January 30, 2024

Sustainable Innovation

Innovations are everything. Innovations are breakthroughs in science and technology that make the world a better place. They drive humanity to become more efficient and creative with resources - without them, new products wouldn’t be invented, new processes wouldn’t be created, and new improvements to life wouldn’t become real. From a business perspective, innovation is essential. It allows companies to evolve, creates countless business opportunities, and facilitates essential competition for the world economy. There are many types of innovations, but a new type of innovation is emerging in response to increasing concerns about the future of the planet. Sustainable innovation is the process of creating business methods, products, or services that positively impact the environment and create socioeconomic benefits for a company, its employees, and its customers. Innovations in sustainable business practices or products aim to preserve the environment for future generations, and these innovations are happening all over the world today. Some companies use sustainable innovations as a new approach to business, while others create a business model off the innovation itself. Regardless of what business people run or what products they sell, it is clear that sustainable innovation is everywhere.

S. Cafe is a company created by Taiwanese textile producer SingTex that focuses on creating sustainable textiles with a unique ingredient - coffee grounds. Besides being used in one of the most consumed beverages in the world, coffee beans are known to be a powerful odor absorber, an incredible exfoliant, and an effective moisture absorber. Despite these properties, coffee is a major single use commodity. Once the beans or grounds have been used to make coffee, they can’t be used again. The process to make coffee is also very inefficient. A 12 ounce cup of coffee only directly consumes 20 grams of coffee grounds, creating a large amount of spent grounds and organic waste. While these grounds can be composted, a large portion of them are not, and most grounds are landfilled. To end coffee’s cradle to grave life cycle and fully utilize the product’s other properties, S. Cafe began collecting used grounds from across the region and incorporating them into the company’s new line of clothes. After some engineering and design, the end products were incredibly successful - the coffee’s properties translated very well into the clothes, making them sweat wicking, odor controlling, and UV resistant. In addition to the product benefits associated with coffee ground laced fabric, the company also saw decreased water usage and lower production costs and emissions as a result of this switch to sustainable textile manufacturing. Companies like S. Cafe are proof that sustainable innovations in product manufacturing can have lasting effects on a companies’ economic prosperity and their impact on the environment.  

An important component of creating a sustainable world is increasing the circularity of products once thought to be hard to recycle. Recycling these items, which make up a large portion of products today, could increase landfill diversion and promote circularity. Terracycle is a company based in New Jersey that focuses on recycling virtually everything imaginable such as styrofoam, lip balms, and even personal protective equipment. The company is involved with the recycling process at all levels, and they offer a plethora of different services to customers. They employ researchers who discover better ways to recycle products. They operate numerous MRFs across the country that sort, process and distribute recyclable materials to companies. On the consumer level, they offer numerous drop off locations for people to dispose of their recyclables. Their biggest consumer product is the Zero Waste Box - a recycling container that can be filled with hard to recycle materials and shipped directly to Terracycle once it reaches capacity. On a social level, Terracycle is also involved - the company created a program that helps schools earn fundraising money for uniforms, instruments, and art supplies by turning in recyclable items. Terracycle is a business that is committed to sustainable innovations in recycling and tackling solid waste on all fronts, and their impact is substantial in the recycling industry. 

Companies that focus on sustainable innovations like S. Cafe and Terracycle are pioneers in their fields and leading the way in promoting the longevity of the planet and its natural resources. Much like these companies, CIRT is a company dedicated to increasing product and packaging circularity and providing information on recycling opportunities across the country. From digitally mapping recycling information to circularity assessments, we integrate technology into the recycling process to maximize the impact of recycling on businesses, communities, and the environment.