From apps to agriculture, we take a look at four organisations using technology to drive positive climate action and reach their sustainability goals.
As far back as 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella prophesied that every company would become a technology company. Today, this can be seen in wide-ranging eCommerce strategies across industries such as banking and retail, among others. Were such a prophecy to take place today, the word ‘sustainable’ might find its way in.
A recent study from Accenture, which polled 560 companies, found that every company ranked technology as either important or very important for achieving their sustainability goals. The report warned that only 7% of respondents had fully integrated their business, technology, and sustainability strategies to date.
When it comes to technologies under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella, sustainability becomes more apparent. From automotive, to energy, to agriculture, everything is becoming ‘smarter’.
The recently held Hannover Messe trade show, which focuses on industrial development, had sustainability running through the messaging of many of its participants. However, Mopia Kamdoum, writing for Europe-focused IT analyst SITSI, wrote that “many eagerly displayed the word sustainability at their booths… however there were clearly two groups – those that had been putting substantial efforts into the topic for many years and those that were merely riding the wave created by the topic.”
Sustainable Future News looks at four companies, all with relatively nascent histories, who are looking to make waves in different areas of sustainable technology:
Gigamine, based in London, is focused on sustainable lithium-ion battery recycling. The batteries are the technology of choice right now to power electric vehicles (EVs), but alongside cost and accessibility as major inhibitors, wastage is a key issue. According to research from the University of Birmingham in 2019 – cited by Gigamine – the one million electric cars sold in 2017 could lead to 250,000 tons of end of life waste.
The company was founded in 2021 and, according to director Peter Cowan, not a moment too soon. “We need to address the urgent need for recycling facilities now,” he tells Sustainable Future News. “We believe this is the right time to enter the sector to become a key player in the UK and to address this fast-emerging market opportunity for recycled materials.”
Gigamine is looking to build its first ‘node’ – a scalable recycling facility – later this year. Other plans include building a refinery converting black mass, a collection of common elements in batteries, into materials for re-use in cell manufacture. Alongside copper and aluminium, among the materials Gigamine is looking to recover are nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and manganese.
Cowan admits the process is a ‘slow, complex, and very technical undertaking’, but argues the company’s make-up, with experience in finance, mining and environmentalism, will help. “The demand for a solution is already there; industry leaders just don’t know what it will look like yet,” says Cowan. “Gigamine is connecting those dots.”
2027 is the target for the refinery, as well as six nodes and potential for expansion abroad. “The shift to EVs is underway – however, production and recycling will have to be symbiotic for this to work,” Cowan concludes. “Effective waste management is the key way EVs can have a positive impact on the environment and contribute to a Net Zero environment.”
Vertical farming, whereby crops are grown in stacked layers to enable optimised plant growth in a controlled environment, is the focus of Preston-headquartered GrowPura. Specifically, the company’s vision is to revolutionise hydroponics technology, whereby plants are grown without soil using water-based mineral nutrient solutions.
John Irvine is the CEO of GrowPura, having spent 25 years in environmental projects across multiple continents. He is in his fourth week at the job at the time of speaking to Sustainable Future News and is enthusiastic about the role ahead.
“The more I dug into it, I could see the synergies between the environment, what we’re trying to achieve, and the food insecurity globally,” says Irvine. “Because of my travels in Africa, South America and Asia, I have seen food insecurity first-hand, so it really hit a note with me.”
The company is set to open its first major R&D centre – Irvine says it will look to ‘split the atom in the plant world’ looking at germination and propagation – as well as a fully automated vertical farm at Colworth Park in Bedfordshire, a site suited for food and agri-tech startups.
GrowPura’s advantage, according to Irvine, is in its full automation – with the first intervention by human hands being when the food goes into the truck, pre-packed, to go to the shops. Irvine notes that competitors have what he calls ‘static’ technology. “What I mean by that is they’re very labour intensive – they’ve got to move forklifts around facilities,” adds Irvine. “Not only are we driving down the cost of operational input, our footprint of building and the materials we use is really making us carbon-friendly.”
The R&D facility is ‘critical’ to help get prospects to understand GrowPura’s proposition without physically seeing what is happening, adds Irvine. “Clients want this… we will get there, but we have to phase it,” he says. “That’s a real big challenge, because [clients are] excited about it. They know vertical farming works – they’re excited now because it’s fully automated.”
Kindred bills itself as the world’s first carbon neutral app monetisation network. The network links device owners with brands directly, so consumers have a reward scheme and app developers have an alternate revenue stream.
Where Kindred stands out among other networks is in its ethos. Among the company’s accolades are Social Enterprise status, where 51% of profits must go to charity, and Carbon Neutral Britain. Aaron Simpson, the founder and chairman of Kindred, is best known as the founder of Quintessentially, a luxury lifestyle management service. The need to be a business with purpose was vital to Simpson.
“The rest of my life [will be] encouraging entrepreneurs to take a social capitalist and principled view of how they should build their business,” he tells Sustainable Future News. “I think VCs [venture capitalists] and PEs [private equity] who talk about sustainability and ESG should really be encouraging young entrepreneurs to set this up as a means to the foundations of business going forward.”
The most recent development for Kindred is the launch of its SDK (software development kit), in Q421. Under the banner of Kindred for Business, the technology is packaged up so it can be ‘white labelled to any corporate in the world’, as Simpson puts it. Gaming engine Unity is one such partner, while mobile networks are also on board.
“The technology is now there, it’s more established than it ever was before,” adds Simpson. “So anyone with a consumer base of any size or shape can basically give this technology to their consumers.”
Sustainable Future News recently caught up with Simpson to discuss his journey from a billionaire network to social capitalism and sustainability.
Another technology which can be placed under the IoT banner is radio frequency identification (RFID), where electromagnetic fields are used to automatically track tags which are attached to objects. Omni-ID, headquartered in Rochester, New York, works in the logistics, manufacturing, medical, aerospace, and energy industries where conditions may be harsh – so connectivity is vital.
“Our major differentiator is that Omni-ID is a product-based company, not a technology company,” CEO Tony Kington tells Sustainable Future News. “This allows our R&D team to be technology agnostic, using open standard and embracing new technologies to fit market requirements. We rapidly gain expertise in new technologies and use them to solve specific problems for our customers and partners.”
One such partner is Packoorang, a Norwegian company which aims to tackle eCommerce packaging waste. The average Packoorang mailbag is made from 15 recycled plastic bottles, with the bag good for up to 500 return trips and consumers earning loyalty points each time they return the bag.
Environmental concerns are evidently key to Omni-ID, with a recent blog post explaining how its technology is being used for seafood sustainability. “Omni-ID’s technology combines RFID with near-field communication (NFC) so that consumers can scan a QR code on the bag using their mobile phone to earn points and get entered into prize draws,” Kington explains. “Retailers and eCommerce companies can use Packoorang bags under their own brand, to improve their green credentials and use the bags as part of their own customer engagement and loyalty programmes.”
Omni-ID uses the same idea with gas canisters. In countries where piped gas is not widely available, millions of empty domestic gas canisters get discarded each year. Users are given an incentive to scan a barcode on the canister and order a replacement, gaining loyalty points in the process. This combines NFC with ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID.
“As consumers become more conscious of their individual environmental responsibilities, they are buying from brands that share their concerns,” comments Kington. “Packaging is the very first impression that a consumer gets from an eCommerce company, and this is where IoT is playing an increasing role.”
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