Technologies and business models for a flourishing future
Do we have the tools to deliver sustainable consumption and production, and if we don't how can we build them?
Sustainability practitioners are exposed to a number of tools and approaches that they will be either increasingly familiar with, or else tired of hearing about. One is the circular economy, which has strong roots in Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle thinking and the concepts explored by Hawkins, Lovins & Lovins in Natural Capitalism.
The circular economy has been gaining ground as a model for sustainable production and as a set of tools that square the circle of inputs and outputs, maintaining access to those which are valuable in terms of scarcity, riskiness, sunk-cost or embodied resources (water, energy or materials).
Essentially, these models all seek to shift our notions of value away from a goal of delivering maximum revenue in the minimum possible time period towards the idea of delivering maximum utility over the longest possible period of time.
Those of us making the case for this objective in our current short-term economy have to bridge the gap between things that short-term payback and those that deliver value over the long-term. Some financial assessment tools help with this bridging exercise. For example, Whole Life Costing (or life-cycle costing) provides an approach to understanding the long term value benefits beyond a simple price comparison (something that may be cheaper to buy at first but which has larger whole life costs). The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) provides some useful guidance.
At a larger scale sustainability practitioners face a dual challenge. Firstly, they have to prove the relative financial benefits of more sustainable technologies or approaches. However, secondly, they are also faced with the dilemma that this action may still not be sufficient to deliver the scale and scope of change that a sustainable future requires.
The growing recognition that company intent and performance needs to be significantly raised has brought a focus upon new approaches to business purpose and underlying business models. We call the required pathway Rejuvenative Enterprise, but you can also find approaches called a variety of things, such as Net Positive, Shared Value, Benefit Corporations (B-Corps) or Regenerative Business.
In our concept of Rejuvenative Enterprise, companies taking the rejuvenative approach are those which deliver a manifest contribution to the abundance, vitality and productive capacity of natural capital and societies on which they depend for skills, resources, markets and customers.
At the heart of these ideas are the following principles, rejuvenative companies would be able to demonstrate that they:
- Are Thermodynamically optimised – their use of energy and materials would be in alignment with the physical characteristics and limits of the planet with a focus upon ‘entropic efficiency’.
- Value abundance rather than scarcity – prioritising technologies and behaviours which deliver either natural (e.g. biologically-based) or managed (e.g. through closed loop stewardship) abundance.
- Enhance natural vitality – valuing technologies and processes which make use of the planet’s natural rejuvenative and productive abilities, learning from and utilising natural production techniques as the basis for their technological and industrial models.
- Balance their interdependence – recognising and balancing the web of social interdependencies they exist within, seeking mutual equity within all relationships.
A wide range of resources and tools are available to assist in the development of rejuvenative companies, these include:
- Our own Manifesto for Rejuvenative Technology presenting categories for rejuvenative technologies and a series of pledges for innovators and designers.
- SustainAbility’s “Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability”.
- The World Resources Institute (WRI) has developed a Sustainability SWOT model to “to work across internal departments—as well as with suppliers, customers or other stakeholders—on strategies to create and sustain long-term value.”
There are also frameworks for the design and development of materials and technology which provide innovators with ways of designing sustainability into the nature of products. These include benign by design (12 Principles of Green Chemistry), and atom economy (which measures the efficiency of chemical reactions).
While there are a number of pathways towards sustainability, practitioners also need to make the case for sustainable change from their current position. This means there is still a requirement to prove the current business value of sustainability. We recently produced an overview of the range of potentially useful evidence for sustainability’s role in financial outperformance. In addition, recent research from MIT Sloan and Boston Consulting Group demonstrated how investors are increasingly integrating sustainability into their decision making.
The tools, ideas, pathways and evidence for sustainability are available. All we need is the will and intent to make it happen.
More ideas on the principles, tools, technologies of building resilient, rejuvenative enterprise can be found in The ‘The rejuvenative revolution’ the fourth in a new five e-Book series.
Get your free copy of the Towards 9 Billion book now from: http://www.terrafiniti.com/towards-9-billion-books.Joss Tantram