How changing sustainable production could take us to Mars

First published by World Economic Forum, 4 January, 2017.

In September 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that we could have human missions to Mars as soon as 2022. One side effect – apart from pushing the frontiers of space travel – is that it will challenge us to design and perfect various systems of sustainable production. The reason is quite simple: Mars is a barren, hostile planet, where all life support systems – from food and water to air and energy – will need to be artificially made and sustained, mostly using the limited resources the crew take with them.

In essence, what Musk and his space cadets will be trying to do is replicate what nature already does for us here on earth: creating an intelligent biosystem that can endlessly reuse or recycle resources in a way that allows life to survive and, ultimately, to thrive. This is the same idea that underlies the philosophy of sustainable production – albeit that the motivation and applied context is different – and it is by no means a new idea.

1960s and 1970s: recognising limits

In the 1960s and 1970s, a growing cadre of concerned scientists, economists and activists began warning us of the dire impacts of the exponential growth in our consumption of resources and the associated proliferation of toxins, waste and pollution. This included the likes of: Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, 1962; Barbara Ward, author of Spaceship Earth, 1965; Buckminster Fuller, author of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1969; and the Club of Rome, authors of the ground-breaking Limits to Growth study, 1972.

Ironically, “spaceship earth” thinking is exactly what Elon Musk and SpaceX are going to have to apply on Mars. It recognizes the fact that we live with limited resources on one planet that acts as a “metabolic, regenerating system”, as Fuller described it, or a “living, self-regulating organism” in the words of NASA scientist, James Lovelock, who named this the Gaia theory.

Unfortunately, we have been living (and hence producing and consuming), as if we were in a “cowboy economy”, rather than a “spaceman economy”, according to economist Kenneth Boulding. The cowboy, Boulding explained in 1966, is “symbolic of the illimitable plains and also associated with reckless, exploitative, romantic, and violent behaviour”, while the spaceman represents the recognition of the earth as “a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution.”

The logical conclusion of accepting such a world of limits is, says Boulding, that humanity “must find its place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.” Walter Stahel, an architect and industrial analyst, added meat to the bones of Boulding’s vision by proposing, in a 1976 report to the European Commission, a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He called this “cradle to cradle” and developed it further through the Product Life Institute, which he founded in Geneva.

At the same time that these concerns and philosophical ideas were gaining traction, a more pragmatic solution was also emerging. At the World Energy Conference in 1963, Harold Smith proposed looking at a “cumulative energy concept”, which laid the foundations for life cycle analysis/assessment (LCA). In 1969, Coca-Cola extended this idea by assessing the resource and pollution impacts of different beverage containers. This emergent methodology became known as a Resource and Environmental Profile Analysis (REPA) in the US and as an Ecobalance in Europe.

1980s and 1990s: rethinking production

In the 1980s, while LCA gained momentum, a related concept called industrial ecology emerged. It was popularized in 1989 in a Scientific American article by Robert Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos, in which they declared: “Why would not our industrial system behave like an ecosystem, where the wastes of a species may be resources to another species? Why would not the outputs of an industry be the inputs of another, thus reducing use of raw materials, pollution, and saving on waste treatment?”

Industrial ecology, therefore, proposes that businesses should not only look at the life cycle impacts of individual products of individual companies, but also look for ways in which to link up with other businesses to minimize their impacts. The Danish industrial park in the city of Kalundborg is a classic example, where a power plant, oil refinery, pharmaceutical plant, plasterboard factory, enzyme manufacturer, waste management company and the city itself, all link together to share and utilize resources, by-products, energy and waste heat.

Meanwhile, life cycle assessment was becoming so popular that, in 1991, eleven state attorney generals in the US expressed concerns that the method was being used to make misleading green claims. This concern, together with pressure from elsewhere in the world, led to the development of two LCA standards as part of the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000 series: ISO 14041:1998 on Life cycle assessment (goal and scope definition and inventory analysis); and ISO 14043:2000 on Life cycle interpretation.

Another concept that was gaining popularity around the same time was cleaner production, promoted by institutions like the OECD and UNIDO and resulting in the UNEP Declaration on Cleaner Production in 1998, in which they defined cleaner production as “the continuous application of an integrated, preventive strategy applied to processes, products and services in pursuit of economic, social, health, safety and environmental benefits.” To support its application, UNEP and UNIDO collaborated to set up a global network of National Cleaner Production Centres (NCPCs) in the 1990s.

