This was the opening statement by Prof Gunter Pauli, Blue Economy entrepreneur from Belgium, who was the keynote speaker at the international Student Environmental Network summit hosted by the Stellenbosch University.
He has written 20 books, published in 34 languages, created 12 companies and had 2 failures. There are 32 organizations around the world that focus on the implementation of projects inspired by the Blue Economy.
Imagine a business model in response to the principles of the Kyoto protocol? Now you will understand why this was such an exciting discovery for a social entrepreneur like myself. With 188 projects under the belt this inspirational teacher had the lecture room full of environmental students from across the world, myself and a couple of other older greenies included, glued to our seats.
You know we don’t write long stories, but in the interest of escalating your and my minds to a higher and wider level of thinking, I am going to share here what I managed to note down. Yes, we have to get our hands on his book The Blue Economy and read further.
“We have to think the way our children think, not the way we do.”
In his first business he made soaps in Belgium, and took over 3% of the market, without advertising. He discovered that 30% of the price of detergent is paying for advertising. Instead he paid his workers to cycle to work. Bought them underwear from Patagonia to keep warm, and turned down the heating in the factory. So they created the biggest demand for palm oil. Then he discovered this was destroying the rain forests of Indonesia and the habitat of the orang-utan.
“Once you realise the consequences of your business, unintended consequences become collateral damage. But doing less than good is not good! There is no judge needed for the good and the bad.”
“We can’t do less damage – we have to do NO damage.”
“Don’t accept less bad!”
His latest book, The Blue Economy, represents 15 years’ work. He translates new innovation into new business models, away from the mind-set of the MBA. Refusing to analyse the problems, he makes inventories of opportunities.
Citing examples from his own creative business career, Pauli illustrated the principles of a new business model:
1) Stop cutting costs, start adding value to your community.
He kicks out all MBAs first of all! His new business model is modelled after Nature, where no one is unemployed. Everyone contributes according to his/her abilities. There is NO waste.
“Instead in our society we create stuff no one wants (waste products), is bad for our health and the planet.”
It is time to run the internet off LED – at the speed of light – much, much faster than our current system. And there’s nobody doing research on this in SA.
2) Use what you have.
30% of Cape Town’s water is used to flush toilets! He opts for a new system – using recycled bicycle tube technology – using no water and no chemicals. What’s left is concentrated potassium. Use this to generate value, rather than to cut costs.
So too with solar panels – they could be used for heating, cooking and also for electricity. To insulate your roof. “It is YOUR roof!” Capturing solar heat, the differential could create electricity… and feed the grid.
3) Change the rules of the game.
Pauli is a professor at 3 universities – University of Pecs (Hungary), Politecnico di Torino (Italy) and Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico). His methods are not always popular amongst his colleagues. To examine his students, he does not ask the questions. His students have to ask him 3 questions which he cannot answer. This means they have to get to know everything he knows and find the gaps in his knowledge.
AC (alternate current) is only efficient if you want to manage and distribute power over a national grid, for any other use it is inefficient. Direct current (DC) is created where the positive and negative charges meet – and generates power in a direct way. This means there is no piracy possible. If such a cable is found, it has no power to steal. No risk of electrocution. This is cheaper and has a longer life.
So why are we mostly using AC current for our electricity? Most of our home appliances run off direct current. Competitive new industries will use power optimally and directly. Everything needs to be re-engineered to run off DC, to save energy.
4) Reinvigorate agriculture and industry
Now is the only time in history that farmers are not allowed to keep seeds from their own harvests. This is the legacy of the GMO industry. With numerous stories from his own business life and other innovative examples Pauli illustrated how to optimally utilise what is available and turn traditional ‘waste’ products into resources, generating multiple income streams.
When the company Novamont, of which he is the chairman of the board, took over a petrochemical facility at Porto Torres, Sardinia, in partnership with ENI facilities, they changed it into a bio-refinery, using the ‘weeds’ growing naturally in the surrounding countryside – thistles. What’s left over delivers resources for 6 products: plastics, mulch, espresso pots, herbicides, elastomers and lubricants. This creates 6 extra cash flows, the rest is sold to farmers for animal feed. Novamont also produces bacterial enzymes for cheese, all from thistles.
“Shale gas compared to the energy and biochemicals we can derive from weeds is nonsense,” he said.
And what do we do with our grape waste in the area? In Mexico grape seeds are dried and crushed and added to bread to fortify it with minerals, at 20% cheaper than usual.
Regenerating coral forests using TV antennae
Pauli has even worked at regenerating coral forests, by creating sea planting tours up to 15 meters deep for divers and tourists to place old TV antennae for coral to build onto. A year later they come back to see how ‘their’ corals are growing in the Forests of the Sea. Nice repeat business.
Then we move onto coffee, where only 0.2% of coffee harvested is ingested. The rest is wasted. There are now 1500 companies who grow mushrooms on coffee waste, the rest becomes chicken feed and food for dogs. And that’s not all, the next step is blending coffee waste into textiles – this absorbs odour by eliminating metal oxides. This is also used in carpets and insulation materials. So now coffee farms are earning 4 times more in the global market.
Keep the money local & create jobs
Making money locally and keeping the money local is a big theme in the blue economy. Take for example Cape Town, where there’s a 380 000 homes housing backlog. These houses need to be built by locals, creating local jobs, alleviating extreme poverty. 90% of their food can be locally grown.
What about this country’s mine dumps? “CEOs of those companies could be jailed by future generations for knowingly creating asthma. Today they have the license to operate. ”
Pauli has created stone paper from crushed stone from such dumps – I happen to have such a notebook, it’s so cool. This cures 800 million tons of waste dust from mines.
All projects into children’s books
Pauli, a father of 6, is passionate about educating children to think correctly. Hence every project is turned into a children’s story. Today there are already 190 – this is translated into various languages, crafting the minds of tomorrow’s business leaders.
He has also created an ethics course for 17-18 year olds, which translates into constructive lifestyles.
“I am dead against making money on money, how can you make water from water? Money should be a means of exchange in a community, but not a means to earn more money! “
“Failure is a learning opportunity.”
Pauli is not cagey about his innovative ideas – he is there to change the world and to share his inspiration. All his business models are open source and free to share.
Many more inspiring examples can be read in his book. It all boils down to changing from the extractive model, pressing down the price and salaries, to lifting animal, staff and supplier care, using available ‘opportunities’ so that all people can do well.
“Don’t talk to me about problems. I want to scan, screen, pick out opportunities, then implement them. The only time when someone is permitted to write a business plan is when the first invoice has been paid!”
Music to my ears! So if this inspirational business pioneer can make a success of creating a nature-following new world, then all caring entrepreneurs should take note, open our minds, see the opportunities – then jump. This is how we roll. Dare to be different.
by Elma Pollard