From fashion to transport: businesses are leading on sustainable innovation

This article was first featured on Guardian.

The Sustainia100 reveals global markets are witnessing a diversity of sustainable innovation from businesses

An ethical smartphone, air cleaning carpets and carbon-negative plastic. Sustainability innovation is truly broadening out these days, and the big winners are businesses that are finding new ways to create novel products and save on budgets and resources.

A new study, Sustainia100, identifies 100 leading sustainability innovations from more than 900 technologies and projects to pinpoint how and where innovations are being developed, deployed and put to scale. The study outlines efforts to make sectors from fashion and food to buildings and transportation more efficient and more sustainable.

The result is clear: global markets are currently witnessing a growing diversity in sustainability innovations, which is providing businesses with new opportunities.

We're beginning to see an eclectic mix: wireless technology alerting farmers via text when crops are at risk, Swedish IT systems operating rail traffic in energy efficient ways and 100% biodegradable plastic. Consumers and companies have sustainable options like never before.

These examples might seem futuristic, but they are readily available and have demonstrated environmental, social and economic benefits. The 100 selections are currently being deployed in 142 countries, and arguments for why they should be used are hard to ignore.

Financial incentives

Take the savings made by Icelandic company GreenQloud as an example. Not only does its data storage service reduce CO2 emissions but by keeping servers cool in a cold climate, 30-40% of average data centre costs are cut.

These new energy and resource-optimising solutions are not just eco-friendly. They can also be appealing design alternatives. Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta's beautifully designed office building Powerhouse is the first energy-producing office in the world.

If companies do not gear themselves towards this changing landscape, where efficient and sustainable operations are key to long-term survival, they will not last.

Broader global trends in sustainability



The report shows how the circular economy in particular is a growing focus for market-ready products. Companies are re-thinking consumption, waste, materials and systems-return at an impressive scale.

There is an increasing prevalence towards innovation for reuse, recycling, upcycling or even biodegradation in order to minimise waste. One example is the Italian company, Bio-on, which is replacing petroleum-based plastics with 100% biodegradable plastic made from agricultural waste. While Dutch company, Mud Jeans, has made a business out of leasing jeans, giving customers the option of keeping, swapping or returning them after use for recycling.

A solid trend among the case studies is innovation using data analytics. Numerous big data solutions are improving the performance of utilities, homes and office buildings as well as traffic flows and water pressure to reduce energy and resource consumption. Swedish company Transrail has developed the CATO (Computer-Aided Train Operation) system which makes use of advanced algorithms to operate railway traffic as efficiently as possible.

Fashion with an eye for green

The fashion industry has a history of issues with workers' right and challenges around its polluting production processes. Innovations are now providing the materials, methods and technologies necessary to set new standards throughout supply chains. This involves the use of mobile technology to monitor and survey working conditions and environmental management. For example, in collaboration with suppliers, Levi's has created a water recycling system that saves millions of litres by reducing the amount of water used in the finishing process.

Laura Storm