The private sector has long been criticized for its treatment of the environment, but not all companies are hurting the planet. In fact, in recent years, there has been a growing number of environmental companies working to benefit the planet. These companies—like individuals, governments, and NGOs—are an important piece of the environmental engagement puzzle.
Sometimes, these environmental companies offer efficiency improvements or waste management technology. Other times, they introduce new products, services, and ideas that help mitigate the ecological damage that’s already been done to the planet and prevent more harm from occurring. But no matter what they do and where they are, all show that there’s a whole lot of success to be found in environmental engagement.
15 environmental companies making a difference
Location: Brooklyn, NY
It’s often difficult to find fresh, local produce, particularly in urban areas. Sadly, over 23 million Americans and 750,000 New Yorkers live in food deserts: areas which have limited access to fresh and nutritious food. Square Roots aims to address this issue by growing hyper-local herbs and produce. Additionally, the company runs training programs aimed at teaching the next generation about various methods of urban agriculture, which ultimately supports gardening in both your apartment and with your community. This is an important part of the long fight to combat food insecurity.
Location: London, England
Each year, we produce around 300 million tons of plastic waste. Over half of this waste is created by single use plastics—things like sauce packets, soda bottles, and plastic bags. What’s worse is that plastic can take over 450 years to degrade. Notpla hopes to reduce the problem of plastic waste by introducing biodegradable packaging products made from plants and seaweed. The company’s packaging products take only 4–6 weeks to biodegrade, while still managing to remain stylish and effective. Even more amazingly, the product is completely edible, meaning that it doesn’t (necessarily) need to remain in the environment at all.
Location: Redmond, Washington
Food waste, much like plastic waste, is a major issue. In the United States, between 30–40% of all produced food is wasted, which is disappointing considering both the number of people that go hungry and the benefits of composting. A significant portion of this waste comes from farms, grocery stores, and restaurants disposing of unwanted food. WISErg uses its patented Harvester technology to repurpose this “waste” into liquid fertilizer. Both individual growers and large-scale farmers can purchase this fertilizer, creating a truly circular economy wherein old supports the growth of new.
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Globally, at least 785 million people lack a basic drinking-water service. Far more struggle with contaminated water. This is extremely dangerous, because contaminants can include everything from chemicals to E. coli—in fact, almost 3.5 million people die every year from unsafe water. Lishtot aims to combat this through an inexpensive, reusable water test kit. Most water testing kits require costly test strips or machines, but Lishtot employs electric fields to determine whether water is safe to drink. This method results in the low cost of one penny per test.
Location: New York, New York
Although you can receive 5 or 10 cents for recycling various bottles and cans, this economic incentive has failed to produce meaningful action. Only 31% of Americans report that they consistently recycle items, and, given that recycling is not a labor intensive activity, one must conclude that most people simply fail to care. Recyclebank was created to solve this issue by introducing incentives that inspire people to care about recycling (and other green behavior). These including magazine subscriptions and online discounts. The company also operates OneTwine, a website which offers vetted products to eco-conscious consumers.
Location: Aston, Pennsylvania
There’s been a lot of recent news about the human microbiome and its large impact on health and behavior. But soil has a microbiome, too, which is vitally important when determining the health and behavior of crops. Holganix aims to ensure that the soil microbiome is healthy by offering a series of soil probiotics for farms, lawns, and golf courses. This allows for reduced fertilizer and pesticide use (sometimes by over 70%)! That’s a huge plus, given the negative impact fertilizer and pesticide products have on the environment. It’s also a plus for plants, which get to grow in optimal conditions.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Worldwide, rural frontier communities suffer from a lack of consistent, affordable power. That’s particularly problematic given that 80% of people worldwide live in rural areas. Solar Kiosk aims to combat this problem in a cheap, environmentally-sound way by providing solar-powered kiosk products. These “E-HUBBS” are designed to support local markets and businesses, serving both as community gathering places and supporting economic growth and job creation. According to the company, E-HUBB can save 36,000 kg of CO2 over its 15 year lifetime.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Terrapass is one of the leading U.S. based providers of carbon offsets. Carbon offsets (explained here) are essentially investments in environmentally beneficial projects, designed to “offset” the carbon footprint of a different project. This could consist of a tree being planted or even methane gas being burned off as it evaporates from a landfill. Unlike other companies which have come under scrutiny for shady business practices, Terrapass adheres to the “Gold Standard,” a certification that ensures claimed carbon offsets are legitimate. They’ve seen growth in recent years as major companies like Microsoft aim to go carbon neutral, or even negative.
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
The idea of “trash to treasure” is environmentally compelling, considering the vast amount of trash—254 million tons in America alone—generated each year. Freitag capitalizes on this idea by making stylish bags, apparel, and accessories from repurposed innertubes, seat belts, and truck tarpaulins. This adds an aesthetically appealing element, because no two products are exactly alike. Freitag also operates S.W.A.P., an exchange for old-but-still-usable products. This means that, even when someone is done with their bag, it won’t necessarily be thrown away—rather, it might become someone’s treasure (yet again).