2000s and 2010s: a new industrial revolution

In the new millennium cleaner production continued to spread, receiving further endorsement at the UN’s 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2010, UNEP and UNIDO also revived the NCPCs with the launch of a Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production network (RECPnet), with 41 founding members. This reinvigorated the practice of eco-efficiency, which the World Business Council for Sustainable Development had been championing since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It also introduced decoupling as a goal, referring to the need to delink economic growth and environmental degradation.

The EU government meanwhile began working with business to create product roadmapping as a way of systematizing the application of LCA in different industries. This culminated in the adoption, in 2003, of the EU’s Integrated Product Policy (IPP) to promote conducting LCAs with a view to potential policy interventions. Two familiar products with diverse impacts were chosen by the EU to demonstrate IPP: one was a mobile phone, put forward by Nokia; the other, a teak garden chair from Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour.

While these multilateral efforts were going on, sustainable production really began to catch the imagination of business after architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart published their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, in 2002. The cradle to cradle concept evolved from Braungart’s earlier work on lifecycle assessment with Germany’s Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA), in which he grew disillusioned with the limitations of LCA.

Working with McDonough and applying their intelligent design insights to products and processes, they proposed a circular model of production in which there are continuous flows of biological nutrients (i.e. any renewable materials that can harmlessly go back to nature and be regenerated) and technical nutrients (i.e. any non-renewable, or manufactured materials that are not biodegradable, but remain useful if returned and reused in the production of products).

The future: towards a circular model

Today, “cradle to cradle” has been adapted, promoted and mainstreamed as a circular economy approach, which relies on sustainable production as a key link in the chain. The way I like to describe it is that we are now moving from an old industrial model, in which we take, make, use and waste, to a new “syndustrial” model (designed for industrial and ecological synergies), in which we borrow, create, benefit and return.

In the old linear industrial model, business and consumers take, make, use and waste. We take by depleting non-renewable resources and over-using renewable resources, and by striving for limitless economic growth. We make by producing any products and services that the market demands and persuading customers to buy and consume more. We use by buying more than needed, leading to over-consumption and by individually owning what could be shared. Finally, we waste by turning consumed products into trash and pollution and by creating toxins and impacts that harm people and nature.

By contrast, in the new circular “syndustrial” model, in which we design for industrial synergy, business and consumers borrow, create, benefit and return. We borrow by conserving all natural resources and increasing renewable resource use; and we create by designing and making products with no negative impact and innovating products with positive impact.

For example, Novamont, as an Italian producer of bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics, has adopted a renew and refine strategy. Among their clients are the global coffee company Lavazza, which now sells compostable coffee capsules that Novamont have produced, which biodegrade within 20-40 days. Similarly, BioGen in the UK has a renew and restore strategy, producing renewable energy (biogas) from food waste and then using the waste slurry as bio-fertilizer, which has been shown to produce higher crop yields when compared with chemical fertilizers.

In the new “syndustrial” model, we benefit by extending a product’s life, by repairing and reusing and by leasing and sharing. We return by using end-of-first-life materials to recreate the same products and to create new products.

For example, Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company, has pursued a reuse strategy through their Remanufacturing Centre in South Africa (the second largest in the world), which is designed to rebuild “as new” CAT components for 20-60% less than the cost of replacing with new parts. Similarly, Dutch aWEARness in the Netherlands is one of the first textile companies to make fully “circular” clothes, thus demonstrating a true recycle strategy. For example, their WearEver suits are made from 100% recyclable polyester, which can be turned back into a suit at least 8 times, giving a total life for the materials of 40-50 years.

Tetrapak in Ecuador is part of a reinvent strategy, whereby beverage packaging waste is being upcycled by an independent company into a range of high quality products, such as corrugated roofing, furniture, tabletops and jewellery. Similarly, REDISA in South Africa is managing the recovery and reprocessing of 70% of waste tyres in South Africa into a variety of rubber and steel products, while creating more than 3,000 jobs.

