What does a company which produces nutritious flour made from discarded coffee bean cherries have in common with a tech start-up using CO₂ as an ingredient to manufacture construction materials? I’m going to leave you hanging for a little while – but first, some facts.
If the global population reaches the projected 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain our current lifestyles. And even if we manage to adjust and show more consideration in what we consume, the demand for new products will continue to put more pressure on our already stressed planet. Luckily, numerous companies and organisations are already showing ingenious ways to ensure more sustainable consumption and production patterns. In fact, this is exactly one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
This is what I’ve seen from my work on the Sustainia100, which is an annual guide to what we believe are the top 100 solutions at the forefront of sustainable innovation, deployed in no less than 188 countries. In short, it’s a guide to our sustainable future.
And this is where coffee flour and CO2 come into the picture. CoffeeFlour and Solida Technologies both represent one of the most interesting takeaways from this year’s publication: that companies across sectors now take green material use to a totally new level, producing goods from what was once only thought of as pollution or simply never regarded as potential production elements.
CoffeeFlour is just one of the brilliant companies showcased in the publication that makes profit by using materials that were previously not part of the regular production or waste stream. They have provided coffee farmers with a yearlong source of income by using the discarded coffee cherry fruits as the main ingredient to create nutritious flour. Another great example from the publication is a partnership between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans on producing fashionable 3D-printed shoes from illegally abandoned fishing nets from oceans around the world.
We know that capturing and using CO2 has multiple benefits, too. Doing so prevents the greenhouse gas from reaching the atmosphere, it can reduce emissions from production processes, and help companies to profit from an otherwise major pollutant. By taking this approach, Solidia Technologies drastically reduces water usage and cuts carbon emissions by up to 70% compared to traditional processes by curing concrete with CO₂ instead of water. This has the potential to greatly improve the environmental footprint of an industry that has largely remained unchanged for decades. I also really like biofuel startup, Joule – also featured in our publication – which has already received more than $200 million from investors due to their promising efforts to use waste CO₂ from other industrial processes as a feedstock for biofuel production. Their fuel has already been registered for commercial use by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
If companies keep innovating and rethink their production processes like the ones I’ve mentioned here, there is hope that we have enough resources for everyone by 2050 without needing additional planets. But we need to be better at highlighting the good cases and helping them scale, which is why, I believe, our publication is a great jumping off point to get vocal about solutions which really work. And did I mention the shoes made from pineapples? I guess you’ll just have to check out the guide to find out more about them…
Emil is Analyst and Editor of the Sustainia100. They’re a think tank and consultancy with the mission of helping international companies, organisations and local governments shape and explore new sustainable marketplaces.