Scientists from the next generation provide hope

Denny Collins
Rob and Melani Walton join the 2016 Walton Sustainability Solutions Award winners at the ASU Sustainability Solutions Celebration at the Desert Botanical Garden outside Phoenix, Arizona. 

As our third annual Sustainability Solutions Festival came to a close recently, I took a moment to reflect on the energy and momentum I absorbed from all of the incredible people I met — from the parents and children who spent the day at Arizona Science Center "reimagining" ways to live more sustainably to the accomplished leaders who offered their perspectives at GreenBiz 16.

The various events that took place over the course of the festival’s two weeks were all incredible opportunities to learn about global solutions to the challenges we face. But what I found even more inspiring was meeting the brilliant minds behind those ideas and listening to them to understand what drives them, motivates them and inspires them.

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This year alone, I had the chance to speak with Dame Ellen MacArthur, former record-setting solo sailor and now a pioneer of the "circular-economy" movement, as we announced our partnership in her namesake foundation’s international Circular Economy 100 network, a group working together to build the framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.

I also had the opportunity to hear from NASA’s legendary former chief climatologist Jim Hansen, who some consider to be the father of global climate change awareness, at our on-campus shadow conference, GreenBiz U.

While these visionary leaders continue to give me hope for the future, the young people I met lead me to trust that the future of our planet is in the hands of a generation fully capable of developing the innovation needed to put us on a more sustainable trajectory.

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I think, for example, about the winners of the 2015 Walton Sustainability Solutions Award at the world’s largest pre-college science competition, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). They attended the festival to share their approaches to the social, economic and environmental challenges we face.

These young scientists have created real-world solutions such as an early Ebola detection device that is faster, cheaper and more practical than the conventional solution; or a method of harvesting electrical energy from rainwater using a piezoelectric crystal tree; or a way to catalyze the natural breakdown of Styrofoam and produce a usable byproduct for fuel, medicine and agricultural applications.

It is so encouraging to see young people like these pushing themselves through research, experimentation and innovation to develop brilliant, viable solutions to issues that resonate with them and that also have positive global implications. Through their leadership, we can look forward to a future where health and well-being is assured for many generations.

Our hope is that events such as the Sustainability Solutions Festival, GreenBiz U and Intel ISEF will continue to illuminate pathways to new ideas and inspire interest in sustainability research and innovation among this remarkable generation of future leaders. I am truly excited to see what solutions are on the horizon, and what’s to come in the years beyond.

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