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“Space is one very finite resource our planet has to offer. Efforts must be made to create sustainable systems by which important environments are replaced at the same rate or faster than they are used. This category covers programs to protect and regenerate forests, oceans, our atmosphere, and other limited environments as well as initiatives to create sustainable land use processes.” This is how we at Katerva set out the stall for our Environment category.

At the global level, let’s take a look at a some of the fundamental changes that we are experiencing in our environment. One rather significant one is that the polar ice caps are melting. Whether you believe it’s a result of global warming, or just the part of the continues changes our planet experiences, as it did when the subcontinent Pangea started breaking apart 175 million years ago, this fact is irrefutable. As the glaciers melt, the amount of water tied up above sea-level decreases, leading to  raise in sea-levels - and faster than previously predicted. Looking at the average rate at which the global mean sea level has risen between 1993 and 1998 we find that it was 1.5 ± 0.5 mm/year, looking at average for the period between 1993 and 2015 we find that with close to 3.0 mm/year it was almost double that.

There are two more consequence for our environment from the decrease in glaciers and permanently snow-covered areas (check out this National Geographic video for what's happening in Antarctica). Because the areas covered by ice and snow are decreasing, less sunlight is being reflected, more sunlight, or heat, is being absorbed into the Earth. The hotter the Earth, the faster the icecaps melt, and thus we have a vicious cycle.

A second consequence is that while we strive worldwide reduce CO2 output (even though global carbon emissions from fossil fuel in 2014 was 9.795 gigatonnes, 60% more than in 1990), the thawing of permafrost, the thick subsurface layer of soil that used to remain frozen throughout the year, causes tonnes of CO2 and methane to be released - and the release of mercury captured in it is just around the corner.…  

By the way, did you know that the fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions? Total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, at 1.2 billion tonnes annually, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. And, as recycling options to recover reusable fibres are limited, almost 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production (ending in landfill or incineration).

What else is putting stresses on our environment? Looking at the population growth, from globally 1 billion in 1800 we have grown to 7.6 billion in 2018, and expect to add over a billion more by 2030. According to UN estimates, by then about 60% of us will live in cities, creating almost 1400 cities with more than half a million or more inhabitants. Such population growth puts extreme demands on our planets, both to house all these people, and to provide them with food. The required increase in food production between now and 2050 is estimated anywhere between 25-70% - in 2017 already 37% of our planet’s land was used for agriculture (11% to grow crops, 26% are pasture). While we have seen increases in efficiency in agriculture, for example cereal production per capita increased from 0.29 to 0.39 tonnes per person between 1961 and 2014, the methods that have made this possible have also led to significant land degradation and we can hence not expect to be able to continue down this path.

Given all these facts and figures it is surprising to find that studies to evaluate the awareness and acceptance of the concept of global warming in the United States indicate that only  2/3 or 63% are aware of the impact of climate change. The good news is that these 63% want to do something about it, creating a great force to tap into for addressing these problems.

This is why when we engage in innovation, there is one consideration that we can no longer afford to ignore: sustainability, the triple bottom line sense of sustainability. If we do not take it into the heart of every innovation and investment decision we make, it will not be long before there won’t be any environment worth living in left. If in the past sustainability might have been about sustaining the flow of financial returns, today it is only too obvious that this needs to be balanced with considerations of people and planet.  To mention it in this newsletter might of course be preaching to the converted. Yet it is always worth reminding ourselves that we, each and every one of us, need to enact the necessary change within our own lives, and take sustainability considerations into account in our conscious and deliberate decision making. 

What principles could guide our choices and decision making? One straight forward and simple to follow set of principles is offered by Paul Hawken, Amroy Lovins and Hunter Lovins in their book, Natural Capitalism, first published in 1999:

1. Radical Resource productivity - Which ever resources you use, make sure to get most out of them 

Nebia, Katerva’s winner of the Materials, Resources and Water category in 2015, is a brilliant illustration of this principle.  Their shower head atomizes water, thereby creating more surface which enables the user to experience an exhilarating shower while using 70% less water.

2. Biomimicry - Learn from nature 

Denmark-based Aquaporin, a 2019 Katerva Nominee, has developed a groundbreaking technology that purifies water by mimicking nature. They use Aquaporins, crucial for life in all organisms, from bacteria via plants to man, which allows water molecules to rapidly pass a membrane while rejecting all other compounds.

In conversation with Beth Rattner and Natasha Hulst of the Biomimicry Institute, this podcast digs into how biomimicry can be applied to the world around us.


3. Service & Flow Economy - Shift from products to services 

Back in 1994 Interface founder Ray Anderson decided that his company would become “the first fully sustainable industrial enterprise, anywhere.” Realising that people want to use and see carpets but not necessarily own them has led Interface to sell the service of providing carpeted floors, rather than carpets. Monthly inspections identify and replace tiles that are worn out. This leads to a 35-fold reduction in the flow of materials needed to maintain a carpet covered floor. 

4. (Re-)Invest in Natural Capital 

Afforest for Future, the 2018 Katerva Award winner in the Environment category, is is working to reverse desertification. For one of their projects  they use patent-pending technology to sustainably and easily transport the mud from man-made lakes and use it as a top soil to plant desert native trees.

It is finding these organizations that innovate and design for a sustainable society that makes being part of Katerva so immensely rewarding. Here a few more examples of innovations for a sustainable society:

  • Cement, key ingredient for the world most used building material, concrete, is responsible for up to 7% of the world's CO2 emissions. Given the anticipated growth of the world’s population its use is only going to increase. CarbonCure, our 2017 winner in the Environment category, injects a precise dosage of CO2 into ready mix concrete and concrete masonry products, where the the CO2 becomes chemically converted into a mineral, strengthening the concrete.
  • Overfishing is a huge challenge. In response Global Fishing Watch measures and monitors the fishing industry so that corrective action can be taken before it is too late.
  • Another focus of attention are the coral reefs, which are aversely affected by increasing water temperatures (which cause the corals to bleach and die) and traditional sunscreens. One possible way to protect coral has been developed by scientists in Australia. Their ‘sun shield’ is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and completely biodegradable, containing the same ingredient corals use to make their hard skeletons – calcium carbonate.


And of course we are not alone in our endeavour to find organizations, products and services that make the world a more sustainable place.  As they describe on their website, Sustainable Brands, launched in 2006, is “a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future.”


What exciting sustainable disruptive innovations have crossed your path?  Let us know!

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