With more frequent climate-related extreme weather scenarios hitting the headlines, the scramble to apply innovation, ambition and vision to the challenge of climate change is ever urgent - and many businesses are stepping up to find climate change solutions.
Some of the strategies go beyond the norm to show the wide range of solutions and disruptions we’ll need to make progress for the climate. As Bain & Company’s Orit Gadiesh and Jenny Davis-Peccoud stress, the task at hand is nothing short of a revolution. "Like the digital revolution before it, the sustainability revolution promises to change everything. Yet, just as with digital, many companies are moving too slowly, taking an incremental approach to a challenge that demands a radical rethink," they argue.
Here, we asked six business leaders to reveal climate change solutions that are unique, surprising and little-discussed. These are strategies and technologies that are moving the needle towards decarbonization and other much-needed sustainable changes for the climate.
We asked them to identify the solution, explain why it’s powerful, and suggest what must change to ensure this solution can be deployed to its fullest potential.
Solar Forest: ‘There is no room for concessions in climate change initiatives’
Dong Kwan Kim, Chief Executive Officer, Hanwha Solutions, Hanwha Group
Afforestation is key to combating climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 report clearly states that humanity is at fault for global warming and that deforestation is a direct cause of the increase in CO2. Ironically, afforestation often emits additional CO2 due to fossil fuel use.
Enter the Solar Forest, an afforestation programme, harnessing the power of the sun instead. Solar energy supports the clean water supply, temperature control, and lighting conditions required to nurture saplings. This unique approach makes every “Solar Forest” one of the most eco-friendly forests on Earth.
For the last decade, the initiative has planted over half a million trees in eight forests, answering the urgent call to eliminate carbon emissions globally. The Solar Forest illustrates how a legacy of relying on fossil fuels in climate action can be ended by switching to renewable energy.
Climate action should be carefully considered and calls on the private sector to re-evaluate its initiative’s existing processes and identify opportunities for greener practices. All too often initiatives risk falling victim to the ease of use, access, and availability of fossil fuels for energy production - an unacceptable trade-off as there is no room for concessions in climate change solutions.
High Resolves digital learning: ‘Promoting a profound and stable sense of human responsibility’
Roya and Mehrdad Baghai, Founders, High Resolves
The need to activate human responsibility lies at the heart of the world’s greatest challenges.
In response, High Resolves has created a digital platform that serves as a one-stop solution for civic learning - an innovative solution to climate change.
Institutions can receive unlimited all-you-can-use access to curated learning experiences from the best providers in the sector at an affordable price of only $400 per month. That translates to roughly 20 cents per student experience based on average use levels, a fraction of the cost of in-person facilitated activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital platform yielded higher learning outcomes and student engagement scores on nearly every single metric than High Resolves’ award-winning face-to-face deliveries. Informed by this deep learning, High Resolves can now serve middle- and high schools as well as a wide range of community-based organizations like museums, libraries, faith-based groups, youth programmes, summer camps and home schoolers with its new platform.
Similar partnerships will allow High Resolves to reach millions of young people in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin America, China, Korean and the ASEAN region, with more partnerships to follow.
Videos for Change is a global competition that is part of High Resolves.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to champion social innovation?
Social innovators address the world’s most serious challenges ranging from inequality to girls’ education and disaster relief that affect all of us, but in particular vulnerable and excluded groups. To achieve maximum impact and start to address root causes, they need greater visibility, credibility, access to finance, favourable policy decisions, and in some cases a better understanding of global affairs and access to decision makers.
The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is supporting more than 400 late-stage social innovators. By providing an unparalleled global platform, the Foundation’s goal is to highlight and expand proven and impactful models of social innovation. It helps strengthen and grow the field by showcasing best-in-class examples, models for replication and cutting-edge research on social innovation.
The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship’s 2021 Annual Report evaluated the work of its 2019 and 2020 Awardees. It shows that despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation’s community has found new ways to join forces, respond and develop the movement of social innovators.
Our global network of experts, partner institutions, and World Economic Forum constituents and business members are invited to nominate outstanding social innovators. Get in touch to become a member or partner of the World Economic Forum.
