This is the story of the three winners of the Santander X Environmental Challenge’s “Be Mindful” category: Xilinat, Plastecowood and Breeze Technologies.
The global Santander X Environmental Challenge (by Santander X, Banco Santander’s global entrepreneurship network) for innovative entrepreneurs who aspire to build a more sustainable future named its six winners on 29 April. It aims to support sustainable entrepreneurship and give visibility to entrepreneurs in need of funding, guidance and publicity. It selected the winning start-ups from 20 finalists amid the 850 submissions it had received. Each one, which had stood out for its project’s innovativeness, feasibility, potential impact and scalability, was rewarded with EUR 20,000; mentoring from the Oxentia Foundation's global network of experts; the opportunity to pitch its idea to Fintech Station, Santander's open innovation team; and publicity on Banco Santander's social media and channels.
The start-ups that applied to the challenge could enter one of its two categories:
After the grand finale, the winners told us what this victory means to them. We recently featured the Be Sustainable winners; now it’s time to put the spotlight on the three Be Mindful winners.
Xilinat, a Mexican company owned by Javier Larragoiti, extracts birch sugar (xylitol), a natural sweetener and healthier alternative to cane sugar, in a fully sustainable manner. Its story begins with a problem Javier was experiencing: His father, after being diagnosed with diabetes, had to cut back on sugar. Javier, a biochemical engineer, researched for two years until he found a new, ecological solution that would become the secret to Xilinat's viability: turning farming waste, which would otherwise be incinerated, into xylitol in a biotech process that doesn’t release fumes and can help underprivileged farmers supplement their income. That social factor, he says, is the project’s greatest reward: “Because we buy [farmers] waste, thirteen families have been able to pay for home improvements, school supplies and even household appliances." Xilinat is investing the prize money from the Santander X Environmental Challenge in scaling up its production. It is also taking advantage of mentorships to devise strategies to enter other markets. According to Javier, "Now everybody needs to be a hippy in a necktie. We have to create projects that solve social and environmental problems but without losing sight of profitability, which guarantees their long-term viability".
Another award went to Welshmen Henning von Spreckelsen (CEO) and Paul Segal (Commercial Director) for Plastecowood, a start-up that reprocesses plastic waste into durable, ecological plastic lumber. Its product can replace wood, metal, concrete and raw plastic in variety of uses and be fully recycled at the end of its 30-year useful life. Like Javier Larragoiti, Paul and Henning saw the growing need for a useful outlet for mixed plastic packaging, which would otherwise go to landfill, incinerators or — even worse — the sea. Plastecowood’s recycling produces a product that is virtually identical to wood without raw materials, all while favouring a circular economy that helps commercial customers, waste managers and local authorities minimize their ecological footprint, gain better environmental credentials and even pay lower waste taxes.
The road to where the company is today was not easy. According to Henning and Paul, the most difficult part was raising awareness of Smartawood, their product, and convincing people about its resistance, durability and sustainability. Still, they take satisfaction in knowing that "for every tonne of Smartawood we sell, we save 700 kg of carbon from going to landfill or incinerator. In other words, we save almost three trees and recycle more than 25,000 plastic containers that would otherwise ruin the landscape". They point out that anyone who goes to the UK’s Rainham Marshes, home to the Royal Society for The Protection of Birds’s (RSPB) nature reserve, should take notice of the walkways there. They’re made from Smartawood, which has replaced the former wooden planks that became damp and slippery, rotted easily and were costly to maintain.
Another Be Mindful winner was Germany’s Breeze Technologies, which helps companies monitor and improve air quality in buildings, cities and industrial areas. For CEO Robert Heinecke, "the environmental and climate problems of our time are really a key challenge that we must address as a society if we want to leave a better planet for future generations.” To tackle air pollution, Heinecke came up with urban sensors that store hyperlocal data on a central cloud platform to reveal cities' air quality and related challenges. Breeze Technologies has developed a catalogue of some 3,500 actions and recommendations.
Santander’s commitment to sustainability
At Santander we are making strides with our commitment to inclusive and sustainable growth and to the fight against climate change. We recently became a founding member of the Net Zero Banking Alliance promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEPFI). Furthermore, our operations have now attained carbon neutrality. We remain steadfast in our ambition of net-zero emissions by 2050, with initial decarbonization objectives: ending financing of power generation customers if more than 10% of their revenues stem from thermal coal by 2030 and eliminating our exposure to coal mining worldwide by 2030. We will continue to reduce our own footprint and support our customers in their transition to a green economy.