Business Ideas for Sustainable Development by 2030

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission was created in Davos 2016 and has been mandated to identify the economic gains for businesses that engage with the SDGs. The Commissioners are a group of leading and diverse business men and women. You’ll find Jack Ma of Alibaba, Arif Naaqvi of Abraaj Group, Daniel Pinto of JP Morgan, Paul Polman of Unilever, Grant Reid of Mars, etc. So these are some pretty influential people in the world of business tasked with ultimately making a compelling business case for the SDGs.

The Challenge

A return to nationalist thinking and loss of enthusiasm for international integration and globalization. And continuing lack of trust of big business, especially since the government bail outs after the global economic crisis.

Big business and major financial institutions are increasingly perceived as detached and rootless, more willing to justify themselves to each other at meetings like the World Economic Forum than to national legislatures, let alone at town halls in the communities where they operate. So at the core of our argument is also the need for business to regain the licence to operate.

The Commissioners recognize that businesses cannot continue to operate with their current flawed economic model which is the basis of the gross public mistrust currently challenging business. Although economic growth has increased six-fold in the past 50 years, social and economic inequality are more glaring than ever and we have crossed four out of our nine planetary boundaries. What’s more, it is estimated that social burdens (e.g. smoking, obesity illiteracy) cost us 10.8% of global GDP, environmental burdens (e.g. biodiversity, congestion, food waste, climate change) cost us 7.4% and governance burdens (e.g. violence/armed conflict, corruption illicit financial flows) cost us 12. 5% of GDP!

The UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development offers an opportunity for businesses to grow in a better way. Coupled with the Paris agreement which aims to keep the planet within the two degrees warning system, the Commissioners expect that our global economic systems will be ‘rebooted’ to make ‘normal business activity intrinsically sustainable, socially fair and environmentally stable’. But progress needs to be much, much faster than the current pace for this to be achieved.

Business and the Global Goals need each other

The Commission acknowledges that many companies still see the global goals as government’s responsibility, and therefore, majority who engage with the goals only do so for their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. But according to GlobeScan’s 2015 survey, this may be changing, with one third of surveyed global companies seeing the need to use them as a growth strategy through solving some of the world’s biggest problem. On the other hand, the goals would most likely succeed only when private sector seizes the opportunities these development gaps present.

Businesses anticipating that (environmentally stable and socially inclusive) future in the strategic choices they make today are more likely to thrive.

Over the next 15 years, sustainability is expected to be as big a disruptor as digital technology has been over the last 15 years. Once sustainability takes off in a sector, it can move very fast. It’s a disruptive strategy which can leave unprepared incumbents stranded’.

The Major Market Opportunities

The Commission shares that achieving the global goals opens an economic ‘prize’ (from 60 opportunities) of at least $12 trillion a year by 2030 for the private sector (10% of global GDP in 2030). Most of this from developing countries and from four sectors of food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being. This could also create about 380 million jobs by 2030 – 90% of which will be in developing countries.

Ultimately, coming up with projects and business ideas to leverage on the following 60 opportunities will provide significant economic rewards while solving some of the world’s biggest environmental and social issues. That’s a win-win-win for your triple bottom line right there!

Food and Agriculture – at least a $2.3 trillion a year by 2030 opportunity:

  • Reducing food waste in the value chain
  • Forest ecosystem services
  • Low-income food markets
  • Reducing consumer food waste
  • Product reformulation
  • Technology in large-scale farms
  • Dietary switch
  • Sustainable aquaculture
  • Technology in smallholder farms
  • Micro-irrigation
  • Restoring degraded land
  • Reducing packaging waste
  • Cattle intensification
  • Urban agriculture

Cities – at least a $3.7 trillion a year by 2030 opportunity:

  • Affordable housing
  • Energy efficient buildings
  • Electric and hybrid vehicles
  • Public transport in urban areas
  • Car sharing
  • Road safety equipment
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • ICE vehicles fuel efficiency
  • Building resilient cities
  • Municipal water leakage
  • Cultural tourism
  • Smart metering
  • Water and sanitation infrastructure
  • Office sharing
  • Timber buildings
  • Durable and modular buildings

Energy and Materials – at least a $4.3 trillion a year by 2030 opportunity:

  • Circular models – automotive
  • Expansion of renewables
  • Circular models – appliances
  • Circular models – electronics
  • Energy efficiency – non-energy intensive industries
  • Energy storage systems
  • Resource recovery
  • End-use steel efficiency
  • Energy efficiency – energy intensive industries
  • Carbon capture and storage
  • Energy access
  • Green chemicals
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Local content in extractives
  • Shared infrastructure
  • Mine rehabilitation
  • Grid interconnection

Health and Well-being – at least a $1.8 trillion a year by 2030 opportunity:

  • Risk pooling
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Telehealth
  • Advance genomics
  • Activity services
  • Detection of counterfeit drugs
  • Tobacco control
  • Weight management programs
  • Better disease management
  • Electronic medical records
  • Better maternal and child health
  • Healthcare training
  • Low-cost surgery

The biggest of these opportunities, in terms of estimated economic returns, are mobility systems, new healthcare solutions, energy efficiency, clean energy, affordable housing, circular economy manufacturing, healthy lifestyles, food loss and waste, agricultural solutions, forest ecosystem services, urban infrastructure and buildings solutions.

We already see examples of companies leveraging some of these opportunities. But most of them require some truly innovative thinking and Research & Development. We urge businesses, large and small, to take up this innovation challenge, and come up with solutions to address these opportunities!

Read the report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission to see details of these four market systems and their opportunities.

This article first appeared on SustyVibes