illustration showing best of green seal

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Best of Green Awards 2021: Eco Tech

From people and products to nonprofits and more, our eco-tech award winners are leading the charge for change.

Oxford Languages defines green tech as "technology whose use is intended to mitigate or reverse the effects of human activity on the environment." While it would be nice if we hadn't created a situation that needs mitigation in the first place, it's encouraging to know that some of the greatest minds in the world are coming up with technological solutions to help shift our current trajectory. We are seeing innovations and initiatives that are changing our course, coaxing us into a new paradigm in which we can meet the needs of the present without undermining the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

For our Best of Green awards in Eco Tech, we decided to celebrate these agents of change that are making a difference. And while we usually think of change-makers as people who are transforming the world, we like the idea of expanding that definition to include other forms; like organizations with impactful advocacy, technologies that disrupt the status quo, or products that save the day.

How We Chose Our Winners

To select our eco-tech winners, we partnered with Lifewire, a top-10 technology information site that provides technology content for more than 10 million readers a month. Combining Treehugger's authority in sustainability with Lifewire's expertise in all things tech, we collected nominations in five categories from readers, contributors, staff, and outside experts. Then, our panel of judges carefully considered the nominees based on the following touchstones to select 30 winners.

  • Organizations: Mission, novelty, helpfulness.
  • Technologies: Creativity, efficacy, scalability.
  • Products: Impact, usability, sustainability.
  • People in Tech: Leadership, innovative, change-making.
  • Companies: Transparency, trailblazing, authentically sustainable.

Meet the Judges

headshots of award judges

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz


Margaret Badore
: Senior Commerce Editor, Treehugger
Margaret Badore is an environmental reporter based in New York City. Before becoming Treehugger's senior commerce editor, Badore served as the web director for National Geographic’s climate change documentary series "Years of Living Dangerously." Badore selected the winners for the Organizations category.

Lloyd Alter: Design Editor, Treehugger
Lloyd Alter is a former architect who is now Treehugger’s design editor. He teaches sustainable design at Ryerson School of Interior Design and has been a regular speaker and moderator at Passive House conferences around the world. Alter takes deep dives into sustainable tech, and is the author of the upcoming book, “Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle: Why Individual Climate Action Matters More than Ever.” He selected the winners for the Technologies category.

Robert Earl Wells III: Game Developer, Tech Writer, Lifewire
Robert Wells is a writer and life-long tech enthusiast. Wells designed and released a role-playing computer game based on “The Epic of Gilgamesh”—and his love for video games has been the driving force behind his passion for technology. Wells also authors web development tutorials for a commercial content delivery network. Wells selected the winners for the Products category.

Jeremy Laukkonen: Technology Expert, Lifewire
Jeremy Laukkonen is a technology expert and ghostwriter for major trade publications. He is the creator and author of the automotive blog crankSHIFT, and also co-founded a video game startup. In addition to his tech writing, Laukkonen is the author of the urban fantasy novel “Mechanics of Death.” He selected the winners for the People in Tech category.

Molly McLaughlin: Senior Content Strategist, Lifewire
Molly McLaughlin has been writing about tech since 2004, with a focus on consumer electronics including digital cameras and smartphones. As an editor at PC Magazine, she edited hundreds of product reviews and features. She also spearheaded ConsumerSearch's smartphone coverage strategy and managed its technology reviews. McLaughlin selected the winners for the Companies category.

Best Organizations

Illustration demonstrating rain harvesting

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Dar Si Hmad 

What to Know: Based in the Ait Baâmrane region of Morocco, Dar Si Hmad is best known for its pioneering project to harvest water from fog, using net technology called the CloudFisher. The region has faced issues with water scarcity in the past, but the nets, referred to by the local people as “wells,” now ensure the community has a steady supply of clean drinking water. 

Excess water generated by the CloudFisher project has also allowed Dar Si Hmad to establish an educational farm project. The goal of the farm project is to revive a deserted agricultural plot using permaculture and reforestation techniques. 

Why We Chose It: “Clean tech doesn’t have to be high-tech,” says Badore, our judge for the Organizations category. “The CloudFisher is a beautiful illustration of how an innovation that requires no electricity can solve a serious issue like water access that’s likely to get worse.”

