Environmental technology is breaking out of its shell and transforming into what is becoming today’s new buzzword: sustaintech, a combination of cleantech and smarttech.
What does the emergence of sustaintech mean? It signals that we are witnessing how disruptive innovations are breaking down the long-standing status quo of sustainability originating from the cleantech sector. Essentially, the crossing point between sustainability and IoT is bringing disruptive technologies to the table, and this new megatrend is turning both investors’ and entrepreneurs’ heads.
The evolution of the sustaintech market
Sustaintech, short for sustainable technology, is technology that provides environmental and social value and helps advance a better future for humanity. It leverages intelligent technology and has a high degree of internet-integration to reduce environmental impact and enhance efficiency and resource productivity.
Over the past 20 years, the sustainability market has gone through three phases — envirotech, cleantech and sustaintech. The first stage, envirotech, saw companies focus on sectors like environmental protection, which is policy-driven, CAPEX-intensive, and relies on rapid growth to achieve better economies of scale. The second stage is when innovation took over as a driver, producing high-value and CAPEX-efficient companies — cleantech. The third and current stage, sustaintech, is demand-driven, with disruptive innovation in both technology and business model.
I believe that the focus on sustainability would precipitate a fundamental paradigm shift in human activity and create the greatest economic opportunity of our time.
The disruption: IoT in sustainability
One of the most important trends reshaping sustainability around the world is IoT.
The breakthroughs achieved in the IoT sector are groundbreaking — by 2020, approximately 20.8 billion connected devices will be used worldwide. Consumer, cross-industry business segments, and vertical-specific business segments have been seeing the largest volume of IoT growth. IoT’s dramatic growth rate signals just how much it can reframe the sustaintech industry and generate investment potential for technology firms around the world.
Thanks to the broad application of IoT technology, sustaintech is beginning to make a true impact on our environment. IoT technology can enhance efficiency and resource productivity, helping create cleaner and better ways of producing and living. Just look at companies like Sensoro, IntelliCommand, Retroficiency, EnOcean, and Phillips Hue, who are providing or have integrated IoT sensors into buildings and on highways, along with energy management software systems, to better control energy usage.
We’re also seeing IoT technology transforming our cities into “smart” cities. As of July 2014, 50 million residential smart meters had been installed in the United States, covering 43 percent of all homes. Even water pipes are now “smart.” AquamatiX, for example, has developed sensors that regulate water pumping by monitoring water flow to reduce leakage and energy consumption.
Exciting investment potential lies ahead
I believe the sustainability industry is at an inflection point and that its best years are ahead. And, thanks to IoT, there are many exciting investment opportunities in all things “smart”— smart homes, smart cities, smart buildings, smart cars and so much more. The opportunities are almost endless.
The increased focus on sustainable technology and application of IoT technologies has been rallying major investors like Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and IBM. Samsung, one of the most committed IoT investors, has invested $13 billion in sensor technologies and systems. With the investor pool spanning from investment banks, venture capitalists, and private equity firms to government entities, sustainability-related investments grew from $180 million in 2006 to $625 million in 2015.
So, what do these booming IoT investments mean for entrepreneurs and investors? It signals that development and investment should go hand-in-hand. Key investments are being made now. Monitoring and tracking applications, for example, attracted more than $2 billion in investment across all sensor applications. And as disruptions continuously transform the sustainability sector, new investment opportunities will emerge as well.
Sustaintech is not just for VCs — it is also for government organizations, investment banks, and corporations who want to step in and give back to the environment. For the last 17 years, we at Tsing Capital have dedicated ourselves to sustainable technology, investing with the philosophy of “doing well by doing good.”