For doing good, methodically. Bloomberg Philanthropies prioritizes the most pressing global issues with the efficiency we have come to associate with its namesake, Michael Bloomberg. With data-driven solutions, the foundation homes in on the most pragmatic remedies for numerous social ills. A notable example: By focusing on combating global tobacco use alone, Bloomberg can address six of the world's top 10 causes of death, and aims to save the 14,000 people killed by tobacco use every day. Read more >>
For setting a sustainable example. In the new app Making, Nike has compiled a database of materials into an industry archive focused on the environmental impact of products. The goal? To eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals in its goods by 2020. Now, with Making, anyone in the industry can use the app as an index for a product's level of sustainability. Just as its athlete clientele strives for the highest level of performance, Nike is striving to be the best in sustainable business. Read more >>
For recycling, reusing, and reducing. The company that invented blue jeans more than 140 years ago is taking denim into the age of sustainability. Its Wellthread initiative recycles old material into new clothing, while Waste Less, Levi Strauss's new line launched last spring, reuses about eight 12- to 20-ounce plastic bottles per garment. In 2013 alone, the collection used 7.9 million recycled bottles to make products such as Levi's 511 Slim Fit Jeans and Trucker jackets. Read more >>
For taking the oil out of plastic. Plastic is traditionally made from petroleum, but Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem is using sugarcane—its nation's natural resource—instead. Its method for making polyethylene captures up to two tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of plastic produced, and last year, the company developed a line of low-density renewable plastic for shopping bags and flexible packaging. Brands like Johnson & Johnson and Walmart bear Braskem's "I'm green" seal on their products, and the company currently produces 200,000 metric tons of green plastic per year. Read more >>
For lending its expertise (and money) to the next sustainable saviors. Last year, the popular retailer launched $20 Million & Change—an internal venture fund that will plow money into startups working to find sustainable solutions in the areas of clothing, food, water, energy, and waste. Patagonia has tripled its profits in the past five years; this is the company's way of giving back.
For letting electric-car drivers zip cross-country with ease. In addition to being the only electric-vehicle company to gain any traction in the market, Tesla is the first company to make cross-country trips in electric cars a reality. Its Supercharger stations can charge up a Tesla with 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes and now stand at the ready in more than 70 locations in the United States. Read more >>
For putting us on the path to growing everything we eat. As part of the growing group of startups aiming to replace energy- and land-intensive dairy and meat with realistic plant-based substitutes, Hampton Creek is quickly rolling out mayonnaise, scrambled egg, and baking products that are completely plant-based. The company, which last year raised $1 million in seed funding, is now selling its Just Mayo product in Whole Foods locations throughout the United States.
For letting individual investors get a piece of the solar-power movement. A worthy competitor for SunRun, SolarCity this year became the first solar leasing company to go public. Not content to simply hawk solar-panel systems, SolarCity recently announced an audacious plan for an online platform that sells debt investments for its rooftop solar projects to individual investors. (Previously these were only available to large institutional lenders.)
For providing affordable sanitation in African slums. Sanergy is aiming to help some of the 2.6 billion people who lack access to decent sanitation: Its network of affordable sanitation centers runs through the slums of Nairobi and turns waste into fertilizer and electricity. (The last crucial step of turning waste into valuable products is yet to come.) All of the centers are operated by local franchisees, and its network of 345 toilet facilities serve as many as 14,000 people every day.
For giving us a glimpse of the mushroomed future. Known primarily for its mushroom-based packaging, Ecovative branched out in 2013 into mycelium building materials (and raised more than $14 million in equity capital). The company's proof of concept, which went on sale last summer, is the Mushroom Tiny House: a small wood-framed abode that contains mushroom insulation—a nontoxic, sustainable alternative to loose-fill insulation.
[Image: Flickr user Rohit Gowaikar]