AgriFin initiative: ‘Rapid response… rapid product design and rollout’
Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, CEO of Mercy Corps
Small-scale farmers feed 80% of the population in much of the developing world, and for many of them, climate change is no distant threat.
As weather patterns shift, drought, flooding, and unfamiliar pests and diseases are devastating their crops right now. These farmers need new technology, but they also need tech that is not theoretical.
Last year, when the largest desert locust invasion in decades threatened farmers in East Africa, the AgriFin initiative worked with an established network of partners to rapidly develop and deliver a new citizen reporting tool that allows farmers to report locusts in their areas and access up-to-date information.
There was no time to get farmers on new platforms, so we talked to them about which platforms they were already using and built the service on those channels, including WhatsApp, Facebook, and SMS, then saw immediate adoption by more than 16 million farmers.
This is a new, sustainable climate change solution that we will need everywhere as the weather worsens: start by building effective partnerships to prepare for rapid response; then involve farmers in that rapid product design and rollout so that real, actionable solutions can reach them immediately.
Net positive liquid assets: ‘Unite in driving positive change’
Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Holding
If you consider that necessity is the mother of all invention, it should come as no surprise that water security sits high on the MENA sustainability agenda.
As the world’s most water-scarce region, the odds are stacked against us with an undeniable truth that must be addressed – our landmass and current way of life cannot be sustained by the gallant efforts of the public sector alone. If we are to unlock the potential of the MENA region, the private sector must step forward and be accountable for its contribution, identify ways to work better, and actively champion more sustainable business practices.
Four years ago, Majid Al Futtaim set out to become Net Positive in water and carbon emissions by 2040. These climate change solutions cannot be achieved by efficiency and alternative sources alone, so we are working to understand how to implement water offsetting practices across every aspect of our supply chain, while ensuring those efforts are aligned to regional government initiatives and global best practice.
We believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and as such that the extent of our communities’ ability to thrive is dependent on our combined determination to unite in driving positive change.
Decarbonize cities: ‘Localize the net-zero agenda’
Clare Wildfire, Global Practice Lead for Cities, Mott MacDonald
Achieving national net-zero targets will require extensive collaboration between central and local governments, industry and across supply chains. Cities are particularly well-placed to drive decarbonization because they are where demand for infrastructure, services and goods are concentrated. Cities are where public, private and community agendas come together.
Therefore, a city-centred, place-based approach to net-zero carbon should be pursued, leveraging local insight, capability and connectivity to accelerate decarbonization – and stimulating inward investment, creating local employment and opening new social opportunities while doing so.
Insight gained in the UK for climate change solutions shows that city leaders require four Ps:
1. Powers: To create the conditions required for net-zero carbon interventions.
2. Partnerships: The ability to convene new public-private partnerships that will drive cross-sector collaboration and promote investment in net-zero.
3. Platform: A digital solution for collating the data that is required to manage down city-scale carbon emissions and visualize local co-benefits across diverse economic and social infrastructure systems.
4. People: The means to engage businesses and citizens in decarbonization, recognizing that a substantial part of the net-zero challenge lies with changing people’s behaviours.
Every city is different. With the Ps, leaders can localize the net-zero agenda and unlock the widest possible range of benefits.
Regenerative Business: ‘What’s next after zero?
Scott Russell, Member of the Executive Board, SAP SE
Trying to find climate change solutions to current challenges has left many of us feeling like we’re going around in circles. But for the first time in history, that’s a good thing.
Applying circularity in business and creating loops to keep value in our systems for longer has the potential to close growing material, ecological and social divides – and more. With almost half of total emissions today linked to material flows, circularity is a key way to address our climate emergency, and restore the planetary balance.
To drive exponential change at scale, we need businesses to accelerate impact and go beyond achieving net-zero.
What does that look like? We need them to become regenerative. The regenerative business is intelligent – it uses innovative technology to gather insight and apply it. It measures impact – holistically, and in real time. Crucially, it’s part of a wider network of sustainable, circular, regenerative businesses which collectively drive change at scale.
Regenerative businesses have the power to re-energize our economy, markets and industries, generating jobs and trillions of dollars in value and new opportunities. They can act not just as a band-aid, but as a cure to so many of our current problems, offering business leaders the compass they need to enable true and lasting societal and planetary restoration.