These examples are all featured cases in a forthcoming documentary called Closing the Loop, due for release in 2017. By adopting and scaling these new business models, we can achieve a transformative sustainable and social responsibility, which focuses its activities on identifying and tackling the root causes of our present unsustainability and irresponsibility.

Citation and download

Visser, W. (2017) How changing sustainable production could take us to Mars, World Economic Forum, 4 Jan.

Share this page


Open Letter to Young People on Donald Trump’s Election as President

Open Letter to Young People on Donald Trump’s Election as President

Read by the author, Dr Wayne Visser, on 12 November 2016


To the Next Generation of Leaders:

As Donald Trump prepares to take up office as US President, I (like so many others) am trying to make sense of it all. And whether you care about politics or not, this is a seismic event, which is shaking the foundations of the world and will affect you in one way or another.

I don’t know how you feel about it – amused, indifferent, shocked, disappointed, or outraged. But whatever your emotions, we all must now accept the disturbing fact that 60 million educated people have voted for a chauvinist, bigoted, racist, old white man to be the so-called ‘leader of the free world’.

Of course, the choice was not unambiguous – Hillary was far from a perfect alternative. I have heard commentators say that this was a vote by the ‘common people’ for change, fuelled by a deep mistrust of the corrupt political and business elites of Washington and Wall Street, which is not entirely unjustified.

Be that as it may, while the media and the public are still in an apoplectic frenzy of recrimination (or celebration, depending on their political perspective), I want to rise above the storm and reflect on what this might mean for you and your future, beyond the next four years.

My first plea to you is: Do Not Panic! Martin Luther King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. And as someone who lived through South Africa’s triumph of democracy over a 40-year brutal, racist apartheid regime, I have seen the truth of these words.

Trump, for all his bluster, cannot turn the tide of history, nor change the momentum of decades of progress on human rights, peace and the environment. He can try to renege on the global climate deal or any number of other responsibilities, but the world (and you) will move forward, with or without him.

The future belongs to the youth and I am optimistic, because you have grown up empowered by global connectivity and with access to the best that science and knowledge has to offer. I am convinced that you will not allow your opinions to be dictated by narrow-mindedness and shallow sloganeering.

At the same time, I am encouraged that the nature of leadership has changed in the past few decades. The way you live your life – and the values you choose to express – is no longer determined by politicians. Today, the people creating a better world are young social entrepreneurs, activists and change-makers.

I am not saying that we can or should ignore calamitous leadership when we see it. On the contrary, as right wing forces grow – in reaction to increased uncertainty and fear in the world – we must be extra vigilant and stronger advocates for social justice and sustainability than ever before.

No doubt about it, the work of defending liberal values just got harder in the wake of Trump’s election. But as Lebanese poet and mystic Kahlil Gibran said: “Every dragon gives birth to a St George who slays it”. And we are the knights who will take up the challenge to fight for the better future you deserve.

My simple message to you is this: Do Not Be Disheartened. Sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us of what is really important in life. And in the darkest hours, that is precisely when the human spirit shines brightest. So do not be distracted by the ensuing circus in the White House. Stay focused on the big picture and the long view.

Build your future on strong ethical foundations – those values that many before you have fought and died for, and which you now cherish. Then, rest assured, you will triumph, no matter what political earthquakes, social upheavals, environmental catastrophes or moral storms may come your way.

You are not alone.



Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability

Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability

Article by Wayne Visser

First published on Huffington Post

I recently watched two sustainability documentaries – Cowspiracy, about the devastating environmental impacts of the agricultural industry and our meat-and-dairy intensive diets, and Before the Flood, Leonard Di Caprio’s impassioned plea for us to realise the seriousness of climate change and take urgent action.

Both films got me thinking about why we as human beings are so bad at acting on sustainability, when failure to do so threatens our own wellbeing, not to mention the lives of billions of other people and species. We truly are living in ‘The Age of Stupid’ (as another sustainability documentary put it), but why?

We are not stupid. We are incredibly smart and we can be amazingly compassionate. What’s more, we are more knowledgeable, connected and empowered than ever before. So why do we act as if we are dumb? Why are we consciously speeding our own demise and the sixth mass extinction?

