Each year, Scandinavian think tank Sustainia highlights leading-edge sustainability solutions, technologies and practices from around the globe in its Sustainia100. Published today, this year’s list, which highlights standouts from more than 151 countries, points to a new development: sustainability alternatives are increasingly becoming the affordable and convenient choice.
The partners behind Sustainia100 are UN Global Compact, Connect4 Climate, Regions20, WWF, DNV GL, Realdania, Storebrand and International Federation for Housing and Planning. More than half of this year’s 100 selected innovations, chosen from over 1,500 contenders, are not only competing on sustainability criteria, but also on affordability and convenience — with a whopping 20 percent utilizing reuse, recycling and take-back models.
“It is the year for eco-consumers. In the new Sustainia100 study, it is remarkable to see how creative developments, in particularly the circular economy, are resulting in products and services highly competitive with non-sustainable alternatives. This empowers sustainability opportunities like never before,” says Sustainia CEO Laura Storm.
Two factors driving competitive innovation
The increasing competitiveness found among this year’s leading sustainability innovations is especially seen in circular economy innovation and new business models for underserved markets.
“First of all, a growing private-sector interest in circular business models is a vital explanation for the rise in competitive sustainability innovations,” Storm says. “An increase in commodity prices over the last 15 years has erased the real price declines of the 20th century, giving businesses and consumers a good reason to break free of the linear model of resource use.”
One in five of the identified innovations are circular economy models, where businesses are exploring economic incentives attached to circular consumption. Additionally, the rising focus on underserved markets, in especially developing countries, is now beginning to create sustainable business models. With a large portion of the world’s population living on around or less than eight dollars per day, also referred to as ‘the base of the pyramid,’ this represents an enormous global market. 23 of the 100 innovations are making profit or providing affordable solutions directly addressing the need for reliable energy, sanitation, waste management etc. at the base of the pyramid.
Among the 100 cases acknowledged this year:
- Vigga (Denmark) — Danish startup Vigga is a subscription service that leases organic children’s wear through a circular model. For a monthly fee, parents receive clothing and can return them for bigger sizes as the child grows, saving time, resources, and money — Vigga can save parents up to $2,100 in the first year of their baby’s life.
- Delta M (Canada) — The air-conditioning filters from Delta M are 100 percent reused and recycled, unlike disposable alternatives that create large amounts of solid waste. The company provides a service where used filters are picked up for cleaning and the customers are reimbursed with rebate credit for every filter they return.
- Dutch aWEARness (The Netherlands) — Dutch aWEARness uses 100 percent recycled polyester fabric in its closed-loop manufacturing of workwear. No waste is generated from the production process, and water consumption is reduced by as much as 50 percent compared to conventional workwear manufacturing.
- Solar Ear (Brazil) — Solar Ear produces low-cost hearing aids with rechargeable solar batteries. The hearing aids are equal in price to disposable alternatives, but last up to three years. Non-sustainable alternatives, such as polluting zinc batteries, last approximately one week.
- Olleco (UK) — Olleco collects used cooking oil from the food industry to produce biogas, compost, and biodiesel that is looped back to companies, who also benefit by avoiding waste disposal fees. It recycles more than 100,000 tonnes of organic waste each year, which results in the production of 16 million liters of biodiesel as well as renewable heat and power.
- ACRE (Kenya, Switzerland) — The Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE) makes use of automated weather stations, satellite data, and mobile technologies to bring affordable insurance to smallholder farmers in East Africa. This technology makes it possible to reach thousands of remote farmers without amassing high transaction or delivery costs.
- Lucky Iron Fish (Canada, Cambodia) — Lucky Iron Fish is an ingot made from recycled scrap iron packages in biodegradable or recycled material. Simply boiling a Lucky Iron Fish ingot for 10 minutes in water can release up to 75 percent of a person’s required daily iron intake. One fish costs less than $10 and lasts for five years, benefitting an entire family with each use.
- Better Shelter (Sweden) — Developed in 2013 by IKEA in partnership with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Better Shelter is a temporary refugee shelter with an expected lifespan of three years — far longer than conventional refugee shelters, which last about six months. Delivered in flat packs, it is designed with special attention to transport volume, weight, price, safety, health and comfort, and it can be assembled onsite without additional tools and equipment. It also has a solar panel and lamp to provide light during the dark hours. In April, IKEA announced the shelters were going into production after being tested among refugee families in Ethiopia, Iraq and Lebanon.
Others included in this year’s list include Nudie Jeans’ global repair service; Econyl yarn, upcycled from discarded fishing nets; the Higg Index, evaluates sustainability practices and inspires collective action in the apparel, footwear, and home textiles industries; and Cambodian fashion brand Tonlé, which creates zero-waste collections out of surplus fabric.
“This year’s Sustainia100 are fantastic, because they show how practical and affordable sustainable alternatives are for everyone. As a matter of fact, anyone can be a champion for a healthy lifestyle and more livable communities, while demonstrating that none of us should wait for our governments to solve big challenges. Thank you Sustainia100 for showing us that the time for action is now!” says Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California and Honorary Chair of Sustainia*.*
By identifying 100 readily available innovations for cities, corporations and consumers, the Sustainia100 partners wish to highlight the potential for bottom-up transformation ahead of the much-anticipated climate change negotiations, COP21, in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015.
The new Sustainia100 study is the fourth publication of leading sustainability innovation. The solutions are screened and selected by independent sustainability experts from 18 international research organizations including Yale University, World Resources Institute and the Acumen Fund.
Each year, 10 finalists are selected from the Sustainia100, and one winner is then honored at the annual Sustainia Award Ceremony in Copenhagen. Previous winners include:
- Wecyclers (2014) — an initiative that enables low-income communities in Nigeria to make money from waste piling up in their streets. The company deploys a fleet of cargo bicycles to collect and recycle unmanaged waste in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, allowing families to exchange garbage for consumer goods via an SMS-based point system.
- TaKaDu (2013) — an Israeli company whose software-based technology monitors water grids around the world and notifies utilities of leakages, pipe bursts or other irregularities.
Over the past four years, Sustainia has identified more than 3,200 sustainability solutions.