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Sustainability

“Plastic is not created equally,” says Heidi Kujawa, CEO of ByFusion. “It’s super complex, which is why this problem is really broken.”

Amy Lombard

The very short version of the problem goes like this: Despite all those triangle-arrow symbols on the bottom of your bottles, most plastic is not recyclable. And the stuff that is often isn’t recycled anyway, because the process is dirty and cumbersome. Which means your recycling bin may be emptied into a landfill.

Kujawa wants to fix this. She had a successful career in entertainment and tech, but was looking to do something more meaningful. Around 2015, she heard about a company that had developed an interesting concept: It smushed old plastic into blocks, which could be used as construction material instead of concrete or bricks. “They had a prototype and it kind of worked, but not really,” Kujawa says. The company had since closed, and the patent had lapsed. “I said, ‘I know I can make that better.’”

Related: How to Make Sustainability More Than a Buzzword

Now she has. Her company, ByFusion, builds machines that literally fuse up to 30 pounds of plastic — no matter the type or how dirty it is — into blocks that can be used to make walls, furniture, small structures, and more. Its work is starting to appear around the country: A park bench was installed in Boise in February, followed by projects in Tucson and .

Below, you can follow the process of a block — as well as Kujawa’s journey to reviving a once-failed idea, and putting old plastic to real use.

 LAUNCHING A RADICAL IDEA

As Kujawa looked to fund her company, she knew she was in a bind: She’d innovated inside the waste and construction industries, both of which are in need of new ideas — but “waste management and construction are two massive industries that VCs typically never invest in,” Kujawa says. How can entrepreneurs get funding in an overlooked space? First, prove the idea: Following the sale of her last company, she bootstrapped the first few phases of ByFusion herself — establishing the market and tech before going to investors. Second, seize the moment: As the culture shifted, with the talking more about climate solutions, “VCs started to say, okay, I guess we have to start focusing on this,” she says. She’s raised a $1.5 million seed round.

Related: What You Can Learn From the Rise of Sustainability-Focused Entrepreneurship

 BACK TO BASICS

“I grew up with a hammer in my hand, not necessarily a Barbie doll,” Kujawa says. She always loved construction–“but I realized early on that it’s probably not a good career path back in the ’70s and ’80s for a girl.” That’s why she went into tech and entertainment. “But I never dropped the hammer.”

 WHO’S THE CUSTOMER? 

ByFusion’s plan isn’t just to sell blocks of plastic. It sells the machines that make the blocks, and has designed them modularly so that a broad range of clients, from waste management companies to municipalities, can utilize them to fit their needs and then produce the blocks themselves. Kujawa pitches it as a financial, logistical, and landfill diversion solution: Instead of transporting worthless plastic and dealing with associated compliance issues, cities and companies (and even universities) could create these blocks. ByFusion will buy back any surplus and sell to market on their behalf. “As we saw with the pandemic, there’s been a shortage of building materials. So let’s give them the ability to create their own material.”

Image Credit: All Photographs by Amy Lombard

Related: The Business of Sustainability

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It’s time for legacy institutions to do their part and implement more environmentally friendly practices.

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May 26, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the world embraces the Paris Climate Agreement, legacy institutions have no choice but to embrace the mission to go green. 

The climate crisis is hardly ever a pleasant topic to discuss. Global greenhouse-gas emissions currently stand at over 10,000 million metric tons of carbon. At this rate, stands to displace two billion people worldwide as a result of rising ocean levels, cost the global billions of dollars and lead to 250,000 deaths per year before the year 2100. The list of harmful effects is endless and justifiably led to public outcry in recent years, pressuring industries to go green and be more environmentally responsible. One of the biggest questions remains: Who’s to blame? 

Related: 3 Simple Ways Cultivators Can Shrink Their Carbon Footprint

The blame game

Between expert opinions, industry narratives and public sentiments, people are pointing fingers in different directions, but one good look at the data reveals the clear perpetrators-in-chief. Close to 100 investor- and state-owned fossil-fuel companies are responsible for around 70 percent of the world’s historical emissions. The numbers speak for themselves, highlighting the need for more effective clean- solutions.  

Then again, many would argue that blame shouldn’t solely be placed on fossil fuel companies, as wealthy countries also tend to contribute toward significantly. The U.S. alone has emitted more CO2 than any other country — by as much as a quarter of all emissions since 1751. By comparison, despite ’s huge rise in emissions over the past decade, emissions per person still sit at less than half of that from the U.S. 

