This article explores how environmental threats are business opportunities and how you can take steps to exploit these opportunities.
The problem of sustainability is fundamentally a problem of a misallocation of capital. Too much capital was placed in industries that had no long-term future and were unsustainable. The challenge then, is to get the right amounts of capital deployed in the right way. Luckily, this is something that capitalism has a tendency to get right eventually.
Global & Local Environmental Impacts
Sustainability is a global challenge, but the effects of unsustainable behaviours are felt extremely locally. Extreme weather is by its very nature a rare occurrence. But it is believed that climate change is increasing the odds of more extreme weather events taking place (EPA, 2016). This is not good.
Establishing the causality behind extreme weather events is challenging. But the rise in extreme weather events fits a pattern you can expect with a warming planet. As the graph below shows, scientific evidence suggests that climate change will make some extreme weather events more likely to occur and/or more likely to be severe (EPA, 2016). This is a worrying trend.
These extreme weather events pose a serious threat to the health and wealth of countries around the world. But these same threats open up numerous business opportunities.
The following types of environmental threats are likely to increase as a result of climate change:
- Heat waves
These all require significant management at global and local levels. Perhaps you could start a business that tackles heatwaves, perhaps there is some new tech that you could develop that can better predict and model floods and droughts.
Changes in climate have meant that forests are drier for longer. This has led to an increase in wildfires (See: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/infographic-wildfires-climate-change.html#.WLRez_mLTIV).
I am sure anyone who has seen the images of the amazing firefighters and volunteers attempting to tackle these enormous flames will realise that they have a tough job on their hands.
A better way of modelling and managing wildfires is desperately needed. There is a solution out there waiting to be discovered. If you are the person who solves this problem, you will be making a major contribution to human progress.
The biggest environmental threat is climate change. In order to solve this problem, new sources of energy are required. These have to provide a similar quality of energy supply, but with dramatically less greenhouse gasses being produced.
Areas where I can foresee major business breakthroughs include the following:
- Cost effective nuclear fission power stations
- Nuclear fusion reactors, especially cold fusion
- Biofuels such as pongamia, that can provide liquid fuel grown on marginal land
- Solar powered roofing materials and space-based solar power
The above points provide a brief window into what I see as being the key areas where environmental threats can be turned into business opportunities. The energy sector is a key area. Whoever manages to find a way of creating large amounts of clean energy on demand, will solve a pressing societal problem and endow themselves with riches in the process.
Energy and resources that you don’t use don’t have to be produced. Resource conservation both in terms of raw materials and energy is a major part of the sustainability transition.
There are two areas that stand out for me as business opportunities in this arena:
- Alternative materials
- Recycling and circular economy technology
In terms of alternative materials, graphene stands out as a promising material for the future (See: http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/explore/what-can-graphene-do/). I am sure there are other innovative materials yet to be discovered and we can only hope that they are discovered as soon as possible. Recycling rates won’t just increase by themselves and the circular economy won’t happen without more and better technology to enable it.
As has become aware to many people, the hybrid plastic/cardboard packaging that is currently favoured for Tetra Pak and takeaway coffee cups is difficult to recycle.
There is a big opportunity to develop substitutes for liquid beverage packaging, or failing that, innovative solutions such as the ones Hubbub have been promoting to separate out cups for effective recycling (See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-37622695). There is a world of opportunities out there in resource conservation.
Despite the efforts of sustainability professionals and circular economy business models, human societies are likely to produce waste for a period of time. The good news is that the environmental threats of mounting piles of waste throws into play a number of business opportunities.
A few areas stand out for me as business opportunities in this arena:
- Smart bins
- Waste digestion technology (See: http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-worms-digest-plastics-092915.html)
- Clean incineration technology
- Nuclear waste storage
Solving the waste problem will not be easy. Some solutions may be high tech such as those needed to improve storage for nuclear waste facilities.
Others, such as the Stanford plastic eating worms example, may take a pre-existing concept, but apply it strategically to solve a sustainability waste problem. Whatever the level of technology used, there are big opportunities ahead in waste management.
Human societies cause pollution on levels that the natural environment finds challenging to assimilate. This calls for the application of pollution control technology on fixed and mobile sites that cause pollution. There are big business opportunities ahead in pollution control.
Three areas stand out for me as business opportunities in this arena:
- Carbon sequestration technology
- Electric vehicles
- Water filtration technology
The future energy mix is likely to be dominated by nuclear and renewables. It is likely that at least some fossil fuel energy will be needed to fill gaps on the grid should renewables not be able to provide at a particular time. This makes carbon sequestration technology essential. Technology is needed to store the carbon dioxide effluent produced by the burning of fossil fuels.
From London to Beijing to New Delhi the air in many of the world’s cities is toxic. Enormous opportunities lay ahead for the future of electric vehicles.
Water purification technologies are essential for creating healthy vibrant societies. With billions more people being added to the global population by 2100, quicker, cheaper and better ways of purifying water are needed to meet this extra demand.
There are great opportunities to be had by turning the environmental threat of unsustainable levels of pollution into a business venture.
What you need to know
This article explored how environmental threats are business opportunities and how you can take steps to exploit these opportunities.
We looked at:
Global & Local Environmental Impacts
To find solutions, try focussing on what your business does that’s remarkable. Look at the different problems outlined in this article and think, how can we help solve these problems? Think to yourself, how can we turn these environmental threats into business opportunities? If you don’t think that environmental threats are business opportunities, you just haven’t found the right opportunity. There is never a lack of opportunity only a lack of imagination.
I don’t claim to have touched upon all or even a fraction of the solutions needed. That’s why I am issuing this call to action. I think that a more positive mental attitude and an environmental and sustainability sector which celebrates entrepreneurship the same way that entrepreneurship is celebrated in Silicon Valley would be a very good start.
In closing, we have to get capital and significant amounts of capital at that, being deployed in the right ways. Whether you call the people turning environmental threats into business opportunities Zeronauts, ECOpreneurs or just entrepreneurs, the name doesn’t matter. What matters, is that we need more of them, we need more bold visions and we need more bold solutions.
We will learn more about sustainability in subsequent posts.
Thank you for reading
By Barnaby Nash
Mobile: 07745 904 128
National Graphene Institute (2016) http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/explore/what-can-graphene-do/
Union of Concerned Scientists (2015) http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/infographic-wildfires-climate-change.html#.WLWFXvmLTIW