Moscow eco-startups: quests, guides and “green” films

Moscow eco-startups: quests, guides and “green” films
The finals of the first eco-startup competition, MoscowEcoChallenge, has come to an end in Moscow. Its participants campaign for purifying water and the air, getting rid of unnecessary things, collecting and recycling rubbish… So let’s find out which were the best projects and how they can help in addressing environmental issues.

Environmental science, narrowly defined, is the science of interaction between living creatures and the environment. In broader terms, it means the ability to live in harmony with nature, look after it (and therefore, after oneself and other people), avoid causing damage and try to rectify one’s own and others’ mistakes. The environment requires us to think on a large scale, and to remember that the Earth is our shared home. This means that everyone is accountable, not only to oneself and one's family, but also to those who will live in this home later, after us. How difficult it is to keep this in mind all the time!

Thankfully, there are people we can look to as an example. They inspire others with their actions and help them to believe that everyone can do something useful, something important. All these combined efforts will someday make our shared home a beautiful, clean, light, cosy and safe place.

These are the ideas that attracted participants to the MoscowEcoChallenge competition. In July–August, they filed their applications. In late August–mid-September, the projects the organisation committee selected took part in the “green” accelerator operations. Business representatives organised workshops and consultations to help the startups find partners, raise the social awareness of their ideas and transform them into competitive market products. The participants learned to present their projects and convey them to the target audience: ordinary users, large companies and government bodies.

Out of 100 applications, 15 projects were shortlisted for the accelerators and 12 of them made it to the finals. These startups will be supported by the Moscow Government and large companies in implementing their ideas and developing their products.

“The environment is an important sphere, people are interested in everything related to quality of life,” Anton Kulbachevsky, Head of the Moscow Department for Environmental Management and Protection, said at the closing ceremony of the first startup competition. “People have certain demands, and we have to meet them. Now we are shaping the eco-system services market and raising urban living standards, for example, the quality of water and the air.”

Mr Kulbachevsky said the city budget funded many services, but businesses were welcome to offer alternatives.

“These startups give us an optimistic outlook,” he said. “Moscow is and will remain an innovation centre, and many eco-projects and eco-technologies will find their niche in the city. The year 2017 has been declared the Year of Ecology, valuable ideas will be supported, and many of these projects will become an integral part of our life.”

Educate and entertain: combining business and pleasure

Many eco-startups that made it to the finals of the contest are based on the principle of Edutainment (or Educational Entertainment). Serious subjects and actions can be successfully transformed through play into “green” thinking and useful habits, both with adults and children.

The social volunteering project “Recourses Economy Centre” is actively involved in environmental education and in promoting the idea of a careful and responsible attitude to the environment. Volunteers organise lessons and lectures, games and quests, workshops, trainings and special tours. Since the project was launched five years ago (it officially opened in 2012), more than 13,000 people have attended its events.

The “Recourses Economy Centre” plans to use its participation in the contest to open a permanent venue in Moscow (and possibly, another one in Eastern Europe) to produce board games and print encyclopedias and also to pursue education projects within major companies’ corporate social responsibility programmes.

The “Clean Games” project has suggested a modern alternative to the traditional clean-up subbotniks (Saturdays): ecological quests. These are team contests in rubbish sorting: people relax, spend their time on a good cause (for themselves and the environment) and enjoy a positive experience. After its start in 2014 in St Petersburg, the programme has expanded to the Leningrad Region, Mordovia, Tver, Torzhok, Moscow, Krasnodar, Kazan, Vologda and Lake Baikal. About 40 “Clean Games” have been organised with at least 3,600 participants who have collected over 100 tonnes of rubbish.

The project is now mostly designed for the business community as an efficient tool for social corporate responsibility, PR and HR purposes, including team building. The development of “Clean Games” also encompasses integration into urban environmental and educational programmes.

The Kapusta (Cabbage) app, to be launched later this year, will be a federal guide to eco-venues, events and services. The project, based on the Moscow Environmental Map, has already covered 50 out of 85 Russian regions. Partner companies and users will fill the app with content. Kapusta is expected to grow from a personal aid into an encyclopedia of Russian tourism and healthy living.

Its main goal is to help people find interesting places and events, plan their leisure time and choose the best routes. The app will also make it possible for users to share their impressions and useful information via social networks. Accelerator training has helped the project team to find partners and work out ways of attracting money, including through advertising or extra services in compiling individual tours.

