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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Fast Co's World-Changing Ideas Winners Build Empathy, EVs; Repurpose Guns, Flowers

For the second year, Fast Company is celebrating businesses, policies, and nonprofits that are poised help shift society to a more sustainable and more equitable future with its World Changing Ideas Awards. From melted down guns to nitrogen-producing microbes, there’s quite a bit of variety among 2018’s twelve winners.

For the second year, Fast Company is celebrating businesses, policies, and nonprofits that are poised help shift society to a more sustainable and more equitable future with its World Changing Ideas Awards. From melted down guns to nitrogen-producing microbes, there’s quite a bit of variety among 2018’s twelve winners.

A jury of social entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, designers, and a Fast Company editor first selected 240 finalists from a pool of nearly 1,400 total entries, then selected one winner for each of the twelve categories. And the winners are…

General Excellence: Empatico, Kind Foundation

KIND Healthy Snacks founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky launched Empatico in October 2017; a free video-conferencing and digital learning platform with interactive lesson plans designed to connect students around the globe, to build empathy between different people and different cultures.

With an internet connection and computer with a camera, educators in different parts of the world can log on and their students can complete the same activities at the same time. Group exercises are designed around learning about local weather, geography, culture, and more. Once they’ve completed an exercise, each group of students can connect with a group in another classroom and learn from each other about the similarities and differences.

Advertising: The Humanium Metal Initiative, Great Works & Akestam Holst

The Humanium Metal Initiative is a pro-bono campaign to fight violence and poverty, from Stockholm creative agencies Great Works and Akestam Holst. Guns confiscated by police are melted down and marketed as a new precious metal and sold to artists to use, with the proceeds going to organizations battling poverty and violence in the areas where the weapons came from.

An iPad app that arranges significant music, photos, and stories from throughout someone’s life in a user-friendly storybook format, GreyMatters is intended to help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia access memories and connect with their loved ones and caregivers. A family member can upload content specific to the person suffering from the illness, in addition to pre-loaded pop culture content from past decades that can help provide a familiar context.

Consumer Products: HelpUsGreen, Kanpur Flowercycling

For religious reasons, flowers left at temples and mosques in India cannot be thrown into landfills, so they end up in the River Ganges, and add to water pollution due to the pesticides with which they were grown. Seeing this as a unique waste challenge, Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi looked for second-uses that are respectful to the flowers’ original purpose, such as incense sticks that can be used for worship, soaps, and eco-packaging. In the process, they provide jobs for women who were previously unemployed or had lower incomes.

Developing World Technology: DigiFarm, Vodafone & Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate

A text-based mobile platform designed for phones with relatively few features, DigiFarm contains valuable information on livestock farming, horticulture, and growing crops. It also allows farmers to access micro-loans and discounted “inputs” such as seeds and fertilizer to help increase their yields. More than 800,000 farmers have signed up since Safaricom, the network that pioneered the M-Pesa mobile money service, launched DigiFarm last March.

Thor Trucks’ all-electric ET-One semi is targeting the local freight market; trips 300 miles or shorter, such as for grocery distribution or garbage trucks. It can haul 80,000 pounds of cargo and charge in just 90 minutes. Unlike Tesla, which is also building an electric semi, Thor Trucks plans to use many off-the-shelf components, and partner with other companies for those parts, along with manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance to leverage the existing expertise and resources offered by the industry.

Food: Joyn Bio, Gingko Bioworks & Bayer

Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers are made through an inefficient, GHG-producing process and after being applied to fields, contaminate waterways in the run-off. Bayer and bio-engineering firm Ginkgo Bioworks have launched a $100 million joint venture to create a line of microbes that can replace such fertilizers by producing nitrogen to feed crops’ roots naturally. Legumes such as soybeans and other plants do this already and the joint venture aims to enable corn, wheat, rice and other staples to do so as well.

Health: Lia, Lia Diagnostics

Lia is the world’s first flushable pregnancy test; it’s biodegradable and compostable since it is made from protein, plant and mineral-based fibers. The device uses the same amount of material as six squares of three-ply toilet paper and contains no glue. Lia also gives a new measure of privacy since it can simply be flushed after use, and is thin enough to go into an envelope and placed in a back pocket.

Photo & Visualization: Chasing Coral, Exposure Labs

A stunningly beautiful Netflix Original documentary, Chasing Coral contrasts coral reefs bursting with life against those where warming water has caused mass bleaching. The movie shows some of the early effects of climate change, revealing the stark realities facing some of our most beautiful marine ecosystems. Extreme bleaching events used to occur every 25 to 30 years, but now can be as often as every five or six years. Since corals need about a decade to recover, they’re dying.

Designer Lauren Lee envisions women gathering at Warm Wall, a heated, gently curved wall mount that could be installed in public restrooms to give women on their periods a place both to alleviate pain (warmth helps with cramps) and to build community. The heated section could provide a place where women can commiserate over a shared experience and start conversations around it to counteract the societal silence around something that regularly affects 50% of the population.

Transportation: Alice Commuter, Eviation

Israel-based startup Eviation is building a new all-electric, nine-seat airplane, called the Alice Commuter. They expect to begin making commercial flights in 2021 and scale up to hundreds of routes across the U.S. over the next few years. They aim to make tickets for short flights such as that from San Francisco to San Diego cheaper than driving or taking the train.

Urban Design: Los Angeles ADU Project, Los Angeles Innovation Team

Since 2011, the average cost of a one-bedroom rental in Los Angeles has increased more than 60%. Struggling with the rising rents, the city has turned to trying to make it easier to build backyard homes or “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) to help alleviate the pressure. Over two years, the city’s Innovation Team designed a sample house, a process to help people build their own ADU, and a new financing mechanism to help people get loans. Mayor Eric Garcetti also lobbied for a state bill that removed large fees to connect backyard homes to utilities and removed parking requirements in neighborhoods near public transit. The city issued 120 permits for ADUs in 2016, and that number jumped to 2,342 in 2017. The plan is for 10,000 total units by 2021.