Amazon and Google mark sustainability accelerator milestones with circular economy focus

Image: Amazon. Pictured: Representatives from the first round of the Accelerator

Last October, Google announced a new scheme to support startups and nonprofits working to create tech-based circular economy solutions – its Google for Startups: Circular Economy initiative. There was a particular call for applications from food, fashion, the built environment and materials science sectors.

The technology giant has this week announced 12 projects set to benefit from training, mentoring and technical support from Google’s engineers. Seven are based in North America and five from the Asia-Pacific region.

As you would expect from Google, several of the successful projects are highly focused on digital technology.

One of the chosen projects is California-based Beni, which is working to create a “frictionless” platform for online shopping for second-hand goods that does not require customers to change how they search for items.

Beni’s co-founder and chief technology officer Celine Mol summarised: “At its current state, it takes too much time and energy to shop secondhand and requires everyone to learn a new mode of shopping. With Beni, we set out to make shopping secondhand so easy that buying new is no longer the default.”

There is also Delaware-based TURN, which has developed a ‘smart’ system for cup reuse at large events such as concerts and sports matches. The system consists of trackable cups and bins and dishwashers with digital tracking capabilities.

From the Asia-Pacific region, chosen projects include Ishitva Robotic Systems, which uses machine learning and AI to identify, sort and recycle valuable material. This not only reduces pollution but creates new economic opportunities in waste management.

Teams from all 12 projects will attend a Google ‘boot camp’ event in March to guide their further work. They will also be invited to showcase their projects and progress at a dedicated ‘demo day’ in May.

This year’s Circularity Gap report from Dutch think-tank Circle Economy confirmed that humanity’s use of raw natural resources is around 100 billion tonnes per year. It forecasts an increase to 170 billion tonnes by 2050 on a business-as-usual trajectory.

Concern is raised in this report about the fact that, as we use more raw materials, a diminishing share is reused or properly recycled. 9.1% of the materials extracted in 2018 re-entered the circular economy, but the rate stood at just 7.2% last year, by Circle Economy’s calculations.

Amazon Sustainability Accelerator

In related news, Amazon has opened the application for the second round of its Amazon Sustainability Accelerator, which it runs in partnership with UK-based NGO WRAP and European climate innovation platform EIT Climate-KIC. Applications are open until 17 March.

The Accelerator was forged to help Amazon deliver on its pledge to invest $2bn in sustainable innovations this decade. Successful applicants are given support packages comprising grant funding, AWS Activate Credits and Amazon Advertising credits, as well as free mentoring and office space.

After fielding more than 1,300 applications during the last cohort before selecting 12 winners in April 2022, Amazon is now starting the process again. This time, it has stated a specific interest in supporting recycling technologies.

Amazon said in a statement that it is seeking “start-ups with promising technologies that can help the recycling industry leap forward, including new technologies that tackle yet-to-be-solved recycling challenges.

It is also seeking “technologies that significantly improve on existing tools, such as advanced sortation machinery and waste management data systems”.

Aside from recycling, Amazon’s other focus for this cohort is on consumer products that are “quantifiably more sustainable than existing products” in their respective categories. There is also a focus on products that can help people in choosing more sustainable behaviours.

“We need radical collaboration between industry and business, policy makers, and financiers to both connect innovative solutions to one another and shape new markets to bring about bold systemic change,” said EIT Climate-KIC’s chief executive Dr Kirsten Dunlop.

“Our Accelerator programmes set out innovation challenges that encourage entrepreneurs to put these systemic challenges at the very heart of their business solutions. At EIT Climate-KIC, we look forward to this new edition of the Amazon Sustainability Accelerator and to the new solutions that will create opportunities to connect into large-scale, systemic implementation.”

Hear more from Google at edie 23

Taking place in London on 1-2 March 2023, edie’s biggest annual event has undergone a major revamp to become edie 23, with a new name, new venue, multiple new content streams and myriad innovative event features and networking opportunities.

edie 23 will take place at the state-of-the-art 133 Houndsditch conference venue in central London. Held over two floors, the event will offer up two full days of keynotes, panels, best-practice case studies and audience-led discussions across three themed stages – Strategy, Net-Zero and Action.

Click here for full information and to book your ticket.

Google’s head of sustainability for the EMEA region, Adam Elman, will be appearing at edie 23 on Day Two (2 March). He will be appearing on a session hosted in association with edie’s innovation partner Springwise, which will explore ‘how AI can accelerate climate action from businesses’.

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