5 women-driven technologies helping the world’s health

At lab event on blockchains, hosted in 2018 by UN Women in partnership with the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology and focused on using the technology to close gender gaps in humanitarian action. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
8 March 2019
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The enormous gender gap in the technology sector is no secret, yet when it comes to ‘green’ technology helping address environmental issues, there is an increasing number of companies with women at the top. With that in mind, this year’s International Women’s Day theme “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” couldn’t be more timely, nor could this list of five initiatives headed fully or in part by women that are improving the relationship between people and the planet – for the better, of course.

Self-shading windows: Two women friends from college reunited to establish InVert, which puts a patented technology involving small pieces of thermo-bimetal between two panes of glass, allowing windows to shade themselves against solar heat. The bimetal curls and flips over when the sun hits the window, creating shade that keeps rooms cooler. The windows use no electricity, and air conditioning use can resultantly be cut by up to 15 percent. That helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Karen Sabath, InVert’s chief financial officer. The process was invented by her business partner Doris Sung. “It’s simple, it’s elegant… and for the non-scientist, you can actually see climate change mitigation in action,” says Sabath.    

Plant canopies: Elodie Grimoin was always passionate about nature and biodiversity, and while studying at the Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences (AgroParisTech), Grimoin’s focus turned to eco-design and sustainable architecture. The result? Alongside Hubert Michaudet, a professor from a different school within ParisTech, she co-founded Urban Canopee, a start-up that helps cities cope with climate change effects by deploying plant canopies to fight air pollution, provide cooling against urban heat islands, restore biodiversity and provide other ecosystem services amid concrete jungles. “For city dwellers, the question is no longer the existence of climate change, but to prepare to face it,” says Grimoin.

Reducing waste in food packaging: Food commodities are mainly shipped by wholesalers in disposable packaging such cardboard cartons and wooden or plastic crates, creating an “absurd” amount of waste, says Anaïs Ryterband, co-founder of Pandobac alongside Shu Zhang and Roch Feuillade. The idea for Pandobac, a start-up offering reusable bins as well as hygienic washing and tracking systems for the bins, was born when Zhang, a Parisian restaurateur, realized the necessity of changing business practices and attitudes in food shipping to reduce packaging waste. Consumers can also help, says Ryterband: “By choosing to go to restaurants and shops that have a sustainable way of working is a way to increase your impact.”

Bright little robot: Caia is a small robot powered only by sunlight, which it reflects in dark rooms to create a brighter environment without using electricity. A proprietary algorithm helps to position Caia’s smart mirror mechanisms, making tiny adjustments as the sun moves across the sky. The robot is the brainchild of Diva Tommei, who invented Caia and founded the company Solenica, which is developing home products and accessories that help improve the health of living spaces. Tommei says she was inspired to make Caia, Solenica’s first creation, after working in “a gloomy office watching others on the street outside, enjoying the natural light and sunshine.”

Human health in buildings: Improving building efficiency to meet climate goals is vital, but human health – mental, emotional and physical – must also be part of planning structures and urban environments. That’s the idea behind Clarity Movement Co., a clean-tech start-up that creates hardware and software technologies for better monitoring of the air quality in and around buildings. “How we design our neighborhoods and cities can greatly influence our behaviors, social interactions and general well-being,” says Meiling Gao, who joined the initiative after it was founded and now serves as chief operating officer. “I’d like to see how we can both achieve our energy goals while making sure we are providing clean indoor environments for people.” On her role as a woman in the company, Gao is ready with advice for young women aspiring toward a similar position as hers: “Take ownership of the value you bring to the table, as both a woman and an equal to your colleagues. There are many great examples of badass women out there changing the world… don’t be afraid of failure. Making mistakes is part of the process, but don’t forget to learn from them.” 



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