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2022 ‘World-Changing Ideas’ Tease Sustainable Models for Building, Power, Finance, Animal-Free Protein

It’s that time of year, again — when we pore excitedly over Fast Company’s annual list of World-Changing Ideas. Here are a few of our favorites.

Now in its sixth year, Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards recognize companies and organizations addressing the world’s most complex problems through technology, science, design, finance, education and philanthropy. A panel of Fast Company editors and reporters selected winners and finalists from a pool of nearly 3,000 entries from across the globe and fields such as transportation, education, food, politics, technology, health, social justice and more.

Of the 39 winners for 2022, here are some of our favorites.

Food

  • A system that tracks the freshness of your groceries – It’s well-documented that in the US alone, we annually waste 30-40 percent of our food supply — or 133 billion pounds of food. To prevent your groceries from turning into trash, a group of students at UC Berkeley designed a system that tracks the food you buy based on your grocery receipts and alerts you when your perishables are close to expiring via ambient, glowing tiles you can stick right on your fridge or kitchen wall. EIDOS comes with an accompanying app that also shares recipe suggestions for your soon-to-spoil ingredients. Restaurants and grocery stores often have programs to compost or donate their unused food, and brands are working to educate consumers to prevent home food waste; but being reminded about soon-to-spoil food could be a game-changer for many home cooks. While still just a student project, its potential for impact is undeniable.

  • Animal-free whey protein – A host of food-tech startups are now taking their turn creating animal-free food and beverage offerings. But Berkeley-based Perfect Day was the first to use precision fermentation to make dairy protein identical to the protein cows make, without animals — a key step to helping products such as vegan cheeses melt correctly and have a characteristically cheesy texture. The startup makes animal-free ingredients for other food companies and a line of its own products, from ice cream to cream cheese to protein powder. By programming microbes with the DNA to produce dairy protein instead of raising cows on a farm, the environmental footprint of the ingredient shrinks: In a lifecycle assessment last year, the company calculated that its animal-free whey protein reduced energy consumption by up to 60 percent, cut emissions by as much as 97 percent, and reduced water use by up to 99 percent compared to whey from dairy.

  • How Inclusive Language Can Lead to a More Equitable World

    Join us as Nadine Spencer, CEO/President at BrandEq Group & the Black Business and Professional Association, explores the weight that language can carry in our everyday corporate communications and conversations. Come willing to unpack your intrinsic biases, and leave with practical tips to move towards more inclusive communication.

    Impossible Pork – While a number of the aforementioned food-tech startups have slashing the environmental impacts of beef and dairy production well in hand (and Impossible Foods has also contributed to that effort), pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world — so, if a plant-based pork can begin to replace the pig-based version (as Impossible Pork has proven it can), think of the continued impacts.

Buildings, construction, energy & utilities

  • A light powered by seawaterColombian renewables startup Edina enlisted creative agency Wunderman Thompson and the Waayu people indigenous to northern Colombia to help design the WaterLight – a sustainable lighting solution for the estimated 759 million people in communities around the world (many of them coastal) without reliable access to electricity. Inside the portable device, saltwater sparks an ionization reaction — producing enough electrical energy to generate light and charge phones and radios. Just half a liter of saltwater can produce 45 days of electricity.

  • Lay’s Factory Home Heating – when Belgian real-estate developer Ion was looking for sustainable heating alternatives for a new residential area in the city of Veurne, PepsiCo suggested a collaboration between the community and its nearby Lay’s potato chip plant. The vapor from cooking up to 20 tons of potatoes per hour could heat a water circuit, replacing natural gas with a more environmentally efficient process while simultaneously providing PepsiCo with a valuable carbon offset. The project — whose technology is replicable — aims to deliver heating in radiators and tap water to its first homes sometime in the first half of 2022, topping out at 500 households upon the project’s completion in the next 10 years.

  • Ford’s F-150 Lightning, an electric version of the best-selling vehicle in the US, can not only haul heavy loads just like the classic pick-up — it can also accelerate faster than a gas truck, and can power construction equipment and even your home.

  • GAF Energy’s solar shingles — The new solar shingles from GAF Energy — a spin-off of GAF, the world’s largest roofing company — can be nailed directly to the roof like ordinary shingles. Since the roofing industry is 20 times larger than the solar industry, the company hopes the shingles can speed up the switch to renewables through its vast network of roofers.

