Fast Company

WORLD CHANGING IDEAS

Visionary entrepreneurs and companies are inventing new solutions to some of today’s most pressing challenges. Ten highlights from this year’s WCI Awards.

PUTTING OUT THE FIRE

These 10 World-Changing Ideas were designed to address intractable problems and urgent crises.

Buckminster Fuller, arguably the patron saint of world-changing ideas, has a single, inscrutable phrase carved on his gravestone: “Call me Trimtab.” As the legendary inventor and thinker explained in a 1972 Playboy interview, “There’s a tiny thing on the edge of the [boat’s] rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all.” Any idea, in other words, however small, can eventually nudge us in a new direction.

This year’s World-Changing Ideas honorees are all trim tabs. Presenting ingenious solutions to some of our gravest challenges, they offer ways to change our course, putting us all on a better trajectory.

At a moment when the world is quite literally burning, we need bold ideas. Pick almost any area of our economy or environment and it’s easy to find a statistic suggesting that we’re already at a crisis point. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have just 12 years to stop a devastating rise in the planet’s temperature. We put 8 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean every year. Forty percent of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense.

The innovations you’ll read about in the pages that follow are poised to address these crises and more. Edible chopsticks, for example, fight deforestation and reduce waste. Increased access to bankruptcy protection, an incredibly beneficial financial tool that’s too often out of reach for those who can’t afford lawyers, helps low-income Americans overcome financial hardship. An elegant 30-story structure uses basic physics to capture and store renewable energy in a way that is both less expensive and better for the environment. An emergency-call app, created by two teenage siblings in Georgia, offers quick help to the mentally ill. One major company’s open-sourced invention enables people who can’t use their hands to navigate the web; another is making it simple to convert any existing diesel-powered truck into an electric one.

Large corporations have remarkable power, especially at a time when so many governments refuse to

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