The New Frontier on Sustainability
How climate change drives innovation
Climate change is the biggest threat to our way of life. With climate change comes new opportunities and challenges, forcing us to adapt and rethink our actions and mindsets. Existing companies must redesign their business models to be more sustainable.
These constraints can also catalyze innovation, as the pressure to work sustainably forces us to think differently. Climate change is the new frontier for businesses. If businesses want to survive through this time of intense change and uncertainty, they must adapt and innovate to this new reality.
In times of constraint, challenge, and crisis, we must innovate to adapt. The current landscape of sustainable and environmental companies focuses on renewable energy, waste management, and reducing carbon emissions, but there are many more opportunities in these fields. Solar and wind are not yet perfect substitutions for fossil fuels.
The global production of consumer goods creates mountains and islands of plastic waste. Companies have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions but mostly rely on offsets. There is room to grow and be more sustainable, so small start-ups have tapped into the gaps in the current sustainability market.
There is a never-ending list of inventions that could help us solve our climate crisis. From hydrogen gas to algae farming to eating bugs: the list ranges from futuristic to apocalyptic, but represents the range of responses to our changing world. Every new invention under climate change will serve the needs that pop up as the climate changes further.
Most media and financial attention go to clean energy, like electric vehicles, solar and wind. These are quintessential tools for fighting climate change, but they have saturated most discussions on sustainable businesses. There are many more untapped potential solutions to our dependence on fossil fuels. Hydrogen fuel and biofuels have a moderate amount of interest, with a handful of drawbacks that turn away the most stringent of environmentalists.
The most promising companies in the clean energy sector are the ones that increase access to and reach of renewable energy. Companies like Sono motors are working to put more solar panels out into the world. Covering cars, parking lots, single-family homes, and small businesses with solar panels can increase our solar energy production while keeping the energy where people need it.
Other companies, like Arcadia, Zolar, and Ecoligo, create opportunities for communities and individuals to invest in solar energy, rather than rely on energy providers. Community-based renewables allow people refuge from the exploitation of privately owned energy providers. Expanding the reach of renewable energy will increase our energy supply much faster than relying only on solar arrays and wind farms.
As the world warms, we will see increased droughts and floods. Certain parts of the world are already experiencing severe water shortages, from California to the UAE. These densely populated areas need massive amounts of fresh water, which is becoming more scarce. Creating new methods to produce potable water is crucial for the coming decades.
Simple solutions like the Lifestraw to high-tech solutions like desalination and Soara Industries’ compact water purification system will need more investment as water scarcity threatens more people.
The rise of the circular economy movement has brought innovations in waste management to the forefront of sustainable businesses. The low-waste and circular economy focuses on reducing waste both from production and post-consumer.
This sector allows for innovations in materials science, like biodegradable products. It also asks companies to reconsider how their product is managed after the consumer has finished using it. Companies like refurbed and Ecoworth tech target the electronic waste market, which is notoriously destructive to the environment.
Moving forward, innovation in materials science is important as we use up the rest of our natural resources. Recycling and reuse will become critical under climate change, and innovations focusing on those processes will thrive.
Venture capital is focusing on environmentally-minded start-ups. While many companies offer innovative solutions, the focus should also shift to the less glamorous yet more efficient solutions tested in science.
Efficiency in investment
We know how to reduce our impact on the planet. It has been studied many times over; we can address what needs to be changed, and what the most efficient means to do that is.
Looking at global carbon emissions by sector informs us of how we should target carbon reduction schemes, as well as where we should invest in innovation. By looking at the sectors with the most potential for change, we can tap into a more efficient means to reduce carbon.
Project Drawdown is an environmental non-profit focused on finding the best solutions to create a carbon negative future. In its research, Project Drawdown has outlined a framework of climate solutions that can reduce the most amount of carbon emissions. Some solutions are obvious, others less so.
One of the top ten most efficient ways to reduce carbon emissions is by educating women and girls, Drawdown finds. The solutions to climate change are both complex and simple, and finding these sections of untapped potential can propel us forward in our fight against climate change.
We have built our modern society on materials and consumption patterns that are destroying the natural world. Since we now know the consequences of these actions, we can create alternatives that heal the world instead of hurting it.
There is room in every sector, from packaging to agriculture, to become more sustainable. It will take innovative people — engineers and entrepreneurs — to build a new world out of our current situation. Yet, human ingenuity thrives when challenged.
Climate change is exerting pressure on all humanity, making us rethink our lives and our actions. As we feel the effects, we will have to adapt to our changing world.
However, this is an opportunity to invent and innovate. We can use creative yet efficient solutions to manage all the challenges we face.
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