What does innovation mean? And specifically for social and environmental projects, what makes a project of this kind innovative? We brought these questions to the Latin American social entrepreneurs that received the IDB-FEMSA Award in 2019 for their projects focused on solving water, sanitation and solid waste challenges.
Building on what they have learned through years of work, we bring you the three essentials for an innovative social investment project.
1) It solves a need that is real and specific
Felipe Cardoso, CEO of Eco Panplas (Brazil), tells us that his business idea started with identifying a specific problem in the life cycle of lubricating oil plastic containers and their recycling.
The problem is the high amount of containers of this kind that are thrown out each year, as this number rises to 54,000 tons per year only in Brazil. Another problem is its high polluting power due to residual oil that is left in each container. The scale of the situation is huge: 2 million liters of residual oil are left in the containers, being that only 1 liter of oil can contaminate 1 million liters of water.
The decontamination of the containers carried out with traditional processes makes use of thousands of liters of water which the must be treated. In that process each liter of oil transforms in up to 8 kilograms of hazardous waste, which brings very high costs and environmental risks. Besides, this decontamination doesn’t remove all of the oil from the plastic, so it produces low quality recycled material.
Eco Panplas emerged as a technological solution to these problems, as it decontaminates and recycles lubricating oil plastic containers without the use of water and without creating waste. All of the residual oil is recovered and recycled through refining, eliminating the environmental risk.
An innovative solution doesn’t have to be the first to solve the challenge. It can also be a better approach than the ones that are already out there. But it definitely has to seek to solve a problem that is real and specific.
2) It is replicable
A clear example of this is Acualight (Mexico), a device which eliminates the waste of cold water in the shower and brings with it a yearly savings of 22,000 liters of water per household.
Miguel Ángel Carmona, CEO of Acualight, shares with us that the sensor used by this system to indicate temperature makes use of the water flow to generate the energy it needs. So, on top of allowing the saving of water, Acualight does not imply additional energy consumption.
This technology can be adapted to any shower, so it would be possible to apply it in hospitals, schools, sports clubs and the hotel industry to multiply the savings in water and the impact of this solution. Acualight has the potential to allow for a better and fairer water management, because what was previously wasted will now reach people that didn’t use to receive it.
Innovation is not only about design, it is also about the application and potential impact. A replicable project, one which could easily adapt to different contexts, can reach more and more people and be truly innovative in its impact.
3) It is simple and has an everyday use
Yakupura (Ecuador) is a practical technology that solves an everyday situation. Its innovation is a domestic water filter that easily attaches to the kitchen faucet with the pressure of one’s hand and gives us clean water to use at home.
It is designed to be used in the drinking water network, that is, when water has already been decontaminated but the problem is the excess of chlorine in it. The filtering body is activated carbon of plant origin (of coconut shell) and each unit filters up to 250 liters of water.
Yakupura doesn’t generate waste. Its use avoids the waste of 500 plastic bottles and, after the filter’s lifespan has ended, people can deposit them in the shops so that the company can recycle its parts.
Carolina Placencia, CEO of Yakupura, tells us that the simplicity of her innovation lies first on the simple way that it works, which is easy to understand for the people that use the filter. Second, Carolina and her partners did not develop any technology that didn’t already exist. Instead, they combined two ideas: activated carbon, widely known for being the best filtrating body for chlorine and similar pollutants, and a simple way to drink water directly from the tap, which already existed in other countries where the drinking water that gets to the houses is of better quality to begin with.
A social investment project doesn’t have to be super complex to be innovative. Pay attention to people’s everyday problems and work on an idea that is simple and practical.
We hope that you get to innovate with your social investment project by following the lead of these social and environmental entrepreneurs. We want to know of your idea to make a better future! Tag us as @FundacionFEMSA on Facebook and Twitter and share your project with our community on social media.