It took just four days in 2016 for a river in northern Canada to dry up completely; painted crosswalks in New Dehli melted earlier this year due to record-high temperatures; and NASA recently learned Earth is experiencing its highest levels of carbon dioxide for the first time in roughly 4 million years.
Let that sink in.
Many of us will read such startling information and go on with our daily lives. But if we’re smart — and we’re conscious — we’ll invest in saving the planet, if not for ourselves, then for future generations. So as entrepreneurs (who, at a basic level, make it a goal every day to improve the world where and how we can), doesn’t it make sense to start doing it on a global scale?
Promoting sustainability is not only a great humanitarian move — it’s also a highly lucrative one. In 2015, asset manager company BlackRock analyzed the performance of close to 2,000 companies and found eye-opening results: 20 percent of companies that were the strongest in cutting carbon intensity beat the global stock market by nearly 6 percent. “Renewable energy is at the core of sustainable economic growth,” Grete Faremo, the executive director of the United Nations’ Office for Project Services, told me. “We will need cutting-edge solutions to meet our joint ambitions. Only through applying the potential of new technologies we will be able to include all.”
So the question becomes: In what ways can entrepreneurs make a difference while still turning a profit? Innovation in the sustainability industry is plentiful, and entrepreneurs can capitalize.
Sustain the earth, and your cash flow.
Myriad opportunities exist in the sustainability arena, and several entrepreneurs — even the bigwigs such as Elon Musk and his “gigafactory,” among his other innovations to battle climate change — are cashing in on the movement. Currently, some areas boast more potential growth than others:
Autonomous driving: The notion of self-driving cars has been on the tips of tongues for years now, but the environmentally friendly aspects attached to the concept aren’t usually the top reason why. For entrepreneurs, however, they should be. Research highlighted in an Elsevier report found that in five years, close to one-third of trucks in the U.K. could be self-driven; by 2040, three-quarters of all cars in the region could be.
It’s clear the automated vehicle industry is worth investing in, but what do these driverless cars do for the environment? The Scientific American suggests they could slow pollution, ultimately slowing climate damage: “We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transform mobility for the American people,” said former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in 2016.
Health: Taking care of ourselves goes hand in hand with taking care of the planet: The better we do, the better the environment does. Leading healthcare organizations such as Kaiser Permanente are doing what they can to instill environmental stewardship, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between good health and good earth: “We understand the clear connection between a healthy environment and the health of individuals,” said Kathy Gerwig, a vice president at Kaiser Permanente. “Preventing environmental causes of illness is the main objective of our sustainability program. We also recognize that the health care industry’s impact on pollution and waste is substantial, and we want to be proactive in combatting it.”
The healthcare industry is embracing the movement through the use of renewable energy, purchasing more efficient products and practicing the same diets it encourages patients to (such as eating homegrown, sustainably farmed foods). The use of renewable energy (as opposed to harmful fossil fuels) significantly lowers global warming emissions. According to the aforementioned article on Kaiser Permanente, the use of “greener” equipment greatly reduces the amount of hazardous waste disposal.
Lastly, consuming foods from homegrown sources lowers pesticide consumption, as well as workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals in the field.
Agriculture: Investing in agriculture, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, can greatly reduce the effects of climate change. In 2016, the FAO’s deputy director said, “Agriculture can play a crucial role in making the response to climate change responsible and more effective.” Agriculture, in particular, is severely impacted by the damaging effects of climate change. Consider the ongoing El Niño phenomenon that has already affected 60 million people, particularly smallholder farmers and the rural poor. Entrepreneurs who invest in the industry — such as Bill Gates, who founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (one of the largest advocates of agricultural research and development) and who also happens to be the No. 1 funder of genetic engineering research — can help combat these devastating consequences, which in turn makes a small dent in the road to climate change recovery.
So, entrepreneurs, now you know what to invest in. The next challenge is actually doing it. But you don’t have to go it alone — here are the two most important steps to follow:
1. Seek out new nontraditional funding paths.
Due to recent changes in U.S. climate policies — as well as recent pullback from top venture capitalists — seeking new ways to gain funds is a must. Consider reaching out to your closest circle (e.g., all the other entrepreneurs you know) who are committed to this space. Beyond that, install a crowdfunding campaign to kick-start whatever innovation you hope to introduce to combat climate change. It’s already happening successfully throughout the industry — proof that you can do it, too.
2. Leverage the power of AI for climate solutions.
Artificial intelligence isn’t just a cool trend; it’s also an incredibly effective one, and its implications are being explored for climate change and food security concerns. “The power of AI technology is it can solve problems that scale to the whole planet,” said Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer. He’s not wrong: Recent developments in AI for sustainability purposes include anything from identifying deforestation and how fast it’s occurring to predicting energy demands to ensure a matching supply. Now is the time to tap into the limitless potential of AI, especially if you plan to tackle the ever-changing climate and its insidious effects. Perhaps the most effective way to use AI as an entrepreneur is through mining big data involving the cause of your choice, and then having your team decipher that data and plan your course in detail.
So while you’re no Captain Planet or Superman saving the world one good deed at a time, you are an innovator, and you’re one who can make a difference for future generations — our children and their children. Don’t they deserve a clean, sustainable world? You may not be a superhero, but you’re an entrepreneur with a big heart — add some funds and the power of tech to the mix, and you’ve got the world in your hands.