The business case for fighting climate change

Chilling news regarding climate change continues to arrive on a regular basis, even as Antarctica warms dangerously and further troubling global symptoms emerge. It’s a grand shame that global governments seem unable to mobilize to the degree necessary to keep Antarctica safely frigid and other climate-change-related catastrophes at bay.

It’s also a shame that those same governments don’t seem to realize quite how many potent, easily accessed and — interestingly enough — business-friendly weapons in the climate change battle they already possess, all too quietly, within their borders.

From Tel Aviv to Palo Alto, New York to London, entrepreneurs have created in the last handfuls of years an eclectic arsenal of innovations that are already beginning to show their mettle in the battle against climate change, as well as their potential to help the bottom lines of a wide swath of businesses. Many of these innovations currently fly inches, or miles, below the radar of public and governmental awareness. Yet the climate change needle could well be nudged if such disparate technologies were properly shared, engaged, supported and leveraged on a global scale.

Three years ago I was assigned to cover EcoScraps, an intriguing Utah-based company that fights climate change and benefits businesses organically, in multiple senses of the word. EcoScraps works by collecting food waste from grocery stores and wholesale produce suppliers, processing it and cycling it back to market as fertilizer.

In our interview, co-founder and CEO Daniel Blake commented that methane emissions — a prime concern addressed by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau in their recent climate change announcement — come heavily from rotting organic matter in landfills, which in turn can count for up to 8 percent of the greenhouse emissions that humans generate.

Forty percent of all food grown in the United States gets thrown away, Blake said, so the potential to reduce that waste, and the greenhouse emissions that result, is tremendous. Plus, Blake pointed out, grocery stores save money on their waste costs, “so everybody wins.”

Technologies that can benefit both businesses and the climate change battle are here now, working and waiting.

In light of recent predictions, his words take on new meaning. When creative, business-friendly solutions to climate change are successfully activated, every one of us indeed wins, even if the triumph is a small or incremental one.

EcoScraps was far from the only such solution I discovered, hiding in plain sight, while on assignment. Another is PK Clean, a pioneering Utah-based company that alchemizes plastic waste back into low-sulfur fuel.

PK Clean’s operations produce no toxic emissions and function as a continuous process — the reactor needed to transmute the plastic refuse is fed by the plastic itself, eliminating the need to wastefully heat and cool the system with every batch — so energy and money are saved. The innovation reduces not only the petroleum-based content of landfills and oceans, but the costs and emissions associated with transporting and storing large amounts of such plastic waste. Businesses and the atmosphere benefit alike from the transaction.

The exploding world of data-based innovation holds similar potential to benefit businesses and the climate change battle; my recent work within the world of Industrial IoT technologies, and the startup ecosystem as a whole, has allowed me to see this first-hand. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that, in 2010, 21 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions were created by industry, 14 percent by transportation, 6 percent by buildings and 25 percent by electricity and heat production. Data-driven technologies exist that can immediately help each of these segments become more efficient, profitable and clean, on a global scale.

Innovations like these are really the tip of the proverbial (melting) iceberg. Whether high-tech or organic, digital or dirt-based, diverse and effective ways to battle climate change while increasing business profits are already here, already working. They just need to be amplified, furiously.

Global leaders in tech, government, business and beyond can help. Seeking, promoting, supporting and engaging existing innovations, on a large scale, is the sort of aggressive action that our time and planet require.

If a subset of political decision-makers must spend their time arguing and denying, blaming and stonewalling while Antarctica sweats, so be it. But in the meantime, technologies that can benefit both businesses and the climate change battle are here now, working and waiting. For the sake of the rest of us, they must be activated, globally and with great force.