This article is part of Upstart, a series about start-ups harnessing new science and technology.
Last year, Starbucks opened a sustainably built drive-thru cafe in Abbotsford, British Columbia, about an hour’s drive southeast of Vancouver. The store was the first of its kind, built in six days with almost no construction waste, and its components – the walls, floor and roof – were manufactured with such precision that when assembled they created a joint hermetic. The creators of the design say it should reduce heating and cooling needs by 30%, reducing the store’s carbon footprint.
This Starbucks store was built by Nexii Building Solutions, a Vancouver-based building technology startup that has become a rising star in the growing green building industry. Nexii was founded by entrepreneur Stephen Sidwell, now its chief executive, in late 2018. The company achieved “unicorn” status – a valuation of over $1 billion – in 31 months, the fastest company to do so in Canadian history, according to Nexi.
Although we don’t often associate climate change with buildings and construction, they are responsible for nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions, according to the United Nations. About 30% of these emissions come from construction operations (primarily heating, cooling and lighting), and a further 11% are “embodied” carbon, or carbon released during the construction process itself.
Mr. Sidwell created Nexii after being introduced to Ben and Michael Dombowsky, two inventor brothers who have worked in construction since the 1970s. Over the years, the brothers have been troubled by the rampant waste and inefficiency of industry and, more recently, by their impact on the climate.