“Dar Si Hmad is a model for success in another important way,” she adds. “The organization also worked carefully to get buy-in from the local community, ensuring that the CouldFisher project could be a success. Solving a whole host of environmental problems will likely require new inventions, but without the participation of frontline communities, the tech alone is not the solution."

Western Resource Advocates 

What to Know: Western Resource Advocates is a non-profit that works to protect the environment through policy advocacy and the court system. Operating in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, its work focuses on land conservation, protecting rivers, clean air, and transitioning off of fossil fuels. WRA does a lot of work on state-level policy, including advocating for clean energy to Public Utilities Commissions, which are powerful players in the energy sector but are often overlooked in wider discussions about the transition to carbon-free energy. 

The WRA was a major advocate for a number of recent clean technology wins, like a New Mexico law that ensures that half of all of the state's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030. A similar law in Nevada requires 50% renewable electricity by 2030, in addition to setting a goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2050. 

Why We Chose It: “While there are many great organizations that work in the policy space, one of the special things about the Western Resource Advocates is a law team that’s willing to take polluters to court when necessary,” notes Badore. “They helped defend legal challenges to Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard, and sued to protect residents of Utah from potentially cancerous particulate air pollution.”

We also like that WRA offers residents of Western states concrete and easy-to-understand ways to be politically engaged. That includes taking actions like helping constituents send letters to public officials regarding urgently needed policies or submitting public comments about proposed projects. “Lawmakers really do pay attention to this kind of civic engagement,” says Badore, “and it can make a difference to how they set their political agendas.”

Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy

What to Know: Careers in renewable energy are poised to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, yet women are still majorly underrepresented in the industry, making up just 32% of the workforce. The situation is even worse at the leadership level, where women make up just 8% of senior management positions in the wind industry, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. This non-profit is aiming to do something about that. 

Started in 2005 as “Women of Wind,” an initial group of three women has grown into a major non-profit today, known as Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), with chapters across Canada and the United States. The organization offers career development, networking, and camaraderie to women in the renewable energy sector. 

Why We Chose It: “Access to mentorship is a key factor to success on many career paths, and WRISE offers several kinds of mentorship programs,” Badore explains. “There’s more traditional one-on-one mentorship, as well as peer group mentoring, which allows members to build community within a small group.”

WRISE also offers a number of fellowship programs, which pay for fellows to attend important industry conferences and even provide tuition stipends. 

The Repair Association 

What to Know: As more and more of our home appliances get connected to smart devices, the problems associated with the embedded carbon of all these electronics, along with the electronic waste they could eventually generate become ever more pressing issues. Meanwhile, manufacturers and making it harder and harder to fix our stuff, incentivizing consumers to buy new devices when our existing ones break or even just slow down. 

The Repair Association offers a solution that’s both radical and old-fashioned: fight for the right to repair. 

The Repair Association is a trade group that advocates for repair and reuse professionals, as well as consumers. The organization is working on pushing legislative change at both the international, federal, and state levels, as well as urging for copyright reform. Since 2014, 32 states have begun working on Right to Repair bills based on the association’s legislative template. 

Why We Chose It: The Association’s reforms would reduce the amount of material that’s landfilled, extend the useful life of our devices, and even cut the demand for the new material resources that are used to produce electronics, Badore explains. They could also help put money back into people’s pockets. 

“Not only is The Repair Association defending the environment by helping us use our devices for longer, they’re also helping defend our freedom to fix and pushing back against planned obsolescence,” says Badore. “The Repair Association also maintains a map-based searchable directory, to help consumers find local repair shops.”

Like so many environmental problems, the issue of e-waste needs to be addressed on all fronts. “I like that they work to address the issue at both the system level and the individual level,” adds Badore.  

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives

What to Know: The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is an international network of cities and regions that are working together to make urban spaces more sustainable, resilient, and equitable—data and tech inform much of their work. The network has over 2,500 member cities, towns, and regions. ICLEI helps its members work towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to benefit both local residents in member areas and help address the global climate crisis. 

Why We Chose It: “ICLEI covers an impressive scope, both geographically and in terms of the different subject matters it advocates around,” notes Badore. Its initiatives include the CITYFOOD Network (promoting local urban food production), the Urban Transitions Alliance (helping former manufacturing cities build new sustainable identities), and the 100% Renewable Cities and Regions Network, just to name a few. 

