Is sustainable technology really sustainable?
Can we fight the climate change crisis without radically changing our lifestyle?
In this article, the team at Livin Farms discusses what makes for durable and environmentally friendly innovations. Partially based on a webinar from Livin Farms CTO, Thomas Riel.
Written by CRISTINA MICHELINI
“Green”, “sustainable” and “ecological” are terms thrown around a lot. The fact that the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to slow down helping us to cut down emissions by 7% in 2020, has been accompanied by an uptake of the Green Wave.
Case in point, in the same year, Venture Capital and Private Equity (PE/VC) investment in renewable energy and storage rose 51%and it’s expected to gather pace in 2021.
Have we found the holy grail? Will we withstand climate change by greenifying production processes, products and services? From environmentally friendly female hygiene products to plant based meat alternatives, we are surely given more and more options to shop consciously.
And that’s how technology will help us solve climate change.
Or will it?
Is sustainable technology really sustainable?
Electric bikes certainly make for a great, greener alternative to cars and motorbikes. Yet, could it be that they are just a way for us to keep on “doing consumerism... better”? (I’d add a “slightly” before “better).
Some have pointed out that we cannot expect to maintain our consumer affluence in good conscience, and save the planet by buying green products and greener technologies.
After all, the truly sustainable thing to do would be to consume even less and save even more emissions, by just doing with bikes what has always been meant to: cycling, you know, by pedalling?
I am not even gonna get into how that would benefit public health, and how countries like Denmark and the Netherlands are already managing that lifestyle shift successfully.
Because, and here’s the challenge, God forbid anyone suggests that to save the planet we should radically rethink our lifestyles!
Besides our overreliance on Sustainable Technologies, there is controversy, as pointed out by Livin Farms CTO Thomas Riel in his episode of Misplaced. Take hydropower water dams and wind power turbines: clean energy sources debated for their collateral environmental impacts and for their impact on the natural landscape.
What’s more is that often technology may disguise enormous emission potential, such as the bitcoin, estimated to consume as much energy as the whole of Malaysia and twice as much as Austria.
So, what makes a technology truly sustainable?
Technology as a Sustainability enabler
Sustainability technologies should offer solutions that empower us to use our environmental resources more efficiently. But that alone is not sufficient: with the current population growth trends, we need to take a look at our lifestyle and change it so that more of us can use these resources. We need to learn to use resources sparingly.
In tackling the problem of food waste, at Livin Farms we start from a system called the food waste pyramid, which provides a great representation to this concept.
This pyramid prioritises solutions to food waste from the most desirable at the top. All solutions are viable and necessary at some point, but the concept is powerful.
Right at the top, made very clear, is the idea that we should always first and foremost reduce. Whether it is to reduce food waste, or electricity, or water.
Time to give ourselves some tough love, and accept it: a sustainable way of life involves embracing a simpler way, hence reducing, reusing, reclaiming and recycling as much as possible. Start by saving your lunch leftovers for an afternoon snack!
At Livin Farms, we develop technologies based on this pyramid and based on the teachings from nature.
When tackling food waste, nature has two food waste management systems of choice: microbes and insects. Our job is to develop tech that amps up their super powers while tackling the food waste pyramid as far up and as extensively as possible.
You may be familiar with solutions to food waste like composting and biodigesters. Those are microbial solutions. What you may not know much about is that we can leverage the superpowers of insects to the same purpose and with additional benefits.
Crawling along the food waste pyramid - critters and waste
And why should we prefer a solution that crawls and flies as opposed to the good old composting?
Let’s break it down.
At the center of Livin Farms technologies we have tiny superheroes that rock the food waste pyramid: Black Soldier Flies (BSFs).
When feeding BSFs with food waste, their digestion can reduce its quantity by 70%, hitting right there the very first step of the pyramid: waste reduction.
BSFs are capable of digesting many types of household food waste or byproducts from industry and businesses, such as bakery byproduct and retailers unsold items. These individuals are therefore given a chance to reuse their waste, the second solution in the pyramid.
BSFs take in the nutrients in the food waste, and become rich in protein but also other nutrients such as vitamins, fibers and fatty acids. As insects have always been part of the food chain for many species, we can then use BSF as high quality and complete feed for other farm animals and, potentially, humans. We have then recycled food waste into a new nutrient.
And if you thought this was not enough, here’s a fun fact! Remember when we said insects help us reduce food waste by 70%? On top of that they save us from using loads of energy to dry food waste from excess water. While in other food waste management facilities, a lot of electricity is used to generate heat in this process, at Livin Farms our heroes the flies do the job simply by… eating and pooping!
The result is a dry-powder natural fertiliser with a great NPK profile for your houseplants.
Effective technologies should also be low effort
Alright, I think I have convinced you by now that as a society, we have a responsibility towards the environment, and we must adopt the technologies that make most sense.
But, you are probably thinking, do I really have to be around critters, collecting their poop and feeding them scraps to make this happen?
1 - At the very least, try! Small steps, little by little, and in a safe and controlled environment. Getting closer to insects is not only an intro to food a waste solution, but a great educational and inspirational journey. There is a lot in it to learn about nature, science and technology that opens up to much more than just food waste, but circularity at large. In celebration of Earth Day we decided to make starting this journey even easier. You can try our countertop technology, the Hive Explorer, and give it a go. Use EARTHDAYLF in combination with the webshop sale for a 49 USD saving!
2 - You do not need to see or be around them. How many times have you walked into a food waste management facility anyways? Probably never, or just once (unless you work in one, in which case, greetings, hero!). Truth is, waste management facilities are never pleasant. We are very well aware of that, which is why Livin Farms designed a system to make this manageable for businesses. And here is how.
Livin Farms food waste management technologies are organised in modules, each one taking care of one phase of the process.
The first module is where the processing of food waste happens. Here is where the input is turned into a form appropriate to feed insects.
The second module hosts an automated hub that uses robotics to dose, feed, separate and harvest BSFs larvae.
The third module is a space-efficient, multi-layered system of trays that is set up for the rearing of insects to take place in an enclosed environment, almost like a black box, making it the ideal solution for urbanised environments.
Finally, in the processing module, the final product is processed into protein powders, healthy fats and oils, and fertiliser.
From collecting food waste to the final products, it all happens through automation in little space and an enclosed environment.
And that’s exactly the combination that makes this technology truly sustainable - what we have been looking for since we started this conversation.
Through automation, the technology becomes affordable, reducing the cost of manpower and allowing businesses to repurpose human capital into more productive tasks.
Together with the modular design, the process also becomes energy and time efficient, making it scaleable and environmentally sound.
Last but not least, it’s simple enough for businesses to adopt without needing specialised knowledge and skilled employees.
Interruption or disruption? Sustainable technologies are here to stay
So, now you know what makes a sustainable technology.
Is what makes the difference between interruption and disruption in the market.
Technologies that are interruptions are short events, hypes, new ways of doing things that eventually fade, to revert into normality.
True disruptions happen when things change for good. True disruptions are the backbone of a sustainable future.
Will sustainable technology save the planet? Probably not, not by itself. But we surely need it to achieve the needed lifestyle changes before it's too late.
So buckle up, get ready to start your journey at the very top of the pyramid, and adventure is this exciting world of climate innovations.
Let's see what 2021 holds.
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Get started on your insect farming journey at home. You can start small with the Hive Explorer. To get you off on the right food, we are gifting you 30 USD on your purchase, simply use EARTHDAYLF at checkout or reach out at our social media to check on available discount codes.