Green and profitable: Sustainabilty innovators around the world


Every once in a while, I\’ll devote this column to a roundup of some of the coolest sustainability initiatives I\’ve come across anywhere in the world. This is the first installment, featuring five different ventures on five different continents, and business models that include an architect working solo, a manufacturing corporation, a nonprofit, and a couple of small companies.


Hungary: Kenguru—Sustainable Independence for Wheelchair Users

Think about how many resources are consumed by a standard wheelchair van. A huge vehicle with complicated, slow, hydraulic lifts: expensive in both money and materials to build, and consuming huge amounts of fuel to operate.

Now…reinvent the whole thing: a one-person electric vehicle, tiny, secure, and empowering the wheelchair user to control his or her own transportation. The user rolls in up a ramp through a rear hatch facing the curb, fastens the chair, and then it\’s off to work, play, or whatever.

Australia: Freemantle Timber Traders—Turning Old Buildings Into New Building Materials

This company has designed its own tools to salvage lumber from demolition projects in ways it claims provides much cleaner, more intact hardwood lumber than conventional demolition and salvage techniques.

If the greenest building is the one that\’s already been built, the next-greenest might be the one that uses materials from buildings that existed and were taken down., community page at

Hong Kong: Gary Chang Maximizes Every Inch of 344-square foot Apartment

This may be the tiniest apartment in the world to have full kitchen and bath, a well-equipped bar, guest quarters, and 24 rooms (though not all at the same time). Using movable walls, foldable surfaces, and other tricks, this ingenious architect shows that it\’s possible to live quite luxuriously in a very small space. At one time, there were seven people living there! Buckminster Fuller would be proud. Video tour (two minutes):

United States: Evocative Design—Who Needs Styrofoam Peanuts When You\’ve Got Mushrooms?

It\’s hard to imagine too many products less environmentally friendly than Styrofoam. Even experienced plastics recyclers usually can\’t figure out what to do it. And my personal opinion is that it ruins the taste of food or hot drinks stored in it.

A whole lot of Styrofoam gets turned into packing peanuts. And even if you have good intentions and take them down to your local shipping store to reuse, some of them always get away and get stepped on, wedged into things, or become a nuisance in other ways.

So why not avoid the problem in the first place and find a natural, compostable packing material? Evocative Design offers packing made from cottonseed and buckwheat hulls, held together with filaments made from mushroom roots—while saving 85 percent of the energy and reducing 90 percent of the carbon dioxide compared with Styrofoam.


Burkina Faso (and three other African countries): Association la Voute Nubienne Creates Timberless Housing

Deforestation is a huge problem in sub-Saharan Africa, and the loss of forest often leads to desertification—exacerbating hunger and other social ills in the process. Cross-pollinating a vaulted-roof housing construction technique from the Nubian culture in Egypt (on the other side of the continent) with local labor and non-wood earth bricks made from local materials, a French nonprofit has been building sustainable homes and community buildings, and creating jobs. The houses cost only about $100 each to build, and make a real difference in these economically marginal communities. There is a bit of plastic sheeting involved in waterproofing the roof, but the house can be built without sheet metal and without timber supports, unlike the usual building styles in the Sahel region.

An English-language page about the construction technique is at ; if you\’d like to donate, the gorup is set up withGlobal Giving at

Shel Horowitz, shel at, shows you how to “reach green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU.” He writes the Green And Profitable column and is the primary author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).