A few weeks ago I visited the Hoover Dam in the Nevada desert. Completed in 1935, the dam is a marvel of engineering, creating Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the U.S. – when it’s full. Its hydropower plant creates enough energy for 1.3 million people in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Lake Mead recorded its highest water level at 1,225 ft in 1983 — today it sits at 1,065 ft and falling. Receding water levels produce less pressure and electricity: below 950 feet the dam won’t produce electricity at all.

My visit to this beautiful place was a personal wake-up call. Living in the often rain-soaked Midwest I read about water shortages, but to experience it in person is another story. As we increasingly lean on sustainable energy resources such as hydropower, we are also experiencing droughts depriving us of a key power source. Water is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the world, with significant consequences. 

One of the main features in this issue of Signal360 is about plastics recycling – what happens after we diligently put plastics in our recycling bin at home. The most insightful fact from this story is that one single use water or soda bottle costs 1.4 gallons of water (3.8 liters) to produce – more than the amount that goes into the bottle.

Too often sustainability stories offer a macro view: how global warming is changing weather patterns, the need to reach a carbon neutral world, the impact of water shortages around the world, and how bio-diversity is important to keep nature in balance. But to make an impactful contribution we need to understand how our behavior is related to the big picture. We need more micro stories to illustrate the macro perspective. While we are certainly interested and passionate in the ‘greater good’ we are also motivated by ‘what’s in it for us.’

The silver lining of the times we are experiencing today is that it is a feeding ground for breakthrough sustainability innovation. The COVID-19 vaccines are a great example of what’s possible when we put our collective minds to work. It was facilitated by a whole new innovation approach by Flagship Pioneering, as explained by its CEO Noubar Afeyan during Signal ’21. Often seemingly small innovations, such as ‘ship-in-own-container’ packaging for e-commerce, can have a big impact on sustainability while meeting our desire for convenience at less cost. Increasingly investors such as Fred Wilson (founder of Union Square Ventures) are seeing investment opportunities in the urgency to act. As Fred indicates in his Signal Conversation, we have the tools but need more urgency and collective will to address the problems.

In this issue we also address ‘the Great Resignation,’ the unprecedented migration of people exploring new jobs and career opportunities. While conventional wisdom points to increased compensation as the main reason there is more to the story. People also want their work to be meaningful and inspired. Companies that make a difference in the environment and communities are more interesting and attractive places to work. 

April 22 is Earth Day. The theme this year is ‘Invest In Our Planet’, to build healthy cities, countries, businesses, and economies. It is a call for everyone to act. Our suggestion is to start by learning. Be curious about the world we live in. You’ll quickly discover new connections and ways to personally contribute. We’ll do our bit with Signal360 to make you smarter.

See you next month when we will announce our plans for Signal ’22 (July 13). 

Stan Joosten & John Battelle,

Editors-In-Chief, Signal360 / Co-founders, Signal P&G