The Business of Efficiency: Green Innovation

Three young professionals discuss business plans at a green startup.

Green innovation is here to stay, as the 2017 Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report found. Despite global investment in green energy slipping 23 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, following two years of growth, the world added record levels of renewable energy capacity in 2016.

  • Wind, solar and other renewable energies added 138.5 gigawatts to global power capacity in 2016, up 9 percent from 2015.
  • Average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics (converting light into energy) and wind dropped by more than 10 percent.
  • Renewable energy sources accounted for 55 percent of all new power generation added worldwide.

Consumers and brands have taken note of this trend. Nielsen found that two-thirds of customers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, and brands demonstrating commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4 percent globally, compared to less than 1 percent growth of those without that commitment.

Companies that value green innovation have a strong business and environmental case for what they do. For instance, Philips’ is improving energy consumption and using lightweight/recycled packaging to reduce products’ carbon footprint. The company is also moving away from hazardous substances and reducing the amount of materials it uses to reduce products’ ecological impact. Philips’ commitment to green innovation will extend the lifetime and reduce resource consumption of its products.

Green Technology Innovations

  • Solar Panels: “Solar skin” design solves the problem of unsightly home solar panels. The Boston-based startup Sistine Solar has developed solar panels with a customized look that matches the appearance of a roof without interfering with functionality. Other developments in solar panel technology for 2017, according to the solar installation comparison company EnergySage, included solar-powered roads, solar textiles and a small (half the size of a postage stamp) solar device that can purify water when exposed to sunlight.
  • Batteries: Tesla completed production of a massive battery farm in South Australia that has a total capacity of 100 megawatts, making it the largest in the world overall, according to TechCrunch. It captures and stores energy produced by a wind farm and distributes it to the grid. The battery was designed to curb frequent summer blackouts; it can provide power to around 30,000 homes for more than a half-hour when operating at full capacity.
  • Electric Vehicles: Automakers have made headlines with various innovations in this industry. A Canadian grocery chain has already purchased 25 of Tesla’s heavy duty all-electric trucks to help reduce emissions and save money on operations. Volkswagen unveiled the MOIA, an all-electric car for ride sharing. It has individual seats, USB ports, dimmable interior lighting, built-in Wi-Fi and luggage storage by the driver for additional leg room for passengers.
  • Meat Production: Food and beverage startups are competing with large companies in this industry, due to some eye-opening innovations. Three companies, Memphis Meats, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are making burgers from animal cells in laboratory environments and from plants. They have also raised millions of dollars in funding ($182 million for Impossible Foods alone).
  • Smart Homes: Smart home innovations continue to come in the form of home battery storage, smart thermostats and home automation systems. Forbes predicts further developments for homes in the next five to 10 years with improved artificial intelligence, such as AI-monitored health functionality, user-defined macro actions (e.g., one phrase that results in a specific setting for blinds, entertainment and temperature), appliances that remind users of upcoming repairs and GPS technology that prepares applications for when owners come home.
  • Manufacturing: Emerging green technologies in the manufacturing sector can reduce energy consumption and emissions, according to a report from The United Nations Industrial Development Organization. For instance, paper production traditionally requires high primary energy demand and CO2 emissions (for kraft pulping). By introducing combined heat and power (CHP) methods, the industry can see fuel savings of about 10 percent and energy savings of around 30 percent.

Illinois Green-Tech Startups

In the Midwest, 569,000 people are employed in green jobs, and regional jobs in environment-friendly enterprises have a favorable growth rate to overall employment. Illinois is home to many companies that pursue green innovation.

  • LuminAid: Featured on ABC’s popular show “Shark Tank,” LuminAid started out by providing a vital need for post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti: light. The company produces solar-powered, portable, inflatable lanterns. After making an impact in Haiti and receiving a great deal of press and business awards, LuminAid has expanded to use for campers, hikers and during emergency situations (like power outages). The company has partnered with many disaster relief agencies to provide help for people.
  • SiNode Systems: This startup produces longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries using a composite of silicon and graphene in a layered structure. Compared to current graphite-based anodes that have a capacity of 372 mAh/g, SiNode material can achieve capacities between 1000 mAh/g and more than 2500 mAh/g. Nano-engineered porosity allows rapid ionic diffusion through the structure for faster charging. SiNode Systems won the Sustainable Practice Impact Award from VentureWell, and the company also received a $4 million grant to further develop its technology from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, which is made up of Ford, GM and Fiat-Chrysler.
  • Hazel Technologies: Hazel Technologies has developed technology that halts the aging process, in an effort to prevent how more than 30 percent of harvested produce is never consumed. The technology, through small ethylene inhibitors and vapor-stuff sachets in products, extend the shelf life of produce. Hazel Technologies has received $700,000 in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop its products.
  • ampCNG: This startup operates a network of compressed natural gas (CNG) stations across the country. Compared to diesel, CNG burns 30 percent less CO2, greatly reduces noise and smog and is more cost effective.

Pursuing a Career in Emerging and Environmental Technologies

Green technology is a growing trend in Illinois and in other markets across the country. A strong business background can help professionals pursue opportunities throughout different industries and roles.

Aurora University’s online B.A. in Business Administration, B.A. in Nonprofit Leadership Studies and online MBA help students develop the knowledge and skills needed to advance their careers. Students receive instruction in current business practices from faculty members with real-world experience. Each program takes place in a fully online learning environment.