“Not only does ICLEI seek technological improvements to urban spaces like renewable energy and emissions-free transportation, it also advocates for nature-based development,” Badore explains. “That means the organization helps cities share best practices for urban greening, rewilding, and improving biodiversity.”

“Perhaps most importantly, a key component in ICLEI’s work is that they push for ‘people-centered’ development, meaning that sustainable solutions must be inclusive,” she adds. “That means not only addressing the right to clean air and water, but also addressing the issue of poverty.”

Best Technologies

Illustration demonstrating community solar

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Community Solar

What to Know: Community solar is like a community garden shared by a neighborhood. A solar array might be built over a parking lot, on vacant land, or on a warehouse or industrial building rooftop. Some community solar projects require an investment; others build the community solar farm, sell the power to the utility, pay your utility bill for the power you use, and sell the rest.

Why We Chose It: “One of the problems with rooftop solar systems is that people have to own a rooftop, it works best in suburban areas with privately owned homes,” says Alter. “That leaves about 90 million Americans who live in denser communities of apartments out of the solar picture.” Community solar addresses that. “Everyone gets clean energy and customers get a discount, the site owner gets rent, the utility gets clean and solar power and happier regulators, many of which have solar mandates.”

Zero-Carbon Steel

What to Know: Between 7% and 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from the making of steel. It’s mostly chemistry: Coke (made from cooking coal in the absence of air) is added to molten iron oxide or ore, creating carbon monoxide which combines with the oxygen, reducing the ore to iron and a lot of CO2. There’s also a lot of CO2 generated while melting the ore.

But other elements combine nicely with oxygen, including hydrogen, resulting in iron and water. HYBRIT, a consortium of mining, steel, and electric companies in Sweden, is using surplus renewable electricity to make “green” hydrogen from water and is using electricity to melt the ore in arc furnaces, and hydrogen to reduce the iron ore to sponge iron and water.

Why We Chose It: “The process uses a lot of electricity, as much as 15% of Sweden’s current supply, but they are working to build more renewables,” explains Alter, our judge for the Technologies category. “Other companies in Germany and Austria are making lower carbon steel by using conventional ‘gray’ hydrogen, with plans to convert to green hydrogen.”

“Zero-carbon steel dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of everything from buildings to cars,” Alter says. “The cost of converting the industry would be huge, but so would its impact on worldwide emissions.”

Better, Cheaper Batteries

What to Know: When lithium-ion batteries first hit the market in 1991, they cost $8,000 per kilowatt-hour. When the Tesla Roadster was launched in 2009, they cost $1,200. Until recently, the cost of batteries has been the biggest problem in the affordability and range of electric cars. Now it appears that batteries will soon cost an astonishing $60 per kilowatt-hour, at which point cars powered by electricity will be cheaper than the equivalent car powered by gasoline.

Why We Chose It: “The battery industry is really just getting started, with new chemistries and technologies coming down the road faster than a 2020 Roadster,” says Alter. “New NWO anodes will let a car charge in six minutes; lithium-sulfur batteries will have three times the capacity at lower cost and weight; solid-state batteries that are lighter, safer, and cheaper are coming out of the labs.”

“They will not only power cars and everything else running on gasoline, but they may well be cheap enough to store solar power and wind, eliminating intermittency,” Alter adds. “If they get light enough, they may even power commercial flight.”

Heat Pumps

What to Know: Heat pumps have been around for a long time; your fridge is one, moving heat from inside the fridge to the outside. For heating a home or building, they move heat from the outside to the inside, which is a lot more efficient than making heat with electricity. Some get the heat from the ground, but the drilling and installation of pipes are expensive. Affordable air source heat pumps (ASHPs) pull the heat from the air, but there’s not much to pull in very cold temperatures and they do not work very well, requiring expensive backup resistance heating.  But that's changing.

Why We Chose It: “In the past few years, advances in compressor design means that heat pumps are now capable of working well below -10 F, and are being used in Minnesota and the Arctic,” says Alter. “Combined with better insulation and air sealing, ASHPs are now good enough to economically replace gas heating.”

One problem with all heat pumps has been the refrigerants, usually hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with very high global warming potentials, Alter explains. He says: “However, different gases are being introduced; propane or R-290 is safe in small units and has a global warming potential (GWP—the number of times it is worse than CO2) of only 3.3. carbon dioxide, with a GWP of 1, is being used in high-temperature heat pumps.”

