By now, we're all accustomed to hearing about the big ideas that'll change our planet for the better: one million electric vehicles on the United States' roads by 2015 will help us "win the future," ethanol derived from algae will save the world, the desalination of seawater will help create carbon-neutral energy. These big, exciting ideas get plenty of attention from politicians and media.
But, sometimes, it pays to think small. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the ones that'll have the biggest impact on our planet and its people. Clayton Christensen explores this concept in his groundbreaking book, The Innovator's Dilemma. He writes about "good enough" solutions that disrupt current market or technological forces -- not because they're so superbly complex, but because they're quite the opposite. They're simply good enough to meet new consumer demands; which, in turn, makes them even better.
Each day, we at BBMG work with eco-minded companies of all sizes; one company we've fallen head-over-heels for is Nuru Energy, which operates on one small, practical idea: A single task light can create a much bigger impact on an individual's life than, say, bringing solar power to an entire region. Nuru means light in Swahili, and the company aims to bring power to the people at the base of the pyramid, including rural East Africa, one of the last regions of the world off the electrical grid. The company makes rechargeable LED lights designed to displace the more prevalent and dangerous kerosene lanterns still used in the developing world (it's a modern twist on the concept of appropriate technology).
LED task lights are safer, environmentally cleaner, and more affordable than kerosene. And they're more reliable than solar power because they'll work long after the sun goes down. This means mothers win back hours in their day to complete essential household chores and improve their families' quality of life. And that school children aspiring to a brighter future can continue to study and learn at night.
Also tackling power issues in sub-Saharan Africa by thinking small -- in both size and scope -- is sOccket, a company whose soccer ball generates three hours of electricity after 15 minutes of playing the world's most popular sport (see TDG's review of sOccket).
Small, consciousness-shifting ideas are all around us. There's the hotel made from recycled sewer pipes or the idea that, for three days, one of New York City's poshest avenues should be for bikes, not cars. Or, mobile-based software that helps small businesses in developing countries easily track sales and expenses.
These ideas may seem small and simple from the outside; but that's part of their appeal. Small ideas are helping inspire creative thinking in all areas of human existence; and helping small-minded changemakers achieve grand things.
Mirm Kriegel is senior vice president at BBMG, a brand-innovation firm that focuses on sustainability.
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