In this article, we take a look at the 20 most important companies in the world. You can skip our detailed analysis of the existential problems the world faces and go directly to the 10 Most Important Companies in the World.
Humanity is an 8-billion-strong resource-hungry species that is at a critical point in its history, and is unsustainable in its current trajectory, facing many existential problems all at once.
The Climate Threat
By far, the most dire problem is climate change, which is changing earth’s environment at a pace that is too fast for the biosphere to adapt. Nearly one-third of animal and plant life is already projected to go extinct by 2100 due to human activity like eradication of forests, which not only sustain wildlife, but also act as natural carbon sinks, and are critical for the mitigation of climate change.
The IPCC estimates that the world will need to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 to keep temperatures 1.5℃ below pre-industrial levels, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, like irreversible self-reinforcing feedback loops.
However, IPCC climate estimates have often been criticized for being a little far too conservative, resulting in climate realities almost always arriving earlier than expected and being far worse than expected.
To prevent the worst, fossil fuels will have to be phased out in absolute terms as fast as possible, but the global economy is too dependent on them that their share in the global energy mix reduced by just 0.1% during 2009-2019.
It is because clean energy sources like wind, solar and hydro lack the energy density needed to run a complex civilization like ours at scale, with nuclear power having problems of its own. In this respect, fusion energy is the only viable alternative, but so far, remains elusive.
Agricultural Crisis: A Malthusian Catastrophe in the Making
Humanity’s agricultural practices are also unsustainable, with 40% of the global land having become too degraded for productive yields and 90% of the global topsoil further at risk by the next 30 years, per the UN analyses.
This is leading to a decline in agricultural yield. However, the human population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, which is projected to increase demand for food by 59% to 98%. But, based on the World Resources Institute estimates, agricultural production needs to increase by a whopping 50% by that time to sustain the 2050 population. On the current trajectory, it is increasingly looking like a disaster waiting to happen.
Resource extraction rate has more than tripled over the past 50 years, and is responsible for 90% of the water stress, per the Global Resources Outlook of 2019. Humans are already consuming resources 1.8 times faster than earth’s regeneration rate, and the UN estimates that consumption will only increase on the present trajectory by 75% in 2050.
But resource constraints other than crops are already a pressing problem. However, it's not that earth is running out of resources, it's that the low hanging fruit is gone and extraction of a number of essential non-renewable resources is near to becoming cost prohibitive.
For example, the average cost for production capacity of a ton of copper was $4,000-$5,000 in the year 2000. As of 2022, it is $44,000, far outpacing inflationary pressures between the same period. One of the core reasons for this, as it turns out, is copper’s declining ore grade. Further, aluminum and iron are set to follow the same route.
One of the arguments against resource constraint from neoclassical economics is that shortage of non-renewable resources can, in most cases, be dealt with substitutes, and while there is credence to the argument, it is not automatically true.
In this respect, a PNAS study tried to find substitutes for 62 metals. The authors found that 12 of the metals had no substitutes for their major applications and none of the 62 metals had any substitutes that could cover all their applications.
Apart from that, overconsumption of resources without efficient recycling is also contributing to waste piling up, especially in the oceans, where plastic waste could increase by 50 times by the turn of the century, risking extinction of countless marine species, which are already under pressure from climate-induced ocean acidification.
An Ace in the Hole
As we’ve noted above, the cost for resource-extraction is spiking. It could mean enduring upward price pressures for consumers, which could cripple the global economy in the long run. It is in addition to the persistent inflationary pressures expected due to an aging population.
In this respect, many companies around the world are trying to solve these problems through technological innovation, from working on solving fusion energy at economies of scale, to capturing atmospheric carbon, to cleaning oceans, to unlocking space, to solving sustainable agriculture.
We’d be discussing the 20 most important companies for the future of earth and human civilization.
Photo by Dev Benjamin on Unsplash
We have defined the ‘20 most important companies in the world’ as ones that are engaged in solving existential problems to human civilization and earth’s ecosystem, and have promising R&D to their credit.
These do not necessarily include the most profitable companies, or the largest corporations, but only the companies that are solving the most crucial problems in the world.
In that order, we have looked at various sources for our company selection criteria. For instance, we’ve consulted the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers reports of the past 10 years, as well as other sources to identify companies engaged in solving problems that threaten the planet and its ecosystem, and the economy and human civilization.
We then selected top 20 companies that have strong R&D credentials in their respective domains and are well funded. Finally, we ranked them in ascending order of importance of the work they are doing based on our research and in light of the problems they are solving. We have sourced the data for their funding from CrunchBase.
Here are the 20 most important companies in the world:
20. Blue Origin
Blue Origin is a space exploration company founded by Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin’s stated goals are to reduce emissions by taking industries like mining away from earth by unlocking space at scale, through full and rapid rocket reusability.
To date, Blue Origin has raised a total of $167.4 million in funding over three venture capital rounds. NASA and the US Space Force are two of the biggest investors in the company.
19. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)
Semiconductors are the backbone of computing, which, in turn, is the backbone of the global economy. However, the chip density is reaching its physical threshold and that could be consequential for the computing industry, but TSMC, which has over 60% share of the foundry industry as of 2022, is innovating to keep the trend going.
TSMC is tackling it by following three approaches. These include a tighter integration of memory and logic, ongoing transistor technology advancements, and 3d stacking. The company is set to begin mass-producing 2nm chips by 2025.
18. First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR)
First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) has 44 hedge funds invested in it as of Q4, 2022, with the top ones being Citadel Investment Group and D E Shaw. It is a US-based manufacturer of solar panels, and provides panel recycling services as well. Solar panels suffer from considerable levels of inefficiency, with the average efficiency for present-day panels being 15-18%.
However, First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) achieved 22.1% of energy efficiency in experimental settings in 2016, with the company’s R&D teams projecting an efficiency of 25% by 2025, and pathway to 28% efficiency by 2030 for its Cadmium Telluride PV solar cells.
First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) is a leader in terms of solar energy scalability, with modules retaining over 89% of their original performance after 30 years, per the company’s claims.
OpenAI dominates the landscape of transformers-based AI language models, with GPT-3 being the most powerful proprietary model in its arsenal. One of the ways its access has been given to the public is through ChatGPT, which has proved to be a disruptive application, especially in relation to search engines.
GPT is expected to speed-up learning, text-based office tasks like white papers, knowledge assistance, coding and other tasks. In addition, open AI pioneered the scaling hypothesis in its language models, by creating bigger models feeding on more data, to get the more complex and diverse behavior out of its models.
In this respect, GPT-3 is one of the closest models to true AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), the holy grail of AI, thought to be as transformative as was the invention of wheel.
16. Apeel Sciences
The World Food Programme estimates that about 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year, which comprises one-third of the total produce, and costs the global economy $1 trillion. Most of it is lost due to the short shelf life of many edibles.
In this respect, Apeel Sciences is one of the most important companies in the world. It has innovated a method that can double the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables. The company’s proprietary solution is plant-based edible coating that promotes longer shelf life for many edible items.
Further, the company has been able to triple the shelf life of many food items experimentally. Apeel has so far raised $0.7 billion in funding and among its top investors are funds like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
15. Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)
Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) made a name for itself for the first FDA-approved Covid vaccine. It is now working with the same mRNA technology to develop a universal vaccine for Influenza, commonly known as the flu. In September, 2022, Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) announced the phase 1 clinical trial of the mRNA-based influenza vaccine.
Flu jabs typically have an average efficacy rate of 50%, per the CDC, with sometimes the rate being as low as 10%, due to varying viral strains. This is why influenza is endemic, killing, on average, 0.65 million people every year, as per WHO.
AeroFarms, a US-based agritech corporation, is one of the most important companies in the world in the vertical farming industry. It uses its own patented aeroponic system for crop production, using 95% less water.
The company has raised enough capital to be valued at nearly $1 billion, given its valuation of $500 million after a $100 million investment round in 2019, with $317 million coming in the first quarter of 2021.
AeroFarms has several top investors and partners, with the Saudi Public Investment Fund being one of the most notable ones. The Saudi Public Investment Fund has signed a joint venture with Aerofarms to build vertical farming infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
13. Mint Innovations
Mint Innovations is one of the highlights in the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Technology Pioneers. The company is based in New Zealand, and provides low cost and sustainable biorefineries for recovery and recycling of metals like copper, lithium, palladium and cobalt from a variety of waste products.
Mint Innovations mills waste material to the consistency of sand and then uses its proprietary chemistry to recover materials like gold, platinum and palladium, and recovers materials like copper using the traditional electrochemical process.
The chemicals the company uses for resource recovery are also recycled, with the entire recovery process being low cost and low carbon. Mint Innovations has raised $37.3 million so far, with investors like Icehouse Ventures and Inspire Impact.
Space is not only hard, it's costly as well. Currently, only partial rocket reusability is effectively possible, with recovery and reuse of only the first rocket stage.
It demonstrates how cost-prohibitive space travel would be if it was frequent. Further, the timespan for the first stage’s reuse is not rapid currently either, taking roughly 60-70 days between recovery and reuse.
SpaceX has achieved partial reusability with its Falcon program, and is aiming to achieve full and rapid reusability with its Starship program. It means complete recovery of the first and second stage, as well a timespan of only 24 hours between recovery and reuse.
This is important in terms of accessing space at economies of scale, and which, in turn, is absolutely essential for goals like space mining to offset constraints on earth. Top investors in the company include NASA, Pentagon and US Space Force.
11. Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA)
It would be fair to argue that Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) has single handedly accelerated the global transition to electric vehicles. It was the first prominent mover in that direction and has come a long way since.
Although its market share is declining, as new players arrive in the EV sector, Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) still controls 57% of the US EV market. Apart from the EV industry, Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) is also prominent in the energy sector.
As of Q4, 2022, 91 hedge funds were invested in Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA), with the prominent ones being Citadel Investment Group and D E Shaw.
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Disclosure: none. 20 Most Important Companies in the World is originally published on Insider Monkey.