As of 2018, 55% of the world’s population inhabits urban areas – the number is expected to go up to 68% by 2050, the United Nations predict. It should come as no surprise therefore that the concern for the well-being of the city dwellers was manifested in one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. SDG 11 calls for improvements in air quality, waste management and waste collection, convenient access to public transport and public spaces among other things.
Even though Austria ranks among the most liveable countries (with its capital – Vienna – taking the top spot in the quality of living survey), there is a large number of startups and social enterprises that strive to make living in our country even greater than it already is. From recycling to renewable energy systems to enhancing community experience through various social initiatives, these seven companies are trying (and definitely succeeding) to make the world a better place.
With the rising popularity of Zero Waste movement, people are trying to minimize the production of domestic refuse. While implementing more reusable items into your everyday life is already a pretty good contribution, how about all the food waste each household produces? Instead of just throwing it away, why not try to “recycle” the produce waste? David Witzender, the founder of Wurmkiste, had precisely that idea in mind. Having studied agriculture at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, he created his first worm composting bin – or worm box (Wurmkiste) – in 2012. The science behind the box is simple: you either purchase wood and create the box yourself or buy a ready made one, lay it with wet newspaper paper and fill the box with your “starter population” of worms (approximately 500 little crawlers). Give them time to adapt to their new home and start feeding them with food waste coming from your kitchen. The result – in just about 3 weeks the worms will produce humus which can then be used either in the garden or added to the soil for indoor plants for better growth.
2. Urban Gold
Another company successfully contributing to the reduction of the waste footprint is Urban Gold. The company is like the King Midas of recyclers – they are able to turn the electronic waste, or e-waste, into pure gold (as well as some other precious metals such as copper, silver, nickel, platinum and palladium – which are usually found in electronic devices). Electronic waste from developed states tends to end up in landfills in Africa or India where it is then recycled by hand in appalling conditions. It is also one of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide and one of the most complicated to recycle. Urban Gold, located in the Styrian town of Leoben, makes the process of extracting rare and precious metals from electric and electronic devices more efficient and sustainable.
3. Green Energy Lab Austria
Green Energy Lab is a research initiative for sustainable energy solutions and it is the country’s largest innovation laboratory for renewable energy. The Lab is part of the Austrian innovation campaign “Flagship Region Energy” (“Vorzeigeregion Energie”) of the Climate and Energy Fund. Its test markets spread across 4 Austrian regions – Vienna, Lower Austria, Burgenland and Styria – and it caters to over 5 million customers! Green Energy Lab brings over 100 partners from research, energy industry and the public sector together with the main energy suppliers of the federal regions in order to provide better energy solutions to the users. By 2025, the Lab expects a fivefold increase of the days with 100% renewable energy consumption in the four regions. One of the many projects designed by the Green Energy Lab supports the development of the so-called positive energy districts – urban neighbourhoods with annual net zero energy import and zero CO2 emissions which are simultaneously working towards a surplus production of renewable energy. Who wouldn’t love to live in a city which not only uses alternative energy but also produces its own!
Bicycles are undoubtedly one of the most convenient and sustainable ways to move around a big city. Vienna is no exception to that. According to the Copenhaganize Index – the ranking f the most bicycle-friendly cities on the planet – Vienna currently is in the top 10 cities that has a lot to offer to its cyclists. However, bikes need maintenance. And that is where Lenkerbande comes in. Lenkerbande provides all kinds of bicycle-related services, much more than a regular bike shop has to offer. The people of Lenkerbande fix, recycle and even donate used bicycles in DIY workshops in Vienna. So, not only does Lenkerbande contribute to sustainable mobility, it also makes the means of that mobility sustainable by recycling and reusing old bicycles. In 2015, Lenkerbande started their IntegRadsion project. The project aims at helping newly arrived refugees familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. How? By cycling around their neighborhoods and districts. Lenkerbande collects and repairs donated used bicycles which are then given to the people from refugee backgrounds.
5. MONTREET Sportswear
As you can probably tell by the name, MONTREET Sportswear is a clothing brand which produces wind and water-resistant jackets for various outdoor sports, such as climbing, cycling and jogging. The philosophy behind the brand is simple, as Nadine Schratzberger, the brand creator states: why would you do outdoor sports while wearing something that might harm the environment in the long run? All MONTREET jackets can be recycled and reused and, a bonus point, they are even made from recycled polyester! But there’s another thing that make MONTREET jackets special: they are made using the colorful designs by the Viennese artist BOICUT.
6. Shades Tours
Shades Tours is a social enterprise which offers educational tours in the cities of Vienna and Graz with the purpose of explaining the many shades of homelessness as well as presenting the multiple Viennese institutions that altogether form the city’s social net. As the guides themselves have been exposed to homelessness, they are the experts on the matter. As of recently, Shades Tours Vienna also offers tours about refuge and integration, and drugs and addiction which are also guided by the affected people. Shades Tours not only gives a chance to have a glimpse into the world many people have never experienced, but also helps people (re)integrate back into society by providing them with a job. Perrine Schober, the founder of Shades Tours, sees the main purpose of her project in bringing the complexity of homelessness, addiction and seeking refuge closer to the tour participants and make them realize that these issues can affect anyone.
7. Frag Nebenan
Living in a big city can sometime be quite lonely. You live in a populated apartment building but usually don’t even know who your neighbors are. Frag Nebenan tries to help you get to know the people that live nearby better. After all, you never know when you might need to borrow some salt or need help with finding your missing pet. Frag Nebenan offers a platform that connects residents from neighborhoods who usually wouldn’t have a chance to meet each other. These neighbors are often people from diverse backgrounds and lives, with different talents, interests and needs. The platform gives the residents of the same district or neighborhood an opportunity to self-organize and help each other with various issues, such as babysitting, lending household appliances or helping neighbors that are sick.