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7 Clean-Tech Companies That Solve More Than Environmental Problems To get people to make a change, sometimes it needs to be more than the right thing to do.

By Lydia Belanger

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Earth Day presents businesses with the opportunity to showcase their green efforts and inspire consumers to take action. But if the last time you truly, tangibly celebrated Earth Day was when you planted saplings in elementary school, you'll understand the challenges eco-minded companies face when trying to gain traction.

These companies know that getting others on board sometimes means more than advocating the virtues of saving the planet. Whether it's savings on a utility bill, simplified day-to-day operations or the bragging rights that come with adopting a cool new technology, the most scalable clean-tech solutions have more than one perk.

Rather than relying on gimmicks and moralizing, the businesses below help their clients address immediate, bottom-line concerns along with seemingly more remote environmental ones.

Check out these clean-tech startups that are incentivizing the green revolution:

1. Sistine Solar

Sistine Solar asks, "What if solar were beautiful?" The company theorizes that, if a homeowner, business or municipality installs aesthetically pleasing solar panels, others will want to keep up with the Joneses and invest in their own. After graduating from the NYC ACRE and Greentown Labs clean-tech incubators, Sistine Solar received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy's Sunshot Initiative to put toward its patent-pending SolarSkin technology, an illuminated graphic layer atop a solar panel that can color-match roof shingles or display a logo or artistic design. For those who have balked at the idea of covering their Spanish tile roofs with shiny black grids, Sistine Solar enables them to conserve energy, keep up appearances and potentially save on electricity bills and add value to the selling prices of their homes.

If any art historians want to take the company up on its name and create a replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, all the better for the environment.

2. Chai Energy

Smith Collection | Getty Images, Chai Energy (phone)

Most people accept that their utility costs will surge in the winter and summer, but few know how to micromanage their energy consumption. Chai Energy is helping frugal customers minimize their energy use by up to 20 percent by collecting smart meter data and sending it to the cloud. This allows for real-time monitoring via a free app, with intelligent tips like, "Your halogen light is mostly generating heat." Users can visualize how much power their appliances are guzzling, as well as how much money they might save if they upgraded to more efficient ones. Chai Energy is part of Microsoft's Ventures Accelerator and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

Related: How to Determine Which Eco-Friendly Changes Your Business Should Make

3. Sonnen

A leader in the field of energy storage, Sonnen was the top-nominated company in last year's Global Cleantech 100, a ranking of clean-tech companies, for its SonnenBatterie. The panelists admired how the SonnenBatterie "managed to successfully turn a commodity product (electricity) into a tangible and valuable experience for the customer," according to the Group's report. Connected to both solar panel systems and the grid, SonnenBatterie is a tall, white box (or group of boxes) that sits inside a home or business, doling out energy at night or when the power is out. One of its main features is "rate arbitrage," which means it stores energy for battery backup when utility prices surge.

4. Farmers Business Network

Earth's growing global population and warming climate are creating new challenges for farmers, thereby paving the way for a thriving agritech sector. The youngest company to make the 2015 Global Cleantech 100, Farmers Business Network, is aggregating big data to help farmers collaborate in monitoring their crops.The platform allows farmers to upload their information to a database, then anonymously compare notes about everything from soils to seeds. From there, they can optimize their processes and crop yields. "Join thousands of advanced farmers in the digital coffee shop," FBN's website reads. "This is the new way to share." Google Ventures led the company's fundraising in a $15 million Series B round last spring.

Related: 7 Trends in 'Green' Business, Not Just for Tree-Huggers

5. Seabin

While the colossal, twice-the-size-of-Texas Great Pacific Garbage Patch may be the world's largest aquatic area plagued by pollution, smaller marine spaces also require innovative cleanup methods. Picking up trash manually is inefficient, and using boats to do the job is costly. Enter the Seabin, designed for harbors, yacht clubs or other private bodies of water where rubbish gets in the way of commercial or recreational activity. It can automatically isolate all types of waste (even oil) using a filter bag and a shore-based pump system.

The Australia-based company had a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised more than $250,000, and it hopes to distribute Seabins beginning this fall. In case you're wondering where the collected trash goes, its founders have the ultimate sustainable solution: They want to use it as material for building new Seabins.

6. Apana

Because of severe drought, Californians risk penalties if they fail to comply with water use restrictions. Meanwhile, water scarcity becomes more acute around the globe. One tool for managing natural resource conservation, Apana is an analytics service that shows users how much water they're wasting and presents strategies for overcoming the problem, such as replacing a leaky pipe. Apana speaks the language of its commercial clientele, claiming that it can help "manage water like inventory." The company goes even further than reducing utility bills and carbon footprint, reminding users that saving water minimizes related maintenance, including switching filters and cleaning drains.

Related: How to Calculate and Reduce Your Business's Carbon Footprint

7. SkyCool Systems

Air conditioning is expensive, both to install and to run, but the Stanford researchers behind SkyCool Systems hope to change that. After creating a material that counterintuitively cools itself down under direct sunlight, they started to devise uses for their peculiar invention. It's a series of disc-shaped mirrors that not only reflects visible light but also releases infrared rays into the atmosphere. In other words, it doesn't heat up, and it actively cools itself down, so it stays 9 degrees colder than the surrounding air. SkyCool is working to connect its discs to air conditioning systems that circulate water, as well as use them to keep solar panels from overheating.

Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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