Business Solving Our Biggest Problems

Changing the Discourse: How Business Can Profitably Change the World

The desire to leave the world better than you find it is as basic a drive as needing to eat, needing a home, needing a purpose and a career… It’s a biological requirement, just like food and sex and shelter. Many people shut that down because it feels too scary—but we don’t feel whole unless, in some way, we’re making the world better. Get past that shutdown by finding the self-interest in solving these enormous problems. That’s why I focus on the profit motive: how you can find the motivation by growing your business’s bottom line. It’s not about guilt and shame; it’s about empowerment.

— Shel Horowitz

Well into the 21st century, isn’t it time to finally say goodbye to the big crises that hold our whole society back? We should no longer have to put up with hunger, poverty, war, violence, and catastrophic climate change.

Here’s some big news: we actually already know how to eliminate or greatly reduce most of the biggest problems the world faces. And business has a huge role to play.

When you look deeply, a lot of the causes of hunger, poverty, war, violence, and catastrophic climate change turn out to be about resources: who uses how much, whether they’re taken sustainably, how fairly they’re distributed. When we address resources systemically, we’re able to transform hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war and violence into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance.

And we actually know how to do this. Passive-energy construction expert David Bainbridge estimates that not only can we reduce the typical building’s energy footprint by 90 percent on new construction, but we can even cut the footprint on existing buildings by 50 to 70 percent.¹ We knew how to build near-zero net-energy buildings at least as far back as 1983. We understand how to significantly increase crop yields without using chemicals and without compromising quality.

On the peace side, we’ve developed all sorts of conflict resolution techniques that don’t involve shooting each other. We also have wonderful ways to frame alternatives to violent conflict, such as “delightism” as the opposite of terrorism.

And we know how to replace nearly all our fossil and nuclear fuels with the combination of clean, renewable energy and deep conservation, thus reversing the increase in greenhouse gases. We even know how to imitate nature’s best engineers to achieve zero waste while developing stronger, lighter materials and incredible processes to do things like extract water out of fog.

And we know that all of these things are good for the economy and open up infinite possibilities for profitable businesses to achieve them. Perhaps the best business opportunities are those that solve two or more of these problems.

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[1], accessed 2/15/15.