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I’ve spent the last few weeks watching virtual green conferences and interviewing business leaders and entrepreneurs working on environmental sustainability. It's been fun to see how many companies seem to be making real commitments to reducing emissions, the circular economy and sustainable innovation.
I’ll explain more about what I found in just a bit, but first, I just need to admit that I’ve had my doubts about the future of the so-called “clean economy.” I mean, the economy has been married to fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. When I’ve dared insinuate that businesses should decouple themselves from fossil fuels the reaction has inevitably been eye rolls and blank stares. When everyone looks at you like you're crazy, at some point, you start to wonder if you are.
Getting every company to zero emissions is the only way forward. But everyone’s reaction made me doubt that enough business leaders would be willing to make the changes necessary to make a positive and lasting change. It’s hard standing up to friends and family that disagree, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to stand up to investors and board members that only care about the bottom line. But after all these years, I’m becoming cautiously optimistic that some sustainability-minded business leaders may be emerging.
Today's sustainable innovation leaders
Here are a few innovative business leaders in environmental sustainability that spoke at the Bloomberg Green Festival last week:
Bill Gates is probably the world's most prominent investor in green technology and innovation through Breakthrough Energy. He explains his thoughts on sustainable innovation in his blog Gates Notes. In “A critical step to reduce climate change: New innovations will help us build a future of carbon-free electricity,” he goes into detail on where we need sustainable innovation most.
HP has become a circular economy leader. They use what they call “ocean-bound plastic” from Haiti in their printer cartridges at the beginning of the products life-cycle and then ask customers to send back those cartridges in pre-printed return boxes. They’ve also made commitments to using clean energy and getting to net zero.
IKEA has been a sustainability-minded company ever since I can remember (and I've been going to IKEA since I was little). At the Bloomberg Green Festival Jesper Brodin, the CEO of Ingka Group which owns IKEA, talked about why forward-thinking companies should follow in IKEA's sustainability-minded footsteps.
“Sustainability should be seen as the new low cost,” said Brodin. “Mass production is a friend of sustainability because that’s where you get the price down.” He also said companies should commit to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) reporting.
OK, you may already know Google is a leader net-zero carbon emissions and implementing circular economy principles throughout their data centers. But did you know Google Earth has launched an environmental insights explorer that lets you see the emissions coming from buildings and transportation in your city? The tool only has data for a few cities so far, but for now, you can check out cities like Mountain View California, and Victoria, Canada. This could eventually be a super useful tool for city planners.
Welp. I’m not exactly sure how to write about this one. I had written Amazon off as one more giant gas-guzzling company for a while with all their giant vans flying through my quiet neighborhood with boxes full of plastic bags and air. But listening to a few executives and seeing the commitment they made to buying 100,000 electric Rivian sprinter vans is making me re-consider their potential.
Sustainable entrepreneurs and start-ups to watch
Here are a few environmentally sustainability-minded entrepreneurs and companies I was introduced to at the Circularity conference. I'm excited to see how they evolve.
Borobabi – Get ready to start renting clothes for your babies and kids instead of buying them new clothes every time they hit a growth spurt! I’ll be writing more about this one soon, so stay tuned. I interviewed Borobabi’s Carolyn last week about the baby clothes rental company she and her partners have launched. She seems to have a deep commitment to helping parents reducing the waste that inevitably comes when babies and toddlers quickly outgrow their clothes. This is one to watch for sure.
Salubata is a “modular shoe.” The guy literally unzipped the connection between the top and the sole of the shoe. I wish they had a video on their site showing how the two parts of the shoe disconnect and re-connect, but trust me, it’s genius.
Mimica Touch was the most innovative though. Mimica is a temperature-sensitive indicator cap that shoes food freshness. It reduces food waste by showing you when food has actually spoiled so you're not relying on the wasteful worst-case scenario expiration date. This could really put a dent in the food waste problem.
Goodr.co is a program that helps restaurants and grocery stores save money, reduce waste, and do good for the local community.
The future of environmentally sustainable business is still unclear, but it does look like there's a new level of excitement about the clean economy. Sign up for the newsletter and I'll keep you posted on the progress.