Solar energy, E-mobility and digital refugee aid - we've compiled a roundup of a few of the themes that have characterised this year's search for a more sustainable future.
Though we continue to wait for words to turn into big action on a political level for more environmental and climate protection and a fairer world, we regularly come across numerous approaches and projects that already show that a fair and green future is possible. When we look back on 2016, certain trends come to the fore, which we've put together here:
Solar Energy Powers Up, Up and Away
When it comes switching over to renewable energy sources, there's still a lot that needs to be done. But things are certainly on the move, and solar energy is no exception. Daredevil adventurer Bertrand Piccard offered us impressive evidence of that this summer when he successfully flew around the world in the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2. And when it comes to the mighty power of the sun, that's just for starters. Las Vegas's innovative new solar-kinetic EnGoPLANET' streetlamps are powered by an awesome blend of solar cell technology and human footsteps, and in Rwanda the Smart Solar Kiosks project is helping hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs set up their own solar-powered one-stop shop.
In Our Cities the Word On The Street Is: Green
By the year 2050, pretty much everyone in the entire world will be living in a city. That means that while our urban centres face huge challenges in the years to come, they naturally have the amazing potential to be used as spaces in which we can experiment with new, smart, green ideas for the future. This year already saw a few examples: like MacRebur's Plasmac, a road surface solution that combines plastic waste and bitumen to create a sustainable and more durable alternative to standard asphalt, and the Smog Free Tower in Rotterdam and Beijing, which sucks CO2 out of the air and uses the particles to create jewellery. And urban food saving projects were big news too, with the opening of Denmark's first supermarket for discarded food and the founding of the MealSaver app, which allows Berliners to become part of the movement against food waste whilst enjoying discounted take-aways.
Refugee Aid Goes Digital
When people are forced to flee their countries, they usually take little more than the clothes on their backs. But these days, a smartphone is often one of the few essential items that people manage to carry with them. For that reason, an increasing number of platforms, communities and apps are developed with exactly that in mind, offering refugees support in the digital world. One example is the website Arriving In Berlin, an interactive online guide to the German capital that features an open source map made by refugees themselves, based on their own needs and experiences. Another is the network of activists that started Refugee Open Ware in Jordan, training refugees in open source tech and 3D printing. And last but not least the voucher scheme HiMate, which tries to help new arrivals in Germany feel a bit more at home.
E-Mobility Picks Up Speed
Electromobility has arrived, and this time it's here to stay. Until recently the charging infrastructure for electronic cars just wasn't developed enough, and battery life was disappointing, but now more and more companies are working on innovative solutions. Like Blue Inductive, for example, who are working on a technology that allows cars to be charged wirelessly, and eeMobility, who offer users a full-service option and even the opportunity to charge their car in the comfort of their own home. And now even the used batteries from electric cars can be useful too, with the Totus Power energy project using them to power electronic equipment in schools in India.
Fighting For Plastic-Free Seas
The world's seas are full of plastic waste. The problem is by no means new. And unfortunately it seems to be getting worse rather than getting better. But 2016 saw a number of different projects and initiatives on the search for a solution. Among those were Ocean Phoenix and SeaVax and the SeaBin, all of which focus on fishing plastic waste out of our oceans. And then there were projects which take that waste and make something new from it - like climate-neutral plastic building blocks, for example, or works of art made from discarded flip-flops.
We'll keep reporting on smart and sustainable new ideas in the coming year too - exciting things are afoot and it's about to really start getting interesting. To stay on top of what's going down, sign up for our newsletter or our topics notifications.