Once upon a time, back when I was a business analyst in an Australian pharmaceutical factory, there were just two reactions when anyone said the “E” word:
- What does the Environment Protection Authority want us to spend money on NOW!!!!
- Which local charity is looking for a handout this time?!?!?
As far as the day to day factory operations went, the whole business existed inside an industrial bubble that had nothing to do with nature.
The notion that you could learn something about business strategy or product innovation from “the environment” didn’t even exist. A lot of people just wouldn’t talk about it – because being labelled a “tree hugging greenie” would have seriously limited the career prospects of any production engineer.
Because “the environment” wasn’t in play, you designed your product or the basis of:
- Buy in the raw materials you needed
- Make your product
- Dispose of waste byproducts
- Ship it out the door and forget about it
- Comply with regulations and hazards handling requirements.
Business was just business
The source and sustainability of your materials wasn’t anything to do with you, as long as they were legal. What happened to your product at the end of it’s life was nothing to do with you.
“The environment” was left to the detail-oriented people responsible for OHS (increasingly being re-labelled EHS but given no extra resources).
This approach was even rationalised by leading 20th century economists, like Milton Friedman:
“there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game…”
Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962
The possibility that being sustainable could be “the biggest opportunity since the invention of money” would have been laughed out of both the board room and the engineering department.
Beyond compliance and altruism – opportunity!!!
Because of the mindset that “the environment is the responsibility of government and charities”, most people aren’t aware that – at an increasing rate since the 1990s – leading business innovators have been doing well BY doing environmental good.
Mainstream global production has defaulted forwards using 19th century 1-way, mine/make/use/dump supply chain design principles – increasingly dodgy principles that treat nature as an infinite, inexhaustible commodity.
A growing range of planetary boundaries challenges from ocean plastics to global warming demonstrate that extract/emit/exploit business models are as degenerative as they are expensive.
Meanwhile, the world’s top thought leaders and entrepreneurs have been developing a whole new field of business innovation – innovation built around designs that regenerate the ecosystems and communities within which business operates.
A broader scope of opportunities
When carpet manufacturer Interface looked for alternative energy sources in their LaGrange plant, they found that they could extract methane gas from a local landfill. That reduced emissions from the local landfill site, making the air cleaner for residents. It also extended the useful life of the site by 10 years, reducing the need to build another waste facility.
A fundamental trend, not a passing fad
The new business models and strategies come with names like Natural Capitalism and Doughnut Economics. And they offer a design perspective that uncovers new value – and substantial Deep Green Profit opportunities.
What they’re increasingly proving is that products, systems and processes that use renewable inputs and regenerate their surrounding ecosystems are just plain better!
These can feel like big, improbable goals – but it’s big, hairy audacious goals that generate creative thinking and collaboration.
Want to uncover more ways to find your opportunities?
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