Scaling innovative ideas for a sustainable world
The collaboration with a cohort of start-ups addressing the world’s most pressing environmental issues – and simultaneously solving multiple problems
A motorcycle courier turns up on a quiet residential street in a Jakarta neighbourhood, shortly after receiving a family’s delivery request via smartphone. Door-to-door services in the Indonesian capital often mean fast food, handed over in plastic packaging. But on this morning, the courier is dispensing washing-up liquid and laundry detergent directly into bottles provided by the family.
Siklus, the start-up behind the service, has two related goals: to reduce plastic waste in a country that is already the world’s second largest plastic ocean polluter; and to help poor families, who typically buy household products in disposable plastic sachets because of their low unit price but can actually cost more per ounce of product.
“The families are no longer paying for the packaging, and we’re reducing plastic waste at the source,” says Jane von Rabenau, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Customers order through our app, and our entire distribution system, report transactions, the data we collect, it all works using technology.” The result, at scale, will be a significant reduction in the plastic waste spoiling Indonesian waterways and way of life.
The Winning ideas
Siklus is one of five organizations from around the world selected this year by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing that are working on solutions to some of the world’s complex sustainability challenges, from climate change and waste reduction to equitable health care and food insecurity. They are: mPharma, MySOC, Siklus, SunCulture and Trees As Infrastructure.
Through the Institute’s Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, each of the five will receive $250,000 to help scale their business. They will also enter a year-long partnership with the Institute, becoming part of a growing network of Morgan Stanley leaders and partner organisations that facilitate cross-sector collaboration on the most urgent sustainability issues.
“We want to identify and help scale business as unusual,” says Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. “To support the ideas that aim for more than incremental change towards sustainability – ideas that have the power to be transformative at the systems level.”
This past year has revealed with brutal clarity the intersection between a global health crisis, climate crisis and systemic social injustice. It has also made clearer than ever the moral imperative to seek out new solutions. The collaborative aims to find innovations that can help drive solutions at a systemic level. The approach echoes that of Dame Ellen MacArthur, a leading force in sustainability, whose vision is for a circular economy, one she has called “a much bigger idea than recycling”. Rather, she says, what is needed is "systemic change and restructuring the global economy”. Each Morgan Stanley winner carries that vision forward, often solving multiple problems at once with their innovations.
Seeking scale and transformation
MySOC, a project of Skidmore College in New York State and Michigan State University, which uses technology and science to undertake detailed and strategic sampling of soil, giving farmers a more complete picture of their land and how their farming techniques affect the soil’s carbon levels.
“We're able to change the way that our agricultural system works by adopting regenerative practices that can, at the same time, pull a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere and put it into our soils,” explains Kristofer Covey, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Skidmore College. “But we need to quantify which practices lead to how much carbon.”
MySOC – standing for My Soil Organic Carbon – deploys technology not only to measure those carbon levels, but also to feed them into a platform, allowing for comparison of different fields, and increasing farming yields. Ultimately, according to MySOC, the data could even form the basis of a market in which farmers are rewarded depending on how much carbon capture their techniques produce.
SunCulture, a Kenyan start-up, uses green technology and inclusive finance to solve a different problem in agriculture: how to improve livelihoods of small-scale farmers while making their techniques both more sustainable and more resilient to climate change.
“About a quarter of the world's population falls into these small farming households,” says Samir Ibrahim, the start-up’s CEO and co-founder. “Because climate change is making unpredictable and unreliable rains even more unpredictable and unreliable, small farmers are getting pushed further and further into poverty.”
SunCulture’s response was to start Africa’s first solar irrigation company, using solar-powered pumps to deliver consistent and reliable water for crops and animals. “It helps farmers become more resilient to climate change, and it helps feed families, communities and the world,” says Ibrahim. Using solar technology to power the water pumps that irrigate their fields, they are also providing clean drinking water for families, and drastically reducing the efforts necessary to secure water – eliminating the need for hours of manual work, and the traditional, labour-intensive conveyance of water from wells.
The other two winners of the Collaborative are reimagining healthcare in Africa and positioning trees and green space as a critical asset to cities and urban areas, rather than a cost or a luxury. mPharma is a Ghana-based health-tech startup that is revolutionizing the drug supply chain in Africa using the tools that make e-commerce convenient and profitable to make health care accessible and affordable. Trees As Infrastructure, an open source platform by Dark Matter Labs, based in the UK and operating across Europe, is establishing nature as a critical part of urban infrastructure, alongside bridges, roads and rail, enabling investment, profitability and sustainability.
If the pandemic laid bare the interconnectivity of the global health crisis, climate crisis and systemic social injustice, it will now take the combined efforts of companies large and small, non-profits and government agencies responding to the climate crisis to mitigate the outcomes we clearly now face. Innovation born of technological advances, a rethinking of business as usual, and a strong vision for change are key parts of the puzzle, and these hopeful, inventive ventures can be an inspiration for us all.
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