The most promising startups in the fight against climate change, according to our resident tech advisor Alex Comninos.
A market failure
The climate crisis has never been higher on the global agenda, yet the collective impetus to rethink unsustainable business practices remains lukewarm.
Why? A survey of 1,000 global CEOs found that nearly two-fifths of bosses believe that the failure to link sustainability with business value has undermined the management of climate change. Yet Accenture estimate that UK businesses alone could make around £100bn in productivity savings, and that there is a £200bn opportunity for businesses offering more sustainable products.
The entrepreneurs leading the charge
The start-up community has led by example, using new technology to rethink business models that positively contribute to both profit margins and environmental impact.
Notably, charismatic pioneer Elon Musk sees electric transport and space exploration as the long-term solutions. Earlier this year, Tesla’s (Founded in 2003) share price overtook that of General Motors (Founded in 1908), prompting a rethink from the incumbent and the wider industry. Today GM strategy is targeting new objectives, working towards the certainty that “the future is all electric."
These developments reinforce the view that entrepreneurs can transform industries from the bottom up, and there is abundant evidence to show the environment is benefiting in various ways.
So, let us highlight 5 sectors where startups are re-energising the fight against climate change:
The National Institute of Space Research counted 106,000 fires caused by human activity in the Amazon in September 2017: the highest number in a single month since records began 20 years ago.
In an effort to slow the trend, Orbital Insight has leveraged its geospatial analytics solution to monitor forests in near real-time. The company works with the Global Forest Watch, using its deep learning algorithms to analyse high resolution satellite images, detecting events such as road building, to predict deforestation before it happens.
Agriculture’s impact on deforestation is also being alleviated by the growing interest in urban farming. Bowery Farming use urban warehouses to reduce the costly carbon footprint of supply chains, and use 95% less water than traditional agriculture. Full control of the indoor environment results in 365-day operations, which makes production 100 times more effective than traditional farms occupying the same footprint.
Revolutionsing food production
Citing the devastating role of livestock in methane emissions and water consumption, Richard Branson recently predicted that all meat will be plant-based in 30 years, which would bring production benefits including the ability to produce food in harsh climates.
Pioneers such as Impossible Foods have raised $300m in funding to date, attracting investors with their ambition of replacing all animal based food by 2035. The recent launch of a California factory, capable of producing 1m pounds of protein-based meat a month, is a step towards achieving their target.
With backing from Horizons Ventures and Khosla Ventures, Just (formerly Hampton Creek) has its plant-based products stocked at 100,000 distribution points. Its mayo, cookie dough, and ranch sauce products all rank in the top 3 performing items in their respective food categories.
Addressing food waste
Food waste is entrenched in our current consumption and production habits. The US throws away more than 400 pounds of food per person per year, generating climate change pollution equivalent to 37m cars per year.
The Founders at OLIO saw an opportunity to tackle this problem, launching a social network that connects people and shops looking to share surplus food. Today they have 280,000 users and over 14,000 grassroots volunteers who have collectively shared more than 400,000 food items. They’ve partnered with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Pret a Manger, Unilever and many more food businesses to help accelerate their growth.
At the other end of the problem, Winnow took more of an enterprise approach. Its smart scales help commercial kitchens measure and analyse their volumes of food waste, to better inform restocking efforts. The start-up announced that the technology has saved 400 customers over 11m meals worth of food (1 meal every second). IKEA alone estimated savings equivalent to 350,000 meals (worth $900,000) in just eight months.
Rethinking energy production
Recent research estimates that burning fossil fuels has led to weather extremes and air pollution that have cost the US $240bn a year for the past decade. Today, solar only accounts for 2% of total energy supply, although lowering prices are doubling the installation rate every two years.
Conjoule are targeting the problem of grid dependence and solar storage, and helping to drive adoption of solar. They everage the blockchain to allow users to sell energy peer to peer amongst communities. The business has attracted Japanese energy conglomerate TEPCO to invest, who cited blockchain’s ability to “redefine what is possible in the energy ecosystem”.
Google recently showcased the ability of Deepmind’s artificial intelligence technology to optimise data centres energy consumption, reducing bills by 40%.
Verdigris combine AI algorithms with IoT sensors to optimise the energy usage of commercial buildings, saving 30-50% on monthly electrical bills. Recent funding from industry strategics Jabil and Verizon is helping them scale across a growing client base of offices and hotels.
Making leaps in transportation
Many would argue that the best evidence of energy innovation is seen in the transport sector, where Tesla continues to tackle transport’s 15% contribution to total carbon emissions.
Navya Arma is the first 100% electric and autonomous transport vehicle that will initially focus on first and last mile public transport. Live deployments in cities, airports, and universities are successfully reducing urban congestion and improving transport performance.
Taking a different approach, bike sharing pioneer Ofo plans to have 20m bikes in 200 cities by the end of the year. Recent funding ($500m+) from heavyweights DST, Alibaba, and Didi has driven European expansion. The latter has even included a link to Ofo’s bikes via its taxi-hailing app.