It has become a truism that the movement of data, people, and goods connects us all in unprecedented ways across geographical boundaries.

In the ever-more complex environments businesses are forced to operate in, their ability to analyze, confront, and utilize uncertainties is critical to their success. Furthermore, the vast majority of businesses need to look beyond their own immediate financial interests for this success to last. In other words, they are deeply dependent on the well-being of their surrounding community and, by extension, the world at large.

The Global Opportunity Report, compiled each year by Sustainia and DNV GL in Denmark and the UN Global Compact is a direct product of this reality, born out of a determined belief that behind every global risk the world faces hides multiple opportunities to innovate and create better, more prosperous, and sustainable societies.

There is no doubt we live in disruptive times. Complex and interconnected crises in the political, environmental, and social spheres are taking hold of our world – and it is time change-makers with a shared vision for a sustainable future seize the moment. Below are the top 10 opportunities identified in the 2017 report. 

 

1. WATER IS A WINNER

For the third year in a row, an innovative opportunity related to water tops the list of the most impactful and actionable opportunities. Smart water technology enables consumers to use water in a more sustainable manner without increased effort – the smart water pipes and meters will make the sustainable water choices for them. Understanding the potential of this opportunity and fully capitalizing on it to deliver crucial services will represent a huge market opportunity; by 2021, the smart water tech market will be worth 20.10 billion USD up from 8.46 billion USD in 2016.

 

2. KNOWLEDGE BRINGS PEACE AND PROFIT

Leaders see the most complex category of markets – delivering education to conflict areas – as the runner-up opportunity. This opportunity showcases the positive impact that can occur when the private sector applies digital technology to address a public need.

This finding signals a change in the perception of leaders: as of now, high-risk markets can be potential hotbeds for innovation. Applying innovation from the ground up, and engaging in dialogue with digitally engaged local consumers to drive peace and profit define this opportunity. The global smart education and learning market is worth 586.04 billion USD by 2021.

 

3. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS REDEFINING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE

Artificial intelligence enables companies and individuals to be two steps ahead of the next cybercriminal. This opportunity employs machine-learning to drive a new market that will secure our most vital infrastructure in the digital economy.

It is a sustainable choice made easy for the user of the infrastructure by supplementing firewalls and other cybersecurity tools with machines able to learn and adapt to the tactics of hackers. There are two important drivers of this market opportunity:

  1. Intelligent automation in general with systems making decisions for us and
  2. the lack of a sufficient number of people with the right skill-set drives a need for less people-intensive approaches.

The artificial intelligence market is expected to be worth 16.06 billion USD by 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 62.9 percent from 2016 to 2022.

 

4. THE POWER OF PEER-TO-PEER TRADING

Leaders believe peer-to-peer energy sharing and trading on digital platforms is a market ready for take-off. Blockchain is an open source digital ledger that allows users to record and trace all types of transactions. With regard to energy transactions, users can have a payment, and a means to keep track of electricity consumed and delivered.

It introduces a new corporate logic, transforming the role of business in the energy transaction from that of the service provider to that of the consumer enabler. This could be by helping users share and trade electricity, or even donate excess electricity in an expression of new forms of solidarity.

 

5. COMPLEX CHALLENGES CAN DRIVE MARKET TRANSFORMATION

The survey reveals which opportunities represent the best business case in the eyes of the leaders surveyed. Opportunities that capitalize on specific and digitized markets, such as intelligent cybersecurity and behavioral biometrics, are seen as more favorable business cases. Meanwhile, opportunities that address more complex challenges – such as housing refugees and upgrading communities with informal housing – are viewed by business leaders as weaker business opportunities.

Addressing complex challenges has the potential to create stable societies, which is a critical condition for long-term business viability. Carving out specific new markets out of complex challenges can help kick-start markets for transformation. One opportunity from we can learn when doing this is “Knowledge for Peace,” as this opportunity takes a specific and actionable approach to handling a very complex problem.

 

6. SOIL DEPLETION IS READY FOR A MARKET INTERVENTION

Opportunities related to soil depletion rate high in their benefit to society, yet are still rated low as business opportunities compared to other opportunities. Businesses should pay special attention to the opportunities in this quadrant, as they represent the next, most immediate frontier in new market opportunities. It’s clear they offer huge benefits to society; if the companies can find a way to capitalize on them, they could uncover and solidify their stake in a crucial future market.

 

7. SIX GOLDEN GLOBAL GOALS

Across the globe, and over the last two years, notable agreement has emerged about the most promising UN Sustainable Development Goals for business. The same selection of six Sustainable Development Goals is rated as most promising, even if they’ve jostled a bit in rank. The cluster is composed of Sustainable Development Goals that address jobs and growth, good health, life on land, affordable energy, education and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

 

 

8. AFRICA IS READY FOR BLOCKCHAIN

Though they are rated number 4 and 15 on the overall opportunity landscape, opportunities related to blockchain, “Clever Codes Disrupt Inequality” and “Business of Power,” are the top-ranking opportunities in Sub Saharan Africa, indicating the region is ready and willing to invest in this critical new way to access services once dominated by formalised and centralised authorities.

Blockchain allows for the decentralized exchange of critical services like energy and finance, giving consumers the ability to access loans, insurance, finance, and other vital elements of the economy. African markets can be expected to leapfrog into the next digital era defined by a blockchain-based internet.

 

9. MENA AND SOUTH AMERICA ARE CONFIDENT IN THEIR ABILITY TO PURSUE GOALS

Businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)and South America reported an increase in their perceived capacities to pursue new opportunities, as well as an increase in their willingness to pursue them, as compared to last year. This ability and willingness to pursue cutting-edge market opportunities indicate these regions will become increasingly important hotbeds for market development in the coming years.

 

10. CASH-IN ON POWER AND TECH

Decentralised power delivery, behavioral biometrics, and artificial intelligence to combat cybercrime are three opportunities that can be expected to mature rapidly through investments and business action. In the global survey, leaders across the globe perceived these three markets to hold a good business case as well as a good investment case. Also, leaders perceive these markets to positively impact business, and both the financial sector and business are ready to actively advocate for growing these markets. Both are important conditions for the opportunities to scale rapidly.

Download the full Global Opportunity Report 2017 report