‘Waste Equals Food’ is the New Business Frontier

Professor Mervyn King, Chairman of the Global Reporting Initiative, could not be more accurate when he said: “Since the days of the industrial revolution, companies have conducted business on two false assumptions, namely that the earth has infinite resources and has an infinite capacity to absorb waste. In fact, the earth has finite resources and the landfills from this ‘Take, Make, Waste’ philosophy, both on land and in the oceans, have resulted in the toxification of the land and waters of the earth. The planet is in crisis, as we have reached ecological overshoot, which means that we have used and continue to use the natural resources of planet earth faster than nature can regenerate them.”

Guess what % of the natural resources used for making durable goods end up as waste in our efficient, high-performing, western economies?

Over 90% of all inputs are wasted by the point of sale i.e. even before the product has been used! After six months of use, on average the waste is around 99%. Does that not mean our economy is at best 10% efficient it terms of material through-put? I think we know this is a problem, without even being reminded of the plastic island growing in the Pacific Ocean (now much larger than the size of France and growing by the day).

Waste is perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities facing business on the cusp of this new frontier. I ask you to think for a moment and ask yourself, how much waste do you find in nature?

Nature does not do waste. Waste of one is food for another, nothing is wasted. Ecosystems develop niches where each aspect of the material throughput is used. Nature is interconnected, collaborative, adaptive and locally attuned. Business ecosystems are currently a far cry from the effectiveness and resilience we find in nature. To have a hope in hell of hitting the targets our scientists have set for climate change, let alone the wider social or environmental sustainability challenge, we need to radically rethink our approach to manufacturing, to service provision, to business as a whole. The answers lie all around us in nature. Seeing nature as mentor is a key part of the new business frontier.