Next-Gen Opportunities in Ethical Innovation
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ~Rob Siltanen (often attributed to Steve Jobs)
Throughout the industrial age, humans have created remarkable technologies, know-how and methodologies that have transformed our world. From agriculture, the printing press, steel, and airplanes to computers, smart phones, AI, and genomics, humans have reshaped the world. However, many of the inventions of humankind over the last three hundred years have been highly destructive to people and planet (e.g., weapons of mass destruction, fossil fuels, and plastic).
Some technologies, however, can be both good or bad depending upon how they are used. For example, biotechnology can be used to create bioweapons or cure disease. AI, robotics, and drones can be used to make the world more efficient and alleviate humanity from drudgery, or they can be used to spy on people and invade their privacy. Chemicals can be used for a myriad of helpful purposes, but also have caused massive pollution, health issues, and environmental degradation. Genetic research can help humanity live longer and healthier lives but genetically modified organisms can proliferate in nature and disrupt ecosystemic balance on a massive scale and lead to pandemics that cause genetic disease.
Unfortunately, humankind has been less than impeccable in anticipating the long term negative impacts of its innovations and has generally failed to put ethical parameters around its innovation.
What does “ethical innovation” mean and how can we implement it?
· Merriam-Webster defines “innovation” as
1 : a new idea, device, or method
2 : the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods
· I would define “innovation” as the ideation, development, implementation and execution of novel solutions that address needs, desires and challenges through inventions, methods, products and services.
· I would define “ethical innovation” as ideation, development, implementation and execution of novel solutions that improve the quality-of-life, health, and thriving for humanity.
Ethical innovation is based upon “doing good” for people and planet, rather than “doing no harm,” or rationalizing the implementation of technologies under the guise of such things as safety, security, and welfare that are actually harmful to people and planet, but result in money, power and control for those who wield such technologies.
There is a growing consensus among scientists and numerous research organizations that the sixth mass extinction will be caused by humans, has started, and is accelerating. The Holocene period started about 11,700 years ago and corresponds with the rapid proliferation and impacts of humans. The first impacts of humans include hunting animals into extinction, deforestation and habitat destruction. With the introduction of the industrial age approximately 300 years ago, anthropogenic destruction of habitats such as oceans, lands, forests, wetlands has exponentially increased and accelerated. Activities contributing to the 6th Mass Extinction include the pollution, contaminants, atmospheric change and habitat destruction from fossil fuels, industrial manufacturing, chemicals, mining, commercial agriculture, centralized supply chain, overconsumption, the rapidly increasing human population, and the general disregard of humans for the value, conservation and regeneration of nature.
Most of the primary causes that have been identified as contributors to the 6th Mass Extinction are based upon unethical innovation and destructive technologies. While the negative impacts of many of these innovations and technologies were not known at the time of their invention, the continued use of these innovations and technologies in spite of our knowledge of their negative impacts is inexcusable and often criminal.
For those that desire to engage in innovation for monetary gain, by directing their time, effort and energy to ethical innovation, they can make more money, generate much greater support, and mitigate their downside risks. It typically costs way more to rebuild a structure than demolish it. We have destroyed our planet and its ecosystems to the point where the planet can no longer sustain human consumption, and there will be way more money in healing and regenerating the planet’s ecosystems than there was in the industrial age destruction of the planet’s ecosystems. Ethical innovation and the multi-trillion dollar Regenerative Economy provide incredible opportunities to generate robust wealth from doing good.
Because unethical innovation and use of technologies is a major contributor to such things as climate change and disasters, pandemics, water shortages, food shortages, loss of species and ecosystemic imbalance, we have the opportunity to use ethical innovation and technologies to repair, heal and regenerate the damage we have caused.
Below are examples of ethical innovation, technologies and activities that have the potential to create rapid change, reverse the anthropogenic damage of humans and create a robust and regenerative multi-trillion economy (the “Regenerative Economy”):
· Clean and renewable energy (e.g., green hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal);
· Carbon capture through natural climate solution (“NCS”) including reforestation, building healthy soil, regenerative land and oceans practices, and direct-air carbon capture;
· Zero-Waste, Waste-to-Energy and Waste-to-Materials;
· Regenerative ocean management practices including reviving coral reefs, cultivating seaweed beds, proliferating phytoplankton blooms and engaging in regenerative fishery practices;
· Development and implementation of “Wise, Regenerative and Resilient Cities and Communities” planning, design and holistic implementation;
· Clean storage and batteries;
· Plant-based protein and diets and cellular lab-grown animal proteins;
· Renewable plant-based materials and biomimicry;
· Reduction of driving and travel by using virtual communications;
· Ethical AI, machine learning and robotics;
· Circularity in manufacturing and supply-chain;
· Aquatech including sonic purification, atmospheric generation, molecular frequency separation, and desalinization;
· Applications that track and reward conscious reduction of energy and consumption;
· Internet of Things (“IoT”), sensors and monitoring for environment, endangered species, carbon credits and resources;
· Energy-efficient and healthy building design and materials that are in harmony with nature (e.g., resistance to fire, earthquake, hurricane, storms, and mold; passive solar; water collection and purification; and grey-blackwater recycling);
· Supply-chain efficiency, value-added processing, and localization of water, food, energy and materials;
· Graphene as a renewable alternative source for energy, storage and materials;
· Reuse-recycling-upcycling-conservation applications;
· Bioenergetic soil and water remediation;
· Organic burial pods;
· Applications that provide transparent standards, monitoring, measurement and reporting by organizations to align economic incentives with ethical imperatives, ESG and triple bottom line;
· Urban farming, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming and forest, and integrated food systems;
· Clean, renewable, public transport and driverless, autonomous vehicles;
· 3D-Printing and localization of manufacturing; and
· Integration of life sciences, chemistry and earth sciences that fosters the health and thriving of people and planet through ecosystemic solutions that increase resource abundance, accessibility and quality-of-life.
Below are 5 Effective Ways to Foster Ethical Innovation:
- Foster a Culture of Ethical Innovation and Inspiration — Develop an environment that allows for experimentation, taking risks, and rewards success, but doesn’t punish failure/learning.
- Imagine & Envision Big — We live in a universe of infinite possibilities. Unfortunately time and monetary budgets are finite and tend to squash creativity and imagination. Start with imagination and big ideas rather than budgets and small thinking. Allow imagination to flourish and then determine whether an idea has a market and the ROI for the time to develop the idea.
- Provide the Right Tools — Providing your team the right tools and environment to succeed is critical to success. Too often companies don’t give sufficient budgets and tools to allow innovation to flourish typically resulting in failures rather than successes.
- Build Integrated & Multidisciplinary Teams — Too often teams are segregated and siloed — R&D/technology/product development don’t regularly interface with sales and marketing or finance. This generally results in products that do not serve the market or have an ROI. While a culture of innovation should allow for imagination and big thinking, the greater the integration of multi-disciplinary teams, the more effectively innovation can be guided toward those technologies and products that will be greenlit, funded, developed and sold.
- Implement a Situationally Adaptive Organization (“SAO”) — Rather than authority being delegated by title, authority is delegated through experience as applied to a given situation. This allows an organization to be nimble, to engage in rapid prototyping, and take action in accordance with situations and market conditions as they arise rather than the inefficient bureaucratic and hierarchical models generally utilized in organizations.
By fostering ethical innovation, we have the opportunity to address the urgent need for change in our world, heal the challenges and destruction caused by unethical innovation, and develop the largest economy in the history of humankind.
 Sources consulted include https://earth.org/sixth-mass-extinction-of-wildlife-accelerating/; https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction