20 April 2022
By Liv Walde
Sustainable companies will be crucial to the future success of the UK economy, putting ethical business practices and climate-friendly technologies at the heart of their business models. And central to sustainability is climate change, one of the most visible and urgent societal concerns in 2022. Indeed, research firm Kantar found that four in ten Brits believe climate change should be more of a priority following the COVID-19 pandemic.
These days, the terms “eco-friendly”, “energy efficient” and “recyclable” are more likely to appear on products, subscriptions and business descriptions than not. And studies show that consumers are growing increasingly climate-conscious, willing to pay up to 25% more for sustainable products from sustainable businesses.
You may have already taken steps to go green, taking on veganuary, ditching the plastic straws or opting for Zoom meetings instead of travelling to see clients—but these ”tech for good” trailblazers we’re about to explore are developing a wide range of innovative solutions to environmental challenges.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the most sustainable companies in the UK, all showing signs of impressive growth, and spanning the fintech, renewable energy, sustainable materials and healthcare industries. Read on to see what the future of sustainable technology looks like.
A portmanteau of “financial technology”, fintech is the best-performing startup sector in the UK. It seeks to integrate advancements in technology and the everyday use of financial services, with several of the country’s fastest-growing fintech companies specifically developing green solutions.
One such business is Tred, which provides a green debit card that calculates an individual’s personal carbon footprint, and helps them to improve their environmental impact. It does so by tracking your spending, helping you to reduce and offset your carbon emissions, through user-selected and verified projects surrounding Amazon reforestation or renewable energy generation. Founded in 2019 and based in Leeds, Tred saw impressive waiting list growth last year of 122% (half of which came from referrals from existing users). The sustainable fintech company has raised £968k in equity investment so far, from backers including Crowdcube and SyndicateRoom’s Access EIS fund.
And soon, you may be spoiled for choice when it comes to eco-friendly credit cards, as London-based Treecard offers a sustainable, wooden debit card. The card “reforests the planet as you spend”, and is made from sustainably-sourced cherry wood and recycled plastic bottles. Treecard’s plant-as-you-spend initiative means that every time users make a purchase, they contribute to one of the company’s 20 tree-planting projects across 15 different countries. Mastercard collects a portion of the interchange fee taken by merchants for processing the payment and uses this to fund tree planting, rewilding the planet and neutralising carbon emissions through daily spending. Treedcard has so far secured over £4.61m in backing for its eco-friendly business model, from the likes of Ecosia and Episode 1.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) fintech company Neutreeno’s offering is slightly different, combining fashion with sustainability to combat climate change. Neutreeno’s software is aimed at e-commerce brands looking to reduce their negative environmental impact. It calculates the emissions produced by an item, say a new pair of Nike trainers, and then allows customers to make a contribution (usually less than 1%) towards offsetting these emissions at checkout. Founded in 2020, the London-based startup has attended Accelerate Cambridge’s three-month accelerator programme.
Charging your phone, driving to work, running your business—we’re all moving towards a future in which these daily tasks don’t emit damaging greenhouse gases and contribute to world pollution. Luckily, renewable energy usage is on the rise, making up 42.8% of total energy usage in the UK in 2021. And the UK is home to some of the most ambitious green energy startups out there.
Most people’s days start with a cup of coffee, the coffee grounds of which Bio-Bean is using to produce clean energy. Coffee grounds are incredibly calorific in nature, so Bio-Bean has developed new technology to extract compounds from this spent coffee. These can then be used to produce sustainable alternatives to non-renewable forms of energy such as fossil fuels, which are key contributors to climate change. The company has raised £9.22m in funding so far, from investors including 2enable Partners and Gresham House Renewable Energy VCT, as well as 11 innovation grants. It has also attended UCL’s The Hatchery accelerator and RAEng’s SME Leaders Programme.
Then there’s Loowatt, which has created a unique waterless toilet system, with a closed-loop waste system which minimises the environmental impact of flushing. Using a waste-to-energy circuit, waste is collected and processed locally into biofuels or fertiliser. The company has received seven innovation grants and £4.75m worth of equity investment, from investors including Access EIS and Seedrs. It also attended the SME Leaders Programme and Mayor’s International Business Programme. Loowatt looks set to conquer the summer market, as festival goers return to in-person events, as well as distribution to underdeveloped urban areas that currently lack safe sanitation, to aid sustainable development.
Also focused on water usage, Wase develops water treatment systems which allow for nutrients to be recycled back into the environment during sewage processing. This involves the generation of bioenergy from wastewater using advanced sewage treatment systems, on urban, industrial, and agricultural levels. Founded in 2017, the company’s initiative is proving popular, drawing in £1.2m in funding from investors such as Elbow Beach Capital and Bristol-based angel network Science Angel Syndicate. Wase has also secured four innovation grants so far, totalling £359k, and attended both the Climate-KIC Accelerator and Exeter Velocities programme.
Moving from the water up to the air, London-based Phycobloom has found ways to produce renewable energy from sky pollutants and emissions. It uses natural organisms such as algae to photosynthesise and transform carbon dioxide into a valuable, eco-friendly fuel source. Phycobloom has raised £200k from funders so far, including impact fund Zero Carbon Capital. The company is using this capital to continue to develop its technology, aiming to provide widespread access to their sustainable algae oil.
