The Most Innovative Sustainable Projects

Courtesy of the UN

By Katie Leung

Overdue media sensationalism seems to be lacking for a direly titled paper from the Frontiers in Conservation  Science journal that was recently published at the start of 2021: “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a  Ghastly Future”. From the fact that humans have already “compromised” ⅔ of the oceans to the warning that  global warming is only at its beginning stages, “Ghastly Future” is only the latest indication that climate change  should be at the forefront of our worries. Most notably, efforts to combat climate change across the scientific  and non-profit communities have manifested in the form of ground-breaking sustainable projects. Combing  creative design, environmental considerations, and urban integrability, here are four of the most innovative  projects that have been carried out across Europe:  

DENMARK – CopenHill:  

Opened in the fall of 2019, CopenHill is a sustainable clean energy plant project launched by the Danish  government. The project builds physically off of the ARC (Amager Ressource Center) in Copenhagen, one of  the cleanest wastes to energy plants in the world. CopenHill represents a major step in the Danish government’s  goal of being the first carbon neutral capital in the world. Compared to most other regular waste to energy  plants, CopenHill contributes to the fight against climate change by removing waste in a way that minimizes the  pollution emitted into the environment in the process. Boasting an artificial ski slope and a hiking area on the  surface, the plant also notably features the world’s tallest rock climbing exterior at 85 meters high.. Uniquely, it  generates energy for its guests by burning waste instead of fossil fuels, serving as a distinct example of how  sustainable sources of “fun” doesn’t have to come at the expense of damaging the natural environment.  

GERMANY – Passivhaus:  

So, what does “passivhaus” translate to? Basically, what it sounds like: passive house. This concept is a  sustainable approach to architectural design that has roots dating back to 1991. Pioneering German architect,  Wolfgang Feist, built a 4-plex house that featured highly effective glazing, generous ventilation, and airtight  structures that allow for natural temperature regulation. The passive house boasts the ability to reduce need for  heating and ventilation by up to 90% compared to conventional designs, with some users saving more than 6x  on their or energy bills. A house design that seeks to minimize carbon footprint, “passivhaus” is the face of  sustainable architecture that has already led to the building of 50,000+ certified homes across Europe.  

BRITAIN – Pavegen:  

Created in 2009 by Laurence Kembell-Cook, Pavegen is a clean technology company that is famous for their  V3 energy tiles that transform the energy generated by footsteps into electricity and valuable data points.  Triangular in shape and created entirely with recycled rubber, the V3 tile decompresses approximately one  centimeter when an average person steps on it – the decompression on the tile then initiates a flywheel in the  tile, generating and storing energy through the flywheel spin. While at that time, he was only focused on finding  an off-grid energy source to power streetlights, the V3 tiles are now aiming to be used to provide power for a  variety of purposes. From lighting soccer fields to a hallway in an airport to offices and shopping centers, the  possibilities are endless with the applicability of Pavegen’s technology. Most notable Pavegen projects so far  include the 2012 Olympic Games and London’s West Ham Underground station.  

NETHERLANDS – Smog Free Project:  

Founder of Studio Roosegaarde, Daan Roosegaarde, was once quoted as saying, “true beauty is not a Louis  Vuitton bag or a Ferrari, but clean air and clean energy”. Roosegaarde began the Smog Free Project as a  campaign for sustainability and cleaner air, encompassing several major urban inventions, such as the Smog Free Tower, Smog Free Ring, Smog Free Bicycle, and the Smog Eating Billboard. The Tower, Bicycle, and  Billboard were created to purify air in publicly shared spaces passively. Uniquely, while the Smog Free Ring  does not purify air, the product is offered as a tangible souvenir that is made of compressed pollutive particles  collected from the Smog Free Tower, truly embodying the idea of sustainability and multi-functionality.  Successfully initiated in China, South Korea, Poland, Mexico, and the Netherlands, the Smog Free Project  likely will see more global implementation as air pollution becomes an increasingly pressing health concern.    

Solutions that curb pollution can no longer be a topic of debate when 4.2 million people die yearly because of  unclean air. Moreover, coral reefs are declining up to 90% in the next decade, and 18% of all insects will be  wiped out in 80 years. These sustainability initiatives are the guiding lights to global strategic planning that can  prevent such catastrophic projections from being realized. More importantly, what these innovative projects  have shown is that tackling larger-than-life issues, such as global warming, does not always equate to complex  solutions. Every step we walk and every breath we take can mark a tangible effort, and collective effort is all it  takes to make a tangible difference.  


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