This summer I had the privilege of participating in the Climate Change & Impact on Health & Innovation panel at Boston GreenFest. Speakers included Dr. Nahid Bhadelia
, Dr. Joslin Ross, Keri Layton
, Ivy Lawson
, and Kristine Jelstrup. Ambereen Mirza moderated the session.
Given our varied backgrounds—doctors, entrepreneurs, technology and wellness professionals—the conversation was diverse and educational.
We learned that over the past century, the number of new infectious diseases has nearly quadrupled
each year, and the number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled
. In the United States alone, we've seen more than a dozen new human diseases
appear over the last 25 years.
While the population continues to increase, the size of the planet remains the same. Scientists predict the global population will rise to 9.7 billion people
by 2050. This population explosion means climate change and human migration to urban settings will give rise to a new era of infectious diseases that will threaten global health security, according to experts.
We also learned toxins are becoming the leading cause of learning disabilities, birth defects, and infertility. In addition, we learned about honey and its healing power—another hot topic among the audience.
As I was listening to the experts sharing not-so-positive predictions, I couldn't help but think of all the innovations and cures our researchers and entrepreneurs are discovering and investing in to solve a myriad of challenges, from curing diseases to helping the aging population.
So, I decided to focus on happier news to keep the conversation positive.
Here is some of what I shared with the participants, as well as thoughts that were passing through my mind sitting on the panel.
Personal Challenges Drive Innovation
Since I worked at established tech companies and startups, it's easy to see why innovation is often the result of wanting to solve personal, social, or business-related challenges.
While watching Shark Tank
recently, I heard the founder of SureStop
say he was inspired to develop the brake technology after his grandfather flipped over the handlebar and broke his neck as he overapplied the front brake. So, they came up with the technology that prevents common, head-over-handlebar accidents. Now, they have Mark Cuban helping them grow their business and make bikes safer.
Dr. Ed Damiano found out his son, David, had type 1 diabetes when he was 11 months old. Ed dedicated his career to finding a solution that would take care of his son before he goes off to college. The outcome was the bionic pancreas
, a wearable device that regulates blood sugar levels by automatically delivering precisely calibrated doses of insulin or glucagon every five minutes. Now, rather than he or his wife having to wake up every two to three hours to monitor David's blood sugar, they can rely on a device to take care of their son, and hundreds of other people with type 1 diabetes can rely on it, too.
Roboticist Joe Jones created the Tertill-a solar-powered robot that weeds gardens
—after he came back from a summer vacation only to find that weeds had overcome his garden. This robot patrols the garden daily and pulls out weeds automatically.
Companies such as iRobot, Amazon, IBM, and Dell focus on solving consumer and business challenges and making our personal and work lives easier.
Going Green is a Business Imperative, Not an Option
Customer demand is driving the need for eco-friendly and organic products, changing things from the way we educate our children to how businesses and cities work.
Local colleges and universities like Boston University have been offering green engineering courses so graduates are prepared to enter the business community and contribute to furthering the green revolution immediately.
Companies have realized the importance of supporting eco-friendly solutions. In fact, most major companies today have green initiatives to reduce the deleterious environmental impact on the planet and sustainability officers to ensure new products—from cleaning solutions to cars—promote sustainability. Even IT products, such as server farms and storage systems, have smaller footprints and consume less energy.
Cities are also becoming environmentally friendly due to the implementation of smart technologies that minimize energy use and reduce the carbon footprint. In fact, Greater Boston is now one of the top ten greenest cities
in the country. How cool is that?
Finally, consumers are much more conscious about what they eat, driving the demand for organic products. In fact, organic food sales in the United States reached $40 billion in 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association.
The Aging Population Can Live More Independently
As more and more seniors prefer to live independently, innovators and scientists are finding better solutions for our aging population. Nearly 90% of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
Here are some examples of technologies that seniors are taking advantage of while giving their families peace of mind:
Personal Alert Devices:
There is a variety of emergency pendants for seniors, should they fall or need medical help. All they have to do is press a button, and help arrives.
For seniors living alone, caregivers can strategically place sensors in rooms that indicate whether the person in the house is moving around or has opened the fridge at designated times. Families can use that information to know their loved ones are fine.
Medicine Dispensers and Alerts:
There is a variety of medical dispensers to remind seniors when it's time to take their pills, as well as prevent them from over-medicating themselves.
There are many more technologies, including robots that can help the aging population with things from taking out the garbage, to serving as companions.
There's still a lot we need to worry about, from the impact of climate change and more deadly diseases to health issues and challenges of aging. For now, 'd prefer to embrace the good news that people are working hard to create new technologies that make lives better—for us and for our children.
What do you think?
Parna Sarkar-Basu is a corporate marketing strategist and founder of Brand and Buzz Marketing. Leveraging her two passions—technology and brand building—Parna has an innate skill of simplifying the complex and elevating companies to new heights. Recipient of multiple awards, Parna serves as a strategic advisor to CEOs and founders. She collaborates with them on a variety of engagements from launching companies and products to reputation management and thought leadership. Companies that have benefited from Parna's expertise include Kaminario, iCorps Technologies, iRobot, Invention Machine (acquired by IHS), and PTC.
A champion of STEM education and innovation, Parna is the WITI Boston Network Executive Advisor and serves on the board of South Shore Innovation. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.