50+ Real World Examples of Next-Generation Sustainability Leadership

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have quickly become a common language as sustainability leadership in the private sector has evolved from sustainability reporting to targeted responsible action. The Global SDG Awards – a not-for-profit organization developed to increase private sector SDG engagement – rewards the businesses that are inspiring and influencing real, systems-level change. The candidates participating in this year’s competition are breaking barriers as they form partnerships to break down silos, invest for impact and leverage new technologies to achieve the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda.

In July 2018, the 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) highlighted the positive impact that technological innovation can have on the SDGs. Digital technologies in particular, have the potential to transform the current trajectory of the SDGs. A recent study by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative – a collaboration of major ICT companies and industry organizations – found that at least 11 out of the 17 SDGs are positively connected to digital access.

We may take technology and the wealth of digital information available for granted, but the proliferation of these tools can help to reduce inequalities and improve quality of life around the world. Many of this year’s Global SDG Award contenders demonstrate the transformative quality of new technologies. If properly scaled, these companies and initiatives have the potential to solve many of the world’s most persistent challenges. With business models that deliver products and services in innovative ways, the companies described below are all examples of next-generation of sustainability leadership.


Leveraging technology to feed & provide water to more people

According to Forbes, there will be an estimated 4 billion global internet users in 2019. By 2020, it is estimated that 2.87 billion users will be mobile internet users, an increase of 670 million users from 2016. Many of this year’s Global SDG Award contenders are utilizing the power of big data and predictive analysis to provide clients with better quality information. This information can help drive organizational efficiencies and encourage responsible consumption choices.

Winnow Solutions and Leanpath, for example, connect restaurants and food services to the cloud and analyze what food is being thrown away. Both companies have a proven track-record of helping clients reduce food waste by 50 per cent or more. That’s significant, especially when considering that approximately 50% of all the food produced in North America is wasted each year.

The same strategy has been used by another 2018 Global SDG Award contender that has found a novel way to utilize the UK’s incredible supply of surplus fresh bread (44 per cent of all bread made in the UK is never consumed). Toast Ale has developed a unique process to brew award-winning beer from what was previously, a low-value feed source for livestock.

Sometimes simplicity works best. Coffee and tea producer GROSCHE funds safe water for the nearly one billion people worldwide without access with simple and natural bio-sand filters. This approach also lies at the heart of Hippo Roller’s approach. Their solution to bulk water transportation allows women and children to spend less time collecting water, and more time to focus on their education.

Innovative farming strategies – as seen in companies like AeroFarms, Ripple Farms and Anuvia – consider the increase in population, decrease in fertile land and recognize the harms in continued chemical fertilizer use. The technological advances made by these and others helps to solve the water and land crisis, food security and build resilience in food systems.

Harnessing technology to support positive health and well-being outcomes

Consider the potential impacts of an identity and data management platform that could gather data from refugees (previous employment, socio-cultural preferences, credit scores, etc.) to help determine the best city for resettlement. 2018 Global SDG Award contender EmergeDev, is doing just that. Their company also develops other socially impactful blockchain systems designed to solve the world’s most pressing issues.

Health services otherwise inaccessible can be brought to clients with ease and efficiency. Mommy Monitor is a maternal health app that helps those expecting by using predictive analysis and patient navigation through the maternity and prenatal health care systems. Similarly, Recruit Group’s “Seem” app is making male infertility testing more accessible by allowing users to take digitally assisted tests in the comfort of their own home.

Sometimes, physical and social remoteness can prevent timely access to health care, and Canadian telecommunications giant TELUS has created a network of mobile outreach clinics in marginalized Canadian communities. The company’s Internet for Good and Mobility for Good programs also provide affordable Internet and mobile phone plans for vulnerable Canadians.

Roshan, Afghanistan’s largest telecom company, is also committed to improving quality of life for their customers and stakeholders. The company’s digital telecommunications network (and software-based products) connect all Afghanis, regardless of their remoteness. Their unique approach has the power to connect historically isolated towns and villages with the global internet community (while introducing new opportunities for economic, social and civic participation).


Innovating the future of sustainable transportation

In 2016, the transportation sector was responsible for 28.5 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), 60 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2030, and 75 per cent by 2050. With 40 per cent of all CO2 emissions of road transport a result of urban mobility alone – commuting, deliveries, etc. – technological innovations in the industry as a whole, and targeted sustainable urban solutions are essential for the reduction of GHG emissions.

In order to solve the last mile problem of commuters traveling to work in metropolitan cores, Bird has created an electric scooter sharing system to help people on the last legs of their daily journeys. The company now serves over 100 cities across the United States and Europe and has the potential to significantly reduce the number of car trips taken that are less than 3 miles in distance. That number currently stands at a staggering 100 billion.

Commercial airline Virgin Atlantic is also dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint. A partnership with LanzaTech is recapturing carbon monoxide emissions from heavy industry to make ethanol with a 70 per cent lower life cycle emission. This ethanol is used in a new aviation fuel, drastically reducing the GHG impact of commercial flight.

