just the products we create or the services that we provide that have an effect on the climate. Running a business itself takes a big role in preventing catastrophic climate change, and if simply saving the planet isn’t enough for you, remember that environmentally friendly, zero carbon footprint and renewable energies are all powerful buzz words, so to not embrace greener ways of business could well be detrimental for your brand image.

It’s not just big businesses that need to take responsibility but smaller businesses too. With a few simple changes, your business can become greener and more climate conscious. For example you could:

  • Source sustainable and recycled office supplies.
  • Provide recycling bins for employees, customers and cleaners.
  • Organise a carpool to cut down on carbon emissions from vehicles.
  • Brighten up the space with carbon dioxide gobbling plants.

For more ideas on how to cut your carbon footprint and even costs, check out these nine top ways your business can go green.

The living earth

It is undeniable that our world is under threat, with a mounting list of recent natural catastrophes, record breaking high temperatures and dwindling environments for both human and animal life. People as a whole are starting to take responsibility for their own personal effect on the environment but it will take businesses to realise this quest fully.

People, for the most part, are willing to make lifestyle changes but it has also given an opportunity for businesses to meet new and exciting markets and help to move humanity, as a whole, from the dark ages of smog filled streets out into the bright light of a cleaner tomorrow where we live, not above or beside nature, but within it.

Oliver Kennett is an author and freelance copywriter living in Bristol. A graduate in both law and engineering, he enjoys exploring science, technology and social impact through his writing. As well as clients in the technology, tourism, legal and lifestyle sectors, he has written extensively for charity. In his spare time he writes short stories and novels for children and adults in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy and humour genres.

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