Innovation has been killing the planet.

dried twigs on fire

The planet is on fire. Literally. Australia is in the middle of a particularly devastating bushfire season. I’m not here to debate climate change or how bad it is or isn’t; what I want to focus on is waste. If we don’t consume it in the first place, then we don’t have to worry about its impact on the planet. We live during a time of great abundance. In many ways, innovation is what has caused the problem: Innovation leads to abundance. Abundance leads to waste.

I love the book Abundance by Peter Diamandis. He has a great definition of innovation: Innovation is creating abundance where there was once scarcity. I’ll paraphrase his example. Imagine you are sitting under an apple tree. You pick all the apples that are within reach. There are only so many apples that you can pick. Then you invent a ladder, which allows you to pick more apples because you have more reach. The ladder is innovation.

But this is how the story has continued: After you get your ladder, you probably still only pick the ripe apples to feed your village. Then someone at Georgia Tech creates a robotic apple picker. The robot not only picks all the apples up high but also picks all the trees in 1 hour. Except not every apple is ripe. But soon, some guy at Kennesaw State University figures out a way to accelerate the ripening process. Then some professors at Emory University figure out a way to yield more apples through genetic engineering. So this guy who could produce and pick maybe 50 ripe apples a day (and whose village consumed every damn apple) now has 5M apples a day. Even though he has a great apple business — he now has an Apple of the Month service and ships globally — there’s a good chance that there is a ton of waste.

This is what innovation has brought us. It has changed our lives for the better, but it’s come at a cost. If someone is winning, then someone else is losing. Unfortunately, when it comes to innovation, the environment has historically been the loser.

So why does Shadow Ventures invest in technology companies that innovate the built environment? It is a massive opportunity to reduce waste. And since waste gets factored into costs: If you can massively reduce waste, then you and your investors can make an abundance of money. I ask each and every one of our startups: if you win, who loses? If you don’t plan on beating someone, then there may not be a market for your product. This is because we’re not innovating anymore — we’re disrupting. The new equation we’re aiming for: disruption = (financial) abundance + reduced waste. We can be the winners along with the environment. Technology put us here. It’s time for technology to bail us out.

The built environment is the #1 producer of waste in the world: period, end of story. You may not know anything about how a building is built, so I will simplify it. In the next few blog posts I will walk you through the building process and the many points of waste along the way.