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An Economy Inspired by Nature
Business models for the 21st century
The Red Economy In the ordinary market economy entrepreneurs and industries focus on one “core business” This means that it is one niche product that absorbs all the attention. The logic of a unique core competence requires low production costs, monocultures to scale up, out-sourcing and eliminating labour to produce more of the same. All progress is measured in cash-flow and companies depend on banks in order to invest in production. The core business mentality is a high risk game and that risk is only reduced by working in a globalized economy. This is the “Red Economy”- it takes from nature, it takes from humanity and the commons. It becomes more evident by the day that the dominant economy is morally and financially broken and has no future what so ever. In the dominant system if you have social or environmental concerns your business can’t survive, your communities are eradicated and massive unemployment and poverty are guaranteed. The original idea was the optimal allocation of resources but we messed up completely. Maybe we are able to consume things at comparatively low prices but effectively most things that we can opt for in a supermarket are low in quality as well – its all junk. The Green Economy Over the last decade many new ideas emerged for green technologies, renewable energies and alternative production methods and materials. Unfortunately in most cases the focus has only been on a single advantage and the effects on whole systems were ignored. For example using palm oil for the production of biodegradable soaps in Europe led to the destruction of primary rainforests in Indonesia. Similarly a growing consumption of shiitake mushrooms, as a delicious and vegetarian substitute for animal protein, has increased the logging of Chinese oak trees to grow them on.
The Green Economy is a step in the right direction but is it also a practicable alternative to the dominant business model? Finally solving a problem in one place while creating problems elsewhere is no option if we aim at harmonizing our relationship with the planet.
The Green Economy also requires bigger investments from companies in order to achieve a little bit more in efficiency or a little bit less of pollution. It is also more costly for consumers to buy green and it only works for the rich. In this commercialized world we came to accept that everything which is good and healthy for you is the much more expensive. But does it really have to be that way for a sustainable economy to function? Paying more was already challenging during times of economic growth. It is a solution that has little chance in a time of economic downturn like we live in today. Green products often depend on subsidies and again this means that the Green Economy is no good candidate for the future economy.
Gunter Pauli was one of the icons of the green economy until on a trip Indonesia he found out what the production of his bio-soaps caused to the forests of Indonesia. After this traumatic experience he decided to stop his business and started working on a whole range of innovative projects. For 12 years Pauli immersed into intensive studies and research
always on the quest to develop new models of production that are inspired by nature. The outcome of his reflections during that period is astonishing. It is a visionary approach for new business models that contribute to the rehabilitation of society and the environment. Gunter calls it The Blue Economy and his main inspiration was the scientist and systems thinker Fritjof Capra - who is a founding member of The Center for Ecoliteracy. He was also inspired by the blue colour of our planet, the water and the sky. Gunter summarized his 12 years of research in a report for the Club of Rome called “The Blue Economy – 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 million jobs”. When Gunter closed his eyes he could easily see how 100 million new jobs were created without a problem. The problem was that nobody else could see it, so for him there was only one response and that was to make it happen. Now there are a hundred model that target on all of the millennium development goals.
The Blue Economy It all began as a project to find one hundred of the best nature-inspired technologies that could affect the economies of the world and sustainably providing for all basic human needs. The Blue Economy tackles issues that cause environmental problems in new ways by connecting environmental problems with open-source scientific solutions. Nature can easily be decompose all materials and transform them at low temperatures and low pressure. Water is the all-round solvent and carbon materials can be reused in a never ending series of life cycles. That is just one example why instead of using much chemistry most of the technologies and methods in the Blue Economy are based on physical processes that are spread widely throughout the natural world. As indicated by all natural systems Pauli’s models cover a number very different processes and smoothly weave them together in production systems that can restore the environment, provide many jobs, enhance skills and produce high quality and cheap products. The Blue Economy creatively works with what is available and aims at catalyzing a shift from scarcity to abundance. The Blue Economy approach: Through the ZERI Foundation a worldwide alliance of scientists, inventors and creative minds work towards the common goal of indentifying technical solutions that become the open source basis of the Blue Economy. ZERI (Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives) was
established with its sole objective to implement pioneering cases that could demonstrate a scientifically feasible and economically viable model of production and consumption. ZERI’s design principles are modelled after the natural world and get many insights from the relationships that exist between “the 5 kingdoms of life” (bacteria, algae, plants, animals and fungi). New solutions are showcased to young and open minded entrepreneurs to equip them with business models that are creating multiple cash flows and that accelerate our transition from a product-based economy to a system-based economy.
Cascading Nutrients and Energy The central idea of The Blue Economy is the concept of cascading nutrients and energy. A cascade is a waterfall. It requires no power because it flows with the force of gravity. It transports nutrients between the 5 biological kingdoms where all absorbed minerals feed the microorganisms, which further feed the plants which the animals eat. The “waste” of one living being becomes nourishment for another.
Nature prefers to work with the unchangeable laws of physics. And nature has good reasons to do so because it has the advantage that no external energy inputs are required. Cascading nutrients and energy lead to sustainability because they reduce or eliminate the need for
energy and also eliminate waste and its cost. Not just the cost that is created by pollution but the costs that arise from the inefficient use of all resources.
These same principles are becoming new standards in the Blue Economy. And they will not be easy to beat. Well designed systems are so efficient that they can even out-compete Chinese production methods - with the only difference that people and environment are benefitting.
