Where Businesses See The Most Money To Be Made In Solving Global Challenges

The world’s water crisis may be the most fixable crisis and offers the greatest potential to make a lot of cash. So let’s check that off the list already?

The world certainly faces a lot of big challenges today. From climate change to the diabetes epidemic, there are no end of threats to our way of life. However, as a new report points out, those giant challenges are also giant opportunities.

A look at the growing world demand for water

The report–published by risk management group DNV GL, the United Nations Global Compact and the Monday Morning Global Institute–identifies five mega-risks: extreme weather, lack of fresh water, “unsustainable urbanization,” non-communicable disease (like cancers and cardiovascular diseases), and “lock-in to fossil fuels” (i.e. that fossil fuels are embedded in the energy system). Then it proposes 15 opportunity areas, as follows:

Extreme weather: early warning and forecasting services; investments in resilience; “cost-effective” adaption.

Lack of fresh water: water-efficient agriculture; new sources of fresh water; smart water regulation.

Unsustainable urbanization: compact, green cities; rural growth; smarter cities.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs): mobile technologies; innovative finance for NCD interventions; “everyday health enablers” like tasty-but-healthy food options.

Lock-in to fossil fuels: regulations to spur an energy transition; off-grid and micro-grid technologies; green consumer choices.


“The great sustainability challenges facing societies today do not have to be seen only as risks to lifestyles and businesses as we know them. They can be seen as wakeup calls for us to start building a better world,” the report says.

How business, civil society, and government view these challenges and opportunities varies quite a bit depending on where they come from. When the groups asked more than 6,000 leaders around the world, they found that Chinese, Indian, and South American respondents were the most optimistic, with Europeans the least optimistic; that people in manufacturing and finance were more positive about innovating than people from other sectors; and that government officials tended to be the most pessimistic. In general, crazily enough, the poorer the country, the more optimistic they tended to be about the future.

Water figures strongly among challenges the respondents think are most fixable and offer the greatest opportunity. The highest-ranked opportunity is “water efficient agriculture” (which includes crops that more drought-resistant and require less water). Fresh water scarcity drove the third and fifth favorite opportunities.

Worryingly, climate change related opportunities were deemed the least attractive overall, with “resilience” and adaption both coming last in the polling. However, among U.S. leaders, “early warning and forecasting services” were rated as the top opportunity of all.

Meanwhile, interventions to prevent disease (“everyday health enablers”) were seen as the second most promising of all. That includes better labeling and higher taxes on harmful foods, and government cash conditioned on families making healthier choices. Such policies might harm some current businesses, but were seen as beneficial overall.

“It is the opportunity which respondents across all sectors rate as having greatest positive effect on business and it also performs strongly when assessed for its capacity to inspire new business ventures,” the report says.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.