Mind the Gap

On reflection, I believe that our inaction in the face of sustainability threats is due to a breakdown between causes and effects. Evolution has hardwired us to understand the impact of our actions –fight or flight in the face of danger is a case in point – but sometimes this survival instinct fails. And as far as I can tell, it fails for one of seven reasons:

1. The Time Gap

Our actions now may only have impacts in the future.

So there is a lag or delay between cause and effect. And we would rather choose certain pleasure now, even if it means possible pain from the impacts later. For example, we may choose to smoke or eat an unhealthy diet of fast foods or processed foods today, even though it will most likely cause cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes or a stroke later in life.

2. The Distance Gap

Our local actions may only have impacts somewhere else.

Or our actions may impact someone else who we don’t care about. So there is a physical dislocation or an emotional disconnect between cause and effect. For example, we are quite willing to buy a cheap T-shirt from our favourite discount store, even though it probably means it was manufactured under sweatshop conditions in Asia.

3. The Scale Gap

Our individual actions may be fairly benign but still have collectively destructive impacts.

Or we may not believe that changing our individual actions will result in any significant change to our collective impacts. For example, consuming palm-oil (in one-in-ten of the products we buy) does not seem individually irresponsible, even though it is causing tropical rainforest deforestation at a catastrophic scale in Indonesia and Malaysia.

4. The Cost-Benefit Gap

The perceived benefit of our actions may exceed the perceived cost of our impacts (for ourselves or others).

We may also believe we can avoid or isolate ourselves from the impacts of our actions, or mitigate against their effects. For example, the convenience of driving a petrol (gasoline) car seems to far outweigh the effort of cycling, taking a train or the investment cost of buying an electric car, let alone the nebulous future impact of air pollution or climate change.

5. The Causal Gap

The link between our actions and impacts may be unclear, ambiguous or unconvincing.

So the evidence for causality between cause and effect is weak or confused by contradictory opinions. For example, people may wonder: is my consumption of fossil fuel energy really linked to the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes across the world? Maybe that’s just from El Niño or El Niña. Besides, we just had a cold winter. And wasn’t there some manipulation of the climate data anyway?

6. The Incentive Gap

There may be a lack of incentives to be accountable for the impacts of our actions.

Or there may even be perverse incentives, which nudge us in the wrong direction. So we are not being rewarded or punished appropriately. For example, why should I pay more for sustainable products and green electricity, while the government is subsidising the agro-industrial and fossil fuel companies? And how can I be expected to make long-term decisions for the planet when my shareholders are only looking at the next quarter?

7. The Belief Gap

Accepting the impacts of our actions may contradict our ideological beliefs or vested interests.

So there is a paradigm conflict between cause and effect, resulting in an ‘inconvenient truth’. For example, people may reason: why should we welcome refugees if we believe they are a threat to our security, jobs and culture? Or why become vegetarian or vegan when eating meat is so much a part of our lifestyle and cultural identity?

Bridging the Gap

These seven cause-and-effect gaps are the keys to changing humanity’s kamikaze-like death spiral of self-destruction. For it is only by acknowledging each of these psychological drivers – and finding ways to bridge the gaps they represent – that will stand any chance of overcoming our present failure to act decisively on sustainability. So what might bridging strategies look like? Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  1. The Time Gap – Appeal to intergenerational responsibility, since people do care about whether their actions will harm their children and grandchildren’s future. Also, make likely future impacts as visual and visceral as possible, using multi-media.
  2. The Distance Gap – Encourage educational travel and emphasise our common humanity. Show that someone living in China or South Africa or the United States is really not that different to us; they feel the same emotions and they share similar struggles and aspirations.
  3. The Scale Gap – Focus on individual responsibility (Gandhi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’) and explain how tipping points work, namely that large-scale change can happen when a significant minority changes (research on flocking suggests as little as 10%).
  4. The CostBenefit Gap – Work hard to make the full costs and full benefits clear. This means improving not only the business case for sustainability, but also the personal case and the moral case. We need to get better at ‘selling’ the upside of sustainable living.
  5. The Causal Gap – Improve the traceability of products and materials and tell the story of products, including their journey across the full life cycle, as Patagonia did with their Footprint Chronicles. Communicate the evidence of causal links between consumption and sustainability impacts.
  6. The Incentive Gap – Lobby governments to correct perverse incentives, tax unsustainable or irresponsible economic activity and subsidise clean, green and ethical technologies and products. Also, find ways to reward customers for making more sustainable choices.
  7. The Belief Gap – Expose the vested interests of companies, politicians and the media and challenge inconsistencies between the actions of groups and their professed values. Also, give people a positive alternative belief system. We need a compelling mythology (meta-narrative) of sustainability.