“Cheaper, more efficient heat pumps with low GWP refrigerants could be key invaluable in the drive to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and electrify everything,” Alter concludes.

Radiative Cooling

What to Know: It’s long been known that white roofs, pavements, and even white cars are cool, reflecting heat energy instead of absorbing and re-radiating it. Soon, however, our buildings might be whiter than white and cool the air around them through radiative sky cooling, also known as passive radiative cooling. 

Why We Chose It: Heat is normally trapped in our atmosphere thanks to carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect, but there is a narrow “sky window” where infrared radiation of certain wavelengths passes through right into space. “It’s counterintuitive,” notes Alter, “but if the thermal emissions through the sky window are greater than the absorption of other shorter wavelengths, then the surface can actually be cooler than the ambient temperature, even in direct sunlight.” 

“Researchers have built panels with circulating water, plastic films, and even paint, and suggest that passive radiative cooling not only saves power but combats global warming since the heat is directly lost to deep space,” says Alter.

As engineer Robert Bean told Treehugger, “There will come a time when we won’t use compressors for the cooling of people and buildings. It is simply not necessary. The heat sinks we need to reject heat to, or absorb heat from, are literally within our reach.”

Trees

What to Know: Trees absorb carbon, they are easy to make, you don’t have to plug them in, and they are solar-powered. And they have a utilization side as well. Since the invention of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) 30 years ago, there has been an explosion of innovation and creativity in the use of wood. Scraps of wood too small to glue or nail are being shredded and turned into wood fiber insulation like TimberHP. This stores the carbon for the life of the building and, where the wood is harvested sustainably and replanted carefully, captures even more carbon on the next cycle.

Why We Chose Them: “Trees are the most effective and efficient carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) devices on the planet—and planting billions of them is a key part of strategies for getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” notes Alter. “Some are skeptical of relying on tree planting for net-zero pledges—that it is not a free pass to burn gas and that the planting has to be done properly. But given the potential efficacy, a nature-based solution like this is hard to beat.”

Best Products

Illustration of earbuds

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Champion True Wireless Earphones

What To Know: Champion True Wireless Earbuds are made of natural and recycled synthetic materials, from the bamboo exterior to the charging cord crafted from 99% recycled polyester. These water-resistant buds last up to eight hours without a charge, and you can extend their life for another 20 hours with the charging case. While they don't quite cancel noise, they do a decent job of isolating sound, so you can listen to music and make calls without distractions.

Why We Chose It: “Champion True Wireless Earbuds are less expensive than AirPod Pros and similar high-end headphones with the important advantage of being eco-friendly,” notes Wells, our judge for the Products category. They also stand out thanks to the beautiful bamboo, Wells explains, so you're likely to get a lot of compliments, which gives you an excellent opportunity to talk about sustainable electronics. Wells says: “They'll last just as long as more well-known brands, and since they are made with 99% post-consumer recyclable materials, you get sustainability and performance."

Tethys

What to Know: Tethys is a portable device that detects lead in water using carbon nanotube sensors; no test strips or expensive lab tests necessary. Lead particles bind to the carbon, which creates electrical resistance. Test results sync with a mobile app, giving the user an accurate reading of the lead levels. The idea was inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which left millions of Americans without reliably clean water.

Why We Chose It: “Tethys gets bonus points for being designed by a middle school student. Gitanjali Rao was only 11-years-old when she was named 3M’s America's Top Young Scientist thanks to this invention,” says Wells.

“While not yet commercially available, Tethys has the potential to help schools and families ensure the safety of their children,” says Wells. “Like its namesake, the Greek goddess of fresh water, Tethys could be a lifesaver in times of uncertainty.”

Fairphone

What To Know: Fairphone's line of smartphones, accessories, and spare parts are made mostly from recycled materials. The only phone to earn a perfect score for repairable design from iFixit, Fairphones are designed for easy disassembly so that you can fix hardware problems yourself. The company’s website includes a wealth of tutorials for DIY repairs as well as tips for increasing your phone’s longevity. In an effort to reduce waste, Fairphones don't automatically come with a charger, USB cable, or any other extras, but you can add these items to your order. 


