The environmental challenges in construction, mobility and energy, and how startups are blazing new trails to tackle them
12 April 2022 - Sustainability - France
Leonard, VINCI’s innovation and foresight platform, is tasked with identifying trends and imagining the future of cities and regions. Through its forward-looking research, studies and project and startup incubators, Leonard is teaming up to find the answers for the world of tomorrow. Here are the ideas that are taking construction, mobility and energy to the next stage and addressing environmental issues.
Intrapreneur or entrepreneur: incubation programmes for ideas with a positive impactVINCI employees are brimming with ideas and, most importantly, keen to develop them. They are experts in their field and often in the middle of the action, so they are the first to envision new tools and techniques for their job and ways of improving it. Leonard has two programmes for them. In addition to employees, Leonard also welcomes people from outside VINCI who have ideas that may have a positive impact on mobility, construction and energy tomorrow. Depending on their innovation’s level of maturity, businesses can embark on one of Leonard’s two distinct programmes. If the project is in its early stages, the entrepreneur can join Leonard’s Seed programme, which includes financial support, training, workshops and meetings with experts and investors. Entrepreneurs with more mature startups can join the Catalyst programme, which involves close connections with VINCI companies and support until they reach a contractual agreement with their company.
The four programmes have the same aim: incubate innovative projects that will foster sustainable development in cities and regions and produce concrete results that have a positive impact.
Here are a few projects that Leonard is supporting to limit the environmental impact of construction, mobility and energy.
Construction: reducing worksites’ and buildings’ environmental impact· Choosing materials and measuring impacts
Following incubation on the Intrapreneurs programme in 2021, Nooco is now in residence at Leonard and receiving support on the AI path. Nooco is a software system for construction professionals. The challenge it has taken on is to gain market share for the low-carbon materials now available to build structures and infrastructure. To do that, it enables professionals to identify the low-carbon products and materials that best suit their needs – with a few clicks. The startup’s founder, Guillaume Jarlot, nicknames the software the “Yuka” for construction. The system is completely transparent: builders can compare products based on impartial criteria, ranging from their price to their carbon footprint and on to their technical specs. They can also measure their project’s environmental footprint based on the materials they choose.
· The circular economy applied to construction waste
The choice of materials can lower a construction project’s carbon footprint but Jérôme de Tomasi, a VINCI Construction employee, believes that one aspect has not been properly addressed yet: managing waste. He was in one of the first cohorts on Leonard’s Intrapreneurs programme and developed Waste Marketplace in 2018. The algorithm powering this application designed for site managers chooses the nearby specialist that can best recover waste at the lowest cost. Its founder sums up the process thus: “in four clicks, the site manager can make arrangements for a skip to be collected by the provider selected for the specific worksite and the specific category of waste.” The site manager also knows how that waste will be recovered and the carbon impact of the decision to recycle or reuse it.
Energy: supporting professionals on the transitionThe energy transition revolves around one key lever: upgrading the energy mix. In France, for instance, 60% of energy comes from fossil fuels. The country’s multi-year energy plan is aimed at producing 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, compared to just over 25% today. To achieve that, energy professionals are developing pioneering solutions to speed up development of renewable energies. One of them, RatedPower, a startup that joined Leonard’s Catalyst programme in 2022, is simplifying development of solar plants in France. Its software application pvDesign automates and optimises feasibility studies and design of photovoltaic plants. Fast-tracking the design phase, optimising costs and facilitating decision-making using data can cut 85% of the number of engineering hours need to create a plant. When developing solar energy is faster and costs less, it can grow faster.
Mobility: reducing the environmental cost of transport and opening up isolated areasImagining the cities and regions of the future involves facilitating mobility and reducing its environmental impact. EP Tender, which is on the Catalyst programme, has applied the sharing economy’s principles to batteries. Its founder observed that electric cars with long ranges are often too expensive and that cars with short ranges are more affordable but are usually a family’s second car. This startup’s goal is simple: make electric cars more inclusive by exchanging batteries. If a vehicle doesn’t have enough range, the driver can simply rent a Tender, an additional battery on a trailer that they can attach in two minutes. When one battery runs out, they can switch it for the other one and so forth. Oke charge, on the Seed programme’s 2022 cohort, offers a unit that converts any household power point into an outlet to charge an electric vehicle. People who have a household power point by the road can also share their electricity with other drivers using the Oke charge unit and receive payment in return. And drivers can find all the Oke charging outlets available on their journey on the app’s map. This system sidesteps one of the main hurdles to electric mobility: local availability of charging stations.
Each year, Leonard supports dozens of young businesses that will speed up decarbonisation, reinforce safety or improve efficiency of construction, mobility and energy tools and trades.