Together, we need to figure out the best strategies for bridging each of these seven gaps and so I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. What have you found works best in engaging people to take action on sustainability? And what doesn’t work? If we learn from each other, we can turn the Age of Stupid into the Age of Inspiration!



[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Mind the Gap (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Sustainable Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2016) Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability, Huffington Post, 8 Nov.

Share this page


Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution

Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution

Article by Wayne Visser

First published on Huffington Post

The Industrial Revolution – a term popularised by English economic historian Arnold Toynbee – signalled the seismic shift from a predominantly agrarian, subsistence-based economy to an increasingly mechanised, market-based economy, following the invention of the steam engine. The Information Revolution of the 20th century marked another fundamental shift, driven by computers and the internet.

Now, once again, our industrial society is transforming though what I call the Syndustrial Revolution (or Integration Revolution), which is the confluence of innovation driven by smart, sharing and renewable technologies. We see this disruptive change occurring along intersecting fault-lines, namely the shifts from an atomised to a networked economy, from a surfeit to a sharing economy and from a linear to a circular economy.

The Syndustrial Revolution – and in particular the shift from a linear to a circular economy – is the subject of a feature-length documentary called Closing the Loop, which I am currently filming together with Emmy Award winning director, Graham Sheldon. For the past 8 months, we have been visiting pioneers and prophets of the Syndustrial Revolution from around the world to record their stories and predictions. In this Closing the Loop article series, I will be sharing the insights we have gained from these practitioners and thought-leaders.

More specifically, I will be unpacking what the Syndustrial Revolution really means, i.e. the business models behind the smart, sharing and circular economies. And I will be showing how companies and governments around the world are already taking steps to tap into this market opportunity, which Accenture analysis in Waste to Wealth by Jakob Rutqvist and Peter Lacy suggests could be worth at least $4.5 trillion by 2030.

Seeding the Next Industrial Revolution

To get us started, it is worth paying tribute to some of the intellectual progenitors of the Syndustrial Revolution. For example, British economist Kenneth Boulding introduced the concept of a ‘spaceship economy’ in 1966:

“… in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.”

Fast-forwarding through the decades, we then saw the practice of life cycle analysis emerging in the 1970s (promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency), industrial ecology in the 1980s (popularised by Robert Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos), cleaner production in the 1990s (promoted by the UN Environment Programme), cradle to cradle in the 2000s (conceived by William McDonough and Michael Braungart) and now, the closed-loop, or circular economy (being championed variously by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, World Economic Forum and UN Global Compact’s Breakthrough Project).

The sharing economy – a term popularised by Harvard law professors Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig around 2004-2008 – also has deep roots, stretching back to concepts of the civil economy, co-operative movement and social economy (all coming into usage in the 1700s), and more recently, ideas around collaborative consumption in the 1970s (introduced by Marcus Felson and Joe L. Spaeth), the love economy (Hazel Henderson) and local exchange trading systems (Michael Linton) in the 1980s and transition towns (Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne) and wikinomics (Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams) in the 2000s.

So what is this Syndustrial Revolution really? Is it smart cities and autonomous networked cars? Is recycling, or upcycling or zero-waste initiatives? Is it ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft? Is it the shift from buying products to leasing services? Is it moving from a take-make-waste linear economy to a circular economy? In fact, it is all these things and more, which is what makes it so confusing, not to mention jargon-laden.

In Search of a New Industrial Paradigm

So I’d like to propose a simple model, which I will use to frame our discussion in this series. I call it the New Syndustrial Model, because it is really a new economic paradigm and set of business models to create better synergies in our industrial society. A high-synergy society does not build economic capital by destroying natural capital, eroding social capital and exploiting human capital in the way that our current win-lose-lose-lose capitalist system does.