Gold production company Goldcorp also recognizes the impact of diesel consumption on its workers and the environment (diesel particulate matter is a carcinogen and can be deadly in large quantities). To improve working conditions and move the company toward a sustainable future, Goldcorp is piloting the replacement of their diesel equipment with a fleet of EVs at their Borden facility.

A network of circular economy companies

Creating a trading block of circular economies is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Technologies that add value to end-of-life resources (either by restoring their previous utility or by returning them to “virgin” status) will be responsible for increasing the eco-efficiency of society. By helping us extract more value with less effort and pollution, these technologies can help humanity transcend our planetary limits (i.e. – Earth Overshoot Day). With an estimated 84 per cent increase in demand for textile fiber by 2035, the product materials market will simply need circular technology companies to maintain production growth.

FLEX’s Sinctronics circular manufacturing system for e-waste, is one such example. Their unique approach reduces energy and greenhouse gas emissions, increases recovered materials and significantly reduces landfill waste. Umicore too recognizes that e-waste has potential to be mishandled when recycled. Dedicated to reducing risk and hazardous byproducts, Umicore has developed safe processes for the final treatment of copper and most precious metals.

In the fashion industry, Evrnu has created a method of transforming textile waste into new materials, which will help divert the 12 million tons of textile waste produced by the United States alone. MUD Jeans, the only circular denim company in the world, encourages customers to return their old jeans.  This old denim gets recycled and reused to make new pants.  C&A, dedicated to achieving a perfect circular economy, uses recycled nylon, polyester and cotton in its apparel. And Beautycounter, a cosmetics company, has developed a design process that bans harmful ingredients while lobbying for consumer protections against dangerous ingredients.

Innovative recycling technologies are also enabling the efficient reuse of materials which were previously difficulty and costly to recycle. To help solve the global plastic crisis, Loop Industries has developed a proprietary technology that upcycles PET and polyester materials into food-grade plastics.


Extracting value from the sun with new business models

Merging digital technology with the ingenuity of ants, Ant Studio’s CoolAnt offers a unique air cooling system that boasts zero plastic and zero emissions in a more affordable package than traditional, energy-consuming cooling methods.

Affordable and clean energy is challenging in many regions of the world, but Azuri and Envirofit have created solutions to remove the barriers and provide this service to off-grid customers. Azuri has created a pay-as-you-go solar home system with integrated AI technology that has allowed customers to gain access to not only lighting but media services which allows them to learn about their communities and the world at large. Similarly, Envirofit has created a pay-as-you-cook solution for their efficient cook stoves, providing families with clean, safe and affordable options to cook meals.

In the same way, a network of global solar PV companies like Ecoppia, Secure Futures and CleanMax Solar are developing solutions to increase the availability and profitability of solar power networks (primarily for western and developing markets). Ecoppia’s autonomous cleaning robots for solar panels in remote regions can reduce risk and increasing panel efficiency (thus improving ROI). Other new sale models championed by Secure Futures and CleanMax Solar have introduced low-risk opportunities to businesses and non-profits interested in switching to a renewable energy format.

Another 2018 contender, EM-ONE is helping support new energy technology commercialization via their Innovation Lab – a process that tests new technologies using real-world simulations to reduce risk and lower costs for manufacturers and corporate clients.

The next generation of private-sector sustainability leadership

Last year, PwC analyzed 729 companies from 21 countries and six industries. The resulting report found that SDGs are becoming more and more standard in business reporting, with up to 72 per cent of companies now including the goals in their annual sustainability and ESG reporting.  The private sector is realizing that CSR and behaving responsibly is not a matter of choice – it is a matter of necessity. The SDGs can help guide businesses toward responsible operations, materials sourcing and supply chain management, driving innovative new products for the next generation market where sustainability will be essential to draw new consumers.

As outlined above, increases in connectivity, data access and partnership opportunities are allowing new technology heavyweights to drive the future of sustainability and innovative solutions that will help us achieve the 2030 Agenda.

The private sector’s leadership in this new world will continue to grow as impacts are measured and business models transformed. The Global SDG Awards candidates mentioned above are at the forefront of this shift and continue, through technology, partnerships and social innovation, to lead and inspire others as we work toward a better future for all.

The judging process for the 2018 Global SDG Awards is currently underway. Our Expert Panel of Judges, comprised of +70 corporate responsibility leaders, are reviewing the applications and submitting their evaluations online. Details about the 2018 Global SDG Award winners will be available in the coming months. For the latest SDG news and award updates, follow the @globalSDGawards on social media or sign-up for our monthly mailing list.

Written by: David A. Klar & Sarah Nieman

David A. Klar is an award-winning sustainability leader with deep industry ties and an advanced knowledge of corporate responsibility. David founded The Global SDG Awards in 2018 to increase private sector engagement with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework after receiving UN permission in late 2017. The Global SDG Awards’ mission is to create a race to the top and to inspire others with examples of next-generation sustainability leadership. David holds a Bachelor or Environmental Studies from York University and a Master of Science in Industrial Ecology from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).