Are we entering a new era of innovation where profit meets purpose? Or is that just drinking the Kool Aid?

In Silicon Valley and beyond the world of technologists are turning their attention to the critical issues our earth and oceans face, ushering us into a new era of innovation. An era with a purpose and an intention to remedy much of the damage we’ve caused to the Earth as a result of industrialization and unchecked corporate growth.

Gigi Brisson, has been doing her part to advance new, innovative technologies as an active investor in the social impact space. Grit Daily spoke with Brisson, who is the founder of Ocean Elders, a foundation and a consortium of some of the most powerful and dedicated philanthropists and advocates who are actively working to save our oceans.

Gigi Brisson

Business as usual is killing the planet,” she passionately shared with us. “New businesses are needed; those that will scale and be profitable, but also benefit society and the environment.”

So, what’s holding us back?

According to Brisson, while we are “seeing a lot of potentially impactful start-ups” which need funding, unfortunately, many of these entrepreneurs don’t know much about the investing community.

That’s where Tech 4 Nature, or T4N comes into the equation, helping to make these introductions.

We think the next-gen unicorns will come from this space.”

Profit and Purpose Are Not A Contradiction After All

The Tech 4 Nature Summit which took place at the iconic Salesforce tower in San Francisco, showcased a selection of promising startups that aim to achieve positive social and environmental impact, coupled with outstanding financial returns.

The group believes that profit and purpose can go together, and ultimately companies that are transparent, accountable and wish to benefit others will be the long term winners. 

Having attended this conference, here are two companies that really stood out: 

Real Ghosts That Kill: Abandoned Fishing Gear

It’s a silent killer and one you almost never hear about—abandoned fishing gear.

There’s over 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing gear added to the ocean each year accounting for nearly half of the plastic in the North Pacific Gyre also known as the Great Pacific Garbage patch. These ghost fishing nets that have been abandoned continue to do harm to wildlife for years, in fact, 30% of all fish caught are caught in ghost nets, meaning that we are depleting the ocean even more than we thought. These fishing nets don’t discriminate over the wildlife they ensnare – every year 136,000 whales, dolphins, seals, and turtles are caught in ghost gear every year

The loss of marine life through these ghost nets is exacerbating the other issues ocean life faces, and it’s also at a cost to the fishing industry. There are many companies that are developing technologies and solutions to address this issue, from ropeless fishing gear to leveraging GPS equipment to identify, track and remove ghost fishing gear across the Pacific.

One company that was showcased at T4N is Blue Ocean Gear. The company has developed a simple yet effective solution that employs a smart buoy system to identify where the gear is so the fisherman can find it easily. Its smart buoy is equipped with IoT sensors that can track fishing gear and traps, which helps fishing fleets reduce their costs and become more efficient by preventing the gear loss, fuel spent looking for missing gear and reduced harvest potential from the ghost fishing.

It can also take analytical data that can identify seasonal trends and help optimize and encourage sustainable fishing practices. Also, fishermen can now assist marine mammal rescue teams by providing the coordinates of entangled gear and facilitating the removal of entangled animals from ghost gear.

Mitigation of the Arctic’s Melting Permafrost

Beyond rising seas, warming oceans and acidification, a melting arctic caused by climate change has the potential to unleash even more harmful methane gas into the atmosphere that has been trapped for thousands of years in the Arctic’s permafrost.

For hundreds of thousands of years, this permafrost has contained an estimate of 1,500 billion tons of carbon consisting of animals and plants that froze prior to fully decomposing, this amounts to almost double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. 

Frost Methane is taking one approach to fighting off the potential harm that melting permafrost could unleash. I spoke with founder and CEO Olya Irzak to discuss how she plans to mitigate runaway climate change through the capture and release of methane from the arctic permafrost. 

With 28 times the potency of CO2, methane is a greenhouse gas significantly more dangerous to our environment. Olya first learned about the dangers of climate change while reading an article on ocean acidification which inspired her to change her focus from being a computer scientist working on distributed systems to just wanting to work on climate change solutions. 

Exploding Hills and Bubbling Lakes

While there is no evidence of runaway feedback happening yet, there are some scary new developments happening in the Arctic that are cause for concern.

Exploding hills in Siberia are a relatively new phenomenon caused by methane pressure that causes the hills to rise up until they explode. Bubbling lakes in the arctic are also areas that indicate concentrated pockets of methane.

Bubbling methane lakeHowever scary both of these phenomenons sound, it is the fact that these releases are concentrated vs diffuse that led Olya to the development of a solution. Concentrated releases mean they can be found and something can be done, vs if the releases were diffused, it would be impossible to do anything.

Armed with this knowledge and the fact that when methane is burned, it converts to CO2, Olya and her team have developed a device that actively flares methane so that its impact is minimized by a factor of 28.Olya Irzak

“Methane is 28 times more potent than CO2, and Frost Methane is finding the most concentrated releases in the arctic and beyond. We are providing a very cost-effectiveclimate change mitigation solution, while simultaneously adding to the body of knowledge of these important phenomena.” ~  Olya Irzak

Frost Methane plans to deploy a fleet of methane capture devices to the arctic armed with diagnostics, and satellite communications that will measure precisely how much methane is being burned, combustion quality, and deliver precise data on mitigation that can then be sold on the carbon offset markets. 

The event hosted a line-up of investor elites including Jason Calacanis and Bill Tai who have a history of profitably investing in technologies for the good of the planet as well as several other companies who stood out such as Sinay, a data and machine learning play for the maritime sector, and Aquatica, a company bringing personal sub-sea exploration to the masses and many other innovations leveraging technology for the benefit of nature.