Since I was a young boy, I’ve been captivated by everything we find living and growing on our planet. We know that without healthy natural ecosystems and biodiversity there would be no life, and of course no business. We rely on our natural assets, balanced carbon cycles, and diverse plant and animal species, but each of the major global ecosystems is in decline.
At the same time, the degradation of our natural resources lies at the root of many of our most pressing challenges. It also exacerbates others, such as poverty, disease, and climate change. The steps we take over the next ten or twenty years will fundamentally determine whether the natural ecosystems on which we have built our wealth for a hundred centuries will be able to persist beyond the end of this one.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, we have built wealth and wellbeing by making trade-offs between profit and growth on one hand, and natural resources on the other. In order to minimise the damaging impact of business on biodiversity, we must recognise the value of the natural assets on our balance sheets.
There is some very exciting work being undertaken in this area. For example, at PUMA, Jochen Zeitz pioneered the Environmental Profit & Loss Account, which measures the value of the natural resources that businesses have traditionally treated as essentially free services. PUMA was the first international company to put a monetary value on the impact of its entire supply chain on the environment.
Another exciting area is the growth of biomimicry – a movement that is changing the way we do business by learning from Mother Nature. A growing number of exciting science-business partnerships are pioneering biologically-inspired technology and designs that are based on the experience of life (and refined by 3.8 billion years of rigorous testing!).
The Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe is an incredible example: the building was based on the design of termite mounds, and uses a naturally-inspired ventilation system to maintain constant temperatures. This has allowed the building to use only 10 per cent of the energy another similarly-sized building would use, save millions on air conditioning, plus enjoy fresh air! Another company, Sharklet Technologies, has developed a special surface material that harnesses the wisdom of Galapagos sharks. The surface mimics the sharks’ skin, which naturally fights bacteria and micro-organisms, and is now being used for a number of industries, from safe surfaces for hospitals to hull coatings that improve shipping efficiency.
Mother Nature is the original entrepreneurial force in the world – and learning from her will help us better value our natural assets and make business work for people and planet.
Read more about this in Richard’s book Screw Business as Usual, available from Virgin Books.