Our planet faces some serious environmental challenges that can only be solved with groundbreaking innovation. Fortunately, some startup founders and visionaries out there are providing just that. The Katerva Awards, founded in 2009 by author, environmentalist, and former KPMG exec Terry Waghorn, has been called the Nobel Prize of Sustainability and recognizes 10 sustainability innovation ideas from the previous year. Katerva (named from the Latin caterva, meaning "crowd") says it's looking for ideas big enough to be game-changers. Small, incremental improvements need not apply.
Here are a few of the game-changing ideas that won Katerva Awards this year. You can find the full list, along with finalists, here.
1. Corralling ocean garbage.
The Ocean Cleanup won the top Katerva Award, beating out some 3,500 other submissions. This breathtakingly simple, yet powerful, idea was conceived in 2013 by Dutch entrepreneur Boylan Slat, who was only 19 at the time. It plays on the fact that most of the plastic garbage in the world's oceans has gathered into five vortexes, or "gyres," spread around the globe. His ambitious project is to put barriers around these gyres, capturing the plastic inside for pickup and sale to recyclers. The first Cleanup barriers are set to go to work this summer, and the nonprofit projects it will be able to pick up more than 40 percent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within a decade. Without the barriers, it would take an estimated 79,000 years to completely clean up the oceans.
2. Creating crops that thrive on salt water.
Drought is a worsening problem worldwide, and so is the increasing salt content in soil, brought on by a number of factors including deforestation (since deep-rooted trees pull salts out of the soil). Unfortunately, the only way to desalinize soil is by using a lot of fresh water, which is in increasingly short supply.
Salt Farm Texel in the Netherlands is solving the problem by coming at it from the other end: Rather than reduce the salt content in soil, cultivate crops that can grow in salty soil and/or irrigated with salt water. After successful testing on Texel, a Dutch island with highly saline soil, Salt Farm Texel is helping farmers grow salt resistant crops in Pakistan and other areas plagued by salinity.
3. Using gravity to light homes.
Tasked with creating an affordable solar lantern to replace dangerous kerosene lamps in Africa, product designer Jim Reeves instead came up with Gravity Light. Gravity Light produces 20 to 30 minutes of light from energy produced by lifting a bag of earth or rocks and hanging it on the light. The product met its Indiegogo funding goal in four days (it really took off after Bill Gates tweeted it) and is now being tested in tens of thousands of homes without electricity throughout the world.