Indian startup Phool, which uses discarded temple flowers to make incense sticks and now a vegan leather product called Fleather is in the running for the Earthshot Prize, awarded to five winners each year for their contributions to environmentalism, launched in 2020 by Prince William and David Attenborough.
The winners are selected by the Earthshot Prize Council, which includes Prince William and Attenborough. It was first awarded in 2021 and will run annually until 2030. Each winner receives a grant of £1 million to continue their environmental work.
Phool.co, founded in 2017 by Indian entreprenuer Ankit Agarwal, after he saw local temples dumping used flowers into the Ganges at Kanpur – their pesticide coating poisoning the river. At first, Phool collected this floral waste and turned it into incense sticks. As they did, however, something extraordinary happened. A thick mat-like substance began to grow over the unused fibres lying on their factory floor. This mat, they realised, could be turned into a sustainable alternative to environmentally damaging animal and plastic leather. They called the new material Fleather.
Since then, Phool has collected 13,000 tonnes of floral waste, and they now create 90 square ft of Fleather each day. In the process, they have created valuable employment opportunities for a marginalised community. Phool today employs over 163 female ‘flowercyclers’ from the Dalit caste who collect waste flowers. In time, they hope to employ 5,000. The company has been supplying their sustainable leather alternative to fashion giants.
Another Indian startup Kheyti, based in Hyderabad, has developed a Greenhouse-in-a-Box, designed for small-hold farmers and the crops they grow, offering shelter from unpredictable elements and destructive pests. Kheyti also trains and supports farmers to ensure their greenhouse is as effective as possible. The results are dramatic. Plants in the greenhouse require 98% less water than those outdoors and yields are seven-times higher. Ninety percent cheaper than a standard greenhouse, they are more than doubling farmers’ incomes, helping them invest more in their farms and their children’s education. Using less water and fewer pesticides, they are protecting the planet too.
Today, 1,000 farms have a Kheyti greenhouse, but this is just the start. By 2027, Kheyti wants 50,000 farmers to have a Greenhouse-in-a-Box.
Some of the other finalists of the prize:
Notpla, UK: The British startup makes various naturally degrading -- and even edible -- packaging from seaweed and other marine plants. Global awareness of the plastic packaging problem has reached record levels in recent years and the search for a true sustainable alternative is ongoing. Could the solution lie in the seas? London-based start-up Notpla, founded by Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, believe so.
"Now we have a flexible film, we make seaweed paper, we have rigid materials. So it's really the beginning of a family of seaweed-based technologies that hopefully can help us stop using so much plastic," Paslier told AFP.
He said their early kitchen exploits had eventually led to the secretly-formulated "Ooho" creation, an edible bubble membrane made from seaweed -- holding water, sports drinks or other flavoured liquids including cocktails and sauces -- it is marketed as a replacement for single-use plastic cups, bottles and sachets.
Tasting like a gelatinous candy, it can be consumed whole -- like a cherry tomato -- or from a larger sachet, making it ideal at sporting events and festivals.
44.01, Oman: While many companies have made progress capturing CO2 from the atmosphere, storing – or better still eliminating – millions of tonnes of it cheaply and safely remains a challenge. Named after the molecular weight of carbon dioxide, 44.01, founded by Omani entrepreneur Talal Hasan, removes CO2 permanently by mineralising it in peridotite, a rock found in abundance in Oman as well as in America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Peridotite mineralisation is a natural process, but in nature it can take many years to mineralise even a small amount of CO2. 44.01 accelerates the process by pumping carbonated water into seams of peridotite deep underground.
Ampd Enertainer, Hong Kong: Hong Kong entrepreneur Brandon Ng and his team at Ampd Energy have created the Enertainer, an all-electric battery energy storage system designed specifically to power construction sites without the need for direct use of fossil fuels. This reduces or eliminates altogether, the harmful pollution which would have been produced by fossil-fuel engines used on construction sites. The system can power any type of electrical equipment — cranes, hoists, welders, barbenders and more — with its lithium-ion batteries, which are similar to those used in electric cars. Every switch from a diesel generator to an Enertainer curbs 130 tonnes of CO2 a year, in addition to removing the equivalent of three hundred cars of air pollution. Currently used by nearly 100 construction projects, Ampd’s products have saved more than 17,000 tonnes of carbon pollution to date.