This, in turn, brings us to the energy-consumer level, and here, there is also room for the blame game. Out of a total of over 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide produced globally, the average American household only produces 8.1 metric tons. Once we get past the average, however, we see that the wealthiest tenth of people consume about 20 times more energy overall than the bottom ten, wherever they live. This puts the blame on the social elites, with their multiple cars, huge mansions and jet-setting lifestyles.

Amid the spats and the outcry, the world is now waking up to the climate change threat and moving to counter it. The Paris Agreement, one of the most recent landmarks for climate action, calls for a massive shift of the global economy toward renewable-energy sources, such as natural gas, wind and solar power. This has sparked a frantic search for solutions that are greener and more sustainable, ones that address the climate crisis more effectively.

Related: How to Create a More Sustainable Supply Chain

The new renewable-energy ecosystem

Assertive but isolated initiatives, such as minimizing the use of plastic straws and promoting public transportation, do make a difference, but ultimately have minute effects when considering the sheer scale of greenhouse-gas emissions. What we need is comprehensive, industry-level change embracing sustainable innovation across a plethora of sectors. The energy industry, as noted before, is a sphere where this need is the most urgent, and it’s no surprise that is now one of the hottest topics of discussion among entrepreneurs, policy makers and consumers alike. As such, innovations are emerging across four primary dimensions of global power systems: 

  • Enabling technologies. This refers to technologies, such as electric-vehicle charging, that play a key role in facilitating the integration of renewable energy. Blockchain companies are also stepping up to provide a new level of sophistication to energy supplies, as seen with WePower, Power Ledger, The Brooklyn Microgrid and The Sun Exchange.
  • System operation. This refers to companies that provide innovative ways of operating the power grid, with solutions that expand the use of renewables, not just for power generation, but for other purposes as well. Renewable technology can do more than that — Nostromo, for example, offers an ice-based, thermal-energy-storage solution to make traditional building-cooling systems more environmentally friendly. Legacy chillers tend to exert a large amount of energy throughout the day just to cool the water used to provide air conditioning. Nostromo’s technology leverages literal blocks of ice to supplement the water chillers used to cool buildings, opening the door to reduce the overall energy consumption of buildings and even entire cities.
  • Business models. This refers to innovative models that enhance the flexibility of systems and incentivize the further integration of renewable-energy technologies. Notable examples include energy-as-a-service and pay-as-you-go models.
  • Market design. This refers to new market structures and changes in regulatory frameworks that encourage flexibility and value services in a renewable-based power-energy system. Notable examples include time-of-use tariffs and net billing.

Now is the time for business leaders, policy makers and industry drivers to stop pointing fingers and take action. Instead of spending time and resources on shifting accountability, it would be best to step up and take on renewable-energy initiatives to cut emissions and do their part in fixing the climate crisis.

Related: Top Renewable Energy Stocks to Buy Today? 4 Names to Watch

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New research by Australia Post and the Banksia Foundation looks at key issues that SMEs are facing when it comes to small business sustainability in a post-COVID world.

The study shows that almost half of SMEs in Australia, which make up 98 per cent of businesses and employ almost half of the nation’s workforce, see sustainability as a key driver for their future growth and success.

The Small business sustainability in a COVID-19 world report, which is part of a broader effort by the researchers to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), suggests that sustainability is critical for the long-term survival, security, and competitive advantage of small businesses.

Key findings

1. Operating responsibly

The small business sustainability report found that SMEs are motivated to operate responsibly for three main reasons:

  • Balancing purpose and profit: profit is crucial to ensuring financial sustainability for all businesses, but many SMEs are seeking to balance purpose and profit by establishing themselves as a force for good.
  • Changing stakeholder expectations: a shift in generational thinking means more conscious consumers and purpose-driven employees who expect SMEs to be proactive in their sustainable practices.
  • Future-proofing the business: SMEs recognise that sustainable business practices are necessary for long-term survival, but they can only thrive if the communities they serve and operate in are also sustainable.

SMEs identified three important issues at the heart of their sustainability practices:

  • Reducing waste and rethinking materials: SMEs see waste as a burning issue and are reevaluating the materials they use in their products, while focusing more on reuse and recycle operations.
  • Sustainable packaging: e-Commerce-focused businesses consider packaging to be a significant concern, and one in three SMEs are now committing to Eco-friendly packaging for their products.
  • Supporting local communities: 38 per cent of SMEs said that they integrate community support into their sustainability approach, with many focusing on philanthropy, sponsorship, and initiatives that stimulate local employment.

