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Is Sustainability Becoming Mainstream?

I recently picked up the May 2014 issue of Fortune magazine and to my surprise I found five articles on sustainability.  Even though there was an emphasis on money to be made on niche markets that will soon be growing fast and money to saved by managing global risks proactively, the articles had good information on current sustainability issues. They covered topics ranging from fuel cells to water’s value in the 21st century, the world’s top eco-innovators, green buildings and the food production needed to feed 9 billion people by 2050. This is encouraging, because it shows that investors, CEOs, CFOs and entrepreneurs not only want to know the ups and downs of stock markets, but also the risks and opportunities associated with sustainability. Here is a brief narrative of the key issues covered.


1) Fuel Cells

Did you know that fuel cell stocks grew 138% since April? Hurricane Sandy showed us the importance of supplementing grid power or providing a reliable stream of electricity in case of an extreme event. This can be done with fuel cells. Now all sort of businesses in the US are purchasing fuel cells, so all of a sudden the future of the industry looks very promising. The good news is that fuel cells themselves generate almost zero emissions.


2) Water’s Value in the 21st Century

Based on data from Water Footprint Network, it takes 968 gallons of water to produce one cheeseburger.  The meat patty requires 924 gallons to produce if you include the water needed to feed the cow.  How much does this water cost? In Buenos Aires, one gallon of water that comes out of the kitchen faucet costs $0.42 and in Berlin $6.43. The water that the farmer buys is cheaper than the municipal tap. Why the discrepancy? What to do when the water is scarce, do we raise the price? Be prepared for some heated arguments in the future, since clear water is a human right.  There’s already big money invested in water purification and desalination technologies.


3) The World’s Top 25 Eco-Innovators

There are people in the world that are working at preserving the planet the way we know it.  They are not getting paralyzed with the alarming news about climate change, on the contrary they are moving forward and are showing concrete outcomes They work in the field of academia, business, government and civic society. Who are these leaders and what are they doing? Some are highly visible like Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, who is building electric cars and investing in clean-tech projects. Others are trailblazers, like Ellen MacArthur who sailed around the globe in 71 days, and created a Foundation to promote her vision of a circular economy.


4) Green Buildings

How to build a high performing green building? This is the question that MGM asked before starting work on CityCenter, a huge complex in Las Vegas.  The answer is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a third-party certification program that recognizes green building practices.  The key is to incorporate sustainability in the building design and performance.


5) Increased efficiency and sustainability in food production

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in order to feed 9 billion people by 2050, food production has to increase by 70%. This has to be accomplished with new technologies that conserve natural resources.  The World Bank is doing its part by financing projects in developing country to improve farm productivity. But agribusinesses like Kubota Corp. in Japan are collaborating too. Kubota makes cost efficient high-power tractors, ergonomically designed and manufactured in facilities that use 100% reusable crates and 70% recycle water.