What does it take to run a business successfully while addressing serious sustainability issues? How can business owners solve environmental challenges?
To celebrate National Science Week in 2021, here are remarkable stories from 11 NSW enterprises which have invested their time and shared their experiences to inspire and encourage the next generation of innovators.
Growing Sustainable Businesses with STEM is a project developed as a partnership between the NSW Department of Education’s STEM Industry School Partnerships (SISP) program and the Regional Industry Education Partnerships (RIEP) program. Film maker Jill McCall from Piece Together Productions was commissioned to produce these 35 short films, which showcase the visionary work of people committed to making a difference with their business. SISP is delighted to partner with Inspiring Australia NSW to launch this initiative as part of National Science Week 2021.
Byron Solar Train is the world’s first solar train. The two-carriage heritage rail set was built in 1949 at the Chullora Railway Workshops in Sydney. To convert the train to solar, one of the two diesel engines was upgraded to use as a backup for emergencies. The other was replaced with an electric motor. Cutting-edge lightweight, flexible curved solar panels were installed on the roof of the train along with panels on the platform to provide energy for the 77kWh battery storage system that charges the electric motor. A regenerative braking system adds further charging capacity.
The 70-tonne train can carry 100 passengers from the station at North Beach in the Byron Arts and Industrial Estate, to Byron Bay’s town centre. Best of all, the train is net carbon positive. Seventy-three per cent of the energy generated is fed into the grid. The train exports enough electricity to power 12 three-bedroom houses. The collaborators on the project are now working with the Indian, Argentinian and Italian governments to support the development of solar train networks in those countries.
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Civil and Structural Engineering Consultants ELLUC Projects recently expanded into Australia from the UK. With bases in Tweed Heads and Sydney, ELLUC will provide career opportunities for up to 70 people over the next three years. ELLUC specialises in utilising digital technology, in particular Building Information Modelling (BIM), an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering and construction professionals the insight and tools to maximise efficiency in planning, designing, constructing and managing buildings and infrastructure. Sustainability is at the core of ELLUC BIM systems. The objective is to maximise savings in both costs and resources.
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Based in Byron Bay, Enova Community Energy is Australia’s first community-owned and renewable-focused energy supplier. Enova's retail arm supports their social enterprise, Enova Community, to invest funds in and work collaboratively on innovative projects inside Australia’s complex and highly regulated energy system. Enova is supporting a microgrid research project, solar gardens and developing shared community battery storage systems with peer-to-peer trading capacity. As an energy retailer, Enova is on a journey to supply power to customers from 100 per cent renewable energy sources, preferably community-owned and without leaving anyone behind.
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The award-winning team at ENV Solutions consists of 25 expert engineers, scientists and project managers working collaboratively to apply specialised skills in environmental remediation, occupational hygiene, resource recovery and environmental consulting.
From their bases in Ballina and Coffs Harbour, they work with clients across NSW and interstate to develop innovative cradle-to-cradle solutions to serious environmental challenges. A shared commitment to a strong environmental philosophy drives the ENV team to shape solutions that will have a positive economic, social and environmental impact.
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For 10 years, father and son Stu and Cedar Anderson tinkered away in their shed on the Far North Coast, looking for a way to harvest honey that was less stressful on the bees – and the beekeeper. They invented and tested many hive prototypes, then with patents in place in February 2015, Flow Hive launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and surpassed their $70,000 goal in just seven minutes. Flow Hive subsequently broke several crowdfunding records by raising more than US$12.3 million in start-up funds.
There are now 75,000 Flow Hives in more than 130 countries. Flow have won multiple awards for innovation, design, marketing and business including Good Design Australia, D&AD White Pencil, Fast Company World Changing Ideas, two medals at Apimondia International Beekeeping Congress and was declared NSW Business Chamber’s Business of the Year (2017). Flow’s other product, the Pollinator House, is like an apartment block for pollinating insects that anyone can place outside of their home. One hundred per cent of the profits from the sale of this product are donated to projects that are helping these small environmental champions. Flow is a B Corp Certified company.
