Innovation That Matters

Next-generation trends 2022: Regeneration and biodiversity

Next Generation Trends

From beautiful biowaste to ‘plasticpreneurs’, the next 12 months will see a planet-first approach become a strategic imperative rather than an operational choice

The first part of our end-of-year series focuses on the trends and innovations around regeneration and biodiversity.

As the potentially devastating impact of climate change becomes ever more apparent, can you afford not to align your business with the environment? In 2022, aiming for sustainability will no longer be enough – the focus will shift to a regenerative model that restores, renews, and rejuvenates the natural world.

Regeneration is about more than pledging to do no harm – it’s about leaving the world in a more positive state as a result. This requires active steps to complement natural ecosystems at every part of the business process.

Protecting biodiversity is a key part of regeneration. Not just an environmental issue, “it’s also what provides us with so many of our basic needs,” says Professor Andy Purvis, research leader at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s the foundation of our society. We’ve seen recently how disruptive it can be when supply chains break down. Nature is at the base of our supply chains.”

The business case for caring is clear: recent studies show that biodiversity creates huge economic value. Air and water filtration, carbon storage and food sources – all things that require rich biodiversity – are worth more than $150 trillion annually, which is about twice the world’s GDP.

Qu Dongyu, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recently highlighted the need for digital innovation to help solve the water scarcity problems (that are themselves the result of biodiversity loss and climate change) affecting the lives of more than a billion people worldwide. “We need to invest in the long-term research and development to create the innovation and technologies required for producing more with less emissions and within our environmental boundaries,” he said.

Below, we explore some of the key trends that will emerge around regeneration and biodiversity, plus some innovations to inspire next-level thinking.

Trend #1: Plasticpreneurs

One thousand years. That’s how long it takes a single use plastic bag to break down in landfill. With 500 billion bags used worldwide each year, plastic pollution is undeniably one of the biggest threats to the environment today.

The problem is becoming most visible in developing Asian and African countries, where waste management solutions are underdeveloped or non-existent. Our oceans, where 10 million tonnes of plastic is dumped each year, are the biggest victims.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, unless something changes. Tomorrow’s innovators are already on the case, finding creative ways to repurpose discarded plastic into new products.

The innovations:

A Danish textile company has created ‘eco wool’, using recycled polyester yarn sourced from single-use plastic bottles. The Dolly Recycled line by Texstyle offers the same appearance and softness as conventional wool, but is composed of 100 per cent recycled polyester. For every 100 metres of Dolly fabric produced, 3,000 large PET bottles (approximately 1.5 litres each) are removed from the local waste stream. This equates to 69 kilogrammes of upcycled plastic waste.

In the USA, Microsoft’s wireless Ocean Plastic Mouse contains 20 per cent recycled plastic and comes in 100 per cent recycled packaging. The case of the device is made from plastic removed from waterways. After processing and cleaning, the waste is turned into plastic pellets for use in the final product. The mouse is a collaboration with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC). 

Also in the USA, a company is packaging its cruelty-free deodorants in containers made from recycled ocean plastic. PiperWai containers are made by a non-profit that pays fishing boats to collect ocean waste instead of fish. The plastic is then cleaned and processed into new packaging, and the company also relies on solar energy for its operations.

Trend #2: Beautiful biowaste

From grass clippings to potato peels, biowaste comes from gardens, parks, households, restaurants, caterers, retail premises, and food processing plants – and it’s a huge problem for the environment. Why? When biowaste breaks down it releases methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Its breakdown also leads to pollution, with local water and soil at risk of becoming contaminated. And it’s a waste in more ways than one. When harnessed, biowaste can be a valuable resource. Innovators are already ahead of the game for 2022, creating solutions that could help businesses move from a traditional waste management system to something more eco-innovative and circular.

The innovations:

In Cote d’Ivoire, a biowaste processor turns leftovers into compost and cooking gas, enabling farmers to save time and money by producing their own supplies. Called KubeKo, the system comes in two versions. One creates compost and the other can produce cooking gas. Daily aeration is powered by either renewable energy or electricity from the grid. Every five kilogrammes of waste results in two hours of cooking gas and 50 litres of liquid compost.  

In Australia, a new green initiative is seeing tonnes of food scraps converted to green energy. The City of Cockburn in Perth, Australia, is using an anaerobic digester to turn the city’s food waste into green energy. The digester, located at a nearby fertiliser plant, is fed food scraps collected from restaurants and supermarkets. It is currently producing enough methane to power around 3,000 homes. The city estimates that it has so far recycled 43 tonnes of food waste and saved 81,000 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide that would have otherwise entered the atmosphere if the food had been left to rot in landfill.

A German designer has created a one-piece sustainable shoe made from mushrooms and dog hair. While traditional trainers are made from as many as 12 different components, Emilie Burfeind’s sneature (“sneaker” + “future”) is designed as a seamless sock. Dog hair is spun into a high-quality yarn, called Chiengora, to make the upper part, while for the sole, fungi mycelium is mixed with a cellulose-based material and grown in a mould. The entire shoe is biodegradable, but the mycelium composite can also be shredded and reused, while the fibres of the knitted upper can be separated and spun into new yarn. 

