We hear more and more about climate change and the many ways we are degrading our environment. As we know, problems beget entrepreneurial solutions. Yet, we still don’t see global business leaders in the cleantech space on the scale of Facebook and Amazon, though companies like Tesla, Nest, Impossible Foods, Choose Energy, and others are making inroads. Al Gore seems to be leading the way in monetization, having amassed an estimated net worth of some $300 million just by talking about environmental issues.
The opportunities are endless, but we need smart and capable entrepreneurs to capitalize on sustainability, attract investors, be the next unicorn, and leave a noteworthy legacy.
Here are five broad areas in the clean and green space with plenty of room for entrepreneurs to make their mark:
- Increase recycling and reuse. The EPA estimates that 75 percent of the waste stream in the U.S. is recyclable, but we currently only recycle about 30 percent of it. The percentage is even lower in many other countries. It’s also time to make more products recyclable by designing them as a natural lifecycle from creation to reuse. Another approach is the repurposing of used items or passing them down to less demanding users, like the ecoATM solution for used cell phones, tablets, MP3 players, and other electronics. This approach is far more sustainable than dismantling electronics to extract scrap gold, silver, and other materials.
- Reduce waste from manufacturing processes. Entrepreneurs with an eye on the environment can readily spot examples of inefficient material, water, or energy usage. Reduction of manufacturing waste starts with closed-loop manufacturing systems and extends into efficient inventory management, minimizing hazardous materials, and reducing packaging waste. Rework is another common form of waste because you have to discard defective products and do the work again when something goes wrong. Better automation, training, the use of machine learning, and other AI solutions can help decrease waste.
- Substitute sustainable components. Smart entrepreneurs are starting to utilize higher-performance components such as composites instead of aluminum or steel. Many of these provide the opportunity to save energy and weight, as well as improve the environment. From a different angle, solar and other alternative power generation companies such as BrightSource Energy reduce their environmental impact by capitalizing on renewable resources including sunlight, wind, and hydro.
- Improve asset utilization through sharing. Big rigs sit idle or deadhead empty as much as 50 percent of the time. Passenger vehicle utilization is even lower. This means that we are manufacturing lots of assets that are not being efficiently utilized. Uber and Lyft have jumped into the gap, but there are still plenty of opportunities to use digital tracking, sharing, and scheduling to improve asset utilization. The sharing economy is steadily picking up steam, with winners already including Airbnb (rooms), Mobike (bicycles), Bird (electric scooters), and Chegg (books). If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, it’s easy to see a wealth of additional opportunities in this space.
- Replace physical products with energy-saving digital ones. Whole products and industries have been replaced, including digital cameras in place of film and streaming in place of DVDs. This not only reduces physical waste, but it makes things much better in the process and adds value to customers. For example, connected digital sensors and devices, now called the Internet of Things (IoT), already enhance common physical devices including appliances, vehicles, and homes to help us manage the environment. The potential here is still huge.
Despite all these opportunities, the environment that I’m most concerned about is the entrepreneurial one. We need change, but passionate and educated entrepreneurs are a natural resource that is in short supply. Will you take up the challenge?