In nature nothing is done for one reason only Waste is regarded a precious resource and with creative thinking it can be used to create multiple enterprises from singular ones. The Blue Economy aims at creating decentralized clusters of various industries that today are unrelated and work separately. Production will be redesigned with respect to the flow of cascading nutrients to create multiple cash flows and millions of jobs. All kind of technical innovations in energy generation, construction, food production and processing are aiming at no less than zero pollution while trying to benefit the commons such as air, water and soil fertility as well. The Blue Economy shows us that by aligning production schemes with natural material flows many problems of social and environmental degradation can be overcome. The elimination of waste represents the ultimate solution to problems with pollution. And for governments the full use of raw materials creates new industries, more employment and income while raising productivity. An international community of companies, innovators and scientists support the concept, and provide open source access to develop, implement and share prosperous business models that aim at regenerating ecosystems and improving quality of life. Ideally the best and most healthy products should be the cheapest and further envisioned is an economy that can provide all of our basic human needs for free. An economy of abundance. In order to get there Zeri begins with educating the next generation of ecological entrepreneurs, scientists and citizens starting from early in their childhood. ZERI members are now laying the foundation for introducing children all around the world to nature’s genius and its capability to innovate, finding solutions and adapting to always changing and evolving environments. Members explore the deep science in the workings of nature to teach them especially through children stories and fables that make them reflect being curious.
Business models for the 21st century
To achieve true economic sustainability processes need to be linked into whole systems
A showcase example of the Blue Economy is a model where “waste” biomass from coffee – (also tea and beer) is used as the growing medium for nutrient rich shiitake mushrooms. The spent substrate that remains after the mushrooms are harvested is used as a proteinrich feed for the livestock. The animals manure, inoculated with bacteria, generates biogas in a digester. The slurry that is released from the digester becomes the nutrient source for algae farming; and the residual water accelerates the growth of plankton which the fish can feed on. That is a good example of cascading nutrient cycles and multiple cash flows. After making a cup of coffee this resource is usually regarded as useless and thrown away. Today’s consumption pattern of coffee only makes use of a shameful 0.2% of the value of coffee that could be exploited. This is a potential 500% increase. In the Blue Economy coffee can prove us its real power by growing shiitake 3 times faster than on oak, at a 10th of the production cost and with the potential to lift 50 million coffee farmers out of poverty. A coffee bean makes up only 5% of the coffee “cherry”. The rest is pulp and ‘grounds’ and millions of tons of it get wasted. That is why the “Pulp to Protein Project” became
a major initiative of ZERI. The new mission is to recover these rich and abundant raw materials and turn them into proteins to fight malnutrition.
We could produce 50 Million tonnes of high quality food only by using today’s coffee waste. That is 50% of all fish-farming globally and by adding tea waste we would produce 100%. In one year 100 companies were founded who adopted this model only in Colombia (with an average investment of $25,000). This model is an exciting opportunity for peasants who might be able to send their children to school if they can be provided with ways to become part of the Blue Economy. Once the mushrooms have removed the caffeine from the coffee pulp and grounds they become suitable as animal feed. In turn, the additional feed would provide the peasants with more milk and meat which means that they become more selfreliant. If the waste from the animals is used to harvest biogas for cooking you get a sense of the positive impacts that a well designed system can have on a peasant’s life. Gunter Pauli describes this process as the upcycling of resources because the byproducts of one process are becoming fine nutrients for the next one. Hundreds of villages in Africa and many schools in India have been trained to grow mushrooms this way. The mushroom farms in Africa are run 98% by women. This is just one example of many that already exist – and there are many more still to be invented. Examples can be drawn from the most different sectors of industry with mind blowing results and all are waiting to be implemented by innovative & young entrepreneurs. In Brazil a coal fire power plant is now fighting malnutrition the city of Belo Horizonte. Children get healthy thanks to coal power stations. How can this be possible? Only if CO2 isn’t seen as a problem anymore but as an opportunity. Its only a problem as long as you don’t know what to do with it. Here is how the magic works - The CO2 is being channelled into a cool water tank that was already built into the pre-existing infrastructure. There the CO2 promoted the growth of spirulina which is a highly nutritious algae that now can be provided to all schools of Belo Horizonte for free. So much spirulina is being produced that there is an excess of it even after giving it away. This overproduction is being converted into biofuels or textiles as well and the leftovers of the process can be used in as a high grade natural skin care. As a byproduct 35 Masters and 7 doctorates have been achieved. Further projects include the production of bio-plastics from weeds and organic farm wastes sustainable and competitive small scale fishing with special sailing boats the use of piezo-electricity (from) gravity to generate all energy required in a building reforestation and water regeneration by holistic approaches restoration of forests topsoil though integrated systems production of high quality building materials from recycled glass making roof tiles from recycled plastics with inbuilt solar cells that are 5 times more efficient and that provide cold temperature and eliminating the need for a refrigerator water filtration by using the vortex and the list goes on and on and on , , ,
All case studies slowly get published and we can already await many more surprises that the creative minds of the The Blue Economy are holding for us in the future.
More information and the Book “The Blue Economy” by Gunter Pauli can be accessed at New Paradigm/The Blue Economy
"Ultimately, our civilization will survive if we are able to emulate nature. - The Blue Economy illuminates the way." Lester E. Brown, President - World Watch Institute
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