One person’s burning straw is another person’s treasure, as they say.
In India, a company called Strawcture Eco figured out how to reduce the amount of straw that farmers routinely burn by instead converting the straw into alternative building materials. The company is one of four Tech Laureates receiving accolades at this year’s Tech for Global Good, the signature annual event of The Tech Interactive, which unfolds Saturday night at the Signia by Hilton San Jose.
Tech for Global Good, known years ago as the Tech Awards, recognizes international projects that address a predetermined humanitarian theme. One year the theme was Technology and the Environment, for example. Another year it was Technology Empowering Women. In these unique Covid-affected times, this year’s quartet of laureates are simply just creating a more sustainable future. That was enough.
Year in and year out, no matter the theme, Tech for Global Good always inspires massive optimism because the vibe of the whole evening really feels like the “old Silicon Valley” I grew up with, back when entrepreneurs and technologists wanted to improve the world rather than willfully monetizing anti-Semitic conspiracies or mass-harassment just because it suited their business model. At Tech for Global Good, you won’t find CEOs fetishizing international mobsters, or spreading hate propaganda from totalitarian regimes, or conning a fanboy cult of cryptobros just for vanity’s sake.
Instead, Tech for Global Good elevates projects in which the next generation of worldly entrepreneurs is already out there identifying problems and finding humanitarian solutions with lasting positive impact for the planet. It’s a joy to witness.
Take a company like Strawcture Eco, for instance. In India, when a crop like wheat or rice is harvested, the bottom part of the plant, the straw, is usually left over in the fields and burned as waste. Nearly 500 million tons of straw get torched every year, unleashing enormous amounts of CO2 into an already polluted atmosphere. At the same time, India has a massive shortage of trees, so the construction industry illegally pillages forests for the lumber. Since straw has a similar cellular structure as wood, founder and CEO Shriti Pandey figured, ‘Why not convert the wasted tons of straw into building material?’ So she went to Europe, spent time with companies already specializing in alternative construction materials, and then shipped loads and loads of panels back to India to begin the Strawcture Eco business.
Nowadays, an entire infrastructure is built around her products. The company buys straw directly from farmers and then hires locals to bring the straw to the Strawcture Eco facilities, where it is then converted into 100% bio-based composite building panels for ceilings, walls, doors, furniture and more. This is much better than burning tons and tons of straw in the fields every day.
The other three laureates are equally inspiring. An outfit from Atlanta called Goodr created an app that allows grocery stores and restaurants to donate excess food to nonprofits instead of paying to throw everything out. Berkeley’s MicroByre relies on robotics and automation to turn bacteria into climate-friendly factories. They’ve built the world’s largest and expansive dataset on how novel bacteria can be domesticated to produce its own natural chemicals without releasing damaging elements into the environment. Their work makes me want to be a biologist. And then there’s Blue Ocean Barns, an outfit working with dairy and beef producers to remove greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chains. By the end of this decade, they hope to grow enough red seaweed to supplement all 100 million cattle in the US, reducing methane emissions from cattle farming by up to 80%.
As always, the projects will inspire anyone who wants a future where CEOs are altruistic heroes prioritizing compassion for real-world problems, rather than narcissistic sociopaths poisoning society with their own selfishness and then playing the victim over and over again. As a result, one leaves the event really wanting to make the world a better place.
In addition to the laureates, the Tech for Global Good party also includes the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award. This year, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman will again take home the award, since he was unable to appear in person last year.