What if our Economy would be Blue?

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As you may know, sustainability is based on three pillars: People, Planet & Prosperity. 

Finding balance between those dimensions, that sweet spot where we create value in all those dimensions is one of the simplest ways to explain sustainability, especially in business. 

Three Dimensions of Sustainability: People, Planet & Prosperity

And our current ways of doing things aren’t going to cut it. At best, we might create value in 2 dimensions at the time, but our current economic system is so focused on the prosperity (or profit) side of things, we need a new way of doing things all together, and a major mindset shift. 

Fortunately, there are several new economic thinkers offering us alternative ideas and frameworks to create a new economic system that’s sustainable or – preferably – regenerative by design. 

One of these new concepts is Blue Economy; the brainchild of Professor Gunter Pauli, and dates back to the Kyoto Protocol in 1994. 

But there can be a bit of confusion, because there are two types of Blue Economy frameworks out there. Huh? Yes, we also don’t really know how that happened. So before exploring Pauli’s version; let’s start with the other one first. 

Blue Economy or Ocean Economy

When you Google, or head over to Wikipedia, you’re likely to find a lot of information about the sustainable exploitation and preservation of the marine and ocean environment.

In that context, The World Bank gives the following definition for Blue Economy:  

Sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”
The World Bank

This version is also known as Ocean Economy, and aims to improve human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities within the context of coastal and ocean systems. 

Ocean-based economic activity is actually valued at around $1.5 trillion per year, and includes all marine related activities; like fisheries, maritime transport, coastal and marine tourism, offshore & deepsea mining and renewable energies. 

95% of the planet is Ocean, and is home to more than 220.000 species of plants and animals (and likely millions more we don’t know about yet as you may remember from the jargon buster on biodiversity). 

And while we all think of trees as our main source of oxygen, did you know that oceans generate about half of the world’s oxygen? 

On top of that, they are one of our most important natural carbon sinks, absorbing more than 25% of the CO2 that we humans produce.  

However, all this CO2 is causing the water in the ocean to change. It’s becoming more acidic, which threatens the ability of shellfish and corals to build their skeletons and is affecting the health of other fish and marine species. And besides biodiversity loss, this is also a threat to coastal economies and food security. So rethinking the way we interact with our oceans and marine environment is of the essence!

Blue Economy by Gunter Pauli

In the next few weeks however, we will be exploring the other Blue Economy, with our teams during the Global Virtual Design Sprint.

“The Blue Economy is about responding to basic needs with what we have while generating value and jobs” – Gunter Pauli

Pauli named his framework ‘Blue Economy’ – because the earth as seen from the universe is blue, and secondly, because he wants to move away from the idea of the Green Economy, that advocates the switch to natural, organic products, but is in fact quite expensive. 

Instead, he proposes a different, and maybe more modest perspective: Look at what you have, use that and do more with it. So, focus on generating value, instead of looking at one thing and trying to cut as many costs. 

Looking at what you have also means going local. Blue Economy strongly advocates local production and consumption, to generate as much value with what is available and cutting out activities (and thus costs) that are not needed, such as (global) transport. 

Coffee anyone?

So how do you generate more value? The most famous example is of a coffeebar. Traditionally, they will use coffee to serve it to customers, will maybe try to cut costs on their operations and has waste streams. Similar to Circular Economy thinking, Blue Economy also flips the script on waste: it doesn’t exist, but is a resource for something else that can generate value. In this example,  the coffee grind can be used to grow mushrooms, and fed to chickens, which will then also give us eggs. 

Growing Mushrooms on coffee grind

There are many other examples, and given the premise of Blue Economy, most very pragmatic, describing the exact cycles and resource flows. In that perhaps also lies the differentiation of Blue Economy from other new economy ideas, which are more theoretical, conceptual and aiming to solve challenges on a larger scale.  

Pauli strongly believes that we should not be learning about nature, but learning from nature and build something new from there. Blue Economy thinking therefore draws insights on how nature operates and seeks to apply those in an entrepreneurial context. So far, I can only agree. Nature has been doing an amazing job for 3.8 billion years, and in a way, it’s quite arrogant that we humans (who have been around for a mere speck of that time) think that we know better. 

A few examples of these underlying principles:

  • In nature, everything is biodegradable, with time. 
  • In nature, one process generates multiple benefits
  • Nature is efficient, in that it maximizes use of material and energy that is available

And our personal favorite and, actually, a core life principle we abide by: 

In nature, change is the only constant and innovation happens everywhere, and all the time. 

Let’s indeed innovate and move from scarcity to abundance!

Happy Sprinting,

Minou & Pamela


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