There are still people who believe that economy and ecology are mutually exclusive systems. How then did the earth thrive for so many millions of years?
Maybe indulging in this thinking pattern is just an excuse to hang onto an out-dated perception in order to avoid change. What is this fear of change all about?
If you are still riding on this old irrational refrain, here is some good news for you: One town has decided to use the principles of biomimicry, as in copying nature, to ensure economic development and success for all her people. It CAN be done!
Last weekend I attended the launch of the Pre-view Naturally Knysna festival that celebrates a new system that has been adopted in Knysna. Why was this event a fountain of fresh inspiration to me? Because there is a proper plan in place and it’s based on 3.8 billion years of research and development.
Learning from the best teacher
Knysna is inspired to follow nature, in principle, but not the odd good green initiative here and there, as we have been following across the country. Rather, according to the best possible plan on this planet and as a whole system. Learning from the best teacher available, Knysna is going to build a sustainable town on the principles of biomimicry.
Since the building industry crashed some time ago, Knysna had experienced dire difficulties and had to rely on the tourism industry alone to generate revenue. Now, learning and mimicking the forest, the town is set to rescue itself by creating interconnected industries to ensure total self-sufficiency and fulfil its own needs.
This will also be a great example for other areas to follow and, I think, another good attraction for tourists to see. We could all benefit from this visionary example of a town who has pulled itself up by its own bootstraps to thrive according to natural principles.
‘Naturally Knysna challenges our town to function as a natural system – like the mysterious, ancient indigenous forests surrounding us,” said CEO of Knysna Tourism, Shaun van Eck at the media launch.
‘In spite of our economic downturn, we are still cradled by nature and surrounded by a green belt. She gently holds us and she is our future evolution. We will be learning to live lightly with nature to restore the balance, as Nature knows what works.’
What would nature do?
The mother of this inspired vision is Sue Swain from BioWise, the coordinator of Naturally Knysna. She has inspired the municipality, the tourism industry, the business and the education sectors with her clear focus for the future. Their future building blocks will rely on constantly asking the question ‘what would Nature do in this situation?’ Nature provides the rhythm.
In her speech Sue said, ‘We got it horribly wrong. Our current systems are fundamentally flawed and we need fundamental change.’
Nature has been doing this forever. Knysna will be following the natural forest ecology, where all organisms self-organise themselves according to a common purpose to maintain their presence in one place and survive. This is a self-reliant benign system. It’s about ensuring the survival of all through promoting diversity, keeping it local and doing more with less. Infinitely optimising and actively restoring to ensure long-term survival of all.
No impoverishment in the forest
In the forest there is no impoverishment, only abundance. How is that possible? Because in a forest system there is endless recycling of resources and a cascading of nutrients. A branch of a tree that falls to the floor represents opportunity for a whole host of creatures that emerge to break down that log cooperatively. By the same token in a human economic system, waste products of industrial processes can represent entrepreneurial opportunity for many SMME’s to emerge and turn that by-product/waste into a resource, thereby closing the loop on waste. And so the mission is to close the loop in Knysna.
Nature teaches diversification. There are already some practical initiatives in town, but these will now be developed to locally source as many materials as possible and to utilise all waste products for further economic activities.
Take e.g. the Recycling Swop Shop, where children bring recyclable waste and are ‘paid’ in tokens. They can then exchange those for clothes and toiletries in the shop on the premises. All services will be optimised, such as collecting and delivering at the same time. They are also planning a type of rikshaw made locally, from local materials, to transport tourists.
Collaboration & cooperation is the name of the game
In the forest every aspect of creation is part of a synergy and the system recognises each role as equal and important. Collaboration and cooperation is the name of the game. There is communication across species and within species. For example some plants use chemical communication to let a caterpillar know when its time to stop feeding, turning their leaves unpalatable after 20 minutes. This allows the caterpillar to survive, but also ensures they have enough surface area left on their leaves to continue photosynthesising.
Nature is full of fascinating examples of using freely available forces – have you ever asked yourself how a tree is able to pump water, against the force of gravity, from its roots to its leaves, without the need for electricity?
Knysna’s mayor, Georlene Wolmarans, also shared her excitement about the emergence of this new economy based on the principles of new systems thinking.
‘The power to create a new economy for Knysna is within our grasp,’ she said.
Inspiration on a human level
There were many nature inspired events to attend, like the Nature Inspired Fashion Show, which brought inspiration to a human level, coupled with dance, form and theatre.
