Right now it's easy to see the world only as a perilous place. But there are those who would show you that this is not the case. They combine optimism with a passion for problem solving; they are the people behind the 2017 Global Opportunity Report, presented by DNV GL, Sustainia, and the United Nations Global Compact.
Perception as reality
The Global Opportunity Report ('GOR') was conceived as a counterpart to the World Economic Forum's annual Global Risk Report. Now in its third year, the GOR succeeds in burning through the fog of gloom and doom and finding bright spots of opportunity for business people around the world. Opportunities that enable them to navigate new markets and put in place new solutions, many of them made possible by breakthroughs in technology.
The authors of the 2017 report canvassed 5500 leaders from within business, government and civil society across five continents, and asked them to rank 15 sustainability opportunities. Within these they found 120 existing projects around the globe to showcase practical, often inspirational, solutions to global challenges.
From the 2017 WEF Risk Report, the GOR team identified five risks as this year's focus areas:
- unstable regions,
- soil depletion
- rising inequality
- cities disrupted by climate change,
- and cyber threats.
The opportunities they responded with include, inter alia:
- micro grids that make cities more resilient to climate change;
- smart water technology that provides access to safe, clean water;
- bacteria that bring depleted soil back to life;
- open access peer-to-peer trading;
- education and re-skilling to stabilize post-conflict regions; and
- ethical hackers who test cyber security.
Top goals, key opportunities
"It is time for all companies to figure out how their own operations, products and services can play a role in creating the world we want."
CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact
The report also identified six 'Golden Global Goals' as the most promising SDGs for business. These goals have remained consistent over all three years that the Opportunity Report has been in existence, namely: jobs and growth; good health; life on land; affordable energy; education and industry; innovation and infrastructure.
Like the Golden Goals, the opportunities and solutions are interconnected.
“The Sustainable Development Goals not only provide a clear path to a sustainable world which leaves nobody behind, they also outline new markets and opportunities for responsible business,” says Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. “The Global Opportunity Report demonstrates how companies are developing and deploying innovative technologies and business models to address the needs of our planet and society to achieve the SDGs. It is time for all companies to figure out how their own operations, products and services can play a role in creating the world we want.”
Over the last three years, the reports have identified 45 new market opportunities in risk areas from extreme weather, water shortage, and unsustainable urbanization to non-communicable disease, youth unemployment, and the global food crisis.
What this year holds
"The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed."
As we accelerate into the Fourth Industrial Revolution it should come as no surprise that digitalization pervades almost every opportunity. Advanced technologies from the mechanical, biological, electrical, optical and digital domains are rapidly combining, gaining traction and becoming an accepted – even expected – part of daily life.
At the same time, inequality remains a major global concern; of all the trends tracked in the report, unemployment and poverty remain consistent over the three years, impacting nearly every aspect of life, and barring many from engaging in the global economy.
Indeed, as the novelist who coined the term cyberspace, William Gibson, famously said, “The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed.”
Digitalization holds the promise of making advanced technology more efficient and more robust. As the Internet of Things connects increasing numbers of people, services, devices and machines, it also creates a demand for new skills, even as it makes some old ones obsolete. Developing countries provide the greatest opportunities for many new systems and services. As the ITU (the United Nations specialist agency for information and communication technologies) says in its 2016 report Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development "The application of the IoT to solve many of the world's challenges is limited only by our imagination ."
DNV GL CEO and President Remi Eriksen, calls these innovations "the building blocks of a new era". Although the technology behind the fourth industrial revolution is not wholly new, he says, it is being combined in new ways that will allow business to tackle seemingly competing concepts, like growth with sustainability.
Blockchain technologies may unsettle multinational moneylenders, but they're welcomed by those without previous direct access to finance. Areas like Sub Saharan Africa are playing leapfrog, embracing the opportunities of a blockchain-based internet to access decentralized services like electricity and financial services, which were once dominated by formalized and centralized authorities. That region is also joining the rest of the world in embracing biometrics for cyber security.
Mobile phone apps are opening up opportunities for e-education in unstable regions around the globe. “It's encouraging to see how many businesses see the importance of facilitating educational systems for refugees and migrants through technology using smartphones,” says Sven Mollekleiv, DNV GL Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Water is the basis of all life. No surprise, then, that respondents from Europe and South East Asia and Australia all put water tech at the top of their opportunity ratings, while it was runner-up for respondents in India, MENA, and Sub Saharan Africa.
The water-scarce MENA regions also have the most to gain from water-smart agriculture, although China is the region that shows the most enthusiasm for growing-in-air technologies. China and the MENA also gave the highest ratings for informal housing opportunities.
In 2007, the number of people living in cities exceeded those living outside them; by 2050 cities will house 75% of the world's estimated 9.7 billion people. If they are to withstand disruption, cities must get smarter.
Data driven dynamic simulations allow designers to build in resilience and plan for emergency measures in the face of disruptive events. DNV GL recently published a position paper, Changing Cities in a Changing Climate, exploring the use of systems thinking as a foundation for resilience. The paper observes that, "Without a solid system for identifying practical, evidence-based resilience strategies, the twin challenges of urbanization and climate change threaten to create a perilous combination." Conversely, resilience under conditions of climate change creates competitive advantage – and keeps smart cities safe.
Into the future
The Global Opportunity Report itself relies on technology to find, analyze and test its findings; it is created through an open innovation process that includes digital crowd sourcing of ideas, digital conversations and pop-up opportunity labs.
"We use new media and all the new digital platforms to make this a 100% open and transparent platform where everyone can pitch in their ideas and solutions," says Bjørn Kj. Haugland, DNV GL Executive Vice President and the Chief Sustainability Officer.
Sven Mollekleiv adds, “We would like the solutions to become stepping stones, to provide others to copy, enhance, modify and really get scale. That is the way we get systemic change.”
Digitalization alone won’t be enough to remain competitive in the future market universe. True innovation lies in finding the opportunities at the intersection of a business sector and technology.
"The report’s findings show that business leaders from all corners of the world are ready to use technology for sustainable disruption – to use technology to deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” says Sustainia CEO and founder Erik Rasmussen.
Initiatives like this one can certainly help them chart a positive course towards safer, smarter, greener future.
Note from the Editor:
This feature article is part of a regular series of insights, surveys and interviews that DNV GL commissions from its own experts and from other influential thinkers and writers. Readers can subscribe instead to these online updates which will cover a range of topics of cross-industry relevance.