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The 10 Top Sustainable Business Trends & Investment Opportunities for the Next Decade

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Global climate change, our ever-growing population and social disruption will set the stage for a host of new business opportunities. Some of these have already emerged while others are still in earlier stages of incubation.

Whether you're looking for a new career, an investment opportunity, or thinking about starting a new business, these are the areas to watch:

  1. Desalination
  2. Water purification
  3. Alternative energy
  4. Energy efficiency
  5. Weatherization
  6. Local, organic, and Fair Trade food
  7. Technology supporting small-scale agriculture
  8. Engineering and consulting firms specializing in supply chain management and infrastructure development
  9. Equipment providers to farming and infrastructure development
  10. Disaster relief
  11. Mobile technology and applications

Let's take a tour of these opportunities.

Desalination & Water Purification
Water is already worth more than petroleum in many parts of the world. As global climate change and poor agricultural practices combine with our growing population and increasing affluence, water will increasingly be in short supply. Wars will be fought over it, companies like Coca-Cola will risk their license to operate as they suck aquifers dry and prevent local farmers from accessing the water required to grow their crops; a profusion of toxic chemicals will pollute much of what is left. In 2008, the Stockholm International Water Institute calculated that 1.4 billion people live in regions where existing water cannot meet the agricultural, industrial, municipal, and environmental needs of all. That number is expected to rise to 1.8 billion by 2025.

Alternative Energy, Energy Efficiency and Weatherization
The use of fossil fuels must be dramatically reduced if civilization as we know it is to survive. Though global fossil fuel consumption subsidies fell from $558 billion in 2008 to $312 billion in 2009, the reduction was largely a result of changes in international energy prices and domestic pricing policies, rather than from subsidies being curtailed. In addition, governments provide domestic fossil fuel production subsidies aimed at bolstering domestic supply, valued at an additional $100 billion per year. This is simply unsustainable both economically and environmentally.

Solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, co-generation and even mechanically generated energy (you on a treadmill) will experience an explosion of growth as, inevitably, carbon is taxed and fossil fuels run out. Whether driven by the negative health implications, whether that disrupts business supply chains, or the environmental disasters of getting it out of the ground - the age of oil, gas and coal will come to a much more abrupt end that most of us can imagine.

Local, organic, and fair-trade food and the technology to support small-scale agriculture
Since 2000, organic farming has experienced a 150 percent increase in practice: it is now done on 37.2 million hectares worldwide, a 5.7 percent increase from 2008 (Source: Worldwatch Institute). In 2010, imports of Fair Trade coffee grew 62 percent over 2009, cocoa imports grew by 67 percent, citrus imports grew to 96 percent and sales of Fair Trade sugar increased by 60 percent. (Learn more about how Fair Trade Certified Organic Products are skyrocketing).

The world is already unable to feed itself, and there will be about 25,000 more people arriving for dinner tonight. We'll be growing more food locally - on rooftops (already projected to be a $100 billion industry in the next decade) on the sides of buildings, in community gardens, in greenhouses build in inner cities. Lettuce simply can't fly business class from Beijing to New York for much longer.

Engineering and consulting firms specializing in supply chain management and infrastructure; development & equipment providers to farming and infrastructure development
The whole world wants to live like we do. Eat beef. Drive cars. Live in oversized houses. Much of that development we simply won't be able to stop. At the same time, as the next billion citizens emerge out of poverty they'll want roads, electricity, running water, bridges, and dams.

Disaster relief
Three words of explanation are all that's needed: global climate change.

Mobile technology and applications
Seventy million people are playing FarmVille. You can check in at the airport with a boarding pass on your mobile phone. Soon you'll deposit checks by scanning them with a mobile device. Landline phones are heading toward swift extinction. Mobile technology and social media present us with an incredible communications medium, but also a novel and new way to solve societal issues with apps and tools for public health, energy and aid. Being connected to the world brings us one step closer to changing the world.

Some of our society's greatest problems require problem-solving in the form of new businesses and careers. It's remarkable to think that you can change the world by simply deciding what you want to do when you grow up.

About Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, which he built into a leading brand known for its authenticity, transparency, and progressive business practices. For more than 25 years, he has helped millions of Americans make green and ethical product choices, beginning with his bestselling book, How to Make the World a Better Place, a Beginner's Guide. He went on to author five additional books, including The Responsibility Revolution and Planet Home. He is a board member of Greenpeace US and Verite and also co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council. Please visit www.jeffreyhollender.com to learn more and visit Jeffrey's blog. He can also be found on Twitter (@jeffhollender) and on Facebook.