6 Sustainable Innovations Creating a Greener Future

If innovation drives progress, it also inspires a greener future. That’s because more and more companies are turning to sustainable innovation to help solve climate change and usher in a world full of eco-friendly possibilities.

But what are these new sustainable innovations? And how can green technology lead to a cleaner, brighter tomorrow?

Here are six innovations for sustainable development helping to turn our future green, one renewable energy source at a time.

#1 Electric Vehicles

Since 1890, electric vehicles have captured the minds of socially-conscious societies. But it’s only recently that electric vehicles have captured the world’s hearts

That’s because, for the first time since the combustible engine, automakers are realizing electric vehicles’ potential for profit and positive climate action. 

The reason? Dramatically reduced carbon emissions.

A traditional gas-guzzler emits 11,435 pounds of CO2 per year, while an all-electric vehicle contributes 3,932 pounds of CO2 (the vehicle itself emits zero pounds, but the power plant that produces the electricity emits carbon).

As a result, an increasing number of cities—from New York to Shenzhen—are mandating the switch to electric vehicles.

The disruptive innovation of the electric vehicle is changing our automotive future in three key areas:

  • Personal transport – All-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid electric vehicles are becoming more widespread. In 2021, over 6.6 million electric cars were sold, and this number is expected to rise every year. Soon, highways may be full of carbon-friendly sparks—not carbon-heavy emissions.
  • Public transport – To reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, many major cities are adopting sustainable practices like electric public transport vehicles. In China, for instance, eBuses dominate public transportation, and many European cities are expected to follow suit.
  • Private trucking – The days of gas-guzzling big rigs barreling down the interstate may soon be over. Instead, shipping lanes may soon be dominated by eTrucks. In fact, some pundits predict that by 2030, battery-electric commercial vehicles may surpass traditional EV sales.

#2 Plastic Recycling Technology

From grocery bags to automotive parts, plastic materials dominate many societies. While plastic does offer affordability and convenience (plastic spork, anyone?) it also contributes to climate change in two important ways:

  • Plastic manufacturing – Manufacturing plastics involves burning a ton of fossil fuels, primarily petroleum. In fact, petroleum is so central to plastic manufacturing that some scientists speculate that if we don’t reduce plastic consumption, 20% of oil production will go towards plastics manufacturing by 2050.
  • Plastic recycling – Although blue recycling bins are mainstays in most modern households, the truth is most plastic doesn’t get recycled. Instead, most recycled plastic gets dumped into landfills. Even worse? A sizable percentage of plastic waste makes its way into lakes and oceans, where it releases greenhouse gas emissions as it breaks down. This waste also poses a significant danger to marine life.

Given these problems, plastic manufacturing and recycling processes that incorporate sustainable practices and green technologies in their business model will dramatically reduce the material’s negative environmental impact.

In recent years, sustainable polymer (i.e., plastics) research has increased exponentially. Now, scientists are working on the following innovative plastic initiatives:

  • Plastic-eating bacteria – Some bacteria species are known to munch on non-biodegradable plastics and turn them into biodegradable polyester. Scientists are working to genetically modify these bacteria so that they become even better plastic-munching powerhouses.
  • Turning plastics back into oil – If plastic is derived from petroleum, why can’t it also be broken back down into petroleum? That’s what scientists are asking while designing depolymerization technologies that can potentially transform plastics into biodegradable materials.
  • Getting smart with “smart” polymers – Some companies are experimenting with replacing non-biodegradable polymers with smart polymers as a way to facilitate biodegradability. That way, households and corporations can more easily recycle plastics.

#3 Green Financial Products

When it comes to innovations creating a greener future, green financial products are often an afterthought. After all, reducing plastic use seems a smidge more doable in your day-to-day than advocating for financial products that can help address your carbon footprint.

But without eco-friendly financial practices, many companies and governments won’t fund green initiatives in the first place. What’s more, failing to implement green financial practices further empowers the big banks that fund the vast majority of fossil fuel extraction.

In short, if money talks, no voice should be louder than clean, green money. 

Here’s how innovative and sustainable financial services are making it easy to make a big environmental difference:

  • Green home loans – Many mortgages and government-backed loans incentivize clean energy by offering lower interest rates for homes that meet certain energy-efficient criteria. Additionally, many financial institutions offer commercial builders discounted loans for projects that involve green leadership and solar technologies.
  • Green debit and credit accounts – More and more credit card companies are reimagining what it means to “spend & save.” That’s because these green financial companies are linking purchases to positive climate initiatives. In addition, many green credit card companies offer green financial products such as global carbon offsets, discounts and cash back for environmentally-friendly purchases, and green manufacturing of the card itself.
  • Green investments – From funding reforestation projects to selling bonds for clean-energy projects, green investments are innovative financial products that can help counter the funding of fossil fuel initiatives.

In terms of green financial products, few companies are more innovative than Aspiration.

In addition to awarding you 1% cash back each time you swipe your Aspiration eco-friendly debit card to offset the average American carbon footprint, Aspiration plants a tree for every purchase you make. Talk about sustainable spending.

#4 Solar Energy

While we can produce electricity from several resources, the most common source is our natural resource of coal. This means that most electrical production negatively impacts the environment.

