It sounds a bit like Halloween magic: making tea from worm castings, decontaminating water with electricity, converting animal waste into "black gold," and a gadget that turns anything drinkable into soda pop.
But there are entrepreneurs right here in Manitoba in various stages of developing these concepts, not only into money-makers, but valuable solutions for real-world environmental issues.
Six of these enterprising ideas were presented last week before a panel of three journalists (myself included) at an event called the Green Dragon's Lair, which has become a standard feature of the Manitoba Environmental Industries Association's annual meeting.
Unlike the popular television series The Dragon's Den, after which the event is modelled, the stakes in this contest are modest. The winners receive a Braggin' Dragon plaque and the right to puff out their chests -- just a little -- before putting their noses back to the grindstone.
But there is value in getting those new ideas out there for both the audience and the participants, some of them budding business people fuelled more by passion than deep pockets.
Leading off the competition this year was Douglas Scott Systems Management, with a design that revolutionizes the art of sandbagging. Manitobans know well what it takes to install a sandbag dike and then remove it after the flood.
This company has engineered an inflatable tarpaulin, reinforced with graphite rods, that fights water with water. It is less labour-intensive, more stable and cheaper to install, inflate and remove than sandbag dikes. It is also reusable.
While still in the pre-market phase, it's an idea that could gain traction given major flooding on a global scale has almost tripled since the 1990s.
Compo-Stages Manitoba Services Co-op Inc. (CSMSC) represents a group of southern Manitoba livestock producers who have collectively purchased a modified machine that vastly improves the efficiency of composting animal manure.
Composted animal manure reduces the amount of material farmers must spread on their fields by as much as 60 per cent, yet provides a stable, environmentally friendly soil-enriching fertilizer that reduces their overall operating costs.
Consumers who like fizzy beverages are now seeing SodaStream carbonators on sale at major retailers as a reasonably priced alternative to buying their drinks in plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Canadian president Marta Mikita-Wilson is promoting the idea as an environmentally friendly alternative for consumers -- think of the billions of plastic bottles saved from the landfills -- especially those who want to control the amount of sugar in their diets.
Or how about implementing geothermal heating and cooling as a public utility in new housing and commercial developments rather than on an individual basis?
Ed Lohrenz of Geo-Xergy Systems has taken what we already know about the effectiveness of geothermal heating, which harnesses the earth's natural energy, and combined it with urban design that would allow such a system to harness excess heat from commercial buildings to heat surrounding homes.
Gibsons, B.C., is among the first communities to try out his idea. A new development of 750 homes is to be heated and cooled by a geothermal utility owned by the local government. It's harnessing renewable energy with progressive community planning.
Winnipeg-based Clean Environmental Solutions has commercialized a process for removing harmful contaminants such as cyanide from water using electricity. It's promoted as a cost-effective alternative to chemical water-treatment systems that produces a more stable sludge.
And the winner? Overton Environmental Services, a Winnipeg-based outfit, is in the tea business, the eco-tea business that is.
Dale Overton has developed an aerated compost tea (ACT), derived from night crawler castings, high-grade compost, kelp, humic and fulvic acids with the addition of bio-activator compounds.
It's not something you'd drink, but golf courses, lawns, gardens and even farm fields can't seem to get enough of it.
Business is booming; so much so the company's three employees are scrambling to keep up with demand while trying not to expand beyond the company's capacity.
Overton, who studied microbial ecology in university, said he was studying how the plants near an abandoned northern mine site had adapted to survive in contaminated soil when he came to appreciate the power of natural systems.
"I fell in love with the idea," he said.
It's all evidence of an exciting new phase in the global warming, peak oil and environmental questions of the day, when entrepreneurs start seeing opportunities amidst the threats. None of these ideas is THE answer. But they can make a difference.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: email@example.com