Pollution – The billion-dollar business opportunity

Pollution

Around 490 BC, a Greek messenger ran a distance of 24 kilometres without stopping on his way to deliver a message of battle victory to the Greek capital Athens, to thwart the attempts of Persians to claim false victory in Athens, after being defeated in the epic battle of Marathon. The messenger burst into the assembly, exclaimed ‘we have won!’ and then collapsed and died right there. Fast forward 2,500 years later, the distance of 24 kilometres seems nothing – you can even reach out to the Queen of England within seconds, simply with a tweet. The world has become smaller, thanks to the internet. We don’t need messengers anymore to collaborate, we have WhatsApp groups, Zoom meetings, Instagram live and Facebook rooms to organise ourselves within seconds for any activity. And yet, it seems the message about ‘Rising pollution and global warming hasn’t reached everywhere yet. There are still many who believe it is all a sham, and then there are those who know everything and yet haven’t budged even a little. There are so many portrayals of how scary the world could be – paintings, dramas, movies, series, songs, cartoons and of course, white papers, depicting the dystopian future, and yet the global intent is so little or negligible compared to the actual efforts required.

There’s a question for the working generation out there who are earning to ensure a living for their future and their children, be it the basics, the education, or a lifestyle; the investments, the savings or the wealth – “The great grand future you are planning – are you considering ‘earth’ a part of it?” Because the chances are bleak that earth would remain habitable by then. The thought might pinch, and it should, because the sky and the oceans are all scheduled to perform some repairs and maintenance work on earth, and we are not sure if humans qualify as worthy or trash.

Background

“Pollution is anything that makes the earth dirty and unhealthy. There are three types of pollution – Land pollution, Air pollution, and Water pollution.” I still remember these definitions from the school books, as it was considered a hot topic for the exams and could fetch good marks, even though it was a fairly easy chapter to memorise. If you too belong to the millennial generation, you might probably relate to it. However, as life chased adulthood, pollution turned from a green to a grey topic. It is affecting our health and our lives, and yet we aren’t even talking enough about it, because there’s something else that has taken centre stage – money! To curb pollution would mean shutting down the profit-churning factories, giving up industrial opportunities to save trees, leave the comfort of cars and use public transport, no crackers or noisy celebrations on festivals and occasions, and a lot more which almost equals to living a life of a monk – something that nobody is prepared to do, even though the solution to all our problems eventually leads us there. Nobody is willing to give up their materialistic pleasures.

People use products because there’s convenience and comfort that they don’t want to give up, although they cause pollution. Businesses won’t stop producing such products because they don’t want to give up their profits. The Governments won’t ban such products because that’s where they generate taxes from. The politicians don’t have the willpower as their pockets are filled by these same donors, while the environmentalists are too few to even make an impact. There’s foolishness in the selfishness around, as the people are looking to decorate their heads, and paying the way for cutting their limbs. We all know it, and yet we lack the intent to do it. This materialistic world needs materialistic ideas. Since the greater good doesn’t seem like a profitable venture, let us consider an alternative view, ‘the billion-dollar business opportunity – Pollution’.

The Paris Agreement

In 2015, 196 nations entered into a legally binding international treaty on climate change to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, each country will submit their plans for climate action referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), to ensure global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century. The Paris Agreement is a huge landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement has been entered into to bring all nations into a common cause. In the Glasgow Climate Change Conference 2021, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26), various new adoptions such as stopping deforestation, abandoning coal, reducing methane emissions and carbon neutrality were also considered apart from reducing ‘net’ carbon neutrality to zero by 2050. Although Governments are known for not keeping their word, the Paris Agreement ensures that at least a few steps are taken towards a greener environment. With deadlines in place, the Governments will be forced to take some early initiatives and other actions sooner or later. The global conglomerates have already taken cues from the same and building technologies or strategising towards completely different business models.

Every menace is an opportunity. The fundamental principle of business is to solve problems – every problem, is a business opportunity, you just need to find the solutions and you have a business model. Pollution and global warming are the gravest problems that humanity faces. There is an existential crisis and if you are a true entrepreneur, you already know how big this opportunity is and how profitable it can be. The only problem is that the people aren’t going to budge on their traditional ways and comfort. The only way to move them from there is to provide them with an equivalent or more convenient choice that also solves the pollution problem. However, that would require some ground-breaking ideas and research work. For a long time, this wasn’t possible, however, that’s no longer the position today.

