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Raz Godelnik headshot

2012: Top 10 Sustainable Start-Ups

Alan Kay famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” In 2012 we had many entrepreneurs that followed his advice, launching new products and presenting new services to help create a more sustainable future.

Not all of them might be able to succeed financially, but they all deserve kudos having the guts to invent the future. While we don’t have the space to mention each and every new entrepreneur and start-up, we did choose a list of 10 start-ups that we loved in 2012 and believe we’ll hear more about in the upcoming years. Here we go:

1. eReceipts - headed by the former chairman of Tesco, eReceipts offers retailers a technology that will enable them to issue electronic receipts to customers. The receipts will be stored in a secure online cloud and accessible through a laptop or mobile phone.

eReceipts offers a win-win solution – retailers will be able to offer customers targeted promotions based on the customers’ spending habits, minimize consumer returns fraud and reduce the costs associated with printing paper receipts. At the same time, consumers will be able to keep track of their receipts in an easy, user- and eco-friendly way, just like they keep track of their credit card or bank account activity.

Why it’s on the list? It offers a solution that makes sense for both retailers and consumers and is designed to fit the iPhone generation.

2. EcoScraps – many start-ups have tried to do something that is not exactly alchemy bust still ain’t simple – turn food waste into cash. Most of them fail, but EcoScraps has the potential to really make it happen.

The Utah-based start-up collects spoiled fruits and veggies from retailers, including big names like Safeway, turns it into high-quality compost in only three weeks, and sells it in a competitive price at Home Depot, Costco and numerous home improvement stores throughout the Unites States.

Why it’s on the list? Again, another win-win solution. 34 million tons of food is wasted each year in the U.S. This is the sort of innovation we need to solve this problem.

3. StayGreen Oil – what do you do if you want to sell or buy used petroleum products like cooking oil? I’m not sure Craigslist can be of assistance in this case. But no worries - a new start-up, StayGreen Oil offers an open marketplace, where “buyers and sellers of used petroleum products can connect in a secure environment.”

The StayGreen Marketplace is free for buyers and sellers to register and interact through public auctions or via private requests for proposal. StayGreen also provides a digital platform to monitor collections, track supplier activity, deal with billing and payment, and receive analytics.

Why it’s on the list? It has the potential to become the Airbnb of the used lubricants and cooking oils market!

4. Nest – although the Nest Learning Thermostat actually debuted at the end of 2011, I thought “thermostat for the iPhone generation” (and the company that developed it) should be part of this list because it made a lot of significant progress this year, from the release of the second generation to becoming available in places like Best Buy and Lowe’s.

Why it’s on the list? It shows that green can be “gorgeous, elegant and very, very smart.”

5. Who Gives a Crap – if you joined our Toilets for Health twitter chat earlier this month, you probably know already that lack of basic sanitation infrastructure is a critical issue. Who Gives a Crap also wants to do something about it by offering feel good toilet paper and using 50 percent of its profits to build toilets in the developing world. Founded by two engineers and a product designer, the start-up succeeded to raise earlier this year more than $66,000 on indiegogo to fund its first bulk production run, and create Who Gives A Crap's 'First Edition.'


Why it’s on the list? The name, the mission, the sense of humor, and the hope that we all do give a crap.

6. honest by – what would you say if you could see the material information, manufacturing details, carbon footprint and even a detailed explanation of how the price is calculated for every clothing item you buy?  Sounds like a green dream? Well, not at honest by. There, it’s the reality.

As Kara Scharwath reported here earlier this year, this new fashion label sets a new sustainability bar in the fashion industry – not only that it use only sustainable materials, but it also reveals the full picture of how its clothes are made,  how much they cost to make, and how much they’re being marked up.

Why it’s on the list? Finally we have an example for radical transparency. And a beautiful one!

7. Simple Energy –almost every company seems to be interested these days in changing consumer behavior.  Simple Energy is a new company that actually knows a thing or two about it, helping utilities to better engage their customers in order to motivate them to save energy. How it does it? By “leveraging leading behavioral science and game mechanics delivered on the technology platforms people use most – social networks, web, email, and mobile.”

Why it’s on the list? A winning combination of behavioral science and gamification!

8. yerdle – The website states: “a magical place where people share things with friends.” I don’t know if the magic is there yet, but don’t be surprised if this marketplace will eventually feel like a magical place with founders-magicians Andy Ruben and Adam Werbach, former executives from Walmart and Saatchi & Saatchi S respectively, who want to show us that sharing is more fun than shopping.

Why it’s on the list? because Ruben and Werbach have the skills to take the sharing economy to the next level.

9. ByoearthJan Lee covered here last month this social venture that was founded in Guatemala in 2007 earlier this year. Worms are our inspiration! writes Maria Rodriguez, the founder on Byoearth’s website. She is teaching local women how to convert organic garbage into a usable, saleable resource with vermicomposting. “Our dream is that all degradable waste is transformed into benefit for people, the environment and earth,” she adds. The operation provides businesses, jobs and training for rural women and helps to convert organic materials in landfills to sustainable products, helping allows Rodriguez’s company to grow in the process.

Why it’s on the list? This is a great example of a social entrepreneurship.

10. UniVerve Biofuel – one of the topics we covered intensively in 2012 was biofuels and their potential to provide an affordable clean energy alternative. One of the companies that provide this promise is Israeli start-up UniVerve Biofuel. The company works on developing a microalgae-to-oil process “that addresses the major technological obstacles associated with providing cost-effective and high-quality oil as feedstock for biofuel through microalgae aquaculture.”

Why it’s on the list? we believe it has the potential crack the algae fuel challenge.

[Image credit: yerdle]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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