Designing To Waste Less And Reuse More: 2015 In Environmental Innovation

Cleaning up the mess, piece by piece–from car free cities to ethical cellphones.

With climate change, drought, land depletion, and ocean pollution to deal with, the world doesn’t have endless resources to waste or pollute. We’re even running out of the rare metals needed to make our tech gadgets. This year, more mindful consumers and innovative companies, large and small, are taking this message to heart.


Apple has been buying up forests around the world, and forward-thinking companies like IKEA and GE have been leading the way in not only planning for climate change and but actually dedicating real money to it. A here’s the amazing story of a 17-year-old inventor who dreamed up an audacious way to clean up trash from the ocean–and is making it a reality. Other companies, like Adidas, have figured out how to make waste into a resource. Startups have also been involved: Evidence the Fairphone, a smartphone made with fairly-mined minerals and that is designed to last far longer than just a year or two.

Of course, policies are also needed to guide the way, and 2015 has had interesting developments on that front. A new French law, for example, requires manufacturers make their products easier to repair, so they don’t have to be tossed away. Cities around the world are banning cars in certain parts of the city and making their roads more bike-friendly. And the international climate treaty signed in Paris in December will hopefully point the way to more breakthroughs to come next year.

1: This Smartphone Is Made From Fairly Mined Minerals, And It’s Designed To Last Longer Than Your Contract


Finally, a mobile device you can feel good about—not because it’s shiny and new, but because it’s ethically made and built to last.

2: California Is Sitting On The Solution To Its Drought Problem

There’s a lot of water around, it just needs to be put to better use.

David Greitzer via Shutterstock

3: Why Apple Bought 36,000 Acres Of Forest

The simple answer: Apple uses a lot of paper, and it feels bad.

bjul via Shutterstock

4: This 20-Year-Old Inventor Said He Could Clean Up The Ocean—Now He’s Really Doing It


The giant ocean trash cleanup machine will begin its work in 2016.

via The Ocean Cleanup

5: Adidas Knit These Sneakers Entirely From Ocean Plastic Trash

The shoe company is letting you help get plastic out of the ocean—with your feet.

Adidas/Parley for the Oceans

6: Why Lego Is Spending Millions To Ditch Oil-Based Plastic

The toy company wants to find an alternative material for the 60 billion bricks it makes a year. But it’s not going to be easy.

7: These Photos Tackle An Uncomfortable Question: What If There Are Just Too Many People On Earth?


Population control is taboo. But it wasn’t always that way—and a new book, showing images ranging from a mall on Black Friday to a shepherd in Mongolia, could open up the conversation.


8: This New French Law Is Designed To Make Products Easier To Repair, So They Stay Out Of The Trash

Soon, manufacturers in the country will have to repair or replace your gadgets for two years after purchase at no charge.

Flickr user David

9: A Periodic Table Of Elements That The World Is Running Out Of

This is one chemistry class the tech industry needs to get right.

nattanan726 via Shutterstock

10: These Before-And-After Shots Show How Quickly The Planet Is Changing


Glaciers shrinking. Seas disappearing. Cities sprawling. NASA combs through its satellite images to give us a stark reality check about how humans are utterly transforming our landscapes.


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire