Many businesses worldwide are recognizing that they are responsible for what is one of the greatest challenges in our planet’s history: combating climate change and establishing a world economy that is fundamentally sustainable.
If business leaders use their power and scale to positively influence the environment and eliminate negative impacts, then we will be well on our way to a sustainable future. Here are ten companies rising to the challenge of creating a sustainable world, and teaching us important lessons in the process.
A financing model for solar projects in the developing world
Around the world, one in five people are using kerosene and diesel for energy. Trine Solar has been trying to solve the problem through a crowd-investing model. This model has provided electricity to communities that cannot bear the upfront cost themselves, while also delivering a financial return for investors. This shows there can be both sustainability and financial benefits to working to improve lives in impoverished communities
Solving waste disposal problems using solar energy and a robot pig
Pig Balthazar is an electric pig built by German company, Thermo-System, to solve the waste disposal problems of sewage plants by using renewable energy and robotics to do the dirty work. The robots turn the sewage sludge in greenhouse-like sheds to dry the waste using heat from the sun. The process reduces sludge from 600 tons to 60 tons, saving on transport fuel and turning the sludge itself into a fuel source.
Air-conditioning as a service
Singapore-based Kaer offers air-conditioning as a service, allowing building owners to buy it on a consumption basis without the need to invest in, maintain or operate any air-conditioning equipment. This business model lowers demand for the product and, as Kaer pays for the electricity used by the system, it is incentivized to operate as efficiently as possible and continuously improve the system.
Making carpets out of fishing nets to combat plastic pollution
Interface, the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet tiles, started a cross-sector initiative with the Zoological Society of London called Net-Works. It empowers coastal communities in the developing world to collect and sell discarded fishing nets, thereby removing the nets from the ocean where they wreak havoc with marine life. The nets are sold into the supply chain and recycled into yarn to make carpet tiles. Since 2012, over 125 tons of nets that would otherwise have been waste have been collected through Net-Works.
Finding customers in low-income communities
Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) is addressing the issue of inadequate water supply to the world’s rapidly expanding low-income urban population. Water loss for utility companies from leaking pipes, unpaid bills and illegal connections is normally around 50%, so lowering the loss by just 10% can generate substantial revenue. By helping utility companies to service the urban poor, it not only helps boost profits of utility companies, but has improved access to water and sanitation for 15 million people.
Designing products for the circular economy
Toshiba takes responsibility for the entire product lifecycle – from design, packaging and shipping, to considering how electronics and other recyclable products are ultimately retired. With strict procurement guidelines that consider the circular life of a product, Toshiba strives to hold its supplier to the same high standard it follows. This not only results in greener products but encourages other companies to improve their practices too. Its actions led to a reduction in its CO2 output to 15.10 million tonnes per year in 2015.
Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, an international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, which reveals business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.