This Earth Day, let’s shine a spotlight on South Florida innovators building a greener world

Startups are making construction greener, harnessing the power of the ocean for environmental benefits, and more on the path to put Miami on the climatetech map

By Riley Kaminer

Every day should be Earth Day. Climate change will mean warmer temperatures, less rainfall, a higher probability of natural disasters in South Florida – making it a topic meriting a regular stream of discussion.

Nevertheless, special days like today provide us an excellent opportunity to reflect on the innovators that are devoting their lives and businesses to soften the blow of our changing climate.

Innovating in the built environment

Buildings are responsible for 37% of global carbon emissions and 34% of energy demand, according to the IPCC. Construction accounts for a significant proportion of these figures, as the production and use of cement, steel, and aluminum all have major carbon footprints.

“Building more sustainability will require the entire construction lifecycle to be reimagined, from planning, design, and material selection to a building’s operational and energy efficiency after its construction is completed,” Steven Burke and Michael Swenson told Refresh Miami via email. They lead the Sustainability Group within Suffolk, a major construction firm that is very active in South Florida.

Suffolk’s Steven Burke and Michael Swenson

“Technology will play a critical role in that transformation,” they said. “Artificial intelligence, digital modeling, robotics and data analytics must be leveraged to help project teams deliver projects more efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably.” Burke and Swenson added that Suffolk is committed to ushering in the next generation of technologies, including by investing in tech startups.

Along the same vein is Coastal Construction spinoff Renco, which manufactures eco-friendly blocks [pictured below] that are more sustainable and last much longer than wood and concrete alternatives. The company has already deployed their product in a project in Palm Beach that demonstrated a 20% cost reduction and faster overall construction time.

Perhaps one of the most successful climatetech case studies is Boca-based Blue Frontier, which has attracted top-tier global investors such as Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The company is developing a more environmentally friendly way to cool our buildings.

“Air conditioning is a major consumer of electricity in our region,” said CEO Daniel Betts. For buildings, AC expenses can be one of the biggest operational line items. Blue Frontier’s system, which aims to hit the market in 2025, is twice as efficient as conventional AC.

Blue Frontier co-founders, left to right: CTO Matt Tilghman; VP of Engineering Matt Graham; EVP Business Development Greg Tropsa; CEO Daniel Betts.

Also based in Boca, Carbon Limit is developing a technology that turns concrete into a carbon capturing sponge. That’s a game-changer in a context where the process of making cement produces more than 7% of global CO2 emissions.

“We’ve made a cement technology that helps lower the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process of concrete between 18 and 36%,” co-founder and CEO Tim Sperry told Refresh Miami.

Our climate future – it’s in the sea!

The ocean is one of the key levers for us to combat climate change. It is our largest carbon sink and a biodiversity powerhouse.

And, of course, open water? We’ve got plenty in Miami… plus plenty of forward-thinking entrepreneurs looking to harness its power.

Seaworthy Collective is doing that in a scalable way as a BlueTech entrepreneur support organization and community focused on enabling ocean and climate impact innovation. The group is currently running its fourth cohort, which includes four South Florida startups.

“We’re incredibly proud of our local and global community’s role in continuing to grow the early-stage BlueTech startup pipeline with diverse talent and ideas that are representative of the thought leaders and solutions of the future,” commented Seaworthy Collective founder and CEO Daniel Kleinman.

Kind Designs CEO Anya Freeman

One of the major success stories from Seaworthy is 3D printed seawall startup Kind Designs, which went through one of the organization’s previous cohorts. Now with $5 million in tow, Kind Designs is deploying their first “Living Seawalls,” the design of which promotes biodiversity and improves water quality by mimicking coral reefs and mangroves. The seawalls also have embedded sensors to monitor data such as pH levels and water temperature in real-time.

“I was just amazed at how expensive sea walls were and how big the market was, and the fact that Miami is by far the number one city when it comes to sea wall production globally,” founder and CEO Anya Freeman said of her initial inspiration to build the company.

Broward-based 1print is also in the 3D printing seawall game, licensing technology from researchers at UM to build a product that dissipates wave energy to minimize coastal flooding and erosion. Their walls [pictured below] will also provide a conducive environment for marine life such as corals, mangroves, seagrass, and oysters.

The Miami-Dade Innovation Authority is also dipping its toes into the ocean to heal our climate – having run a public challenge investing $100,000 into startups dealing with our sargassum surplus.

Putting ourselves on the map for climate innovation

The U.S. government has designated South Florida as one of 31 Tech Hubs, with a focus on climate solutions. Being one of these Tech Hubs enables Miami-Dade to apply for $50 million to $75 million in “phase two” funding, alongside technical assistance from the federal government.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and her team, who are leading the effort, expect that initiatives related to the Tech Hub will generate $9 billion in new revenue in the next decade and create around 23,000 local jobs – on top of helping to thwart the effects of climate change.

Key international climate change conferences, including Aspen Ideas, Smart City Expo Miami and Hidden Worlds, continue to choose Miami as a place for convening global leaders – all while giving locals an opportunity to showcase South Florida.

2023 Aspen Ideas conference in Miami

Blink Charging is easily one of the highest-profile companies in the EV charging space. And did you know that it was born and bred in Miami Beach?

“The more we lower our emissions output, the more we push back on the climate issues we’re facing,” said CEO Brendan Jones. “We’re going to create a better tomorrow – we have to. And EV charging is one way to create a better planet. The science is there, it makes sense and is good for the US economy at the same time.”

Finally, if you ever find yourself feeling like you’ve lost all hope for our climate – fear not: Messi will save us. If you’ll pardon the exaggeration, you won’t want to miss Miami-based Planet ReFi’s limited edition collectables inspired by the soccer star’s famous left boot. The mission is to leverage Messi’s platform to promote sustainability.

“We’re being very creative and are always finding ways to engage our community to create clean-ups, help the planet, and bring people together,” shared CMO Alex Avellane.


Riley Kaminer