Agrihoods and camouflage solar: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that highlighted the divide between political and private sector sustainability commitments, edie rounds up the low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could drive business agendas in the future.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway captivated on screen in Bonnie and Clyde in 1967. 50 years on, the two featured on every mainstream media outlet for this week’s infamous Oscar gaffe. PwC accountants have since been blamed for the botch, fortunately the company does circular economy better than it does envelops.

Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of a bored waitress, tired of traditional life, embarking on new, dangerous and thrill-seeking lifestyle consisting of robbing banks. Things are running a little bit differently in 2017, where the bored and disgruntled public flocked to support new lifestyles and regimes that birthed current concerns around President Trump and Brexit.

In fact, the Brexit debate raged-on again this week. Whether its resignation or aspiration the view on Brexit is slowly turning from that of despair to opportunity in the sustainability sphere. If experts are to be believed, post-Brexit Britain could champion natural capital legislation and save £2bn in waste management costs.

Of course, this is all hypothetical at the moment at governmental and global track records to introduce policies that combat climate change and enhance sustainability haven’t been impressively strong, as a recent Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report points out.

Yet again, the private sector is marching ahead to deliver a low-carbon economy. This week, companies including Co-op, the North Face and Timberland, Mothercare and Land Securities all announced new initiatives aimed at lowering their environmental footprints and enhancing their supply chain operations.

While some initiatives can be as simple as switching suppliers, others – such as the move from Danone and Nestlé Waters to produce bio-based plastic – need a bit of help from the innovators. With this in mind, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

A Range Rover of uses of plastic

Consumer demand for more ethical and sustainability-orientated products has made an impact in Range Rover’s new Velar model. In fact, it is literally in the driving seat. Launched at the Design Museum in London on Wednesday (1 March), the Velar has incorporated recycled plastic bottles into its interior design.

Costing around £45,000, the vehicle offers a “vegetarian” option for the more ethically-minded buyers, which replaces all leather seat coverings with new material consisting of recycled plastic bottles.

The engine types range from diesel to petrol, although the car does support “Ingenium” versions of the fuel, described by Range Rover as ultra-clean. The company also confirmed that the vehicle would be built in the UK at its Solihull factory, continuing the trend of automakers pledging to produce in the UK post-Brexit.

Eco-Economy Class

It would appear that plastic bottle recycling is all the rage right now. Emirates airline has joined the likes of Range Rover and Ikea in turning to bottles to make products. Hot water bottles are designed to keep you warm, but Emirates is using plastic bottles to generate a different kind of warmth.

The airline recently rolled-out blankets made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The blankets, built with patented ecoTHREAD produce, are available on all long-haul Economy Class flights. Each blanket is made from 28 recycled bottles, which are recycled into plastic chips, turned into yarn and then woven into blankets.

By the end of 2019, Emirates estimates that the blankets will have stopped 88 million plastic bottles being sent to landfill – equivalent in weight to a 44 A380 aircraft. Emirates also claims that the manufacturing process of using the recycled plastic reduces energy emissions by 70% compared to traditional disposal methods.

All good in the Agrihood

As the planet succumbs to urbanisation and deforestation, innovative farming and horticulture methods are beginning to arise. From vertical farming to underground bunker renovations, cities are beginning to embrace new methods to grow crops.

Within the city of Detroit is the world’s first “agrihood”. Established by The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), this city farming space has three acres nestled in a neighbourhood of occupied and abandoned homes.

MUFI’s urban agrihood consists of a two-acre urban garden, a fruit orchard of 200 trees and a sensory garden for children. MUFI states that the garden can produce food for 2,000 households within a two-square mile radius of the farm. Since 2012, the farm has distributed more than 50,000 pounds of fresh fruit and produce to the residents and local businesses and MUFI is now partnering with major firms including BASF to expand the model.

Purified and simple

Urbanisation may be creating a problem for our land, but consumer habits are now wreaking havoc with our waters. Plastic waste and general pollution is leaving many without clear access to clean drinking water.

Business are trying to remedy this trend, and a new Kickstarter project called the Tekniv Nexus could act as a potential solution. The Tekniv team already have innovations used at NASA, but this latest project is aimed at using solar energy to purify water.

The concept can apparently collect enough solar energy to power the conversion of 500 gallons of water into clean drinking water. The team claim that the Nexus works at 1/13th of the cost of traditional solar and is 20% cheaper than fossil-fuel-powered purifiers. Even on cloudy days 100 gallons of drinking water can be purified, the team estimates.

Hide and seek solar

Solar can provide the essentials for less-fortunate populations, but for those with a bit of money to spare, it can help them save money and reduce their carbon footprint. But there will always be some that continue to label renewables as an “eyesore” in some way, shape or form.

Tesla believes it has the non-intrusive answer to the eyesore equation with its solar roof concept, and now an MIT-based start-up has gone one step further. Sistine Solar has developed a customisable panel system that matches rooftop solar to images and background colours, essentially camouflaging the array.

The panels consist of material that can reflect an image or mirror its background onto its surface while still letting in light towards the photovoltaic cells below. The first residential installation took place two months ago, and homeowners of California are lining up to order an array, even if they do add 10% to the cost of the system.

Timeless capsule

This week’s final innovation is also solar inspired. For those disillusioned by breathing in polluted city air, the Ecocapsule gives you an opportunity to live a low-carbon lifestyle off of the grid. It is a fibreglass and aluminium pod that combines solar and wind energy with rainwater harvesting and compostable toilets.

The first 50 “first-generation” pilot pods were finalised in December, with the creators claiming that the pods will last for four days without sunlight, with wind power offering a “very low” chance of draining a 10kW battery pack.

Second-gen models will be commercialised this year, available in sizes for one to two people. Reverse osmosis is used to collect drinking water and an “incineration toilet” could soon be available for the cost of $85,000, although this is expected to come down in price.

Matt Mace

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