Why We Chose It
: “There are a few companies that specialize in eco-friendly phones, but Fairphone stands out because the materials used are also ethically sourced, ensuring that the workers who make their devices are treated fairly throughout the supply chain,” says Wells. “Considering that the company’s prices are comparable with other mainstream manufacturers, and the fact that you can do your own repairs, Fairphone is a clear winner.” Take that, planned obsolescence.

Ecosia

What To Know: Ecosia is a search engine just like Google or DuckDuckGo, and it makes money the same way—through advertising revenue. But a significant portion of the profits goes to planting trees. In fact, a tree is planted for every click. 

When you visit the Ecosia home page, you see a rolling counter of how many trees are being planted, and it keeps a separate count of your own contributions. If you use Google Chrome, there’s a browser extension you can add that sets Ecosia as your default search engine. 

Why We Chose It: The CO2 footprint of an average search is estimated at 0.2 grams, but Ecosia built their own solar plants to supply the clean energy to power their searches. By planting trees and offsetting its energy use with renewables, a search using Ecosia actually removes 1 kilogram of CO2 from the air. “Many companies promise to plant trees when you buy their products,” says Wells, “but Ecosia has come up with the best model since the service is free to users, so you can make a significant impact while doing what you probably already do every day.”

Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station

What To Know: About the size of a soccer ball, the Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station is compact and portable. With three USB ports, an AC outlet, two DC outlets, and a carport, you can power everything from your phone to your mini-fridge. By itself, the Explorer 500 can be charged through a wall outlet or a separate electric generator, but adding the SolarSaga Solar Panel helps the environment while also saving you money in the long run. If the 100-watt panel is too pricey, you can get the smaller 60-watt SolarSaga Panel instead.

Why We Chose It: “Backup generators are a necessity for every household in case of power outages, but what happens when the charge runs out?” asks Wells. “If you have the Jackery Explorer 500 with an accompanying solar panel, you’ll have enough energy to make it through the night, and you’ll have a completely fresh charge long before sundown the next day.” That it is compact, rugged, and not too heavy also makes it the ideal unit for camping and other off-grid adventures.

Water Surface Cleaning Robot

What Is It: Cleaning public bodies of water without affecting the ecosystem always presents a challenge, but Oceanalpha’s MC120 Water Surface Cleaning Robot uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to collect floating debris while leaving wildlife undisturbed. Kind of like a small boat mixed with a Roomba, it’s equipped with a radar and sensing unit that identifies objects, allowing it to avoid waterbirds, lily pads, and other obstacles. The more familiar it gets with a surface, the more precise it gets. The robot can also be controlled manually with a remote control or a mobile app. 

Why We Chose It: “Primarily intended for corporate and municipal use, the ingenious Water Surface Cleaning Robot can easily reach places people can’t, like under bridges and tunnels,” notes Wells. “With a six-hour battery life and the capacity to collect up to 700 pounds of trash a day, it’s far more efficient than using a net. You can set it to return to a specific spot when it’s done for the day.”

In addition to removing debris—which is so important for the sake of wildlife—it can also monitor water quality. “Keep an eye out for a fleet of them in your hometown,” says Wells.

Best People in Tech

Illustration demonstrating different industries

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Valery Miftakhov

What to Know: Physicist Valery Miftakhov moved from Moscow to attend Princeton University in 1997, and found his way to Silicon Valley in time for the tech boom. As a serial entrepreneur in the area of clean transportation, Miftakhov cites Elon Musk as a primary source of inspiration. He saw what Tesla was doing in the arena of clean transportation and subsequently founded eMotorWerks, followed by ZeroAvia.

Why We Chose Them: Transportation represents the single greatest source of carbon emissions in the United States, outstripping even coal-fired power plants. “There are a lot of roadblocks in the way of reducing that, but fossil fuel alternatives like electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells will likely be part of the solution,” says Laukkonen, our judge for the People in Tech category. “With that in mind, Valery Miftakhov has founded two clean transportation companies aimed at different transportation sectors.” 

Miftakhov’s first company, eMotorWerks, sells app-driven electric vehicle charging stations to electric car manufacturers. It also successfully Kickstarted a consumer-facing, DIY, level-2 charging station, and created an app to help electric vehicle owners access cleaner and cheaper energy by charging their vehicles at specific times.

