Making the Impossible, Possible

When I was still studying at university in the early 2000s, gene therapy was described as the ‘magic bullet’. It was considered a fantasy that scientists were continually pursuing, despite their constant failures. Fast forward almost 20 years and today, gene therapy has become recognised part of our lives, as a well-known strategy to fight Covid-19. 

Moreover, we don’t have to be scientists to now understand what RNA is and how it can insert itself in our genetic material to help produce an immune response to the virus. 

This breakthrough has been possible by scientific advancement, but also because of the urgent need for solutions to a pandemic that practically halted our lives. This sense of urgency, combined with a shared mission embraced by scientists and governments around the world, has made the impossible possible.

It is now widely accepted that our planet is in danger and that, if we don’t act now, our children will face a crisis a hundred times more serious than the Covid-19 one.  Similar circumstances, different enemy.

A global problem needs global solutions, many of which will come from large companies but whose responsibility will fall on everybody’s shoulders.

To shift the balance towards sustainability, everyone needs to change, from multinationals to small businesses, from world leaders to the traditional consumer. 

Multi-trillion company BlackRock has vowed to making sustainability a key component of the way they manage risk, construct portfolios, design products, and engage with companies.  Due to the scale of their operations (they are the world’s largest asset manager) their impact will be transformational.

Scotland is at the forefront of this energy transition with companies such as SSE committing to trebling their renewable energy output by 2030. Great Britain just celebrated a record day over Easter when sun and wind generated 60% of all electricity. 

Scotland fares very well in the renewable energy front. Provisional figures from the Scottish Government indicate that in 2020 the equivalent of 97.4% of Scotland’s electricity consumption was from renewable sources. 

But to achieve the very ambitious target set by the First Minister, which is for Scotland to become a net zero economy by 2045, innovators from all sectors need to come to the fore.

Scotland’s universities are playing a key role in the race to accelerate Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy. Academic entrepreneurs in particular, have demonstrated they have the necessary skills, ambition and ethos to turn this global challenge into an opportunity to reinvent our future.  

These innovators have been applying their skills and problem-solving attitude to helping tackle massive problems such as waste management and energy consumption. Great examples are Kenoteq, making bricks made from construction waste, or SolarisKit, developing the first flat-packable, low-cost solar thermal collector that converts sunlight directly into hot water. 

And this is why Converge, Scotland’s national company creation programme dedicated to the University network, is sharpening its focus on the Net Zero mission. More and more environmentally conscious entrepreneurs are coming forward with highly scalable and impactful technologies with huge potential to accelerate the race to Net Zero.  

2021 has been scarred by Covid-19, its devastating effects on the thousands of lives that have been lost, and sadly, businesses are on their knees, but we still have an opportunity to change the narrative. With COP26 fast approaching, this year hosted in Glasgow, 2021 can be the year of change. We can bring about a second chance to build a world based on a different premise, where sustainability permeates every aspect of our life and profit & purpose are no longer on opposite sides.

I am hopeful that with global leaders, policy makers, businesses and entrepreneurial thinkers gathering under one roof, we will be able to turn this dream, something that 20 years ago was considered a fantasy, into a reality.  

This article, written by Converge Director, Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, first appeared in The Scotsman on Thursday 29 April