“Necessity is the mother of invention.” This timeless proverb perhaps best reflects how, and why, a growing number of innovations in recent years have focused on the global push of going green.
Simple concepts like Bike Shares (aimed at reducing cars on the road) have taken over cities across the country. Electric cars are no longer considered strange, distant cousins of the automobile. LED light bulbs have helped put an end to the traditional incandescent light bulb.
Some of the most important innovations of the last 20 years have been specifically geared toward reducing our impact on the planet, and necessity may be the driving force.
Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 documentary – An Inconvenient Truth – surprised many by winning Best Documentary at the Academy Awards. It was surprising because the documentary was, in large part, nothing more than Al Gore lecturing on the irreversible affects of global warming.
The delivery of the message may not have been exciting (Gore isn’t known for being the most animated of talkers). But the meaning behind the message is what turned heads. Is this planet really doomed?
Gore’s film is just one of the many scientifically based reports on how human activity is negatively impacting the planet. As younger generations come into their own – having grown up in a world where recycling is the norm – they’re looking for ways to reverse (or at least slow down) the damage that they’ve inherited.
The result is a growing number of innovators who are using their talents and imaginations to save the world.
Eating fresh, local food is a mantra of many green-minded people. But eating local can be easier said than done. What about areas of the world (including cities or wintry locales) where the closet farm is thousands of miles away? Enter the vertical farm (like The Vertical Harvest in Jackson, Wyoming), which can produce thousands of pounds of vegetables a year, can defy any weather, and can adapt to natural disasters.
With these vertical farms, every corner of the planet has the capability of feeding its local community, thus reducing the need for transporting food thousands of miles, while also reducing the strain felt by farmlands (California’s fragile landscape comes to mind).
Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently introduced a suite of batteries capable of storing electricity for homes and businesses.
“Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy,” Musk told Bloomberg. “We’re talking at the terawatt scale. The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world.”
Musk’s Telsa Powerwall is a wall-mounted lithium-ion electric battery ideal for homes and businesses, while the Tesla Powerpack is designed for utility-scale use.
According to Musk, combining the Powerwall with a few solar panels could easily take a home off the power grid.
A team from MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems has developed a way to help increase the amount of drinkable water made available to populations across the planet. Their solar-powered machine is able to pull salt out of water, and disinfect the water with UV rays, making it suitable for drinking.
This innovation recently won the $140,000 Desal Prize from the U.S. Department of Interior.
More than 40% of the country’s energy consumption comes from residential and commercial buildings. As a result, there’s been an international push toward creating net-zero buildings that produce as much energy as they use.
In California, North Fontana will be home to the state’s first Zero Net Energy community, consisting of at least 20 zero-net energy homes. In Australia, the architecture firm Archiblox unveiled the world’s first carbon-positive home (meaning it actually puts energy back on the grid).
The wheel was invented (likely) to make it easier to transport/haul large objects over long distances. The computer was invented to improve productivity. The loofah was invented to help people simultaneously clean and exfoliate their bodies.
Every successful innovation found its footing because it served a need at that time. Here, in the 21st century, one of the most prevalent needs our society faces is a solution to the damage our forefathers have caused on the earth.
Innovators who are able to create new approaches to fill this need are more likely to find supporters, and excitement, for their inventions. Whether it’s a new type of vehicle or an answer for how to reduce the need for traditional energy sources, our society is looking for answers. It will be the most innovative minds on the planet who’ll be there offering the solutions we’re all in search of.