Entrepreneurship is about imagination and action, envisioning solutions to both new and long-standing problems, and innovating to make them a reality. Sustainable business was born of the realization that we cannot continue down our current path if we hope to achieve a proud and prosperous future. Innovation became its lifeblood.
Recent years have seen an explosion of start-ups focused not only on generating profit, but also bettering the planet and everyone living on it. Whether it’s tackling climate change, alleviating global poverty or reducing landfill burdens, these entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make a living while also making a difference.
Here are some of our favorites from 2013:
1. neighbourly.com – Community engagement is at the core of this start-up, which helps communities “get stuff done” with the aid of companies that support their goals. Been wanting to build a kid’s playground in your town? Or maybe kickstart a new community cafe? Founder Nick Davies recognized there was a need for a scalable grassroots engagement platform, which sparked the idea for a new venture that would allow companies to put their money toward more good by making it easier to do so.
2. Pulpworks – This firm tackles blister packaging, the pre-formed plastic packaging used for small consumer goods, foods and for pharmaceuticals, by offering a viable, scalable and sustainable alternative. The pack is made of 100 percent recycled pulp and paper, contains no plastic and can be composted when discarded. Each year 130 million pounds of carbon dioxide is generated from PVC production for packaging. By eliminating plastic packaging, PulpWorks hopes to prevent more than half a million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
3. Tansa Clean – In India, 377 million people (more than the total U.S. population) live in cities, most of which lack proper sewage treatment capacity. That means most human waste ends up in septic tanks, which are regularly emptied by vacuum tanker trucks. Taking advantage of the several anaerobic biodigesters being built across India, Tansa Clean diverts the human waste-bearing tankers to the biodigesters. The process produces gas that can be converted into electricity and can replace compressed natural gas in most vehicles, preventing sewage from being dumped and creating renewable, cost-effective energy.
4. Who Gives a Crap? – These guys also made last year’s top start-ups list, but their awesomeness merits making it again. The Australian-based company sells eco-friendly toilet paper made from 100 percent recycled fibers that are devoid of chlorine, inks, dyes or perfumes and are biodegradable and safe in septic tanks. WGAC says it will give half of its profits to international non-profit WaterAid to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. All of this goes to help the nearly 2.5 billion people — roughly 40 percent of the global population — that don't have access to toilets. In areas lacking adequate facilities, human waste can contaminate drinking water, which when combined with malnutrition, often causes gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhea.
5. Ecopia – This social enterprise uses the starch from tapioca to produce a fully degradable, recyclable and non-GMO bio-plastic, called ECOPLAS that can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic and paper products. ECOPLAS currently is used for blown film and injection molding applications, such as reusable bags, packaging solutions, transport bags, clothing hangers and fixtures. Due to the fact that most discarded plastics around the world are not trashed or recycled, the material is specifically designed to biodegrade in natural settings.
6. PrintEco – Recognizing how much paper is wasted printing everyday documents, this company created a plug-in for commonly-used applications and browsers such as Microsoft Office, Mozilla and Internet Explorer, that automatically optimizes the content of your documents to fit on fewer sheets of paper. While the company has faced challenges attracting investors, they plan to generate revenue through an annual subscription model for each user. PrintEco says it hopes to save 1 billion pages of paper by 2020.
7. WeTeachMe – Filling those areas that self-employed teachers often find the most challenging and exhausting, this Australian company automates scheduling, promoting and managing the booking of private courses from a website that potential students can access freely. Many are embracing the WeTeachMe concept because of the interactive characteristics built into the platform, which appeal both to the teacher and the potential student. This includes such things as maintaining a list of students’ interests and preferences, and which of the instructor’s courses are the most attended.
8. Efficiency Exchange – This firm reduces risks within supply chains by starting at the bottom – the factory workers. Efficiency Exchange creates customized, digital tools for workers with the overall aim of increasing the efficiency and sustainability of global supply chains. While large companies like Walmart often use audits to find out what is going on in supplier factories, they often fail to produce sustainable solutions. With a simple, scalable solution to reduce the energy and environmental impact of large, complex supply chains, Efficiency Exchange could very well be a game-changer for the sustainable optimization of supply chains.
9. Encore Bridal – Sustainability and weddings aren’t exactly peas in a pod. Take wedding dresses, which often retail for thousands of dollars and are only worn once. Not only does this make it difficult for those of lesser means to purchase dresses, but it is incredibly wasteful to buy a garment that will only be worn one time. Encore Bridal tries to change things by offering an online marketplace for consignment wedding dresses offered at 50-80 percent discounts, and a brick-and-mortar boutique in San Francisco. Our own editor-in-chief, Jen Boynton, used the company to find her own wedding dress earlier this year.
10. Kuli Kuli – Diverging from the typical “hand-out”-based model of helping impoverished areas of Africa, this Oakland-based start-up produces health bars made from moringa oleifera sourced from women’s cooperatives in West Africa. The bars, which are gluten-free, raw and made with just a few simple ingredients, recently debuted at ten Whole Foods locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. By building awareness of moringa’s uses in the U.S., Kuli Kuli hopes to improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide.
Currently based in Washington, D.C, <strong>Mike Hower</strong> is a new media journalist and strategic communication professional focused on helping to drive the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and public policy. To learn more about Mike, visit his blog,<a href="http://climatalk.com/" > ClimaTalk</a>.