‘Moving beyond the festival we will strive to take this celebration of fashion inspired by nature to the deeper level of a nature-inspired economy. To do so, we will investigate how we can apply the Naturally Knysna principles here. Principles such as localisation, decentralisation, diversification, closing of loops and optimization will be key elements, presenting a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, designers and more to join forces and emerge a unique, nature-inspired Knysna fashion industry,’ explained Sue.
To brew an abundant future
How is Knysna going to apply these forest principles practically? Let’s look at what a big tree represents in the forest: it is a primary producer/industry that creates a whole host of economic activity because of its presence. This is the vision for Knysna’s industrial area; helping primary industries create a microcosm of economic opportunity around them.
Take for example the local Mitchell’s Brewery. Currently, its operations are largely linear and somewhat wasteful with the majority of the spent grain being wasted and just some of it going for supplementing cattle feed. How would nature run such an industry? It would create a whole host of subsidiary businesses that derive benefit from the primary industry and fulfil a function in return.
According to Sue research opportunities are now being investigated by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) on requirements for evolving this brewery into a nature-inspired model.
‘The first part of this research is going to look at the packaging, marketing and distribution of the beer and how to do all this according to nature’s principles and creating economic opportunity as a result.’
Cascading of nutrients
‘The running of the brewery already incorporates some aspects similar to those contained within this vision, like the hops which is used as natural preservative. However, the desired overall outcome of CPUT’s research is to take Mitchell’s just that much further and to allow it to function according to the Naturally Knysna principles in all aspects,’ she said.
This research hopes to enable Mitchell’s to alter its economic model in such a way as to ensure closed loop operations and cascading of nutrients throughout all these elements, while keeping cost effectiveness in mind. Closing the loop means not leaving any loose ends that could be tied up in a beneficial, earth-friendly manner.
Let’s look at one of beer’s main ingredients: grains.
The necessary grains could be farmed and malted locally and, once spent, may be used by another local farmer to grow mushrooms. The substrate that remains can then be used as fodder. The mushrooms, on the other hand, can be sold to a local restaurant, whose coffee granule waste can also be used to grow mushrooms and whose other organic waste is used for composting community vegetable gardens growing fresh produce for the restaurant.
From mushrooms to healing
The mushroom-growing business can be further diversified into the growing of medicinal mushrooms and mycelial substrates that can be used for filtration for cleaning polluted water or even for developing biodegradable packaging. And all this as a result of a single primary industry. Research with regards to the mushroom opportunities is being carried out by their local mushroom expert, Bert Reynders.
In this scenario three employment opportunities are created locally: mushroom farming, composting waste and vegetable gardening. Excess grains and yeast may also be used for unique beer bread or waffles. And in return, these businesses have helped Mitchell’s to deal with its waste problem, thereby saving money on disposal. Collaborative cooperation at its best.
Can harvested rainwater meet the brewery’s needs? Can the water be distributed in another way than being pumped with electricity? Can the water and energy consumption be decreased? Can all processes, including the heat exchange, be made more efficient? How can the grey water be re-used? Are there alternative sources of energy? What other opportunities do the waste products hold?’
Listening to nature
‘These are but some of the questions that will be looked at from all angles and hopefully answered with inspiration from nature,â€ said Sue.
‘When it comes to the beer itself, we’ll look at other key aspects of Naturally Knysna like keeping it local, cascading merchandising opportunities associated with Mitchell’s such as locally produced t-shirts and beer glasses.’
‘We’ll also look at the packaging. Glass bottles may be refilled and then recycled locally. And the beers could be delivered in the same locally made rickshaws described earlier, assisting those entrepreneurs to diversify and increase their livelihoods.We’ll even look at a local, nature-inspired marketing strategy by a local marketing agency.’
Other fun events at the Naturally Knysna festival were a Recycled Band competition and a display of local industries in the Pledge Nature Reserve.
Listen to the flapping flamingos
There is a phenomenon known as the flamingo phenomenon, whereby a handful of individual flamingos fly up when its time for the flock to migrate. They flap and squawk, but when only a few others join them, they settle back down and talk amongst each other. Some days later, they try again and more fly up, flap and squawk. This continues until enough of them fly up – that’s when the whole groundswell movement gets going and the flock as a whole takes off.
Ok, so we are squawking here, Knysna is flapping hard. Let’s hope soon we will all take off to living in totally new and natural ways. Hats off to Knysna for finding the gold inside the darkness; turning a challenge into an opportunity. This is the call of our times. We are honoured to bring you evidence of this emerging new mindset leading us into an abundant and fair future.
Green Times will keep you up to date on the latest developments in Knysna. We hope to share this good news as far and wide as possible and will soon be doing this through a number of new avenues too. Watch this space for more details.
By Elma Pollard