Innovations That Matter

Top 20 Sustainable Business Ideas for 2020

Innovation Snapshot

From recyclable shoes to smart devices reducing food waste, we hope the following innovations will inspire businesses to take bolder sustainable action in 2020 and beyond.

Not only is green good for business in many cases, but companies that do not get serious about sustainability will also likely soon find a business landscape with no place for them. 

For one, consumer behaviour, which continues to favour brands with a clear sustainable vision, not allow it. More importantly, we are now at the threshold of irreversibly damaging our planet, and after many decades of pushing back meaningful action, businesses will no longer have an option to sit out the fight against climate change. 

At Springwise, we aim to spot and promote innovations that matter — many of which focus on sustainability — as well as picking up on innovative ideas before they go mainstream. 

With this in mind, we’re sharing 20 of our favourite sustainable innovations from the past year. From recyclable shoes and biodegradable packaging to AI platforms reducing fabric waste and smart devices cutting food waste, we hope the following will inspire businesses around the globe to do more to strengthen the health of our planet in 2020 and beyond.

1. COMPOSTABLE SHRINK WRAP FOR GROCERY PRODUCE

Australian independent grocer Drake’s Supermarkets partnered with Adelaide-based wholesaler IG Fresh to create a compostable fruit and vegetable wrap. The supermarket chain wanted to stop using the polyethene plastic wrap frequently used on individually sold fruits and vegetables. While there are many biodegradable and compostable packaging options now available, the challenge in this project lay in making the new material usable for shrink wrapping. Read More.

2. RUNNING SHOES THAT CAN BE RECYCLED

Futurecraft Loop shoes | Photo source Adidas

Adidas developed running shoes made from 100 per cent recyclable material. Futurecraft Loop shoes are made with reusable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and do not contain glue. When they are worn to the point where they would normally be discarded, they can be sent back to Adidas. They are then washed, ground down to pellets and melted into a material that can be part of new shoes. Read More. 

3. BIODEGRADABLE PACKAGING FOR E-COMMERCE

The Australasian “Better Packaging Company” created a form of eco-friendly packaging for e-commerce shipping. Better Packaging Company currently offers several alternatives to traditional packaging, including plastic alternatives. The company also produces an envelope/pack line made from limestone quarry waste, which feels like paper but is water-proof and recyclable. Read More

4. CONCEPT STORE REDUCES WASTE BY USING DIGITAL PACKAGING

Lush’s all-naked concept store in Shinjuku, Japan, replaced all signage, ingredient lists and price tags with digital packaging. Shoppers use the Lush Labs app to access the icons and videos that are used in place of the traditional elements. As well as preventing waste, digital packaging is especially useful for its capacity and flexibility. In the Lush store, it is the perfect space to provide bonus material, such as makeup tutorials. Read More.

5. AI-PLATFORM FINDS CLOTHES THAT TRULY FIT

Metail offers two services – MeModel and Composed Photography | Photo source Metail

Metail’s MeModel platform takes a few measurements from customers and uses its machine-learning algorithm to suggest accurate and personalised style and size recommendations. For retailers, MeModel provides data analysis to help maximise inventory and supply chain efficiency and to help boost brand loyalty with insight into customer preferences. Read More.

6. 3D SCANNING TO CREATE SUSTAINABLE JEANS

American startup Unspun aims to reduce waste in the fashion industry by offering consumers sustainable, bespoke jeans. The company uses a combination of robotics and old-fashioned sewing machines to produce sustainable clothing. Unspun believes its model of 3D scanning and personalised tailoring offers customers a unique way to reduce fashion waste. The company, based in San Francisco and Hong Kong, uses a 3D infrared scanner to measure clients for their jeans. Read More.

7. A PLANT-BASED PERFORMANCE RUNNING SHOE

Reebok launched a plant-based performance running shoe, the Forever Floatride Grow. This came as part of the brand’s aim to reduce its use of petroleum-based plastics and create a shoe that uses mostly sustainable natural ingredients, without compromising its performance. Read More.

8. A REWARDS PROGRAM FOR SUSTAINABLE SHOPPERS

The company’s goal is to build a community of trades and users based on shared environmental values | Photo source Koin Rewards Website

UK-based Koin Rewards launched a sustainable rewards program in collaboration with card linking API Fidel. The company’s goal is to build a community of traders and users based on shared environmental values. The app automatically rewards shoppers upon completing a responsible purchase. Moreover, Fidel’s API technology allows users to connect their Mastercard, Visa or Amex card to their Koin Rewards. This lets them convert their Koin into cash to spend however they wish. Read More.

9. CO2 POLLUTION TURNED INTO HIGH-END VODKA

New York City-based technology and lifestyle company Air Co. introduced its first product — carbon-negative vodka. Using solar energy to power its proprietary process, the company captures, heats and transforms carbon dioxide into valuable goods. Electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide into alcohol isn’t new. What is new is the drinkability of the final product. Read More.