ZeroAvia, Miftakov’s second company, has the mission of creating a zero-emissions powertrain for airplanes as an alternative to the jet fuel-guzzling engines that currently dominate the market. “We are going to decarbonize aviation,” says Miftakov—and if anyone can do it, it’s probably him.

Danny Kennedy

What to Know: Danny Kennedy is a lifelong environmental activist and clean-technology entrepreneur. Kennedy took over the reins of the California Clean Energy Fund in 2015—now known as New Energy Nexus—and serves as the managing director. New Energy Nexus is dedicated to hastening the clean energy transition by bringing together funding with clean energy solutions. 

Some of the initiatives Kennedy is part of include CalCharge and CalSEED.  CalCharge is a group dedicated to developing breakthrough energy storage technologies; CalSEED provides seed grants to clean energy startups with promising ideas and technologies.

Why We Chose Them: Kennedy has a remarkable history of environmental activism and clean energy evangelism and entrepreneurship that spans decades. “From his time with Greenpeace in the early 1990s to founding residential solar power company Sungevity, much of Kennedy’s life has been dedicated to green causes and solar energy,” says Laukkonen.

Stella McCartney

What to Know: Stella McCartney founded her eponymous label in 2001 with an eye toward bringing sustainability to the fashion world. An initial focus on avoiding animal products, driven by her lifelong dedication to a plant-based diet, has expanded to the use of high-tech sustainable materials, renewable energy, and other eco-friendly efforts.

One example of McCartney’s use of tech to drive sustainability is the AlphaEdge 4D sneaker produced in partnership with Adidas. Using a 4D printing technique, which takes into account transformation over time, less waste is created than with traditional methods, while still providing a high-quality end product.

McCartney has also explored high-tech sustainable alternatives to animal products, like handbags made from Bold Thread’s Mylo leather-like material. Using a high-tech process, Bold Thread turns mushroom mycelium into a sustainable leather-like product, which has been integrated into McCartney’s product line.

Why We Chose Them: McCartney is the driving force behind the Stella McCartney fashion house’s decades-long push for sustainability, notes Laukkonen. “When creating new designs, McCartney asks one important question: ‘Could this piece be produced using more sustainable methods or materials?’ That approach has driven numerous innovations in sustainable materials and manufacturing methods.”

Nowadays, many fashion houses flaunt their sustainability initiatives, but McCartney has been a pioneer in the space, leading the way for the others.

Landon Brand, Mimi Tran Zambetti, and Benjamin Stanfield

What to Know: Landon Brand, Mimi Tran Zambetti, and Benjamin Stanfield co-founded Wren, an app that takes your data—like diet, energy usage, transportation methods, and more—and provides an accurate picture of your carbon footprint. The idea is that armed with this information, you can make smart changes to lessen your impact. It also provides an easy way to pay for carbon offsets, via a monthly subscription method, to further reduce your footprint.

The trio made Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2021 in the consumer technology category. Wren is their second entrepreneurial effort after they decided to ditch a human-resources software project in favor of tackling climate change.

Why We Chose Them: “Historically, carbon offsets have had a handful of problems,” says Laukkonen. “To be truly effective, a carbon offset needs to have a measurable impact, be transparent and verifiable by third parties, and represent an actual, additional reduction in carbon above and beyond what would have happened without purchasing the offset."

Brand, Zambetti, and Stanfield have simplified calculating one’s footprint, and have taken the guesswork out of carbon offsetting. “Wren takes care of the vetting process behind the scenes,” Laukkonen adds, “allowing you to simply calculate your carbon footprint and then pay a monthly subscription to cover real, tangible carbon offsets.” The trio has made a tricky task doable.

Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One

What to Know: Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One co-founded OLIO, which is an app designed to reduce food waste and assist in local upcycling. Celestial-One previously worked in business development for big firms like McKinsey and American Express, and Clarke managed web development and digital marketing teams for Dyson and other companies before the two teamed up to create OLIO. 

OLIO allows users to list food items that they no longer need or will be unable to use, and other users can peruse what’s on offer and go pick it up. In addition to food, users can also upcycle other items and products they no longer need. The focus is on reducing food waste, but users can share excess homegrown vegetables, unneeded household items, and more.

