As Rule Breaking investors who buy companies with the potential to change the world, we must consistently ask ourselves, "What are the next large and lasting trends that will likely occur in our lives?"
I believe that we're moving out of one long and life-changing era and toward another. I believe that we're going to enter a new era of different priorities and perspectives. Within the next 10 years, the focus of our society should gradually begin to move in a new direction.
Sliding into a whole new era
Since 1945, the United States has experienced a monumental boom in industrialization, production, consumption and, with that, trash creation. Our country's focus for the past 56 years has been on increasing our production, consumption, and growing the economy. Meanwhile, the country's population has leapt, and it is expected to increase another 40% by 2050.
Following this enormous economic boom, within the next 10 years our society's focus is likely to turn toward creating renewable and sustainable business and living solutions for the country's expanding population and then for the world. We're going to need to focus on doing this in part because, according to the July National Geographic, "Humankind now uses one-third more resources than nature can sustainably replenish."
How we're living today is not sustainable as the population grows, and there isn't any reason we should want it to be -- it'd become a nightmare. We're already pushing the limits with the amount of pollution we put in the air (the nation's capital has suffered several "code red" air pollution days already this summer due largely to cars); we're pushing our limits with the amount of traffic that we tolerate; and we're pushing our limits with the amount of trash (in all forms) that we create.
Looking ahead, it's hard to imagine 40% more cars on the roads, polluting. It's possible to imagine more cars on the roads, however, if they're fuel cell or "smart" cars that run cleanly.
Then there is land. Urban sprawl is eating more and more land, until, although difficult to imagine, we'll reach boundaries and the expansion will end. Future growth in home sales will eventually result mainly from tearing down old homes and rebuilding, rather than tearing up open land. Today, though, we're watching sprawl spread, with several consequences.
Good-bye growth for growth's sake, hello smart and sustainable growth
Overall, I believe that in the next decade our mentality is going to shift from growth for growth's sake ("It's good for the economy!") to pursuing renewable, sustainable, and smart growth. We're going to think much more about what we're doing before we do it, because we'll already be surrounded by the consequences of less-than-thoughtful past decisions.
Companies that provide services and products related to renewable, sustainable growth while upholding our high standard of living without compromising our surroundings are going to be new market leaders. In fact, if North America has enough foresight and initiative, it could lead the entire world in developing renewable solutions of all kinds. If only we'd start in earnest now.
The economic engines that polluted the 1900s and pollute today will eventually be scorned -- just as the slaughterhouses of the 1800s were disgraced -- and public companies will be pushed to move to smarter, cleaner business practices and products. Such changes have been pushed in the past, to degrees, and they will be again to greater degrees. Some are already starting.
3M (NYSE: MMM) is just one company that has found that by reducing its pollutants, which are a form of inefficiency, it increases its productivity and profits. A cleaner economic engine is, in the long run, a stronger economic engine. (If politicians didn't have so many short-term interests affecting their decision-making they'd admit as much.)
A new investing era
As for our near term, I don't see any reason for the country's economy to boom again anytime soon. I believe that it will take longer for a recovery than many people project. Economists and analysts are still treating the recent 65% plummet in the Nasdaq as a mere road bump, rather than what it may actually signal: A new and extended down cycle. The economy usually moves in cycles, after all.
Of course, though, nobody knows what will happen. Maybe the hopeful analysts will prove correct and everything will perk up in the second half of this year. Or wait. They say mid-2002 now. Maybe.
No matter. As Rule Breakers, our goal is to find companies that will lead the world in the decades ahead in new and better directions. Over the next five years, we'll need to seriously consider or reconsider companies that offer things like fuel cell energy, both for cars and localized power, and biotech-enhanced food, which can lessen pollution in farming and food manufacturing while increasing crop yields with less land. In a nutshell, we'll need to seek companies that find new ways to make our businesses, homes, and lives much more efficient, renewable, and sustainable in every way. By doing so, new Rule Breakers will emerge. They must.
Nothing in the world is in indefinite supply -- not even shortsighted living driven by casual consumption. This era, too, will die.