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300 Sustainable Solutions To Turn Global Challenges Into Business Opportunities

The Global Opportunity Explorer connects businesses to cutting-edge ideas for solving the world’s problems—and the big profits that come with those solutions.

300 Sustainable Solutions To Turn Global Challenges Into Business Opportunities
The hope is that companies will see dollar signs where once they might just have seen intractable problems. [Illustration: Rogotanie/iStock]

For every threat to the planet, there’s an opportunity for a company to step in with solutions. For every risk to humanity, there’s a potential business model and boost to the bottom line.

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In the spirit of this risk-to-opportunity ethos, a new website called the Global Opportunity Explorer contains business solutions for coping with global challenges, from water scarcity to hunger to urban transportation. The hope is that companies will use the site and see dollar signs where once they might just have seen intractable problems.

“With this platform we’re hoping to connect bigger companies with entrepreneurs who oftentimes have an invention that can be interesting for them,” says Laura Hammershoy, director of strategic innovation at Sustainia, a Copenhagen-based think tank and consultancy, one of three groups behind the initiative. “For companies, it’s not about greening the business anymore or reporting or risk management. It’s should be about innovating and capturing the opportunities that are out there.”

The risk-to-opportunity platform is organized according to the United Nations’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Click on SDG 2, which calls for an end to hunger, and you get solutions like bio-fertilizers that improve soils and raise agricultural yields. Click on SDG 6, covering clean water and sanitation, and you get ideas like a shower that recycles and cleans water after use. The idea is that if you’re a business looking to make your practices more sustainable, there are ideas–and potential partners here–in whatever area you operate in.

Hammershoy’s personal favorites include Ennesys, a French company creating building facades containing micro-algae. Fed by nutrients and wastewater, the plants give off heat and help cut building running costs. Another idea features the Econyl Regeneration System, which takes old fish nets and carpets and creates fresh nylon yarn. A third comes from Johannesburg, which in 2014 became the world’s first major city to issue a “green bond” to finance its climate mitigation investments.

The database, which is searchable by market, solution, and SDG, was put together by Sustainia, funded by DNV, a Norwegian engineering firm, and the UN Global Compact, which aims to harness the private sector for development activity.

“For companies, it’s not about greening the business anymore or reporting or risk management. It should be about innovating and capturing the opportunities that are out there.” [Illustration: Rogotanie/iStock]
“As I see it, either companies have understood that the demand is so big that there is money to be made by [allowing] people to engage in more sustainable lifestyles, or else they are part of the fossil fuel economy some way or the other, and don’t care about the sustainable transition,” Hammershoy says. She points to example of companies like Seventh Generation, Whole Foods, Patagonia, Siemens, and BASF, which have built businesses around sustainable products and services.

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Hammershoy argues big business needs to get beyond the defensive crouch of risk management and corporate responsibility initiatives and roll up its sleeves. “This is all about turning risks into opportunities,” she 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.

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