Meanwhile, with a slogan of “Net zero. Let’s go”, Inhabit enables SMEs to measure and reduce their operational carbon footprint. Inhabit provides small businesses with a customised reduction plan, including impact reports that can be shared with customers, partnerships, investors and other stakeholders. The cleantech company aims to inspire businesses and consumers to develop a shared goal of sustainability. It has secured £212k worth of investment so far, across two funding rounds, from investors including Bethnal Green Ventures (having also attended the VC fund’s accelerator programme in 2019). Inhabit is currently working towards its B Corp certification.
The UK alone amassed 43.9m tonnes of commercial and industrial waste in 2019, of which just 46.2% was recycled, with the rest ending up in landfill or contributing to the spread of microplastics through water supplies. To avoid contributing further to the huge amounts of everyday waste, numerous startups are now trying to tackle the issue of single-use plastics. These ambitious businesses are hoping to make it easier for consumers to choose reusable raw materials.
Scunthorpe-based Toraphene has over 10 years of experience in biotechnology. It develops a fully-biodegradable, compostable, and commercially-viable alternative to plastic. Founded in 2018, the environmental sustainability startup has already raised £1.17m in equity funding through Crowdcube. Its current focus is a sustainable alternative to carrier bags, ensuring consumers can fulfil their social responsibility to help combat plastic pollution.
For those wanting to have a more positive impact on the environment during their lunch break, CLUBZERØ links restaurants and consumers that use its reusable packaging materials. Customers simply show their CLUBZERØ ID to participating restaurants and can later return the packaging to any CLUBZERØ box or have it picked up from home. The company tracks its packaging using Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Food waste is also reduced as consumers are more likely to take home their leftovers, as opposed to disposing of them. CLUBZERØ has secured £994k in investment so far, across four funding rounds, with investors including Seedcamp and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Also on a mission to reduce single-use plastics, as well as microplastics that infiltrate our water and lungs, Xampla has created a natural resource consisting of plant protein material for commercial use. Its technology replaces single-use plastic typically found in dishwasher tablets, edible films (think stock cubes) and vitamin capsules. The venture has secured eight innovation grants, totalling £1.52m, alongside £8.29m worth of fundraisings. Its investors include Amadeus Capital Partners, Cambridge Angels and two University of Cambridge funds, having spun-out of the university in 2018.
Pangaia, meanwhile, produces clothing using sustainable technology. Its supply chain involves scientifically-purposed materials (such as biobased, plant and recycled fibres), as well as ecological production treatments and dyes, to ensure that the final item of clothing has next to no negative impact upon the environment. What’s more, through its ethical business practice initiatives, Pangaia strives to donate profits to charitable organisations with a similar focus on sustainability. The company has raised a total of £38.6m in investment so far (and yes, they are actively hiring).
It may surprise you but magic mushrooms are proving to be the focus of several innovative businesses right now, with many startups developing psychedelic mental health treatments. But that’s not the only part mushrooms are playing in tech innovation this year: Magical Mushroom Company has found ways to harness the natural flexibility and strength of mycelium (what makes up fungi) to create protective, eco-friendly packaging. It’s used to ship products at low cost, with a reduced carbon footprint. The company, based in Surrey, has secured £1.78m in funding so far.
Another important area when it comes to going green is healthcare. Sustainable healthcare is focused on delivering high quality care, without compromising on environmentally-destructive ingredients or emissions. The sustainable companies behind this mission are working in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal to achieve net zero in healthcare emissions by 2050.
Femtech startups are a big part of this transition. It’s no secret that tampon and pads are incredibly polluting—one tampon alone is estimated to take longer than the average woman’s lifespan to degrade, with menstruators using more than 10k sanitary items, on average, over the course of their lifetime. Acknowledging the hugely detrimental effect that this is having on landfill waste, several companies are working to make the period product space more green.
Yoppie manufactures 100% natural, biodegradable tampons, providing a subscription service for tailored, eco-friendly period care products. Its backers include Colle Capital and VNV Global, with over £4.68m already raised to support the development and distribution of Yoppie products. Meanwhile, London-based Planera is producing the world’s only certified flushable, biodegradable sanitary pads: “No microplastics. No waste. No worries”. Planera pads take less than 30 days to degrade. The company has received a £175k Innovate UK grant in 2020, and has secured a total of £2.77m in funding.
Elsewhere in the sustainable healthcare sector, Fiils develops a range of eco-friendly beauty products and toiletries, with refillable packaging. This should help to eliminate the estimated 520 shampoo bottles a person sends to landfill every year. Fiils only uses ethical, vegan and sulphate-free ingredients. Founded in 2019, the company has raised £519k in equity investment so far, across four funding rounds. It has also attended NatWest’s six-month Entrepreneur Accelerator programme for UK startups and scaleups.
Last but not least, Wild manufactures sustainable deodorant and soap, operating on a subscription-based business model. Featuring an anodised aluminium and recycled plastic case, Wild’s aerosol can (which are typically not accepted by recycling centres) can be returned time and time again to reuse. Plus, you can choose whether you want to smell like cotton candy, orange and neroli, or a plethora of other scents. Having raised £7.6m in investment so far, from four funding rounds, Wild placed 28th in the Startups 100 high-growth list last year. Its investors include Slingshot Ventures, JamJar Investments, and the Creative Investment Club.
As going green becomes a greater priority for businesses and consumers across the world, these innovative startups are just a few to keep an eye on. The UK cleantech sector has grown dramatically over the last decade, helping to accelerate the country’s shift towards carbon neutrality, and improved ESG and corporate sustainability strategies.
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