Sustainable Innovations Challenge: A Personal Commitment to a Greener Future
I am deeply passionate about sustainable innovations. Almost two months ago, I embarked on a personal commitment I call the Sustainable Innovations Challenge. This challenge is a year-long journey where I strive to create and visualize a new concept for sustainable innovation each day.
Today marks the 57th day of this intellectually stimulating challenge. I feel as if I am undertaking a personal mission akin to climbing Mount Jomolungma. The objective is simple yet profound — to help shape a world in which sustainable innovations become the norm rather than the exception.
The Urgency for Sustainable Innovations
We are at a crucial point in history where the need for sustainable innovation has never been greater. Global environmental crises demand urgent solutions to lessen the impact of our activities on the planet. Despite growing technological advancements, the adoption of clean technology is disappointingly limited.
This issue was underscored in the STRINGS report published in October 2022, which highlighted a disturbing misalignment between science, technology, innovation (STI), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Put simply, our societal focus and what we are actually prioritizing are significantly out of sync.
Prompted by this unsettling revelation, I found myself asking: How can I personally contribute to the mainstreaming of sustainable innovations?
A study by Michael Park, Erin Leahey, and Russell J Funk, published in Nature in 2023, delved into the phenomenon of a seeming slowdown in scientific and technological progress, despite the significant increase in new knowledge over recent decades. Their examination of six decades’ worth of data from 45 million scientific papers and 3.9 million patents unveiled surprising findings. Despite the vast amount of new knowledge, papers and patents are becoming less likely to significantly disrupt or redirect the course of science and technology.
The researchers suggest that this decrease in disruption could be attributed to scientists and inventors relying on a narrower range of established knowledge in their work. However, they were clear to point out that this trend is not indicative of a decrease in the quality of published science or changes in citation practices, or specific to different scientific or technological fields.
In layman’s terms, even with a wealth of scientific and technological knowledge available, new research and inventions are not causing significant shifts or steering us in completely new directions as they did in the past.
Reflections from My Past
Looking back at my own journey, I began my career as an economic journalist, TV anchor and project manager of economic TV programs during my university years. Through my work, I interacted with a variety of stakeholders, from government officials to influential industrial and financial figures. It was through these encounters that I became acutely aware of the marginalized perception of environmentally friendly technology, business practices, inventions, actions, and lifestyles.
Motivated to effect change, I left my successful career in television to collaborate with like-minded individuals who created one of the very first clean tech companies in CEE. We collectively created some of Ukraine’s and CEE’s first green jobs, developed an ecosystem for clean tech and created the premier business platform for global and local market players entering emerging European markets.
Over the years, we implemented projects that many considered “impossible,” such as Europe’s first biofuel-powered motor ship race or a first building in downtown Kyiv that was switched on clean electricity generated by a large-scale portable solar plant and a small wind generator. Despite countless obstacles, our team managed to increase the industry’s green electricity share to a significant level and secure a place for Ukraine among the top 10 most attractive markets for investments in renewable energy transition worldwide (as noted in 2019–2021).
These unified endeavors have culminated in our current reality, where even the most influential energy conglomerates and once-skeptical parliamentary members, who formerly discredited sustainable initiatives, now fervently champion renewable energy as an indispensable priority.
Our experiences highlighted the vital role of individuals who are willing to initiate, demonstrate, and advocate for the importance of sustainable practices and clean energy.
My work at the intersection of sustainability, fashion, and 3D printing tells a similar story. When I presented a collection of sustainably-produced, wearable, digitally-made clothing at the Future of Fashion Show during New York Fashion Week in 2018, it ignited a fresh wave of interest in this field. Despite spending many years in clean tech and dreaming about truly sustainable, innovatively made clothes, I did not perceive any barriers. Instead, I made use of every resource at my disposal to achieve the desired results.
Together with my partner, we owned a brand of portable solar gadgets. We developed a portable solar charger with a larger capacity, enabling it to power laptops. This gave me the opportunity to explore the freedom of design and energy as I sat on the beach, crafting the first digitally-manufacturable clothing pieces using solar energy.
We recognized that the existing approach of gluing hundreds of pieces together was not sustainable, so we developed a method to 3D print each piece of clothing in just a few parts, eliminating waste. As I experimented with 3D pens and manual 3D printing techniques, I firmly stood against any form of gluing. In the early stages, I began using a 3D pen to seamlessly connect 3D-printed parts together. At the time, this was innovative, and I received dozens of questions about the method on my Instagram. In order to implement our vision, we had to make numerous substantial modifications to the initial industrial 3D printer. Eventually, we developed our own model of a 3D printer specifically designed for flexible materials.
Many of these and other practices we developed at the intersection of 3D printing and sustainability have since become popular.
When I couldn’t find any sustainable yet highly flexible materials for 3D printing, I reached out to a company that produced high-quality, flexible 3D printing filament. At that stage, they were not interested, but three years later they sent me the first recycled filament they produced and launched as a new product.
Throughout my journey in clean tech and sustainable 3D printing for consumer goods, I focused not on the barriers but on using every resource at hand to achieve my goals.
Over time, many of the practices I innovated have gained popularity. I do not claim all the credit for these advancements. I am well aware that many other great minds also contribute to these fields. However, I believe if we want to see change, we must initiate it ourselves, and if done in an inspiring way, it can motivate others. This collective momentum can then bring about transformative change.
Why Did I Decide to Take on This Challenge?
In my personal life, I enjoy sports, having run several marathons and triathlon competitions, and completed Ironman 70.3 races. While physical activity is crucial for our well-being and quality of thought, I believe it is equally important to keep our minds sharp and productive in our AI-shaped world.
As a proponent of design thinking, I see the creation, testing, and implementation of new ideas as essential for a better future. Moreover, continuous ideation-prototyping-testing yields better innovations and projects, making it an opportunity to generate a wide range of concepts to choose from or inspire others.
Beyond mental exercise, the Sustainable Innovations Challenge resonates with my personal values. I believe we need to do more to preserve our planet, protect animals, maintain biodiversity, and safeguard the precious ecosystems that are absent on Mars or elsewhere. The choice between preparing for a 100 km run and dedicating 365 days to developing everyday sustainable concepts was easy to make.
The Pursuit of the Sustainable Innovations Challenge
The Sustainable Innovations Challenge is my individual contribution towards establishing sustainable innovations as the new norm. By creating and visualizing new sustainable concepts daily, I hope to inspire others to innovate in the same direction. Sharing these ideas might spark new startups, projects, and ultimately contribute to the development of sustainable innovation.
My journey has taught me that sustainable innovation is not about monopolizing ideas but freely sharing them to benefit our planet. The real triumph of my Sustainable Innovations Challenge will be when sustainability and inclusivity become societal norms.
Follow my Sustainable Innovation Challenge journey: daily at https://instagram.com/juliadaviy. Weekly updates: https://juliadaviy.com.