Whether you’re into a Green New Deal or not, it’s clear that companies are increasingly paying attention to how their business operations affect the environment. In 2016, over 82 percent of S&P 500 Companies published Corporate Sustainability Reports, according to the Governance & Accountability Institute.
Publishing those reports often coincides with a demonstrated push to lower environmental impact, improve supply chain processes, use more renewable resources and clean energy, and source supplies more effectively, with many companies establishing sizable internal sustainability teams to do so.
However, there are few resources for these teams to connect with the technology researchers and entrepreneurs bringing to life new sustainability-minded products and services.
This was a firsthand observation of Peter Schelstraete, former Global Head of Digital Assets for The Coca-Cola Company. Schelstraete began working at Coke several decades ago, moving to Africa and then Asia as their first CMO for Asia Pacific.
He came back to Atlanta, the company’s headquarters, for his most recent position, where he also led the team behind the World of Coke exhibits.
In almost all of his projects, sustainability came up. Though Coke has been questioned for their sustainability reporting, they were one of the first and largest beverage manufacturers to put aggressive green goals in place.
Schelstraete wanted to find innovative ways to meet those goals, but often was hindered by “information asymmetry.”
“There’s a big gap between the top-down of the market in sustainability, i.e. large corporations, large NGOs, large government organizations, and having visibility to the tens of thousands of innovators that have access to new technologies, new materials, AI, robotics, everything,” he tells Hypepotamus.
“On their side, it’s very hard for them to knock on the doors of those big organizations.”
In 2017, Schelstraete and another Coca-Cola executive, former President of India and Southwest Asia operations Venkatesh Kini, began to work on Ubuntoo, a startup named after a word spoken in parts of Africa to indicate “humanity.”
Ubuntoo, launched just a few months ago, is essentially a connection marketplace. “Implementers” — those working on sustainability goals at large corporations, government bureaus, and other organizations — use the platform to find and connect with “innovators” — startups, researchers, professors and the like who are coming up with new and novel ways to make the world more sustainable.
How do they connect? The web-based Ubuntoo contains a Solutions Database where implementers can shop for ideas, discussion forums to share best practices, ask questions, etc., and a feed of the latest sustainability news.
Implementers pay a flat subscription fee for membership access to all of this — $500 annually per user for companies, $100 for NGOs and non-profits.
Innovators and startups do not have to pay, and the Ubuntoo team spends time vetting the very best solutions to bring to their members. Schelstraete says they already have hundreds of members, including users from multinational companies and large retailers.
Sustainability is extremely broad, so for launch, the Ubuntoo team focused on one goal: products and services that reduce plastic pollution.
They have over 500 solutions in the database that address the plastic problem alone, along with expert professors from 20 universities and organizations like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Innovations range from new materials to manufacturing processes to using cutting-edge technology like blockchain and AI.
“It’s a whole specialized ecosystem, all driven by a desire to end plastic pollution,” says Schelstraete.
He explains that as the platform matures, it will expand to address all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Ubuntoo was initially self-funded by CEO Schelstraete and Kini, but in 2018 they raised $500,000 from a group of global angel investors that Schelstraete says are interested in the “prospect of doing good, with a really good business model.” Ubuntoo is currently in the process to become a B Corporation.
As they expand, they’re exploring opportunities to launch a sustainability consulting marketplace, as well as a sustainability e-learning platform.