Taking the Long View: Startups and Sustainability

July 7, 2020

Taking the Long View: Startups and Sustainability

Major world events have come recently at an extraordinary pace, with international attention focused on ongoing issues such as the COVID-19 virus and its effects on global living conditions, as well as international protests. Yet with so much happening this year, we might be in danger of forgetting about ‘slow news’ events.

What we term ‘slow news’ refers to issues that occur over a long time, and may not appear as spectacular or dramatic as one-off news events, but are no less important. Climate change is a prime example of slow news.

The ongoing battle against COVID-19 has led many countries around the world and in Asia to attempt to contain the deadly virus. This kind of international cooperation should also be central to our fight against climate change; however, most governments have been slow to act and collaborate. This is where private companies and innovative startups have an opportunity to shine.

An even bigger concern 

Over the past decade, the effects of climate change have become more noticeable. Indeed, the first major event of 2020 came on January 2, when parts of Australia declared a state of emergency in response to out-of-control bushfires.

Just over a month ago, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) revealed that the carbon dioxide levels hit a daily record high of 418.12 ppm. This number is striking, as it proves that CO2 levels continued to rise even during the initial weeks of social distancing and lockdown.

Over time, the business slowdown as a result of this pandemic is expected to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 8%. Although such a decrease may ease global warming slightly, an economic crash is not sustainable and much more effort is needed to put the world on a safer path. Some experts are also worried that the focus on economic recovery might see governments sacrifice long-term environmental goals.

Startups to the rescue

Startups can leverage digital transformation to help the world cope with climate change, in the same way that businesses like Grab and Uber used it to revolutionize transport.

Singaporean startup SensorFlow, uses technology to improve efficiency in hotel rooms, using guest data to reduce energy waste on air-conditioning and other systems. Third Wave Power, also from Singapore, takes a similar approach. The company promotes smart city solutions – as well as off-grid power, which refers to electricity generated privately and independent of a public utility.

Elsewhere, CarbiCrete is a green startup that aims to clean up a sector – the construction industry – known to have a major environmental impact. Construction relies heavily on cement, which is responsible for around 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions. CarbiCrete produces cement-free and carbon-negative concrete, by using mineral waste and carbon dioxide as raw materials.

These and other innovative companies, many of which are in Southeast Asia, are changing the landscape for the better – both literally and figuratively.

Scaling up the business

Startups like these may hold the key to our sustainable future, but these businesses face many challenges in their early stages of growth. For example, they often have early financial constraints as they try to attract investors.

This search for funds inevitably distracts from the need to focus on their core operations and business model. Once again, long-term objectives (the ‘slow news’ of the business world) sometimes end up taking a back seat to the more pressing issue of funding.

Finding the right investors is therefore necessary, and we’ve written elsewhere about how green startups can do it. With the right vision, combined with external support, green startups can gain the capital they need to scale up – and make good on their promise to deliver sustainability and improve society.

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