Location: Los Angeles, California
Natural disasters cause a huge amount of economic damage and human suffering. Hurricane Katrina, for instance, resulted in over 950 fatalities and $161 billion in damage. What’s worse is that climate change is making many disasters, like floods and hurricanes, more frequent and severe. But as my colleague Briana discussed in a recent blog post, policymakers often struggle to find solutions. Blue Tribe attempts to solve this issue by using AI and predictive analytics to “allow decision-makers to get ahead of high frequency coastal disasters including flooding, beach loss, and sea level rise.” Climate change presents many challenges, but, as Blue Tribe demonstrates, companies providing environmental innovations can be a large part of the solution.
Location: Hong Kong
The average shower in America uses 15 gallons of water. But studies have shown that, if showers have a lower flow rate, people don’t necessarily shower longer to compensate, resulting in far less water being used. That’s the logic behind Cirrus, a company who produces a special shower head which turns your shower stream into a strong mist, using 75% less water and energy. While this may sound like it makes getting clean more difficult, most people who use the shower head report preferring it! It makes sense, considering that droplets in mist have a larger surface area, meaning that more of the water actually touches your skin.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Food waste, as mentioned above, is a big problem, generating 3.3 billion tons of CO2 annually. While WISErg looks to solve this problem by converting food waste into liquid fertilizer, Misfits Market takes another approach: they save “ugly” but perfectly edible food from being thrown out. Because most grocery stores refuse to sell blemished or misshapen produce, Misfits Market is able to get this food at a fraction of the cost. Then, they deliver it to your door, usually at a 25–40% discount from what you’d normally pay (important, because produce can be costly). A classic win-win situation.
Location: Trenton, New Jersey
As mentioned above, single-use plastic packaging is a major source of plastic waste. Loop, like Notpla, looks to eliminate this waste by employing reusability instead of biodegradation. Partners that work with the company design sleek, reusable containers that are collected, cleaned, and refilled after being used. Loop’s business plan has been successful: they now have over 300 products, and have partnered with major companies like Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and more. Besides the environmental benefits, companies also gain the added benefit of being able to write off their reusable packaging as a depreciating asset. Loop is an excellent example of a circular economy in practice today.
Location: Pasadena, California
Ever since the days of Archimedes, the power of parabolic mirrors has been well documented. Heliogen utilizes the heat generated by an array of reflecting mirrors to create carbon-free heat energy. This energy can be used to power industrial applications, or it can be used to generate hydrogen fuel. This is important because industrial applications are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions; cement generation alone is expected to generate around 7% of all global carbon emissions. The idea is attracting more and more interest—Bill Gates, known for his philanthropic contributions to promising companies working to achieve social good, is one notable investor.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Nearly every New Yorker—or city-dweller in general—is familiar with issues stemming from old radiators. Oftentimes, these radiators wastefully leak heat, and, other times, they fail to provide enough. It’s important that radiators work efficiently: the department of energy estimates that 30% of steam heat—worth around $7 billion dollars—is wasted every year. Radiator Labs helps solve this problem by providing smart radiator coverings, which trap heat and release it only when necessary. This newly efficient form of heating results in significant cost savings, particularly in older buildings.
What can we learn from environmental companies?
While researching these environmental companies, I was struck by several things. First, many of these companies don’t rely on groundbreaking scientific research or complex engineering. A lot of them simply take an inefficient situation—be it throwing away edible food, wasting heat, or single-use plastic—and present a way for it to become efficient. This demonstrates that, while revolutionary solutions can be important, simple, clever ways to reduce and reuse still hold weight.
This mindset—simple actions that reduce inefficiency—can also be applied to daily life. I’m reminded of the fact that 1/3rd of people leave the tap water running while brushing their teeth, or that 21% of people leave the lights on when they go to work. There’s ample opportunity to reduce inefficiency on a personal level that can both save you money, and, at scale, have an impact on the planet. Companies can do this through offering greener products and services, but individuals can also do it through their decisions.
Additionally, it’s interesting to note the geographical diversity of these companies. From Germany to Hong Kong to Brooklyn, different startups are working to find ways to benefit the environment while simultaneously growing as companies. This is heartening.
However, it also indicates that environmental business models, even if successful in one area, may not yet have fully matured. When an idea is successful in one location, it can serve as a template for expansion: Solar Kiosk began selling products in Ethiopia, and has now expanded to Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. But other companies are still focused on more specific regions, e.g. New York City. Going forward, it will be interesting to monitor this space and see whether ideas spread and competitors to these companies appear around the globe. Such competition would be great for the environment.
Finally, it’s interesting to note that many green companies can benefit from the practices of nonprofit entities, and vice versa. Growing Home is one example. A Chicago based nonprofit founded in 2012, Growing Home operates high-production urban farms, with a special emphasis on “training individuals who are eager to work but need a supportive environment to develop their strengths as employees.” Square Roots uses an extremely similar approach, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they were somewhat inspired by Growing Home. In short, the private and public sector are not inherently in opposition: they can form a virtuous cycle of green innovation and expansion.
A piece of the puzzle
Governments, individuals, and NGOs all have an extremely important role to play when it comes to protecting the environment. But so do companies. Part of that is because of the extreme environmental impact of companies—in fact, over 70% of all carbon emissions are attributable to only 100 companies. But another part is the fact that companies are often major sources of innovation, technology, and efficiency, all of which can improve the environment. To get a robust understanding of the players in the environmental space, one needs to consider what environmental companies are doing. Who knows—maybe you’ll become a customer of one!
At Temboo, we’re focused on the environment, too. If our environmental engagement platform sounds like it might help you with your environmental sensor data or action needs, please feel free to reach out!