2. Building resilience

SMEs identified three ways to build greater resilience in response to weakened supply chains and a lack of contingency planning:

  • Rethinking supply chains: Many SMEs will need to consider how they can reshore production and integrate diversity into new and existing supply chains.
  • Transitioning to a circular economy: SMEs may benefit from coming up with new business processes, connections and ways of linking the supply and manufacturing chain as natural resources decline and supply chains are disrupted.
  • Digital disruption: SMEs should be looking to adapt to online environments in the post-COVID world of social distancing, self-isolation, and the closure of bricks and mortar stores if they are to remain viable.

3. Regeneration in a world impacted by COVID-19

The SDGs serve as a global blueprint for creating a world that is comprehensively sustainable: socially fair, environmentally secure, economically prosperous, inclusive, and more predictable.

Adapting to sustainable business models could open up new market opportunities worth up to US$12 trillion a year and generate up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

4. Small business sustainability roadmap

SMEs can follow a practical roadmap to improve their approach to sustainability.

Image source: Australia Post

Australia needs small businesses ‘now more than ever’

Australia Post Executive General Manager Gary Starr called small business the “engine room of our economy” and urged business owners to take advantage of new opportunities to incorporate sustainability into their practices.

“There has never been a more important time for small businesses to be directing their focus towards sustainability and improving their overall resilience,” Mr Starr said.

“Research consistently finds that consumers are more likely to purchase from brands that are sustainable, and many are willing to pay more for products and services that protect the environment or don’t infringe on human rights, and this trend has only been accelerated by the pandemic.

“As many small to medium businesses are often occupied with the immediate concerns of running a business, sustainability isn’t always top of mind, but developing more sustainable products and operations is becoming increasingly important, and it’s easier to get started than many businesses realise.

Banksia Foundation Chief Executive Officer Graz van Egmond also called on small businesses to consider implementing sustainable strategies “in a way that also delivers positive commercial outcomes,” despite the limited resources available to them.

“Now more than ever Australia needs small businesses, and we have a real opportunity to build a more sustainable and inclusive economy than the one we left behind prior to COVID-19,” Ms van Egmond said.


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Australian sustainable packaging startup Planet Protector Packaging has been one victim of the Chinese-Australian trade tensions, after their deal to provide the packaging of rock lobster exports was put on hold. 

Planet Protector Packaging (PPP) was established in 2016 in response to the global plastic waste crisis. Their product aims to eliminate polystyrene from supply chains by replacing it with environmentally responsible WOOLPACK Insulated packaging made from sheep waste wool.

With an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, and 42 per cent of this plastic emanating from the packaging industry, CEO and founder Joanna Howarth said she was eager to build a packaging product that did not rely on polystyrene.

“Our solution consists of two interlocking liners that slip inside the cardboard carton. The carton is recyclable, and the wall is biodegradable,” she said. “If you were to plant the wall or put it in compost, within six months it would have broken down and returned valuable nutrients to the soil.”

Large corporations DHL and Blackmores are now using the Planet Protector Packaging solution, as well as smaller clients Loving Earth and Bondi Meal Prep.

In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, PPP spent nine months conducting trials with the lobster industry to export rock lobsters from Australia to China. 

Joanne Howarth, CEO and founder of Planet Protector Packaging

A $10 billion dollar industry, Ms Howarth said the company would have had $2-3 million worth of revenue coming from Australian lobster trade. 

“We worked with the industry to create a 100 per cent plastic free solution, that would keep the lobsters alive while they travel,” she said. “We wanted to get ahead of Chinese New Year, but then COVID struck.” 

China has put a pause on Australian imports of rock lobsters, and are currently inspecting between 50 and 100 per cent of them, citing concerns about trace elements of metals. However, the halted lobster trade is said to be part of China’s response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison lobbying for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if China does not comply saying: “We expect China to play by WTO rules and if they don’t we’ll have to make consideration with industry around what our next action is around the independent umpire.”

Due to trade tensions, Ms Howarth’s deal with the lobster industry has been put on further hold, as “tonnes of lobsters are just sitting on a dock in China now.”

“The whole lobster industry is shut down,” she said. “As an entrepreneur you learn to be resilient, but this was really something none of us foresaw.”

“The tension between Australia and China is going to have enormous repercussions across jobs, globally. What are the different sectors supposed to do – wind, timber, coal, sugar wheat? 

“That’s $8 billion of our GDP, gone.”


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