Towards Regenerative Societies
Poorly Designed Communities
Every morning on my way to school, I used to pass underneath a bridge where this message was written in white paint: “Free Nelson Mandela”. One day, I asked my mom: “Who is this Mandela? How many people had he killed to be put in prison?”
She replied: “Well Alex, not everybody in prison is a criminal. Nelson Mandela is trying to protect his people from an unjust political regime”.
When I arrived in South Africa in 1996, under Mandela’s presidency, I was shocked by the deep inequalities I saw between human beings, the most unequal country on the planet today still.
From then on, I knew that living in a poorly designed world leads to a life of despair and shame for many.
Magically Conceived Nature
When I look at Nature, I see a perfectly adapted world — in shape and process -, where self-organized species interact with each other over multiple dimensions.
In nature, trees produce more branches, leaves and fruits than they need for their own survival. In fact, they provide food and energy for an entire ecosystem of living beings.
What is even more impressive is that these species are able to regenerate the ecosystem they depend upon using the rules of:
- mutualization, as Nature avoids direct competition to survive;
- ordered complexity — like the way this flower petals is ordered yet highly complex — and;
- systems dynamics i.e. one action on a wider system has many effects.
Inspirational Adaptive Communities
There are also incredibly well thought-out societies living in a symbiotic connection with Mother Earth.
Evolving in a wide spatial relationship and a long time scale, some indigenous peoples have developed decision-making processes to which any CEO of this world should be inspired by!
Such decisions are made in accordance with principles developed by their elders as if unborn generations would approve. They ensure conditions conducive to life to future generations.
In these long-term processes, greed no longer exists because decisions made will only have an impact beyond the life of the person who took it.
Such civilizations are the only ones who have proven to be in sacred communion with all other species and with Mother Earth over centuries.
Solving Extreme Complexity
There are times of great complexity, where biodiversity has already dropped by 60% since the 1970s, where our population is growing dramatically and the middle classes are expected to consume three times more than today and, where a material economy leads to so much wastage and pollutants.
How can we look beyond the current chaos without feeling desperate?
Yet we live in an amazing period of time as we have this unique opportunity to shift things around by redesigning an economy that is at the service of all of us, humans and non-humans alike.
To achieve this we should become the most regenerative species of all!
But we cannot succeed in an unequal linear world which does not give all of us the opportunity to thrive.
We must therefore be the key that will unlock this complexity:
- where we destroyed lands we will rebuild and regenerate,
- where we ignored social injustices we will value and unleash its potential,
- where we wasted and polluted we will protect and restore.
Preserving the “Life Equation”
In the Anthropocene Era, this proposed geological period recognizing Human impact at planetary level, abundant humans should rethink about their role and function to preserve life.
It is time to build the foundations of a circular model of life that is more aligned with natural cycles.
To achieve this, we need to start by looking at ourselves as the most abundant of all resources, then expand from it into a complete symbiotic strategy that takes into
consideration all elements present on Earth.
Who are we and what are we here for?
We are Nature, Humans come from Nature. We will adapt to its design by defining new roles so that we regenerate the common biosphere;
We are Energy, Once we eat and we sleep we are endless distributed energies. Thanks to that energy we will care for all resources by designing a model that addresses human needs;
We are Value, We need to reconnect with our consciousness away from mechanistic terms so we develop an empathy-based model of governance that will reset our belief system;
Shifting the Cursor of the Circular Economy
We want an economy that is designed for all of us, an economic model that is so appealing that we all get a chance to thrive in a renewed way of living.
In Circular Economy we have these current two identified stocks and flows. The biological stock of food and non-food natural elements that regenerate our environment. And the technical stock of materials we need in our economy.
Adding a Humansphere provides a third opportunity to innovate with resources that are abundant and with energies are endless and distributed.
Here a dynamic population becomes a positive asset.
Because an economy that cares desires abundance of flows and resources. These are coming today from a regenerated biosphere and from a dynamic Humansphere;
Because an economy that cares bans scarcity to better protect resources that are limited;
Because an economy that cares generates benefits as we move from an economy of having to an economy of being, more easily tailored to respond to peoples’ needs.
In a service economy reaching out to more people in an inclusive way makes business sense!
