The Science Speaks blog series offers a deep dive into science, technology, and innovation topics on the minds of the public. The series explains focal topics through relatable analogies and asks readers to consider key opportunities, explore avenues for advancing gender equity and equality, and answer the ultimate question: Why should we care?
In 2009, a new reality television show invited audiences to watch brave entrepreneurs pitch their best ideas to venture capitalists in the hopes of securing a coveted investment. More than a decade later (and still on the air), Shark Tank has catalyzed over 500 business deals, attempting to launch products across a number of industries. Given my curiosity about TV production (see here), I sometimes wonder how Shark Tank would change if it emphasized a green economy.
A green economy aims to simultaneously facilitate economic growth and sustainable, inclusive development (including gender inclusivity), all while reducing environmental degradation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this includes implementing low-carbon production and distribution practices and emphasizing efficient, responsible use of natural resources and ecosystem services. On Shark Tank, successful deals related to insect protein snacks, plant-based cleaning supplies, or reusable dry-cleaning bags would seem to qualify. Myriad sectors—ranging from buildings, transportation, and tourism, to agriculture, energy, and forestry—and all people have a place in a green economy.
For Shark Tank to implement a green economy lens, its investors would need to make deals with far more women entrepreneurs, who, on the show, have historically received smaller investments, ceded more equity in their companies, and walked away with smaller valuations than their male counterparts. Plus, the show’s production team would need to feature more women entrepreneurs to begin with, as more than half of the entrepreneurial teams in the show’s lengthy run have been exclusively comprised of men.
A green economy’s emphasis on social sustainability (alongside environmental) can empower women, girls, and individuals from vulnerable communities as entrepreneurs or producers. However, achieving that goal means proactively eliminating barriers to their participation. This includes ensuring land rights, financial capital (from Shark Tank or elsewhere), and education and training needed to launch entrepreneurial projects or secure rapidly expanding green jobs (the latter of which is particularly important since many of those jobs will exist in traditionally male-dominated sectors, like energy or telecommunications).
But supply chain producers are not the only ones with a role to play. Consumers can select products with small environmental footprints (think low water consumption or reduced emissions) and socially responsible supply chains (like those that support workers’ rights). Luckily, a slew of standards—and associated labels—exist to guide consumers to those products, should they choose to purchase them. In fact, since women are more likely to buy household products, most green varieties are marketed towards women, who also happen to favor purchasing recyclable and energy-efficient items in the first place. As such, women around the world are also helping to usher in a green economy as consumers.
While working towards a green economy (in life or on reality TV) may sound like a lofty goal, there are many reasons to do so. From a bottom-line perspective, companies that can promote sustainable, responsible practices are often rewarded by customers at check-out, and making strides toward gender equality increases GDP. From a resilience perspective, communities that implement a green economy are expected to be more resistant to economic shocks and better able to address and mitigate the effects of climate change.
These environmental and social outcomes are not just associated with a green economy; they are also reflected throughout the efforts of the U.S. Government. At the State Department, women’s economic empowerment is a foreign policy priority advanced through investment, financing, and partnerships—global and domestic, public and private. We advocate for women’s meaningful participation in all sectors of the economy, encourage women in leadership positions, and support women’s fight for quality jobs and social protections. For example, POWER is a program that helps establish and support entrepreneurial ecosystems, professional networks, trade opportunities, and partnerships between the U.S. private sector and women entrepreneurs abroad. Other federal agencies are facilitating , development, and innovation in various green (and blue) economy sectors, including , , and more.
You don’t have to be an investor on Shark Tank to influence the environmental and social sustainability of supply chains. How could your actions advance the green economy?
About the Author: Aubrey R. Paris, Ph.D., is a Gender, Climate & Innovation Policy Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), which is actively developing policy strategies and outreach opportunities to ensure the leadership of women and girls in developing solutions to climate change. Dr. Paris received her Ph.D. in Chemistry and Materials Science from Princeton University and B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from Ursinus College.