Imagine having to take a week off school because you have your period, or needing to make a choice between spending your last dollar on electricity for your home or food for your family. For millions of people, these are the daily realities of a life lived in the cogs of chronic, systemic and seemingly intractable global problems.

I waiver somewhere between rage, frustration, wild optimism and complete hopelessness when I think too hard about how we go about solving these problems – and thinking too hard about it is a big part of my job, so my weeks can be quite the emotional rollercoaster.

It’s also a big part of my job to help change this story of systemic challenges. When we face a world full of problems, when we fight from the negative, when we focus only on what we need to fix and not what we need to create… Then, we lose something really special – our imagination.

But every year, the incredible team at Sustainia does something which fires my imagination. Today, we’re launching the fifth edition of the Sustainia100, a publication which gathers together 100 solutions we think have the ability to create a cleaner, greener, fairer future for us all. I can tell you right now, finding 100 fantastic solutions is not a problem, but picking them out of the thousands we come across is. To date, we’ve worked through more than 4,500 solutions, ranging from computer servers as home-heating systems to shoes made from pineapples (yes, really) this year alone. There is no shortage of innovative responses to systemic challenges, to the extent that talking about the Sustainia100 is a bit of a misnomer – there’s no upper limit on where our imagination can take us. 

Last week, as I read through this year’s crop of incredible solutions just before we hit the print button – and thinking too hard about those intractable global problems again – I was struck by something. For too long, the word ‘systemic’ has evoked a world of problems, when we talk about things like systemic corruption or systemic poverty. But systemic simply refers to something that reaches a whole system, such as a body, an environment, an economy, or society as a whole. So this is how we’re changing the story of systemic challenges; we’re going to start talking about systemic opportunity instead. 

Systemic opportunity simply means that we look for the connections between problems and use them to our advantage as we shape the responses. I was struck by how many of the solutions we highlight this year address more than one of the global goals, such as the sanitary towels made from biodegradable papyrus which address good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, and decent work. That’s a lot of systemic opportunity from one sanitary towel. Imagine what we could do if we looked at every problem this way?

We don’t have the luxury of time to meet the global goals, but we do have the luxury of readily available solutions. The 2016 Sustainia100 is your jumping off point into a world of opportunity. I hope it fires your imagination as much as it fires mine. 

Sustainia’s mission is to help international companies, organisations and local governments shape and explore new sustainable market places. In everything we do, we strive to benefit people, profit and planet. You can freely download the 2016 Sustainia100 and find out more at www.sustainia.me

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

Comment