  • BlocPower uses software to model almost every building in the country, with details on their energy use. Then, it can create a custom plan to decarbonize each one.

  • ClimateScout — While prospective home buyers can now assess their potential purchases for climate risks, thanks to Redfin’s ClimateCheck feature, figuring out how to design climate-resilient homes from the start also involves understanding the local climate: A building in Maine uses different strategies than one in Arizona. An open-source tool called ClimateScout helps architects quickly identify potential features to include in a design, from green roofs to thermal storage walls designed to capture heat from sunlight.

Materials & chemicals

  • 3D-printed wood, made from sawdust waste — In the US alone, nearly 100 million tons of sawdust is generated each year, equivalent to 30-40 million trees. Much of that sawdust is either incinerated or sent to landfills. Massachusetts-based startup Forust’s six-foot-long 3D printer churns out wood products that look indistinguishable from cut wood, built layer by layer from sawdust that otherwise would have been wasted — and it’s able to recreate the wood grain of any species. Since sawdust is widely available everywhere, the printers could be used anywhere and help eliminate existing supply chain challenges for wood.

  • 'Wood' made from rice waste — speaking of wood alternatives … In a typical lumber mill, logs are cut down into pieces of lumber, then sawed and planed into smooth boards for use as flooring or cabinetry. But at Mississippi’s Modern Mill, workers don’t fell trees to make their boards. Instead of logs, Modern Mill uses rice hulls, a waste product from food production, to make what the company calls Acre — an upcycled, tree-free building material.

  • Nature's answer to toxic industrial cleaners — A startling fact: Industrial chemicals, including known carcinogens, now show up everywhere from the deep ocean to breast milk. Sudoc — a startup that spun out of research by Carnegie Mellon chemists — is working to create safe chemicals for heavy cleaning that outperform their conventional, toxic counterparts. The technology is based on biomimicry, taking inspiration from an enzyme in the liver that “supercharges hydrogen peroxide to essentially tackle micro-pollutants.” The company’s first product tackles mold remediation, which they claim uses one-eighth the amount of chemicals but outperforms conventional products.

Electronics

  • IBM says its new, 2-nanometer chip will likely raise performance across all the gadgets that use it — including cellphones, tablets, Xboxes, etc — while also making them smaller and allowing for impressive new features. The company forecasts an average 45 percent increase in product performance — which could allow us to charge cellphones once every four days rather than daily — while making electronics cheaper, because smaller means less expensive to produce. Another benefit of the 2-nm chip is a potential 75 percent reduction in energy consumption, according to IBM, because powering a smaller device requires less energy. IBM predicts that, if every data center in the world switched to the 2nm chips, while maintaining the same capacities, the energy savings could power more than 43 million homes for a year.

A seat at the table

  • The world's first net-zero pension plan — Companies in the UK that offer workplace pension plans to employees are now required to auto-enroll employees; workers previously had to opt in. Whereas an average pension in the UK (and likely in many other countries) finances 23 tonnes of carbon emissions annually, about equivalent to running nine family cars per year. Cushon now offers what it claims is the world’s first net-zero pension — comprising a fund whose portfolio of businesses emit the least carbon. Because companies across industries are in the middle of transitioning to meet the UK’s net zero-by-2050 goals, Cushon knows sustainable investing alone won’t get us to net zero; so, after limiting emissions as much as possible with its sustainably designed pension portfolio, the company pays to offset the outstanding carbon.

  • Involving the community in the redevelopment process — Public housing complexes across the US are collectively staring down a more than $70 billion backlog in repairs, a staggering figure that jurisdictions simply don’t have the funds to pay. Cast in point: the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which in recent years became the target of a federal probe over its failure to provide tenants with “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing. If/when the necessary repairs are ever undertaken, residents tend to be ignored during the redevelopment process. But Manhattan’s Chelsea Working Group, a first for the NYCHA (and likely a pioneering initiative in most cities), let residents shape a redevelopment plan that would best reflect the community’s needs — the only time in NYCHA’s history that public housing residents were materially involved in construction plans for their homes.

See the rest of Fast Company's 2022 World-Changing Ideas here.

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