Sustainability, we are told, offers business opportunities. It's the way forward for business and industry, and anyone failing to adapt will eventually find themselves hopelessly behind. For many companies, however, the transition is not that easy. The general feeling is that green is good - no argument there - but still a huge chore. And most are still trying to figure out how to combine sustainable business practices with actually making money. In theory, companies investing in sustainability should be able to improve their image, gain competitive edge and increase market share; in practice, many are finding this a considerable challenge, and feel that the costs tend to outweigh the benefits.
Then there are the eco-entrepreneurs who instinctively seem to know their way around the green new world. They see opportunities for the development of sustainable products and embrace financial and organizational alternatives like crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, alliances and networks.
One such company is Off-Grid Solutions, a young Dutch company that aims to develop, engineer, manufacture and market affordable lighting and phone charging product concepts for the 1.5 billion people in the world who have no access at all to the electricity net. The company's newest bright idea is a small, solar powered LED light that can be used as a light or a mobile phone charger.
Green? You bet. Sustainable? And how. But best of all: it's actually feasible.
The Wakawaka light - wakawaka means 'shine bright' in Swahili - features a patented solar technology chip, which can boost the efficiency of the solar cell by up to 200 percent. As a result, a full charge can deliver around 16 hours of good reading light, easily beating competitively priced products currently on the market.
Next to state-of the art technology, the light boasts a lightweight, clever and economic design for easy assembly that minimizes material use - which, in this case, will be recycled ABS, says Camille van Gestel of OGS, who did not rule out the possibility of using a bioplastic later on. While charging, it folds into a compact rectangle. Unfolded, it has been designed to be mounted on a plastic bottle that can serve as a stand - a creative solution that saves on costs and reuses used bottles. Off-Grid Solutions aims to have the first pre-production samples ready for testing by early February. If all goes well, the consumer launch will take place later this year, most likely in June.
The Wakawaka light is intended to replace the use of kerosene lamps in homes throughout the world. Not only is kerosene expensive, it is dangerous: the World Health Organization has calculated that indoor air pollution from kerosene and similar fuels used for indoor lighting and cooking cause more than 1.5 million deaths annually.
However, in addition to the fact that the nifty new solar lamp has zero emissions, zero fumes and is designed to be affordable for off-grid homes around the world, another reason it caught my attention was the way the company has marketed the project. The company has engaged with consumers, by getting people involved and financing the whole thing through crowdfunding. And, next to that, by reaching out to a number of large companies - such as Coca Cola - that are working hard on their sustainability credentials, to offer promotional opportunities. A Wakawaka light atop, say, a biobased Coke bottle as the sole light source in an otherwise dark household makes a pretty strong statement.
By marketing a green project as a business proposition, OGS has made it very clear that, while humanitarian en environmental aspects may well be uppermost, they also intend to make a profit.
Sustainability as a business opportunity: it's not always easy in this brave new green world. Yet more and more businesses are discovering how to make sustainability work.
Which is just as well: there's no way back.
Note: to support the Wakawaka initiative, go to http://symbid.com/ideas/890-wakawaka-solar-led-light.