Organizations of every type are in transition: reevaluating their strategies after pandemic disruptions, recalibrating to better meet the needs of their stakeholders, and redesigning for the long-term. This is not merely an exercise in “purpose-building,” as has been en vogue in recent years, nor solely about becoming “sustainable”–mitigation and offsetting are not enough.
The shift underway is towards regenerative business models, in which organizations are in service to people, society, and planet, by contributing and distributing value across them, instead of constantly extracting from them. This is much about the re-orientation of technologies as it is a re-thinking of relationships and responsibilities.
There is a reason innovators, from start-ups to large corporations, are investing in technological solutions to do better. It is not only about good PR, nor altruism for that matter. Research by PwC indicates that climate tech investment has grown at five times the rate of VC investments since 2013, with the potential for trillions in returns. With growing demand from consumers, talent, as well as more than 300 global corporations (having pledged to reach net zero), plus rising viability and falling costs of emerging technologies, innovation supporting regeneration is just good business sense.
From optimizing efficiencies to optimizing societal and environmental benefit
Here are three real-world examples of businesses leveraging emerging technologies to generate and distribute value by unlocking data-driven visibility, alternative materials for industrial manufacturing, and developing open financial infrastructure for market expansion.
1. Visibility: Pachama enables shift from low carbon accountability to restoration by design
Pachama is a company using tech to radically improve quantification of carbon capture, while accelerating efforts to improve restoration through a digital marketplace. Using sensors and drones, and training machine learning on satellite, drone, and LIDAR imagery, Pachama is able to measure actual capture from several forest ecosystems with far greater precision and verifiability (claiming 90% accuracy compared to traditional models). More than 1000 brands have connected directly to reforestation projects via its digital marketplace, and its API enables businesses to build carbon capture quantification directly into products.
How regenerative? To date, carbon credits have lacked reliable verification mechanisms, eroding their utility and market trust. Facilitating a quantitative, standardized way to measure, audit, and account for carbon capture is critical to bridging a gap in the carbon market. But it is not just helping companies “see” the scope and impacts of their offset investments, they are actively accelerating reforestation projects in the process. These projects are also used to improve the measurement itself (i.e. through aggregation; based on local factors). In addition, consider the potential to scale visibility, awareness, and market behavior by enabling easy integration with companies’ products. Imagine the eight largest tech companies deployed such an API across their consumer and enterprise apps…
2. Materials: Zymergen’s “biofacturing” shifts from petrochemicals to bio-based products for industrial scale
Zymergen is using biotech to support large industrial manufacturers’ shift away from fossil fuel-based products towards formulae and materials inspired and sourced across nature. The company has developed a metagenomics database, which contains millions of biomolecular compounds, microbe and enzyme-generated strains, and uses artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation to reengineer alternative “recipes”. Instead of petrochemical-based adhesive, for example, they worked to develop adhesive material inspired by mollusks clinging to rocks in the crashing ocean. In 2019, the company “biofactured” more than 100,000 microbial strains, targeting a wide range of industries: Plastics, packaging, electronics, cosmetics, insect repellant, crop protection, pharmaceuticals, and more.
Why regenerative? Zymergen keeps hydrocarbons in the ground without compromising industry demands. Instead of steel and concrete, the process involves microbes in fermentation tanks. While these practices remain nascent, Zymergen points to far greater biodiversity as the starting point for design compared to relatively rigid petrochemicals, plus software-based “test-learn-iterate” process enables more rapid and precise research and development (R&D) time to market. Bio-based products can improve crop, animal, and human health; widen access to food, drug supply, therapeutics; and are inherently less extractive and more sustainable than that of how millions of products built using petrochemicals are derived today.
3. Market Infrastructure: Seeds enables shift from closed financial markets to open infrastructure to invest for good
Seeds is a fintech platform developing infrastructure to reward, finance, and connect organizations and movements. Built using open source, the blockchain-based marketplace connects people, projects, and businesses around regenerative activities such as reforestation or education programs. A digital currency (seeds) is the common asset, streamlining exchange between projects and contributors from around the world, and using software to incentivize collaboration, participation, and allocate rewards. Seeds also offers APIs, smart contracts, and QR-code tools to help businesses quickly integrate Seeds marketplace into their own websites and campaigns.
How regenerative? Seeds compounds and redistributes value from each transaction towards regenerative projects, removing geographic, political, and economic barriers, and using technologies to help ensure “good deeds get seeds.” Instead of being charged fees, organizations are rewarded for integrating seeds into their campaigns. To ensure as inclusive an economic infrastructure as possible, Seeds is a decentralized organization allowing anyone to contribute, participate in voting, and be compensated for contribution.
“The world’s first trillionaire will be a green entrepreneur.”
–Kara Swisher, Business Technology Journalist, The New York Times
These companies exemplify the use of a wide range of technological and scientific solutions– sensors, drones, satellites, robotics, blockchain, genomics, and more. More importantly, they demonstrate concrete ways in which technology vendors can accelerate the scale of regenerative businesses and marketplaces.