Barely 50 years ago, anything that made the air thick with smoke was only a sign of prosperity. GreenHouse effect and environmental pollution were still exotic words. A New York Times bestseller called “Silent Spring” published in 1962 kickstarted the dialogue around environmental damage and long-term sustainability.
50 years on, and numerous campaigns later, the impact of our lifestyles on the planet is a concern we cannot afford to neglect anymore. Last year, we bid goodbye to the last white rhino on the planet. We knew the plastic that we find so convenient to use is really monstrous when a 6-ton whale was washed to the shore in Spain had 64 pounds of plastic in its stomach.
In the midst of all this news, it is easy to feel depressed to think about the world our children will be living in. (Perhaps us too, given the increase in life expectancy with medical advancement.)
Yet, there have been some great sustainability innovations along the way that gives us a glimmer of hope. A recent Nielsen global online study, established that millennials continue to the be most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, with generation Z not far behind. 72 % of respondents aged between 15-20 reiterated that they are more willing to support companies that are committed to building sustainable patterns of consumption.
There is a lot of waste in the fashion industry. Every year, about 13 million tons of clothing and textile end up in landfills. What we reuse by giving away/sharing/recycling/upcycling is only a tiny fraction of this number. On average, just one household’s purchase of clothes each year requires a thousand bathtubs of water.
That is soon set to change with companies like Gwynnie Bee that have launched a subscription service for clothing. They call themselves the NetFlix of Fashion and offer Clothing As A Service. Every piece of clothing that is released for the season is up for rent and can be returned and reused by the subscribers.
Closer home, there have been initiatives like RECODE that encourage the swapping of clothes to reduce the consumption and waste of clothes. RECODE has items ranging from wedding dresses to tube tops available in great condition for a fraction of the original prices.
Freitag, a Swiss Company is already working on making compostable clothing and given the momentum that sustainability has taken in the fashion industry, it is likely to become the norm in the near future.
The world of shopping has largely turned online and anyone who has shopped online stores has noticed the amount of packaging that comes with each item ordered. One woman found an efficient way to use all the boxes that come with our items, and it is a really simple way to reuse the boxes without simply throwing them away after ripping them apart.
The Give Back Box is an innovative method that finds a home for all your reusable things that you want to donate and also to put the packaging boxes to good use for a longer time.
While segregation and recycling is definitely the key to a cleaner planet, the motivation to segregate at source may not come readily to everyone. Reverse vending machines seem to solve the problem in exchange for money. Companies like EcoATM make machines that take your old phone, quickly assess it and compensate you immediately, as an incentive for processing your tech product responsibly. TOMRA is a reverse vending technology that takes in many types of containers and gives your instant cash.
The ubiquitousness of plastic paints a very grim picture of the future, especially since they seem to stay forever on the planet in the same form. However, discarded plastic has found some new purposes.
Plastic that is discarded is now being used to lay some of the most efficient roads. The Government of Himachal Pradesh is making roads from plastic now.
Plastic is also being used in creating some of the most durable, cost-effective homes. A Columbian company, Conceptos Plasticos, is already building breathable, more insulated homes made of plastic. The recycled waste is passed through molds that produce lego-like blocks that are used like bricks for making homes.
This is so cool that it might soon be a regular option for home builders and, who knows, our kids could be living in one of these!
While on the topic of plastic, there are major breakthroughs in the composition of plastic itself. Plastic has taken over our lives due to their versatility and diverse uses, so its impossible to do away with them unless they are replaced by an equally versatile, decomposable material. Plant-based plastics or bio-plastics as they are better known are made entirely from natural materials like corn starch, and they blend right back into the soil once they are discarded.
Electric cars have now become a ubiquitous term in eco-circles, but we are yet to see a mainstream conversion to electric cars from traditional cars that run on other fuels. Companies like Tesla and Toyota are the pioneering the technology, spurring the competition to embrace electrification at such a stunning pace that it may have forever changed the way we shop for cars, and other automobiles!
Solar power is no more a futuristic technology. Many governments across the world have made solar infrastructure projects their priority, including several state governments in India.
As space becomes a concern as a result of an exploding population. Home sizes are shrinking the world over, and terms like Tiny Homes and Mobile Homes are catching the buzz. However, shrinking spaces do not obviate the need for more green cover. In a bid to increase green cover within available spaces, terrace gardening kits with completely sustainable ecosystems are fast showing up as viable solutions.
In the future, companies that make products by taking carbon emissions into account will naturally have a leg up. Governments will be keen to pass on subsidies based on carbon impact. Enter Blockchain, the technology that enables the tracking of carbon emissions and credits responsibly. First-time consumers of the company will be able to make an informed purchase based on the environmental impact of the product they are about to use.
Blockchain could be the key to the huge collective impact that the scaling of micro-transaction can create.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- a global parenting and education collective, and the host of the global virtual conferences hosted on the platform. You can also find her voice on the Huffington Post, Mother.ly, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha, Thought Catalog and many other publications.