Why We Chose Them: Food waste is a massive problem, consuming resources and then essentially just tossing them away. According to research, about 40% of the food produced in the United States is never eaten. “With that in mind, Clarke and Celestial-One’s OLIO is doing real, tangible work to reduce the impact of food waste,” says Laukkonen.

“Most of the food waste in the world happens before the food ever makes it from farms to consumers, but apps like OLIO can have a knock-on effect as well as a tangible effect,” notes Laukkonen “In addition to providing a way for people to avoid throwing away food, and for other people to obtain food they may not otherwise be able to afford, the mere existence of an app like OLIO in the consumer conscious helps bring attention to the issue of food waste.”

Rohan Marley

What to Know: Rohan Marley is the founder of sustainable electronics manufacturer House of Marley. Created in memory of Rohan Marley’s father Bob Marley, House of Marley’s mission is to offer high-quality audio electronics made with sustainable materials. The younger Marley has been involved in charitable and eco-friendly efforts for decades. He founded Marley Coffee in 2009 with an eye toward providing sustainably farmed coffee, and he’s also heavily involved with his family’s charitable 1Love organization.

Why We Chose Them: “House of Marley builds on the legacy of Rohan’s father, with its mission being to provide high-quality audio electronics that are manufactured using sustainable materials,” says Laukkonen. “They source renewable woods like bamboo, fabrics made from recycled materials like REWIND, recycled paper, and reclaimed upcycled silicone.”

In addition to offering sustainable products, House of Marley also designates a portion of its proceeds to the Project Marley Global Giving initiative. Project Marley has supported organizations like One Tree Planted and the Surfrider Foundation.

Best Companies

Illustration demonstrating CDs becoming a phone case

Illustration by Alex Dos Diaz

Nimble

What to Know: Nimble makes tech accessories, including portable and wireless chargers, phone cases, USB-C cables, and wall chargers—all from recycled materials, plant-based bioplastics, and other sustainable materials. Product packaging is made of recycled paper. Every purchase comes with a recycled plastic bag with prepaid shipping so that consumers can send their outdated tech to Nimble's e-waste recycling partner.

Why We Chose It: Nimble takes an innovative approach to problem-solving, and relies on using waste materials rather than virgin ones. For example, over 1 trillion compact discs have been made in the last four decades, and every month about 3 million of them become obsolete and mostly end up in landfills. Nimble uses specialized methods to clean the discs and compound them into new, high-grade material, and turns them into new products, like phone cases. Using waste instead of virgin materials reduces CO2 by upwards of 9.2 pounds per product.

“Nimble is a Certified B Corporation, so it's legally required to consider the impact of its decisions on all stakeholders, from workers to customers to partners and the environment,” says McLaughlin, our judge for the Companies category. “It designs its products in California. And though manufacturing takes place in China, Nimble's priority is producing products in the ethical ways possible, and it requires all suppliers to follow their Supplier Code of Conduct.”

Bloom Energy

What to Know: Bloom Energy’s mission is to make clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world. They partner with many Fortune 100 companies to assist with its clean and renewable energy strategy. For example, the Bloom Energy Server provides reliable, clean, and cost-effective energy to over 30 Walmart stores and distribution centers in California. The servers can provide 60-75% of a facility's electrical load with the potential to reduce annual CO2 production by 73 million pounds.

Why We Chose It: “The company really stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says McLaughlin. "It powered health care facilities, hospitals, and pop-up locations that were treating COVID patients without using combustion-based sources like diesel generators which are a detriment to air quality.”

Bloom Energy also refurbished more than 1,300 ventilators for distribution across the United States and created an oxygenator splitting kit for developing countries, McLaughlin explains. The kit enables countries to treat multiple patients using equipment that typically treats only one. 

Newlight Technologies

What to Know: Newlight makes a carbon-negative bio-material called AirCarbon that is being used to replace synthetic plastic and fibers. Unlike most bio-plastics, AirCarbon is not made from plants—rather, it is a plastic-like substance naturally produced in the ocean. Marine microorganisms consume air and saltwater-dissolved greenhouse gas to create a material called PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate) to store energy. Inspired by this process, Newlight spent a decade researching how to replicate PHB in the lab—AirCarbon was the result, so named because it's made using air and carbon dissolved in water. 