Trend #3: Extreme farming

A growing population means that food production needs to increase by 70 per cent by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. However, at the same time, the amount of arable land is decreasing, along with supplies of fresh water.

As a result, farmers will be forced to grow crops on land that would previously have been deemed unsuitable. Finding innovative ways of doing this is critical. Fortunately, innovators are already working hard on possible solutions.

The innovations:

Rather than abandon land that has become too salty for conventional crops, a startup in Brazil is focusing on growing food plants in very salty soil. Salty Agricultura Salina, cultivates salicornia (a type of salt-loving plant) inside a salt pan in a totally sustainable way – without requiring fresh water.

In Saudi Arabia, a farming tech company has developed a method for growing produce in the desert, using seawater to provide cooling. Red Sea Farms has developed a high-tech greenhouse for use in hot, dry climates. Unlike other greenhouses, which aim to raise the temperature, the Red Sea greenhouses counter Saudi Arabia’s scorching temperatures by keeping the plants cool. Around 95 per cent of water used in their greenhouse goes towards the cooling system, rather than irrigation. So, when the company uses seawater instead of freshwater for cooling, it saves precious water resources.

In Germany, the world’s fastest-growing urban farming company has introduced a new high-capacity indoor vertical farming system, saving up to 10,000,000 litres of water per year, compared with similar soil-based agriculture. Producing food locally this way not only uses 95 per cent less water, and zero chemical pesticides, it also reduces the transport needed by around 90 per cent. In the future, much of the food consumed in urban areas may be grown this way.

Trend #4: Bee-corp – the business of bees

Why do bees matter for business? The $300 million-worth of honey, beeswax and propolis products they make each year in the USA is only part of the picture. In addition to the contribution they make to food, medicines, cosmetics, and varnishes, the key work of bees is pollination.

More than a quarter of a million flowering plant species depend on pollinators. And of about 115 leading global crops, pollinators are necessary for about a third of them. No bees – no crops. No crops – big problems. According to the UK Soil Association, it would cost farmers in the UK £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their crops manually if wild bees disappeared.

With this in mind, innovators are busying themselves with solutions to protect bees and reverse their dwindling numbers.

The innovations:

In Germany, a modular beehive updates the traditional box design, helping bees to stay warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The hives are made from recycled plastic, hemp wool and sawdust, and the two-chamber system makes it quick and easy for beekeepers to remove honey without disturbing the bees.

Bus stops in the UK could solve the problem of dwindling bee numbers. Leicester city has installed Bee Bus Stops — green roofs on bus shelters designed to attract pollinators. The Living Roofs are part of a planned initiative to convert all 479 bus shelters in Leicester to eco-friendly alternatives, at no cost to the city council.

In the Netherlands, a designer has created a biodegradable COVID-19 face mask made from layers of rice paper containing a Dutch meadow seed mix. Once used, the ‘Bee Bloom’ masks can be buried, and if the conditions permit, bee-friendly flowers will start to sprout. Even if the user decides not to bury their mask after use, it will still biodegrade in landfill. 

Trend #5: Algae acceleration

Is there anything algae can’t do? Beyond its use as a sustainable food and material, algae can also be a key tool for other solutions that combat climate change. It can sequester carbon when used with AI-powered bioreactors, and it can also form a key component of biofuel.

What’s more, it grows 10 times more rapidly than terrestrial plants and is perfectly happy on non-productive and non-arable land. Plus, it doesn’t require freshwater, meaning it can be grown more efficiently than land crops. It’s no surprise then that innovators around the world are exploring new and exciting applications for the green stuff.

The innovations:

UK-based plastic technology specialist, Symphony Environmental, has teamed up with the French biotech company Eranova, to create a new ‘smart plastic’ bag using upcycled green algae. Eranova’s process extracts starch from the algae to produce a biodegradable and compostable resin, which is then used to manufacture packaging and other products. The biomass can also be used to produce biofuel, proteins for food and animal feed, as well as by-products for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

London-based tech clothing startup Vollebak has launched a t-shirt made from eucalyptus trees and black algae. The t-shirt feels and looks just like a conventionally dyed t-shirt – without any of the unsustainable practices present in traditional black dyes. Last year, the brand launched a t-shirt made of wood pulp and algae, which can be composted, breaking down within three months. Now, Vollebak has moved a step further by creating a t-shirt that consumes carbon, as opposed to producing it. Black algae usually grow in ponds, feeding off sunlight and carbon dioxide.

The first air-purifying playground run on algae biotechnology can be found in Warsaw, Poland. Designed by London-based architecture and innovation practice ecoLogicStudio, the AirBubble project was built to create a microclimate where children can play while breathing clean air. Warsaw is considered  one of Europe’s 50 most polluted cities.

Words: Hannah Hudson

Read the other parts in our series here:

Next-generation trends 2022: Post-COVID-19 acceleration
Next-generation trends 2022: Ocean sustainability
Next-generation trends 2022: Cities and the built environment
Next-generation trends 2022: Eco-consumption

Wondering what these trends mean for your business in the year ahead? Springwise provides world class intelligence, insights and horizon scanning for disrupted times and is powered by our global network of innovators.  Sign up to our free newsletters to receive our latest insights or email for further information.