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Product, Service & Design Innovation
2021’s 'World-Changing Ideas' Cutting Waste and Emissions, Correcting Societal Imbalances

It’s that time of year again, when Fast Company calls out its favorite World-Changing Ideas. Here are a few of that we’re especially keen to keep an eye on, because of their work …

Reining in food waste

Too Good to Go is an app that connects customers with a grab bag of leftover goods and food from local stores. First launched in Copenhagen in 2016 and now used in 15 countries, it’s already saved 200,000 meals from going to landfills.

Putting the kibosh on ‘shADe’-y fashion brands

Developed by students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, this AI-powered browser plugin — called shADe — blocks digital marketing efforts from fashion brands with poor sustainability scores, and instead suggests items from brands that have the data to back up their environmental claims.

Helping transgender users’ payment accounts match their ‘True Name’

According to a National Center for Transgender Equality survey, one-third of transgender people reported harassment or denial of service after showing ID with a name or gender marker that didn’t match their appearance; and 68% of respondents didn’t have a single ID that reflects their chosen name.

So, in 2019, Mastercard unveiled the idea of the True Name card, which wouldn’t require a legal name change — aiming to help transgender and nonbinary cardholders, in particular. But the idea became reality in October 2020, when Citi became the first major bank to launch the True Name feature across the US, giving massive scale to the initiative and providing customers the ability to use their self-identified chosen first name on eligible cards.

Turning old, worn-out jeans into new jeans

Last summer, Levi Strauss launched its most sustainable jeans yet — made with organic cotton and Circulose®, a breakthrough material made from 20 percent recycled denim and 20 percent sustainably sourced viscose. 

The Levi’s recycled denim collection is the result of a unique collaboration between Levi’s® and re:newcell — the Swedish innovators behind Circulose — and marks a significant milestone in the fashion industry’s transition to circularity. Its like-for-like fiber input means the garment itself can be recycled through chemical recycling processes; and production of the garments greatly reduces the water, chemical and CO2 footprint associated with conventional denim.

Channeling startup capital to Black and Latinx innovators

Deeply embedded systemic inequities within the US’s fundamental structures have resulted in, among many other imbalances, lack of access to capital for Black and Latinx communities. And while renewed attention to the need for racial equity since the murder of George Floyd last year has seen companies beginning to work to address this issue, business ownership rates by people of color remain significantly lower than other racial groups.

Pharrell Williams’ new impact-investing initiative, Black Ambition, aims to correct this imbalance through a set of prizes to fund bold ideas and companies led by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the areas of Consumer Products and Services, Design, Healthcare and Tech.

Milking cows … without the cows

Cows may be feeling canceled — after Epicurious’ recent decision to chop beef from its culinary content; and the emergence of tech startup Perfect Day’s cow-free process to grow whey and casein, the proteins found in cow’s milk. In a new lifecycle analysis of its products — which include ice cream and soon, cheese — the company calculated that producing its whey protein reduces greenhouse gas emissions between 85 and 97 percent, compared to traditional dairy. 

Creating carbon-absorbing concrete

The construction industry — and production of concrete, in particular — is responsible for roughly 4 billion metric tons of emissions per year, roughly four times as much as the airline industry. But a company called Solidia may have figured out how to eliminate the carbon footprint of concrete production: By injecting captured CO2 into the process, it can eventually make concrete carbon negative.

The company, which uses a chemical process licensed from Rutgers University, reduces emissions in a few different ways. Its recipe uses less limestone (a key ingredient in cement, which emits CO2 as it’s processed); requires less heat; and, instead of curing the concrete with water, the process has been tweaked to use CO2. The new material is stronger and brighter than typical concrete, and cures much faster — in roughly 24 hours, instead of nearly a month.

See the rest of Fast Company's 2021 World-Changing Ideas here.