In the Old Industrial Model (see Figure 1), we take, make, use and waste:

  • We Take – by depleting non-renewable resources and over-using renewable resources (Extract) and by striving for limitless economic growth (Expand);
  • We Make – by producing any products and services that the market demands (Produce) and persuading customers to buy and consume more (Promote);
  • We Use – by buying more than needed, leading to overconsumption (Consume) and by individually owning what could be shared (Collect); and
  • We Waste – by turning consumed products into trash and pollution (Dump) and by creating toxins and impacts that harm people and nature (Damage)
Old Linear Industrial Model

In the New Syndustrial Model (see Figure 2), we borrow, create, benefit and return:

  • We Borrow – by conserving all natural resources (Reduce) and increasing renewable resource use (Renew);
  • We Create – by designing and making products with no negative impact (Refine) and innovating products with positive impact (Restore);
  • We Benefit – by extending product life through repairing and reusing (Reuse) and by improving product use through leasing and sharing (Redistribute); and
  • We Return – by using end-of-first-life (EOFL) materials to recreate the same products (Recycle) and to create new products (Reinvent).

Over the coming weeks and months, I will use this model to share what we have discovered during our filming of Closing the Loop. To be sure, many companies and economies are still stuck in the Old Industrial Model and we have a long way to go before we reach the New Syndustrial Model, but our explorations have showed that not only is it possible and preferrable, but that this new industrial revolution is already happening.



[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Closing the Loop (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Sustainable Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2016) Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution, Huffington Post, 17 Oct.

Share this page


Book Quotations – From “Sustainable Frontiers”

Sustainable Frontiers

Book Title: Sustainable Frontiers: Unlocking Change Through Business, Leadership and Innovation