With such a symbiotic view, we could decide on rewarding regenerative activities to better fit within our ecosystem framework and prefer restorative jobs in an economy that cares for everything;
Adapting to the Biosphere
In this model from Dycle in Berlin, young families are forming a club in which they receive free diapers in exchange of dropping them back once used.
Compost diapers enter into a fermentation process to produce Terra Preta, a rich humus made from human origin. The very same Terra Preta indigenous people used long time ago to develop the Amazonian forest as we know it today!
The company plants fruit trees that — once turned into fruits, jams or teas — feed the mum who feeds the baby who feeds the planet.
The more babies, the better for planet Earth!
This is an example of human/nature abundance cycles.
Caring for the Technosphere
Now that we have identified Humans as the most abundant of all our stocks, we should unleash it.
In a caring economy, the best way to preserve scarce resources is to look for an available source of endless energy: us, humans.
Two years ago, Sweden announced that repair-based businesses will see their VAT taxes drop from 25% down to 12%. This is a great first step!
How about also dropping labor taxes while at the same time increase taxes on scarce resources to better protect them. This way you would unleash the potential of the Humansphere!
This would change the dynamics of our economies.
A Symbiotic Tool for all 17 SDGs
Imagine the positive effect on the Sustainable Development Goals if we start implementing the “Circular Thinking” by:
- designing waste and pollution out as they are the root causes of our environmental degradation;
Now imagine what could happen if we also apply this Thinking in the social dimension by:
- seeing greed, poverty and inequalities disappearing of a poorly designed human system at the same time?
Achieving all 17 SDG Goals is possible when it makes ecosystemic sense to configure all these negative externalities out at the design phase;
Designing for People’s Needs
The link between zero waste and positive social impact has been proven in Roubaix, the poorest city in France.
Here people were given the tools to change their behavior by adopting a life at zero waste.
Four years since the start of the Program, residents like Mr and Mrs Niewjaer have generated 180 grams of waste since January 1st and having experienced many improvements:
- in their financials, shifting from -600 Euros per month to +150 Euros!
- in their health by eating from their shared garden and tropical balcony!
- in their social life by having so many new friends within their zero waste ecosystem
For the City, this is a win-win-win program as citizens now co-create solutions!
Nurturing U.N. Human Development (Amartya Sen, Mahbub ul Haq)
Meeting human needs is also far easier in a service-based economy.
Services are more versatile as you no longer need to own a product to enjoy its functions: I can experience what I need, when I need it.
This extreme flexibility can be an asset to improve communities’ choices.
On top of this, a restorative model should grant access to pools of resources strengthening communities’ capabilities.
This is could mean a tremendous shift in Amartya Sen’s and Mahbub ul Haq’s Human Development model, adopted by the United Nations, where strengthening peoples’ capabilities and choices is considered key to their well-being.
Replacing Ecosystems Functions
As regenerative species we would become actors of our ecosystem protection.
Where environmental functions are failing short, we would replace them, like here where bees have disappeared from the Sichuan region in China. People are replacing the missing function until the return of the bees.
Nurturing life on Earth means to seek for energies where they are available.
Fast-Track to a Doughnut Economics
As you will hear from Kate Raworth after my speech, this is where we need to aim at.
Conceptualizing an economy as if waste and pollution should never have existed allows us to reach out to a Safe Space for Humanity more quickly;
Conceptualizing a society as if inequality and poverty should have never existed will grant us access to a Just Space for Humanity;
Conceptualizing a community as if unborn generations would decide on our daily makings will diminish the risk of a rebound in our consumption patterns;
Our species needs humility to reshape a world in a sacred communion with our environment and its people.
We Know Enough
Past civilizations disappeared not because of the climate changing or of resources mismanagement, but because of deep societal inequalities.
Circular economies that remain unequal will represent a missed opportunity for humanity.
Building an equitable circular economic model is the right thing to do. And we need all of you to achieve it!
We have the right to choose. Everyone has the right to choose.
But for my children, and their children, I will choose life as if my great-grand-children will decide on my actions from now on.
Will you join me on this journey?
Content of the keynote delivered at Sustainable Brands Buenos Aires, September 2019.