Horizon scanning: Six green innovation areas to watch in 2022
Over the past 12 months, countless innovations which could help businesses and nations deliver a green recovery. Here, edie and innovation partner Springwise assess these trends and pick out six key focus areas where technologies could transform in 2022.
Since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic2020, we’ve all been navigating a period of extreme disruption. And 2021 hasn’t been the return to normality we might have hoped it would be.
Analysts at edie’s innovation partner Springwise expect 2022 to be the year of the ‘Great Transition’ – with disruption continuing to affect the labour market, supply chains, and the economy, not to mention our daily experiences. And underpinning all of this will the continuing need to find green solutions to stop the climate crisis, restore nature and promote a just transition.
Thankfully, we are already seeing innovations that point us towards what a greener future might look like. There was also, for the first time at a COP, an international commitment to slash the cost of cleantech from nations in Glasgow in November.
So, what are the next-generation trends and innovations that will impact our lives in 2022 and beyond? While keeping one eye on the present, edie has scanned the horizons to identify six broad innovation areas that could be set to ignite in 2022.
1) Ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity gain
Regeneration is about more than pledging to do no harm – it’s about leaving the world in a more positive state. This requires active interventions to complement natural ecosystems and protect biodiversity. We also need to find ways to feed ourselves more sustainably, without destroying the natural world.
With the second half of the UN’s 15th Convention on Biological Diversity on the horizon, and a growing awareness of the nature crisis, innovative solutions are developing and scaling at a pace, with interventions increasingly tailored to their geographical contexts.
In the UK, for example, bus stops 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.
There has also been much innovation in the UK in recent months regarding peatland restoration, replanting seagrasses and kelp, and hardwood tree planting.
In warmer, forest climates affected by fires, skyscraper-like structures that gradually disperse seeds and soil nutrients are a promising solution.
[Image: Bee Bus Stops, Credit: Clear Channel]
The ways in which humanity currently uses land is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the IPCC, land use accounts for 23% of man-made GHG emissions, with the majority attributable to agriculture. It is unsurprising, then, that the green agritech market is thriving. Innovations range from blockchain trails of audit to solar-powered robots capable of weeding and planting.
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% less water, and zero chemical pesticides, it also reduces the transport needed by around 90%
[Image: High-Capacity Growing Centres, Credit: Infarm]
3) Covid-safe sustainable workspaces
Times of great social change can be a catalyst for innovation, and, amid Covid-19, we’ve all seen improvements in areas like video calling and air filtration.
Work and travel are two areas that have been particularly impacted. Innovations created in response to the current crisis could be developed into more sustainable ways of doing things in the future.
In the UK, a fleet of bookable, next-generation work pods made from sustainable materials are designed to enhance human health and productivity in today’s pandemic-shaped landscape. Designed by London-based Make.Work.Space, the pods—which will be located in major train stations, public buildings, and shopping centres—can be booked through an app.
[Image: Tech-driven work pods, Credit: Make.Work.Space]
In the US, a nomadic hospitality company Moliving Inc. has created a set of luxury hotel rooms on wheels. The structures—built in collaboration with modular fabricator SG Blocks—use recycled and eco-friendly materials. Rooftop solar panels provide power and minimise carbon footprint.
4) Ocean sustainability
Today, the ‘blue economy’ is an emerging concept that encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue’ resources, in a way that also provides an economic boost. The ocean is critical to averting climate disaster, as it’s estimated to absorb at least a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. The marine world is also a source of inspiration and innovation when it comes to solving some of our toughest sustainability challenges.
In the UK, scientists are looking into the ability of mussels to filter microplastics from natural waterways. As well as being naturally robust, mussels are incredibly efficient. In one day, a single square metre of mussels can filter a whopping 150,000 litres of water.
Seaweed is very good at sequestering carbon and has a wide number of uses – from food to energy production. But the traditional process for harvesting seaweed is labour-intensive. An automated ‘sea combine’ developed in India could solve this problem, enabling seaweed to be cultivated at scale.
[Image: Sea combine. Credit: Sea6 Energy]
5) Cities and the built environment
By 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities and other urban locations, the UN estimates. Worldwide, more than 55% already do. And as the global community becomes increasingly urban, city infrastructure will need to be designed with sustainability in mind. COP26 saw many cities, towns and regions showing up to show their solutions and to also emphasise the importance of adaptation.
In Germany, a solar-panelled bike path generates light and electricity, in an innovation that caught the attention of Springwise. The Solar Veloroute, designed by architect Peter Kuczia, features photovoltaic panels that could generate up to 2,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per kilometre of bike route. A single kilometre of the pathway can generate enough electricity to power 750 homes.
[Image: Bike Path. Credit: Pixabay]
A German-US partnership will test magnetisable concrete to create roads that could charge vehicles as they drive. The concept is to embed road concrete with recycled ferrite particles that are conductive and capable of generating a magnetic field. This approach is significantly more economical than installing miles of copper under the road.
6) Empowering ethical consumption with digital technologies
More than half of shoppers are making it a priority to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, according to a recent survey, with four in 10 more concerned about sustainability now than they were pre-pandemic.
As such, many solutions are emerging to help consumers cut through the jargon and identify products and services that meet their eco-expectations. Startup Hive’s online marketplace is a one-stop-shop for conscious consumers. The company only stocks goods with low impact ingredients, environmentally friendly packaging, a low-carbon footprint, and a commitment to social good. Customers receive a full report at checkout that shows how their purchases make a positive impact.
[Image: Hive, Credit: Hive]
In France, a tool enables companies to obtain a score measuring their environmental impact. Zei’s scoring considers environmental, social, and governance criteria. The platform offers consumers eco-responsible alternatives in many areas, including food, lifestyle and wellbeing, fashion, energy, transport, and housing. Meanwhile, businesses are offered a catalogue of more than 800 innovations and alternatives, from green electricity suppliers to waste recycling providers – all to boost their score.
Springwise is the global innovation intelligence platform for positive and sustainable change. Read the full next-generation trends series for insight into the innovations and trends impacting the world in 2022 and beyond. Sign up to the Springwise Sustainable Source newsletter to receive a bi-weekly curation of green innovations.