Because PHB occurs naturally, microorganisms can recognize it and consume it as food for regrowth—something that doesn’t happen with regular plastic. 

Why We Chose It: “Single-use plastic never really goes away since it's synthetic, and despite recycling efforts, most of it still ends up in landfills or oceans, where it endangers wildlife,” says McLaughlin. “AirCarbon is FDA food-contact approved and naturally meltable at 350 degrees." And it's already on the market: Restore Foodware sells straws and cutlery made from AirCarbon. And Shake Shack is rolling out straws and utensils made from the material, noting that they can be composted at home—which makes this material distinct from other bio-plastics which require industrial composting. “These products combine the convenience of single-use food ware without the devastating environmental impact,” says McLaughlin.

Surplus Service

What to Know: Based in San Francisco, Surplus Service is an e-waste recycling business that specializes in services for things like medical and lab equipment and IT devices. For example, the company will sanitize and refurbish second-hand medical equipment and devices that can then be sent to hospitals, caregivers, communities, and organizations in need.

Surplus Service repairs, reuses, or remarkets over 85% of electronics that pass through its facility and recycles the remaining 15%. The company says that no electronics go to landfills, and they won't export e-waste to countries with weak environmental laws.

Why We Chose It: Surplus Service is making a difference. As the number one leading nationwide e-waste management solutions company, they prioritize reusing electronics over recycling. It is estimated that the company has removed tens of millions of pounds of hazardous waste from the environment and thousands of pounds of carbon emissions. “In the past year alone, the company has saved 24,849 kWh of energy, 27,590 gallons of water, and 5,177 pounds of CO2,” explains McLaughlin.

Additionally, the company walks the walk. “As part of its mission, it also maintains an environmentally friendly office space near public transit. Instead of paper, it uses cloud storage and whiteboards when possible," says McLaughlin. "Its efforts have meant that the company went from using a small dumpster to one garbage can for weekly refuse pick up.”

Shopify

What to Know: Shopify is an Ottawa, Canada-based e-commerce platform that powers more than 1.7 million businesses in 175 countries, including Allbirds, Gymshark, Heinz, and Staples Canada. It has tools for setting up an online storefront, payment processing, and SEO and marketing. It also has thousands of apps from trusted partners to customize your store, from appointment booking to AI-powered product recommendations. While the company has been investing in proven solutions for fighting the climate crisis, they are also investing in high-potential technologies at the frontier of the carbon removal industry, like direct air capture (DAC) carbon removal.

Why We Chose It: “In March 2021, Shopify purchased 10,000 metric tons of direct air capture carbon removal from Carbon Engineering, the most significant purchase to date. It has previously purchased 5,000 metric tons from Climeworks,” says McLaughlin. The combined total of 15,000 metric tons of DAC carbon removal represents the largest amount of DAC carbon removal purchased by any company in history.

“The partnerships with Carbon Engineering and Climeworks supplement Shopify's previous strides in offsetting carbon output,” says McLaughlin. “Its 2019 sustainability report reveals that the company had already purchased enough carbon offsets to cover all emissions associated with its operations from its founding in 2004 to 2018.”

Solstice

What to Know: According to Solstice, 80% of U.S. households can't get rooftop solar. This group includes renters, condo owners, and those whose homes are not well-equipped for solar (lack of sunlight, rooftop structural issues). Solar startup costs are also steep, putting it out of reach for many. Solstice is community solar in action and enables people to invest in local solar gardens to solve this access issue, which gives people the benefit of solar without startup costs or installation.

The company has also created EnergyScore, an innovative solar qualification metric designed to give more people the opportunity to go solar. Most solar developers require a moderately high FICO credit score from their customers; the EnergyScore is an indication of future payment behavior that is more accurate than a FICO—and creates a larger number of qualified low-to-moderate income customers.

Why We Chose It: “Solstice solves a real problem,” says McLaughlin. “Many people want solar but can't get it for financial reasons or where they live.” To achieve its mission, the company allocates a portion of a solar garden to consumers. McLaughlin adds: “It produces energy on their behalf and sends it to the utility company; that company applies a credit to the customer. Solstice says its solar panels can save consumers 10% on their monthly electric bill.”

See other winners in our Best of Green Awards for Sustainable Travel and Green Cleaning. And for helpful tech tips, advice, and news, be sure to visit Lifewire.