Since the Industrial Revolution, we have achieved great feats of economic, social and technological advancement for which, as a species, we can be proud. Yet the challenges (and opportunities) now facing our businesses, economies and societies are all too apparent.
The prevailing business paradigm that has served us well in the past is no longer fit for purpose. As said recently by Professor Michael Porter, short-termism and profit maximisation at the expense of society and the environment are hurting rather than helping business and the wider fabric of life.
The status quo approach to business and the wider economy is being challenged by new ways of operating: redesigning for resilience in these unpredictable and increasingly volatile times.
The ‘Circular Economy’ is an important component of a systemic redesign for resilience. As presented by Dame Ellen MacArthur at Davos, such a shift from a linear ‘take, make, waste’ business paradigm to a circular economy can bring immense value creation opportunities whilst seeking to decouple revenues from material throughput; which is clearly fit-for-purpose in a world suffering from natural resource stress and environmental degradation.
The circular economy builds on concepts like industrial ecology, natural capitalism and cradle-to-cradle to explore how a redesign in business models, product design, value chains, reverse logistics and product lifecycle performance can improve value for the ecosystem of stakeholders: manufacturers, customers, suppliers; community; and environment. It seeks to optimise total system performance, not just component parts and is at the fore-front of the sustainable business frontier, attracting many pioneering enterprises and service providers.
Fundamental to the circular economy is building resilience through diversity. Economies of scale and uniformity are hallmarks of the Industrial era; economies of scope and diversity are hallmarks of the Sustainable era. In these volatile times resilience is paramount for those businesses wishing to be around for more than a few years. Business ecosystems, like natural ecosystems, increase their resilience by increasing the diversity of interconnections (of people and processes).
The circular economy, industrial ecology, cradle-to-cradle and natural capitalism all share a common foundation: they take inspiration from nature. Nature has been dealing with dynamic change and complexity for over 3.8bn years, and the more we re-establish our vital bond with nature, the more we open ourselves up to the answers that lie all around us.
A Business Inspired By Nature is one that is resilient, optimising, adaptive, systems-based, values-led, and life supporting. This encompasses the People, Process, Product and Place aspects of the organisation.