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Source: Ben Duke

“Disruption” is a word that gets tossed around business a lot these days. But what if we could disrupt not just the way we do business, but the fate of our species and our planet?

The World In 2050

What will the world look like in 2050?

On our current path, coastal cities will flood, billions will live with terrible air pollution, and more and more lands and water will lose the ability to produce food for our global population, which will reach nearly 10 billion—so many of them will go hungry and thirsty, all while the natural world diminishes.

In October 2018, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) published a study that outlined two scenarios of what the future might hold. One shows the state of humanity and the natural world if we continue with “business as usual,” and the other offers a more positive future for both us and the environment if we switch gears and move towards a more sustainable path.

We all know that if we want a better future, we—as in, humanity—need to change. But how? Well-meaning acts like switching out incandescent light bulbs and carrying reusable grocery bags just aren’t going to be enough. While acts like these are important and necessary, we need more changes and at a larger scale. And the next 10 years will be crucial if we are to find our way to a sustainable future.

Can we change our course so that we move towards the sustainable path? And how do we get there?

Huge Advances in Technology

“We need a technology revolution to help us get on that path to a sustainable 2050,” says August Ritter, Program Director for The Sustainability Accelerator, a partnership between Techstars and The Nature Conservancy. “We asked ourselves: What can TNC do to help advance technology and disruption in conservation?”

Their answer: an accelerator focused on supporting entrepreneurs trying to address global issues, like climate change or sustainably providing food and water to our planet’s growing population.

Startups move fast, an important consideration given how much change needs to happen in the next 10 years if we are to switch course. They also come at problems from a new angle, and bring new technologies to bear on these difficult and far-reaching dilemmas.

All conservation and sustainability efforts are great, but using new technologies and ways of doing business that are already transforming the global economy are necessary to transform the global environment and take sustainability to scale. It is time to reconsider “business as usual.”  

Inspiring the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

“We need to inspire the next generation of technologists and entrepreneurs,” August said. He ticked off a series of goals for The Sustainability Accelerator: success stories to show that this path forward is possible; demonstrating to investors that they can earn a tangible ROI by investing in early stage companies with a focus on sustainability; integrating technology and learning from the startup community about how they solve problems—fast.

The inaugural 2018 accelerator was a huge success, and TNC is running pilots with six startups that came through the program. TNC has high hopes for the next class as well.

August loves a quote from Jeff Hammerbacher, an early Facebook employee and founder of Cloudera: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

August offers an alternate path for today’s keenest problem solvers: “We need to be inspiring entrepreneurs to solve problems that matter. We need the best minds of this generation working  to transform the world by 2050 into a place where both people and nature can thrive.”

Want to disrupt environmental catastrophe? August outlined the big questions he thinks startups can help answer in his piece, “An Invitation to Solve for a More Sustainable Future.”


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