Cooling Cart developed from Trane Technologies’ employee ideas

How Innovating for Sustainable Food Systems has the Power to Deliver Social Impact

We believe innovation for everyone, by everyone, can turn ideas into a chance at a better future. Here’s how we’re doing it.

We're pioneering a path toward a brighter future. But we believe that for the future to really be bright, it must include better outcomes for everyone. Including the people who typically have less access to innovative technology that can improve their lives for the better.

That's why we launched an employee-powered social innovation program, called Operation Possible, to develop creative ways to tackle problems we see in our world using the real experience and perspective our global population of people bring to the innovation process.

Uplifting potential

Take for instance, the absurd reality that globally, 30% of the food produced is lost or wasted, while 1.3 billion people experience food insecurity. At a time when food systems are under immense pressure to feed a growing population under a changing climate, innovation is critical. Access to fresh and healthy food differs all around the world. In developing economies, street vendors play an important role in the last mile delivery. In fact, we’ve estimated that there are over 25 million vendors who sell fresh produce through informal food systems around the world. Yet, for decades, little investment has been made in how they keep fresh fruits and vegetables from spoiling in harsh weather conditions, which has a direct impact on their income potential.

Through Operation Possible, our people set out to turn this long-standing problem into a chance at a more sustainable future. What began as an initial idea from an employee to passively cool fresh produce on food carts, turned into a design sprint team with members from five countries.

Getting to the heart of the problem 

Early on, the team consulted with street vendors in a rural town in India on their greatest needs – the first, and maybe most important stage of the design thinking approach to innovation – empathetic understanding. The insights from the people who have the most to gain from innovation were immeasurable and put the team on a quest to design an affordable solution that extends the shelf life of fresh produce and improves the vendors’ quality of life. The outcome was a modular Cooling Cart that leverages the latest innovations in passive radiative cooling technology.

This is the story of the Cooling Cart and how one simple idea, harnessed from an employee, developed into a sustainable solution with the potential to help many underserved communities.

In India there is hunger and malnutrition.

And at the same time I commute to work,

I travel through a vegetable market.

I see a lot of vegetables and fruits dumped by the road.

And there is a lot of waste.

The simultaneous existence of food waste, loss and hunger

is a major issue.

And this is one of the first problems that we are tackling

as part of Operation Possible.

Operation Possible is one of the initiatives

taken by Trane Technologies.

Where the crowdsourcing of ideas

will be passed through a certain process

to identify which are these kind of challenges

and encourage employees to participate in that.

So that is how this entire project got initiated.

In order to understand how the food loss is happening

at the street vendors level.

It’s very important to understand

the daily life of the street vendors.

I have been a vegetable vendor for 40 years.

I have four children.

I don't have a house of my own.

I have just been able to make a living and provide food.

There are some difficulties in the vegetable business.

I have to borrow money.

I have to make a return on investment.

The problem is sometimes when we bring a lot of vegetables

some of it can rot and go to waste.

If it rains heavy or when the sun is too hot

it can be problematic.

I invest around 3000 INR (38 USD).

After I am done with business,

I make a profit of 500 INR (6 USD) for the day,

but come what may, there is an approximate loss of 25%.

Usually we throw out 2-3 kgs of vegetables.

If the items get wasted we can’t do anything.

It’s quite unpredictable

They are aware of this problem.

At the same time, they don't have a solution.

They are desperate for a solution.

And once we understood that these issue is there.

We were able to develop a hypothesis

of how we can tackle this problem.

We ended up forming truly a global team within India

as well as representatives from Vietnam, China and even Africa.

To understand what solution works best for the street vendors.

If we were able to increase the shelf life of these vegetables

for a couple of more days,

we can certainly reduce the food loss to a greater extent.

And eventually that could increase the income

for the street vendors as well.

To solve that problem for them,

we come up with a solution

that can be implemented in the field.

We also partnered with a local university

whose most of their students are from farming families.

So the MBA students were able to successfully interact

with the street cart vendors and local authorities.

And understand the kind of challenges

they face on the everyday basis.

The street vendors,

they want the solution to cool their vegetables

so that it will look fresh.

But the key thing is that they want the solution without electricity.

Passive radiative cooling technology is an interesting thing.

Any surface which face the sky gets heated

due to the sun incidence.

At night time, when there is no sun,

all these surfaces start radiating the heat back into the deep space

In a particular wavelength.

We found a technology where this passive radiative cooling

can be done during daytime as well.

There is a company in California which develops a film,

like aluminum foil, it radiates the heat to the sky

because sky is always at a very low temperature.

Once we paste it on the canopy, the temperature below

can get up to ten degrees below what it was experiencing before.

So building the prototype is an iterative process.

Initially, we procure fresh vegetables

and then we have sensors that measure different parameters,

and we see how the vegetables go bad over a period of time.

And then we introduce different interventions,

potential solutions,

to see how that deterioration can be slowed down.

We want the solution to be effective.

At the same time, it should be affordable.

We have to see how to integrate these technologies

on carts which are being sold today.

So this way we are able to fine tune our approach,

and then we formalize a design and take it forward.

Now the last piece was that we have a solution.

It's time for us to build some prototype

and test out there in the field.

So we tested for a pilot study in a place called Kolar.

And in Kolar also we are having a lot of enthusiastic participation

from the local government officials.

It will work because they buy the vegetables for the day.

The cooling will keep it fresh for the next day as well

so, the new cart will be useful for them.

It directly impacts on the earnings.

Earnings make a livelihood.

Livelihood makes a good value to the society.

Since one or two of them already have it,

it can pique interest in others.

There are around 1000 street side vendors.

If we buy each one of them a cart

in the future it will benefit both consumers and the vendors

and also the society can benefit from this.

The beneficiaries are going to be street vendors,

but the sponsor has to be someone else.

So in order to bind all these things together,

we are also thinking how this solution can be

commercialized and implemented in a large scale.

We are doing it now in India,

but this has the potential to transform

lives across the world.

If we could able to consistently

show them the benefits.

In terms of doubling the income, in terms of avoiding the losses,

I'm pretty confident over time

there will be huge acceptance of this vending cart.

The cart is super.

The vegetables which we throw out can be saved,

big losses won’t happen and we will be in profit.

The cart which you guys provided us is very good.

It is making our lives easy.

This has to be provided to other vendors as well.

I am very happy sir for giving us this cart.


Collaboration at all levels

Collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders – namely a local university, government officials and a tech start-up - helped us prototype and field test a solution within months. With a spirit of hope and optimism, our team created innovation that has the potential to reduce food loss while helping millions of street vendors who deserve a better chance at economic opportunity.

Now, we need the help of others to scale and get this technology into the hands of the people who need it. This is not a traditional product that can be commercialized and sold through standard sales channels. Instead, a community of partners will be needed to establish the connections, distribution strategies and funding models to deliver at scale.

Thought Leaders

Dave Regnery

Chair and CEO, Trane Technologies

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Scott Tew

Vice President, Sustainability and Managing Director, Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, Trane Technologies

Carrie Ruddy

Senior Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer

Mairéad Magner

Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Trane Technologies

Donny Simmons

Group President, Americas, Trane Technologies

Deidra Parrish Williams

Global Corporate Citizenship Leader, Trane Technologies

Jose La Loggia

Jose La Loggia, Group President, EMEA

Holly Paeper

President, Commercial HVAC Americas, Trane Technologies

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Paul Camuti

Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer, Trane Technologies

Steve Hagood

Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Trane Technologies

Chris Kuehn

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Trane Technologies

Keith Sultana

Senior Vice President, Global Integrated Supply Chain, Trane Technologies