Authors: Wayne Visser

Publication details: Greenleaf Publishing, 2015

For more information: See the Book Profile


  1. So much of making a successful transition to a more sustainable future depends on letting go
  2. We must find ways to let go of an industrial system that has served us well, but is no longer fit for purpose
  3. We have to let go of old styles of leadership & outdated models of business, high-impact lifestyles & selfish values
  4. We must learn to let go of cherished ideologies that are causing destruction
  5. We must learn to let go of beliefs about ways to tackle problems that are failing to resolve crises
  6. We are scared to let go, because we are comfortable clinging to our consumptive habits & selfish behaviours
  7. The future is uncertain – and our greatest fear as humans is a fear of the unknown
  8. We would rather trust (and fight to protect) the present we know than gamble on the future we don’t know
  9. Civilizations that fail to change are civilizations that ultimately fall
  10. The decline of civilizations starts with the failure to open the public and political mind to new possibilities
  11. People become trapped in a paradigm – a pattern of thinking – and are closed to a different, emergent world-view
  12. If we are to reach sustainable frontiers, it must begin with changing our collective minds
  13. First, we must change our collective minds – and only then will we change our collective behaviour
  14. We will all have to let go of cherished beliefs and strategies that are not working
  15. Sustainability I’ve discovered to be many things, but not an effective strategy for change – at least, not yet
  16. The essential idea of sustainability is about as exciting as watching lettuce wilt under the midday sun
  17. Sustainability has won many battles, but has lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people
  18. Sustainability has been warning of scarcity & survival, when what people want is prosperity & thriving
  19. The sustainability movement has failed to understand what it means to be human
  20. As human beings, our lives are all about change – about growth & development & making things better
  21. Sustainability “wonks” believe that they are all about Progress with a capital P. The world remains unconvinced
  22. Sustainability is like a geeky, pimply teenager who has come to our party & turned off the music
  23. Sustainability folks keep telling us that we would really be much happier if we stopped having so much darn fun!
  24. The key to having a good time, declares the sustainability mantra, is to practice a lot more self-restraint
  25. All those on board the sustainability austerity train, say “Hell, yeah!” … What, no one?
  26. If we are to survive (let alone thrive), the world is going to have to change – dramatically, radically & irreversibly
  27. When change does turn our lives upside down (as it will), how can we become more resilient?
  28. Change is all about connection. In other words, connectivity is the underlying catalyst for change
  29. Learning only happens when synapses are formed: they connect the neurons to each other
  30. Scaling the number of networked relationships is at the heart of change, including biological & social evolution
  31. If we want to save the sustainability movement, we will have to get much smarter about change
  32. We desperately need transformational leadership in order to advance the frontier of sustainability
  33. Calamitous leadership led us all, Pied Piper-like, into the 2008 global financial crisis
  34. The global financial crisis was ushered in while leading companies happily chanted “greed is good” in unison
  35. To survive in the sustainability era, companies will have to move beyond their aggressive tendencies
  36. Companies need to become genuinely concerned about the perspectives & wellbeing of all their stakeholders
  37. Stakeholders, if maltreated, can bite bite back – & even the most macho multinationals can bleed
  38. Too many companies have grown used to speaking to stakeholders only on a ‘need to know’ basis
  39. There is no shortage of companies that mistake ‘telling’ for ‘dialogue’ & get backchat from angry stakeholders
  40. Our incumbent global cadre of executive leadership is being forced to shapeshift, like it or not
  41. Those that have the foresight to change fundamentally are more likely to survive and thrive
  42. When it comes to sustainability, we are actually talking about changing a vastly complex system
  43. It takes a complex mix of different players to bring about lasting change for sustainability
  44. The bottom line is that we are gambling with our climate future, but we can still spread our bets
  45. If we want real transformation in society, our best chance is to keep spinning the wheel of systems change
  46. If there is one reason why organisational change fails, it is because we underestimate resistance to change
  47. Resistance to change comes from inertia – and inertia happens because change is like an iceberg
  48. Shifting our habits, attitudes, beliefs and values is the real secret to making change happen
  49. Changing a leader’s world-view is the first step to changing an organisation
  50. Sustainability reports are practically burping with all the ‘low hanging fruit’ companies have gorged on
  51. As humans, we are always ‘chasing the blue’ – so we have to be convinced that where we are going is sunnier
  52. Most people in most parts of the world don’t believe a sustainable future is necessarily a better future
  53. A blue skies strategy means being willing to take a risk as a leader & to set big hairy audacious goals
  54. Blue-sky leaders know that we are only inspired by reaching for an impossible dream
  55. We desperately need more Apollo-like sustainability missions that the public can get genuinely excited about
  56. Impacts that are far away, or in the future, are like smoldering fires in the distance: not action-worthy
  57. People need to feel the heat: directly, personally, here and now. That might mean lighting a few fires
  58. If you’re trying to make change happen, use burning platforms to create the urgency for change
  59. Use blue skies to create the reasons to change, baby steps for momentum & big beliefs to sustain energy
  60. Unlocking change is not only about what you do, but also whether you are tapped into your own power
  61. There are deep psychological – even existential – reasons why we “do” sustainability
  62. Sustainability allows us to feel that our work is aligned to our personal values
  63. Sustainability is a bit like chess – it is complex, dynamic & challenging, like an earth-puzzle that needs solving
  64. There are four sustainability leader archetypes – experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists
  65. Experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists each represent a different kind of sustainability change agent