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Huskee has developed a sustainable solution to three of the key challenges facing the coffee industry. HuskeeCup is a biopolymer cup, saucer and lid system manufactured from the industry’s agricultural waste, coffee husk. Extending the solution, HuskeeSwap allows customers purchasing take away, to hand over their Huskee on arrival and be served their beverage in a commercially cleaned cup on a like-for-like basis. The HuskeeLoop initiative provides a cradle-to-grave options for customers to return their cup for recycling once it has reached the end of its life. This is the circular economy in action.
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Mineral Carbonation International has developed a process to transform CO₂ emissions from industrial sources into solid materials that can be used to manufacture cements, mortars, plasterboards, binders and emerging carbon-engineering products. This carbon-engineering technology platform provides a decarbonisation solution that is not reliant upon carbon pricing, offsets or subsidies, and locks away CO₂ safely and permanently. In 2019, following a successful seven-year program of research funded by government and industry partners, MCi began trials to commercialise the process at a pilot plant in Newcastle. MCi are developing cutting-edge Australian technology with astounding potential.
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Sydney-based coffee roaster and wholesaler Pablo & Rusty’s prioritise sustainability and good stewardship to ensure their industry has a long and bright future. The team are working on solutions to minimise environmental impact at farm, factory and café level. Pablo and Rusty’s have moved beyond sustainability as a buzzword by achieving both B Corp and Carbon Neutral Certification. At Pablo and Rusty’s innovation is encouraged and supported. The team apply a rigorous scientific approach to every level of their operation, utilising the latest technology, software and equipment to maximise efficiencies and minimise impact.
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In the 1980s, Rex Harris and family purchased a 60-hectare farm, Picadilly Park, on the outskirts of Bangalow in northern NSW. The property was degraded due to erosion from high rainfall, over-cultivation and heavy grazing. They invested significantly in fertiliser while planting an orchard of 16,000 macadamia trees. Rex experimented with a range of conventional practices to address erosion and declining soil quality. Picadilly is now halfway through a radical seven-year program to transition from conventional monoculture to polyculture using regenerative agricultural practices.
Rex is removing every second row, a total of 8,000 trees, to let in light and make space for inter-row multispecies cover crops. The cover crops are creating habitat and food for natural predators and pollinators. Rex is increasing the soil biology and building soil carbon. Importantly, every one per cent increase in soil carbon has increased the water-holding capacity by 140,000 litres per hectare. Rex is on track to increase the overall yield from his orchard with half the number of trees while regenerating the land and sequestering carbon.
In 2016, Plastic Collective Founder and CEO Louise Hardman developed a mobile plastic recycling machine that could be operated in remote communities with no recycling infrastructure. The Shruder shreds and extrudes plastic on site. Louise and her team provide education about reducing, collecting, sorting and transforming plastic into useful resources that generate revenue through an ethical marketplace.
Plastic Collective are working to change the economics of plastic recovery and beneficial reuse. They are developing software to track the origin of plastic through the supply chain and promoting ethical provenance. Plastic Collective’s latest initiative is a Plastic Offset Program providing opportunities for corporations, businesses and individuals to become plastic neutral or plastic positive. The Shruder and PC Educational Programs are now funded through plastic offsets. Louise leads the international Plastic Collective team of 15 from her home near Coffs Harbour.
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With the support of Gwydir Shire Council, 150 hectares of degraded town common located on the outskirts of Bingara is being regenerated into a training site for Primary Industries, a showcase of regenerative agriculture and a tourist destination focused on world food. The Living Classroom has regular visitors using the site and its facilities as a field study centre. The adjacent TCF (The Carbon Farm), is a community project focused on exploring ways and means to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere back into our soils. It works in collaboration with 22 farmers from central NSW to south-east Queensland to showcase on a small scale what the collaborators are doing on a large scale to sequester carbon.