As the international corporate community rethinks the way it conducts business to address global challenges, solving water scarcity and managing water use could be the top untapped opportunity that will have the biggest positive impact on societies.
And perhaps surprisingly, the people most optimistic about confronting the world’s problems are the Chinese and Indians. These are the top findings from an inaugural report launched by multinational DNV GL, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and Scandinavian think tank Monday Morning Global Institute on Tuesday.
The report’s authors surveyed 200 sustainability experts and 6,160 business leaders in 21 countries late last year on their views on building a safe and sustainable future. They were also asked about solutions to tackle the top risks during workshops and meetings.
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“Most managers understand the climate problem, many understand that we are using too much of the world’s resources and some understand what is happening to the world’s biological diversity,” said Henrik Madsen, Group CEO and President of DNV GL, a standards-and-certification company headquartered in Norway. “But not all can see that, unless industry, the public sector, organisations and capital cooperate, we have no chance of resolving these crises.”
The Global Opportunity Report therefore seeks not only to identify the risks and opportunities in sustainable living, it also wants to create a new mindset among businesses to explore new ventures for sustainable development. Together, the respondents have shown how five major global risks can be turned into opportunities.
The risks identified are: lack of fresh water, unsustainable urbanization, continued lock-in to fossil fuels or energy dependency, non-communicable diseases, and extreme weather.
And in response, the 15 opportunities identified included:
- Early Warning and Forecasting Systems
- Energy Autonomy
- Rural Growth Initiatives
- Combat Non-Communicable Diseases with Mobile Technologies
- Attractive Investments in Extreme Weather Resilience
- Green Consumer Choices
- Water-efficient Agriculture
- Innovation Finance for a Healthy Generation
- Cost-effective Adaptation
- Compact, Green and Connected Cities
- Fresh Water Production
- Everyday Health Enablers
- Regulation for an Energy Transition
- Smart Cities
- Smart Water Regulation
Water and Green Consumer Choices
Just how business leaders plan to address these challenges and where they see the best opportunities could hint at where the next biggest innovations may happen.
Overall, developments in water-efficient agriculture is the opportunity that inspires most confidence among the leaders. Some 37 per cent think that this opportunity will bring benefits for society and consider their country to have great capacity to do something about it.
“Water efficient agriculture is estimated to be able to improve rain-water management techniques that can multiply crop yields by a factor of 2 to 4 in parts of Africa and Asia,” according to the report.
“In areas where irrigation is needed, new technologies such as drip watering can reduce water consumption by 30 to 70 percent and improve yields by 30 to 200 percent for various crops,” the authors added.
In arid regions, supplementing natural resources with purified or desalinated water can go a long way in easing water shortage.
Opportunities related to dependency on fossil fuels also is assessed positively. Here, green consumer choices are thought to be able to make a difference. This includes innovations to encourage consumers to use more renewable energy or buy more products made with renewable materials.
In solving the energy dependency issue, respondents said advances in distributed renewable energy generation allows off-grid areas quick access to electricity. In areas with established energy grids, the same technology allows homeowners or companies to save money and make their own clean energy, according to the report.
Healthcare, or what the group called “Everyday Health Enablers”, is another area of opportunity. This tackles the rise of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes that pose a significant threat to lives, by, for example, making it easier and cheaper to choose the healthy option when buying groceries or thinking about transport options.
Other big opportunities are the building of so-called “smart” cities by employing advances in sensor technology and Big Data analytics, or using existing city infrastructure more efficiently for safer, green environments. For example, collecting data about traffic and its effects on air quality can help governments decide where to invest to mitigate pollution.
Developing nations, manufacturers are the most optimistic…
Not surprisingly then, the manufacturing and financial sectors are the most positive about making money by using technology to prevent or adapt to climate change.
The most optimistic people are the Chinese and Indians, who rank top in spotting sustainability opportunities, with South America following closely. Europeans rank at the bottom.
Forty-eight per cent of the Chinese managers, 44 per cent of the Indian managers, 37 per cent of the South American managers and 33 per cent of the North American managers were positive.
In no two geographic regions do respondents place the same opportunity as their top choice, suggesting that while the top risks are global in nature, solutions have to be implemented locally.
…and governments, not so
Governments are therefore expected to take the lead in realizing the opportunities identified in the report, said its authors. What’s worrisome is that the public sector is consistently less optimistic than the private sector about how the opportunities can positively affect society and its ability to pursue them.
The key role that governments can play is by issuing regulations that support both sustainability and business ventures, Erik Rasmussen, chief executive and founder of Monday Morning, said.
“The report findings are encouraging and concerning at the same time,” said Rasmussen. “The strong interest in pursuing sustainable business opportunities in the private sector is very positive. Yet, the governmental sector seems to be more reluctant and not seeing the same opportunities. This is a pity.”
Meanwhile, the young and women are markedly more optimistic than the everyone else.
“I believe that one of the most interesting findings in the report is how young leaders under 30 years of age, people in emerging economies and also women embrace regulation as a strong tool for sustainable change,” Madsen said.
“It is very likely that the decision makers of tomorrow will be found in these groups, and it gives us hope that we can see a stronger collaboration between the private and the public sector in the future.”
The organisations behind the Global Opportunity Report said they hoped the study, to be conducted annually, will provide “an open innovation platform” where people worldwide can explore and capture sustainability opportunities, and be able to use the more than 120 readily available solutions identified.