First-mover advantage

There are global conglomerates with revenues more than the GDPs of many countries around the world. These giant business groups will continue to exist for years and for longer than our human life, given the financial position and loyalty they enjoy. Such businesses only face two kinds of threats – threat from the Government for legal compliance and threat from being outdated. Pollution is one such subject that has put global conglomerates in a position to think and rebalance their businesses to ensure a viable future for the company.

Businesses globally are also well aware that the first-mover shall have the advantage that will enable the companies to establish strong brand recognition and product loyalty before the competitors enter the market. Thus, the race has begun to provide eco-friendly solutions and alternatives. When Tesla pioneered the electric vehicles segment, only a few supported the idea. However, after seeing its success, all major automobile companies have swiftly aligned their business strategies towards the development of the electric vehicles segment. Ford has already announced its ambitions of entering into electric vehicles. General Motors and others have already entered the race, while Toyota has also moved away from its earlier thoughts of hybrid cars, to launching fully electric models. Honda has entered into electric batteries market while Ola has launched its electric scooters in India. As per a KPMG survey, 50% of the cars in the United States, are expected to be electric. Thus, to protect their interests and also to benefit from the first-mover advantage, the companies are rapidly changing their policies to align with future needs. However, there are many other sectors where nobody has taken the initiative yet, fearing failure, however, successful research may turn the fortunes in their favour. The interest of the institutional investors, as well as the retail investors, has also tilted towards the companies into environment savings businesses as the same has more prospects to grow than others in the long term. This is also forcing the companies to quickly move towards the new space and gain the advantage.

In the Indian context, the oil to telecom conglomerate has swiftly made its moves towards data and renewable energy businesses. Reliance Industries has vowed to create or enable capacity to generate at least 100 gigawatts of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, which can be converted into carbon-free green hydrogen. In fact, the company also called off its deal with Saudi Aramco, where the latter would have invested USD 15 billion to buy a 20% stake in Reliance Industries. The deal would have been the largest foreign direct investment in India, however, Reliance Industries which aims to become net carbon zero by 2035 has planned to switch to cleaner feedstock and energy at its O2C business and expand in solar power, batteries, electrolyzers to produce hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cell. Meanwhile, the Adani Group has also announced that the group will spend USD 70 billion to amass a 45-gigawatt renewable energy portfolio by 2030 and produce the world’s cheapest green hydrogen.

An untapped universe

All things apart, pollution provides a unique challenge and the solutions need to be uniquely different. Delhi-based Chakr Innovation reduces air pollution with its unique retro-fit emission control device for diesel generators which captures almost 90% of the particulate matter emissions from the exhaust air without reducing energy efficiency. Even the diesel soot captured from the exhaust is also used to prepare inks and paints. Similarly, Graviky Labs, a spinoff of the MIT Media Lab has built Air-Ink which collects carbon emissions that are usually expelled into the environment. It turns them into black ink that can be used for industrial printing, silk screening, or simply to draw a picture. NavAlt Solar & Electric Boats have brought together innovation in naval design and engineering, solar power and advanced controls in its first commercially viable solar-powered ferry ‘Aditya’. The ferry gets 80% of its energy from the sun and can cruise over 6 hours on a sunny day, with 75 people. Agnisumukh manufactures commercial kitchen equipment which saves 30% on gas, improves cooking and also beat indoor air pollution in commercial kitchens. Meanwhile, a group of Thai designers have envisioned a bicycle that sucks in dirty air through the front and generates oxygen, with a lithium battery that helps out on the hills.

There are several other stories of innovation in different segments of products. However, the product sales have not gained enough impetus. The failure to replicate the convenience of a conventional product has curbed the sales of such innovations. Besides, most of these innovations have been from startups coming up with new ideas. For mass scale spread of eco-friendly products, we would need the global conglomerates to step in. In fact, even a small investment by large corporates in the innovation clubs of their industry can help the innovation speed up – something that the technology industry has excelled in over the years. This, in turn, also helps the company, as the threat to its products becomes lesser as it can replace the same with the innovative solution being produced.

The bottom line

Necessity is the mother of invention. Finding solutions for pollution is a necessity of the hour and only invention can resolve the problem. If serving mother earth isn’t enough for bringing out the intent, the untapped billion-dollar business opportunity should serve as the goal. The world needs the solutions desperately – it may not seem like right now, but in a few years, it would surface in all sectors. And in such a situation, the first movers will have the advantage – this has been the story since the industrial revolution, the technological revolution, the financial boom and the latest internet boom. If you are one such innovator, don’t be disheartened, you may be the key to the future. And if you are an existing business, it’s high time that you evaluate your business against pollution and global warming, and take actions to ensure the viability of the same in the long run. Remember, it’s survival of the fittest – it has been, and it will always be that way.

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