The definition of CleanTech: In a vague and expanding vertical, three European startups are showing what it really means to be green

What is CleanTech?  As the term has expanded over the past decade to include almost all technology that shaves the environmental impact off any sector, you’d be forgiven for giving a vague answer. 

 

CleanTech investment coverage now spans from environmental rating apps, through EV and drones to trucking logistics.  Despite this, tech that provides a measurably positive environmental impact with no counteracting negative complications is difficult to qualify - where do we draw the line?  Word processors have evidently had an impact on logging but you would be hard pushed to call Microsoft CleanTech. Is Uber’s impact on urban cars, and therefore urban emissions, really enough to counteract it as a polluting alternative to public transport, bikes and electric scooters?  Additionally, as water conflict in the lithium triangle has shown, EV batteries bring their own set of complications (something, admittedly, Northvolt is currently attempting to rectify). 

 

In a sea of greenwash, three startups stand out as truly CleanTech, either through forging the way towards a circular economy or through providing the necessary (but currently lacking) tools for public sector innovation.  They are the following:

 

OLIO (UK)

Presumably following the philosophy that small goals never got anyone anywhere, OLIO is out to fight food poverty, social isolation, and climate change simultaneously.  A third of global food produced is binned, meaning that an area larger than China is currently being used to grow food that will never be eaten. From soil to table that is a mammoth amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the blame for half of which lies with the consumer. 

 

Founded in 2016 by Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One (ex-Dyson and Amex respectively) OLIO is an app that looks to drive the fight from the bottom up.  Backed by Octopus Ventures, the startup has raised over $10m; its most recent round in 2019.  Although not the first to propose a food-waste sharing app, OLIO tackles food-waste in the home and community, as opposed to during the production process.  In doing so, the app allows both businesses and homeowners to publicise surplus food, which is either picked up by those that request it or distributed by volunteers. 

 

Who wants to eat second-hand food?  Apparently a lot of people: the app has 3 million users, is currently active in 50 countries, and over 50,000 people have requested to volunteer to both evangelise and deliver food.  OLIO is proving that even when it comes to consuming less, connecting to neighbours, and doing our bit to fight the climate crisis, there really is an app for everything.

 

ClimateView (Sweden)

As anyone who has had to descale or model climate data will tell you (myself being one such person): technological innovation in the environmental sector, as opposed to technological innovation with environmental benefits, has been a painfully long time coming. 

 

Mounting public and international pressure is finally resulting in local governments having the budget to make decisive changes within cities for the good of the planet, and ClimateView is there to facilitate that process.  Founded in 2019 in Sweden, the company is to all appearances a think-tank turned tech start-up, backed by Nordic Makers and Norrsken VC among others, that provides a holistic platform for cities to plan, visualise and forecast environmental transitions.

 

ClimateView are currently working with Coventry, Cambridge, Newcastle and Dundee in the UK, alongside a host of other cities across Europe, their platform ClimateOS allows the visualisation of the impact of policy decisions, cost-benefit analysis, and data management.  Although the description may not be the most sexy, the benefits are, allowing public money to be optimised and all us city-dwellers to take one more step towards the climate-neutral promised land.

 

Grover (Germany)

How often do you upgrade your tech?  How often do you put a new gadget in a draw after loving it for far less time than you thought you would?  In general we spend a lot of money and a lot of environmental resources on tech we don’t really need long term.

 

Grover is a marketplace pitched more as a consumer value proposition than an environmental platform, but in offering the consumer the chance to rent electronics (for as little time as a month) they are providing a solution to a global problem that saw 50 million tonnes of e-waste generated in 2018 alone.  As a consumer not only do you get to use the newest tech but you can smugly say that you are contributing to the shift to a circular economy.

 

Grover has over 900,000 online users, and is present offline in 450 stores across Germany alone.  Their latest funding round was $60m (in Series B and debt financing) in April of this year, taking them to a total of $342m in combined venture rounds and debt financing since 2017.  They are primarily still focused in the DACH region, but having found the magic balance between highly-profitable and highly-green one can only hope they’re out to prove the potential of CleanTech globally in the coming years.

 

As we hurtle towards a very different world there is a global scramble to solve the environmental ‘problem’. Given that most tech start-ups have a problem at their core regardless, one can only hope that the increased investment, increased interest, and resulting increased innovation that we have seen over the past few years will provide a growing list of companies that are truly CleanTech.