A possible sustainable solution? Harnessing the power of the sun.

Although we’ve known about solar power since the discovery of the photovoltaic effect in the mid-1800s, solar power is slowly gaining traction in the 21st century. In fact, solar power still comprises less than 1% of U.S. electrical generation. 

But that may soon change.

Solar power shouldn’t be discounted when it comes to sustainability innovation. Solar power can help usher in a greener future in the following ways:

  • Energy from the sun is inexhaustible – As the classic song goes, “The sun will come out, tomorrow…” And the next day, and the next day, and—we think you can get where we’re heading with this. The sun is a resource that will keep on giving for a long, long time.
  • Reduces carbon emissions – Unlike coal mining and oil production, solar power produces very little carbon emissions. In fact, the photovoltaic process emits no carbon; the only carbon emitted is during the solar panel construction process.
  • Provides electricity to impoverished areas – Much of the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Caribbean, lacks access to electricity. As a result, many companies are expanding their electrical grids into these areas. While access to electricity is ultimately a good thing, these companies use grids that run off fossil fuels. However, in recent years, many companies have subsidized solar power projects in these areas as a part of their sustainable business strategy. These projects provide much-needed power while helping to tackle our carbon footprint.

#5 Carbon-Capturing Technology

Rather than eliminating carbon emissions by reducing the use of carbon products altogether, some innovative technologies are becoming better at capturing carbon after it’s emitted into the environment.

The green innovation of carbon-capturing technologies, while still relatively young, are showing big results. Studies suggest that carbon-capturing technologies can trap 90% of carbon emissions.

At present, carbon-capturing technologies take three primary forms:

  • Post-combustion – Post-combustion carbon capture refers to the method where CO2 is separated and captured from the flue gas, which is a byproduct of coal combustion.
  • Pre-combustion – Pre-combustion carbon capture involves separating and capturing CO2 before the combustion process is complete.
  • Oxyfuel – While not technically a carbon capture technology, oxyfuel has been used to separate CO2 from the combustion process. It works by introducing pure oxygen into the combustion process.

As stated above, carbon capturing is a green innovation capable of significantly reducing carbon levels. However, as of now, carbon capturing is expensive. Nevertheless, scientists and engineers are continuing to experiment with carbon-capturing technologies to lower their costs.

#6 LED Lights

Light-emitting diode (LED) lights have become immensely popular over the past decade—and for good reason. When it comes to how to shop sustainably, these are a great choice for lighting in your home. While incandescent bulbs last, on average, for 1,200 hours while consuming 60 watts of electricity, LED lights are the king of energy efficiency, lasting a whopping 50,000 hours on six to eight watts.

As a result, LED lights can seriously help neutralize our carbon footprint. By some estimates, 75% of light bulbs worldwide will use LED technology by 2030, leading to a 1,800 million metric ton reduction in carbon emissions.

Finally, an LED light bulb is a sustainable product that emits far less heat than the traditional light bulb, contributing to reduced household energy cooling costs. Talk about sustainable living.

Aspire to a Greener Future with Aspiration

From electric cars to carbon-capturing technology, sustainable technology is making our future cleaner, greener, and brighter than we ever thought possible. 

But why wait for the future when you could change the world today—and receive cash back?

Aspiration makes it possible to do your part by purchasing the socially-conscious goods and services you love.

All you need to do is sign-up and start taking down fossil fuels one swipe at a time.

Welcome to Aspiration, where spending makes a difference. 

Sources:

Electrek. Global market share of electric cars more than doubled in 2021 as the EV revolution gains steam. https://electrek.co/2022/02/02/global-market-share-of-electric-cars-more-than-doubled-2021.

Energy. The History of the Electric Car. https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-electric-car.

Ennomotive. 5 Innovations In Plastic Recycling You May Not Know About. https://www.ennomotive.com/innovations-plastic-recycling/

Institute for Energy Research. History of Solar Power. https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/solar/history-of-solar-power/

McKinsey Sustainability. These 9 technological innovations will shape the sustainability agenda in 2019. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainability-blog/these-9-technological-innovations-will-shape-the-sustainability-agenda-in-2019

Means & Matters. Who Funds the FIGHT Against CLIMATE CHANGE? https://meansandmatters.bankofthewest.com/article/sustainable-living/taking-action/who-funds-the-fight-against-climate-change/

MULTIBRIEFS. The environmental benefits of LED lighting. https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/the-environmental-benefits-of-led-lighting/facilities-grounds.

The International Council on Clean Transportation. Electric vehicle capitals of the world: What markets are leading the transition to electric? https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/World-EV-capitals_ICCT-Briefing_08112017_vF.pdf

The London School of Economics and Political Science. What is carbon capture and storage and what role can it play in tackling climate change? https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-carbon-capture-and-storage-and-what-role-can-it-play-in-tackling-climate-change/

United Nations Environmental Programme. Green Financial  Products and Services Current Trends and Future Opportunities in North America. https://www.unepfi.org/fileadmin/documents/greenprods_01.pdf

U.S. Department of Energy. Emissions from Electric Vehicles. https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html

World Economic Forum. We know plastic pollution is bad – but how exactly is it linked to climate change? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/plastic-pollution-climate-change-solution/.

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