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Our Favorite Sustainable Tech of 2020

With 2021 right around the corner, it’s an exciting time for ambitious endeavors. While the past year tested even the most optimistic among us, it yielded many new technologies aimed at accelerating solutions to the world’s environmental challenges.

As innovation shines light on the possibilities of human ideas, many unfortunately are not given the attention they deserve. So, here’s a few of our favorites to surface in 2020.

Tree Planting Drones

Tree-Planting Drones

Of all the corporate sustainability initiatives, “tree planting” is near top of the list. What a great thing! However, execution must improve if we’re to achieve the 1 billion hectares needed to prevent a rising global temperature. That’s roughly a forest about the size of the United States. Today, professional tree planters can plant upwards of 11,000 trees per week. How can we safely make this action more efficient?

A Canadian startup called Flash Forest is committed to meeting this challenge with tree-planting drones. The project begins with mapping drones to determine best places to plant trees based on soil type and existing plant life. Then, two pilots and a single drone plant up to 100,000 trees per day by depositing special moisture-storing seed pods in target regions.

A major benefit of this approach is that these drones can deploy in difficult terrain where human planters can’t, such as mangrove forests and steep hills. Flash Forest claims it’s already capable of planting 10,000 to 20,000 pods per day. They work with local seed banks to match tree species with each environment and account for likely changes brought on by climate change. Flash Forest plans to expand its effort in the coming years, with a goal to plant 1 billion trees by 2028.

Breathing Buildings

Planting trees is important. Although, worldwide carbon reduction requires a complete overhaul of everything in the supply chain. Why not start with the most ubiquitous of materials?

EcoLogicStudio has developed an algae-based exterior panels for new and old buildings called PhotoSynthetica. This cladding system filters air from outside, capturing CO2 and other pollutants, then releases photosynthesized oxygen back into the air or building’s interior. The algae is later harvested to produce fertilisers and other bio-based products. EcoLogic claims just 2 square meters of these panels can absorb as much CO2 as a mature tree, making them a carbon negative product over its entire life cycle.

Food Saving Computers

Food Saving Computers

Food waste is often overlooked as one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Generating incredible amounts of greenhouse gases like methane, CO2 and chloroflurocarbons, it’s responsible for 7% of the world’s emissions. Meanwhile, the environmental consequences from water and energy requirements are irreversible. Currently, over one third of all food produced globally is wasted, with over $1 trillion ending up in landfills.

It’s a problem the London-based company, Winnow, is taking head on using computer vision.

Established in 2013, Winnow’s system was designed to aid the hospitality industry manage it’s food waste. An industry which alone contributes to 10% of total waste. The system uses a set of scales beneath a food waste bin, and a touchscreen display to allow staff to tell the system what food is discarded. This data is relayed to Winnow’s cloud to determine value of waste and issue reports highlighting where money can be saved.

The company’s latest development--Winnow Vision--introduces motion-sensor technology to automate the process, thus reducing the need for manual input while improving data collection. The system automatically snaps images of the food as it’s put in the bin and identifies what it is.

As a result, chef’s are able to take action by knowing the true cost of food waste--both to the bottom line and environment. Ikea tapped this new technology to launch a pilot project earlier this year to cut 50% of food waste across all operations.


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