Irish Innovation and the Sustainable Development Goals

David Scanlon
3 min readJan 19, 2021

A few years back, I listened to an excellent Freakonomics podcast called Two (Totally Opposite) Ways to Save the Planet: the focus was on the contrasting environmental philosophies of the “Prophet” (represented on the show by the excellent Mary Robinson), and the “Wizard”; the approach of the Prophet is to sound the alarm on our climate crisis, and convince us all to amend our ways, while the Wizard is of the belief that only through the clever use of technological advances can we be saved (in effect, using tech to undo the damage wrought by using tech too much).

Personally, I believe that both Prophet and Wizard are necessary to achieve meaningful and lasting change; but, in this article, I wanted to focus on the innovative Irish businesses that are contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was prompted by a report recently published by the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), who worked with Deloitte to create the “Digital With Purpose” project. Digital With Purpose acknowledges the urgency of the climate crisis we are currently experiencing, and examines the potential impact of the ICT sector, to achieve specific targets provided in the SDGs.

The report goes into some detail about the ICT sector itself, and how it can be a positive and negative contributor to the SDG’s in its own right (think about utilising greener energy sources in data centres, or reducing the amount of natural resources extracted for building new devices) — while this is interesting, the core thesis of the report is that by exploiting seven critical technologies, digital transformation can be an enabler across multiple key industries to accelerate the achievement of SDG targets;

Credit to GeSI and Deloitte for this image!

GeSI and Deloitte further identify four “impact functions” that enable the SDG targets to be realised:

  • Connect & Communicate
  • Monitor & Track
  • Analyse, Optimise & Predict
  • Augment & Autonomate

(As an aside, nothing beats an analyst for coming up with words like “Autonomate” — chapeau, Deloitte…)

As an exercise, I’ve taken the 17 SDGs, and using the “critical technologies” and “impact functions” as described, I’ve mapped each one to one or more Irish startups, in an effort to reflect the work being undertaken by Ireland’s innovation ecosystem in this area. In each case I’ve tried to map where the core business activity of the startup directly contributes to the SDG target; also, I have claimed Umba as an Irish startup, as its founders and early investors are Irish, even though it’s HQ’d in San Francisco, and it’s key markets are Kenya and Nigeria. It’s a brave new world…

I’d encourage you to explore the list, and find out more about these excellent companies; this is not even close to being an exhaustive exercise, and I’d love to hear more suggestions about our best innovators and entrepreneurs who are consciously making a difference in the world! Drop your suggestions or questions into the comments, and please share!

  1. Poverty Eradication: Change Donations; Thriftify; AID:Tech; Flexiwage;
  2. Zero Hunger: Cainthus; MagGrow; FarmEye; StrongBo; Nuritas;
  3. Good Health and Well-Being: Empeal, DropChef, SilverCloud Health
  4. Quality Education: JumpaGrade; Brickfield Labs; LearnUpon
  5. Achieve Gender Equality: DivorShe
  6. Clean Water & Sanitation: SmartFlow
  7. Affordable & Clean Energy: UrbanVolt; EnergyElephant; Hub Controls; Nexalus
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Grow Remote; PluAlto; Boundless
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: AutoPlan; Wia; Luna Systems;
  10. Reduced Inequalities: Miura; AQMetrics;
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: EVE; Moby Bikes; ZIPP Mobility; Parkpnp; AddJust; ZiggyTec;
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production: Evocco; EthiCart; FoodCloud; SwiftComply; Sensibin; OneStepCloser;
  13. Climate Action: CFlood; D4H;
  14. Life Below Water: XOCEAN; Subsea Micropiles;
  15. Life On Land: Treemetrics;
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: DX Compliance; Vizlegal; Courtsdesk;
  17. Partnerships for the Goals: Umba

My thanks to Dave Anderson, and Martin Cass for their help with some of the FinTech research!

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David Scanlon

Earthling. Director at Resolve Partners . Ex- @entirl , ex- @StartupGrindDUB , ex- @ndrc_hq . Fan of community, serendipity, Oxford commas, & the open sea.