10. ECO-FRIENDLY LEATHER MADE FROM PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

Strong, supple and soft to touch, plant-based Desserto leather provides a range of industries with a sustainable alternative to animal leather. Designed to meet the technical requirements of the automotive, fashion and furniture industries, Desserto leather breathes and stretches just like animal leather. Even better, it is partially biodegradable and free from PVC, phthalates and other dangerous chemicals. Read More.

11. BUY A JUMPER, ADOPT A SHEEP

One of the New Zealand farms with which Sheep Inc work | Photo source Sheep Inc.

When customers buy a jumper from Sheep Inc., not only do they receive a high-quality product made from the merino wool of sheep from rural New Zealand, but they are also sent regular updates about the very sheep from which their jumper was made: “its major life events. Where it is. What it’s up to. When it’s had a haircut. Even whether it’s had lambs.” Read More.

12. REUSABLE CONTAINERS MAKE TAKEAWAYS MORE SUSTAINABLE

Startup Returnr developed a sustainable scheme to replace single-use takeaway containers with reusable crockery. The company distributes its renewable stainless steel bowls and cups to participating restaurants and cafes, which then use the packaging for takeaway orders. Consumers pay an AU$6 deposit to Returnr and after eating, they return the packaging in exchange for their deposit, or else forego their deposit and continue to use the crockery. Read More. 

13. RETAILER USES TAILORS TO DELIVER RIGHT FIT

India-based Myntra.com has hired tailors to deliver customer orders. The new service is part of the company’s efforts to improve customer satisfaction and reduce the number of returns. The service uses local tailors to pick up purchases from the warehouse and deliver them to customers. Myntra hopes the on-demand alterations will simplify customers’ lives and reduce returns. Read More.

14. A SMART REFRIGERATOR TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE

Karma connects consumers with restaurants and grocery stores wanting to sell their unused food at a discount. | Photo source Karma

Swedish startup Karma, whose app connects consumers with businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores wanting to sell their unused food at a discount, is now developing a smart refrigerator to help further reduce food waste. The startup is partnering with appliance manufacturer Electrolux on the device, which users will be able to unlock with the Karma app. Read More.

15. DIGITAL SUPERMARKET CONNECTS SHOPPERS WITH PRODUCERS

US-based startup Move aims to cut out the cost and waste of traditional supermarkets by connecting shoppers with producers. The new platform promises high-quality goods at lower prices for consumers – and more competitive pay for producers. It also pledges to be transparent about its producers and costs. Read More.

16. A TRADE-IN PLATFORM FOR BABY CLOTHES

E-commerce startup Upchoose sells sets of organic cotton baby clothing. When a child outgrows a size, parents and carers return the products for a discount on the next set. New parents not only save time and money but also further sustainability if they choose to buy used, or “preloved” sets. Read More.

17. BULK ECO-REFILL STATION FOR BEAUTY AND HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

Australian-based Flora&Fauna created an interactive marketplace for zero-waste goods and services. Customers can recycle and learn about eco-friendly lifestyles through workshops and pop-ups. The store also includes the first bulk eco-refill station in the country, providing customers with the opportunity to bring their own containers to refill with shampoo, conditioner and laundry detergent. Read More.

18. RECYCLING METHOD LIQUIFIES CLOTHING

A new recycling technology, developed by Evrnu, was used to produce a limited-edition Adidas by Stella McCartney sweatshirt. The Infinite Hoodie was the first commercially-produced garment to use the new method, called NuCycl. Although many methods exist for recycling cotton into new products, such as insulation, it is harder to remake new yarn strong enough to be made into clothing. This is because most fabric recycling involves chopping the fabric into smaller pieces, which weakens the material. Instead of chopping, Evrnu uses a chemical process to break cotton materials down into their polymer form, then builds them back up to create new yarn. Read More.

19. A ZERO-WASTE OPTION FOR MAKING SHAMPOO AT HOME

US-based Cleanyst created a home appliance that makes custom-made cleaning and hygiene products. The machine, which Cleanyst compares to a Keurig or Nespresso in terms of ease-of-use, mixes a batch of product in minutes. It uses a reusable container, tap water and packets of concentrates shipped by the company. The waste is minimal and the packets are recyclable. Read More.

20. FOOD WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES INSTEAD OF PLASTIC

Banana leaf sticky rice | Photo source Pixabay

To cut the use of plastic, Rimping supermarket in Changmai, Thailand, turned to wrapping some food products in banana leaves. The banana leaf packages are tied with a thin piece of bamboo. In Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh City branch of Lotte Mart has begun wrapping vegetables in the leaves and hopes to expand the practice to other foods and stores. Read More.