The EcoCup international festival presents “green” films (mostly documentaries) under the motto “Films That Change the Future.” Short and feature films about nature and people encourage viewers to think about environmental issues, search for solutions and implement them. Since 2010, the festival has been to at least 30 cities in three countries and gathered over 30,000 spectators. The festival now has more than 120 films in its collection.

EcoCup is supported by research organisations, government services and commercial companies, but its main driving force is volunteers and sponsors.

EcoChallenge has hired a new producer and hopes to expand to more venues and increase its audience. The official part of the eco-startup contest was followed by several films from the EcoCup collection.

Collecting, recycling and a second life for used clothes

One of the participant companies has developed a unique technology for recycling organic waste, using the latest microbiological research. The initial fermenting of the waste is carried out in special containers, while the secondary recycling takes place using industrial equipment. This results in compost, or organic fertilisers, that can be used in agriculture. This type of recycling will rid cities of rubbish piles and fields of solid waste that occupy vast areas, have an unpleasant smell and pollute water and the air with rotting products.

The technology and services will be useful for housing and utilities services, food markets, public food catering companies and hotels. In future, the company's founders will be able to work directly with households and country house villages.

Charity shops collect coats and jackets. In 2015–2016, over 65,000 people in five cities (Moscow, Krasnodar, Kazan, Rostov and Nizhny Novgorod) donated about 250 tonnes of used clothing. These are mostly delivered to pensioners, people with disabilities, families with many children and others in dire financial circumstances. In two years, the shops have helped at least 30,000 people in 12 Russian regions. Some disadvantaged people were employed by the project, who now collect, sort and deliver the clothing. Some of the clothes are sold and the money raised goes to charitable purposes. Shabby clothing is sent in for recycling.

Moscow has a network of 22 collection offices (three of them have shops in them), and collection of used clothing is sometimes organised at educational institutions. About 60 companies have old clothing containers in their offices. The team hopes to launch some joint projects with business and shopping centres through the contest and also find partners for selling their products.

Healthy living and environment

The expert phyto design bureau’s motto is “Living Plants Can Cure.” The company’s experts create phyto paintings, phyto walls, florariums and other complex compositions from decorative plants and herbs. These purify the air, improve health and increase work productivity. Doctors testify to the positive effect of FitoProf developments.

The bureau’s cooperation with Moscow includes conducting research and drawing up plans to plant greenery in public places and at government offices.

Another project, City Farming, also seeks to make the city greener: the startup team makes Grow Boxes, which include soil, seeds or young plants and detailed instructions on how to look after the plants. These boxes are a good aid for parents and teachers in teaching children natural history, and are also useful for people interested in healthy living and their families who want to enjoy organic vegetarian food. Grow Box can also be an original and practical gift. This startup creators hope to set up a community of urban farmers.

One more participant company develops and implements household and industrial organic water filtering equipment. The company uses its own technologies, which puts it far ahead of other Russian competitors in quality, and makes its equipment considerably more affordable compared to its foreign analogues. The company’s manufacturing process takes places in the Moscow Region, and the company also has branches in Kaliningrad and Surgut.

During the contest, the company identified its potential clients: housing and utilities companies and energy companies, healthcare, education and sport organisations, and also country houses that are under intensive construction in many parts of the country.

The project’s rival, Skolkovo resident, has also reached the finals of the contest. Its creators suggest that water, the air and various surfaces should be cleansed and disinfected using ultra-violet waves and microwaves, which kill viruses and bacteria. Their products would be of use to health and entertainment centres (fitness clubs, swimming pools and aqua parks), medical and educational institutions and many others.

The company is now prototyping universal filtering equipment and is looking for partners to launch their manufacturing process. Marketing research shows that the startup has good prospects for entering the international market, particularly Asia and Africa.

Positive Acceleration: what to eat and where to live

Another contestant, MoscowEcoChallenge, makes pelmeni (Russian dumplings), vareniki (Ukrainian filled dumplings), pancakes, cutlets, stuffed cabbage rolls (golubtsy) and other frozen pre-cooked foods. This sector is highly competitive but the company emphasises its organic ingredients: its products are made of organic food purchased directly from farms, they contain no genetically modified products, preservatives, artificial supplements, artificial colours, soya or byproducts.

The startup contest has helped the company revise its operation principles: it has closed its retail outlets and only sells its products via partners. The project has modest ambitions: to expand its production so as to feed all potential buyers in Moscow and the Moscow Region.