Looking ahead of what’s going on, what might happen and where opportunities may lie for innovation and ventures in the sustainability space.
1. The focus on impact investing grows and ESG metrics and disclosures become the norm. The term impact investing itself evolves in meaning and broadens in scope. Helping companies navigate this particular issue presents a continuing opportunity.
2. Large organisations, including cities, embrace the circular economy — or at least some version of it. An opportunity emerges around the underlying multi-stakeholder infrastructure to deliver this — beyond existing measurement tools and resale platforms.
3. Innovation continues to occur around cleaner inputs — commodities and materials.
Carbon, energy, cleantech
4. With some difficulty, the carbon conversation evolves from reducing emissions to net positive, in this case, carbon capture/removal, and the market for offsets being optimised and made more transparent. The concept of net positive then translates more readily into other areas.
5. Innovation in the related areas of energy / cleantech / decarbonisation starts to get more and more specific in its applications as the larger innovations become more mature. Subsequent new opportunities are created on the back of this, similar to how Facebook, App Store spawned new ecosystems.
6. An increased focus on regenerative agriculture as the realisation kicks in that it holds a more simple key to carbon positivity. Sustainable agri-tech grows alongside this.
7. Meanwhile, decarbonisation and broader sustainability focus catches up in lagging and challenging industries such as construction and shipping.
Research, Technology & Innovation
8. Beyond cleantech, the Tech for Good doesn’t quite crack it in terms of commercial and sustainability impact at scale, but continues to grow as a movement. A promising increase in applications of AI, big data, blockchain and more to sustainability challenges.
9. Universities focus more on entrepreneurship and technology transfer, particularly those with a technical / scientific focus. Concurrently they start looking specifically through a sustainability lens for this, and more courses focused around impact will exist — as usual there will only be a few really good ones.
10. An opportunity for clusters to develop around those universities doing it really well, and perhaps certain clusters emerge that are the “Silicon Valley for sustainability / impact”. My current bet is on Amsterdam, where I have recently started living.
11. Healthcare and education see disruption in the US through new business models and utilisation of technology, with a possible resulting ripple effect into emerging economies as the middle class rises and technology leapfrogs occur.
12. Cities and municipalities act unilaterally of nation states and federal governments on addressing these challenges. The focus on smart cities continues, although ensuring solutions deliver real impact rather than jump on the trend will be a challenge.
13. Purpose becomes increasingly vital, particularly for the new workforce coming through — social entrepreneurship (or other tags for this slightly nebulous term) continues to gather more pace and brands will increasingly get behind it in a number of ways (such as Red Bull Amaphiko, AB InBev 100+ Accelerator). How purpose is defined evolves (although comes down to individual interpretation), in the process risks losing its meaning through over, and mis-use. Critical thinking required to navigate.
14. A focus on providing access to under-represented populations continues — for entrepreneurs in emerging economies through mechanisms like micro-finance; and within large scale companies looking at driving more balanced representation and engagement at all levels. The business case gathers strength.
15. Citizen and media pressure for action on sustainability issues increases, maybe more policies such as Green New Deals emerge beyond Northern Europe. Polarisation on this topic persists however. [Noting that some nations and regions with high commitment to innovation in clean energy, cleantech and beyond are still equally as entrenched in high carbon activities].