We’re so glad you could join us. This newsletter, to be delivered twice monthly, will explore pertinent issues related to smart technology, clean energy and sustainable agriculture. Our goal is to keep a finger on the pulse of industry trends and how they relate to Novus’s goals and success.
2020 wasn’t all bad news
To be sure, the past year has been marked by tragedy and outrage. The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, racial injustice, a contentious election cycle and a climate crisis dominated many of our conversations and our newsfeeds.
And so it was easy at times to overlook some of the year’s high points. But there were a number of developments that highlighted an increased urgency toward social equity and environmental sustainability. Here are some of our favorite stories.
Enter the clean energy revolution
And there’s been a big breakthrough in nuclear fusion. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusions Systems created a compact fusion reactor that works by mimicking the way the sun makes energy.
Earlier this month, President-elect Joe Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to join his Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to hold this post. The appointment is significant because Haaland will oversee 500 million acres of public land, directly contributing to the well-being of the 1.9 million Indigenous people living in the US.
Biden also selected Michael S. Regan to head the EPA and Brenda Mallory to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. By choosing Black Americans for these positions, Biden is addressing the issue of environmental racism, or the fact that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by poor environmental policy.
And finally, Sen. Cory Booker – along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – introduced the Justice for Black Farmers Act, which seeks to protect Black farmers from institutionalized racism within the USDA and create a land grant program to encourage a new generation of Black farmers.
Beyond the recycling bin
AMP Robotics, which uses AI to sort and package recyclable materials, deployed a pilot project at a Toronto apartment complex to show how machine learning could streamline and economize material handling. With China restricting the types of raw materials it will accept from other countries, innovations like this will be valuable in keeping recycling programs viable.
Meanwhile, a company called Technisoil has found a way to turn plastic bottles into asphalt. It made headlines when its first stretch of highway went down in Oroville, California. Each mile uses 150,000 bottles, and the material is said to be stronger than traditional asphalt.
And on the policy front, Vermont became the first state to encourage composting by implementing a food scrap ban. At the time the law was written, food waste accounted for about 20% of landfill makeup, which created a significant amount of methane.
The secondhand market goes big
ThredUp, a frontrunner in the $28B fashion resale market, inked a deal with designer Christian Siriano offload excess merchandise. Both ThredUp and Poshmark, another fashion resale site, have reported profits and filed for IPOs.
And in Ireland and the UK, Ikea has started trading vouchers for gently used pieces customers bring in, which it refurbishes them and sells.
Farmers get a high-tech helping hand
With an eye toward preserving its supply chain during the pandemic, Chipotle launched a D2C ecommerce platform for four of its major farm partners.
Other digital solutions designed to help small farmers include Steward, which allows investors to fund specific improvements on the farm, and Agrellus, a marketplace that creates access to agricultural products like seeds, fertilizers and irrigation parts within existing distribution channels.
Alternative proteins…but working out a few bugs
Alternative meat startups – like NUGGS, the self-professed Tesla of chicken nuggets – collectively raked in more than a billion dollars this year. And advanced soy proteins aren’t the only offering on the menu.
The high-tech beetle farm Ÿnsect, set to launch in 2022, raised $372m to aid in its mission to create sustainable sustenance for the booming fish farming market. Eventually, though, it hopes to make bug-based treats for people.
Meanwhile, mushrooms – long a mainstay in vegetarian cuisine – can make more than steaks. Scientists have come up with a way to use the fungi’s mycelium to create a biodegradable Styrofoam substitute.
A young climate crusader gains momentum
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg finished a gap year meeting speaking before world leaders about the importance of climate policy. When the pandemic made it impossible to continue the Global Climate Strike, a series of coordinated demonstrations on school campuses, Thunberg launched a digital campaign to keep the topic top of mind among young people.
Where the wild things are
Global demand for palm oil — used in a range of products including shampoo, soap, baby formula, lipstick, ice cream and packaged bread – has led to massive deforestation in Indonesia, which in turn threatens beloved species including the orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros. But a biotech outfit called C16 Biosciences has come up with a synthetic alternative for palm oil, which could eventually help stave off some of habitat destruction for these and other animals.
Meanwhile in a stretch of the Bolivian Andes Mountains, a high-altitude cloud forest – so-called for the mist that forms when moist air rises and then condenses to form rainfall – scientists discovered new species of snakes, frogs and butterflies, and rediscovered species previously thought to be extinct.
And in Australia, a cattle rancher and a biochemist teamed up to capture feral camels – widely considered a destructive nuisance – so see if dromedary dairy could be a worthwhile pursuit. Turns out it’s somewhat expensive to produce, but the nutritional qualities make it an attractive option for health-conscious consumers.
Although I don’t imbibe, I’ll raise a glass to that in spirit.
Here’s looking forward to the New Year.