  66. In the world of sustainability superheroes, you should know which cape and tights fits you best
  67. Aligning with your inner superhero allows you to be more professionally effective and purpose-inspired
  68. For change to be sustained and transformational, we need the joint efforts of the sustainability Fantastic Four
  69. The sustainability Fantastic Four superhero powers are knowledge, collaboration, imagination & compassion
  70. The first step to overcoming short-termism is to challenge the prevailing wisdom
  71. Sustainability must be recast as being fundamentally about the way a company does business
  72. We must keep identifying & promoting actions that question shareholder supremacy & financial speculation
  73. Trust comes from investing in long-term relations, rather than attempting to buy positive opinions
  74. Companies lose the trust of stakeholders because they over-promise and under-deliver
  75. Only if there is a genuine strategic commitment to sustainability from the top will we see meaningful change
  76. Stakeholders remain skeptical of companies’ motives & commitment to societal improvement – & rightly so
  77. To overcome stakeholder skepticism, companies must commit to bold strategic social & environmental goals
  78. To succeed, sustainability has to be translated into the language of the business or sector or functional area
  79. Unless sustainability is built into the company’s compensation schemes, middle managers will not align
  80. We need sustainability leaders to be consistent role models & to put their money where their mouths are
  81. When employees feel proud of their organization’s sustainability efforts, they become its biggest champion
  82. Unless the C-suite is on board with sustainability, all other efforts are bound to fail
  83. Sustainability leaders are able to think systemically, to see interconnections & to bridge silos
  84. Sustainability leaders will always find a way to put their values to work, no matter what industry they’re in
  85. We all share responsibility for inspiring & supporting each other to create a better world
  86. Revolutionary change is more often the result of new ways of thinking than new ways of doing
  87. CSR & triple bottom line efforts have been criticised as little more than window dressing & corporate spin
  88. Employees believe they work for great organisations when they trust the people they work for
  89. We must create work environments that support women who do not want to trade-off their career & family
  90. Creating a family-friendly enterprise requires a shift in leadership perceptions & organizational culture
  91. Let’s celebrate workplaces that support not only you & your job, but also your family & your quality of life
  92. Promoting cycling among employees is not only good for personal health, but also good for the planet
  93. It is a popular myth that CSR is not relevant, too expensive or not incentivized for SMEs
  94. Implicit CSR includes informal ethical practices that are not dependent on size or financial muscle
  95. I look forward to the day when “small is beautiful” applies as much to sustainable business as economic activity
  96. Understanding virtual water – embedded in the things we trade – is critical as our global water crisis increases
  97. To get us through the day, it takes about a hundred times our own weight in water [in industrialised economies]
  98. We all have footprints. But we can lighten the tread & ensure they are heading in a more sustainable direction
  99. Research shows that businesses with more women on their board of directors bring a string of sustainability benefits
  100. The circular economy – where closed-loop production brings us closer to zero waste – is a real business opportunity
  101. Our economy is so inefficient that less than 1% of the resources we extract still exist as products 6 months after sale
  102. Scaling up the circular economy requires concrete measures to meet mult-stakeholder sustainability targets
  103. The circular economy represents an annual $380-630 bn material cost saving opportunity in the EU
  104. If we fail to achieve a sustainable technology revolution, we will face “overshoot and collapse” as a civilization
  105. Not only is technological innovation booming, but it is rapidly shifting twoards sustainable solutions
  106. Many of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 most promising technologies have a clear enviornmental & social focus
  107. The market for clean energy technologies is projected to grow from $248 bn in 2013 to $398 bn in 2023
  108. More patents have been filed in the past 5 years than the previous 30 for climate change mitigation technologies
  109. Contrary to what some may think, emerging markets cannot be assumed to lag on sustainable technological innovation
  110. What does the future hold? The sustainable technology innovation wave is only just building
  111. According to McKinsey & Co., resource productivity opportunities could save us $2.9 trillion by 2030
  112. The challenges of the 21st century will stretch our collective capacity for innovation like never before
  113. To ensure food security, we need to find 175-220 million hectares of additional cropland by 2030
  114. To ensure food security, we need to increase total food production by about 70% by 2030
  115. We have to tackle the problem of 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year – a third of all food produced
  116. Resource productivity opportunities show that reducing food waste could return $252 bn in savings by 2030
  117. Creating a sustainable “cold chain” in the developing world could eliminate 25-50% of food wastage
  118. The sustainability revolution is as much about changing perceptions, attitudes & behaviours as changing technology
  119. Agricultural demand will require a 140% increase in water supply over the next 20 years compared with the past 20
  120. It is estimated that the global biofuels market could double to $185.3 bn by 2021
  121. We are all, with our modern lifestyles, hooked on chemicals, for energy, colourants, food, health & beauty
  122. The WHO estimates that the chemical industry causes around a million deaths globally every year
  123. Chemicals are harming people, yet because of their benefits & the world’s addiction, they cannot be eliminated
  124. The cost to the global economy of chemical pollution has been estimated at $546 bn, rising to $1.9 tn by 2050
  125. Can the chemicals ever be sustainable? The answer is maybe. The big leap forward is green chemistry
  126. The “green” label has been so abused over the past few decades that it is wise to suspect PR spin or greenwashing
  127. The green chemistry market is set to grow from $2.8 bn in 2011 to $98.5 bn by 2020, saving the industry $65.5 bn
  128. The top benefits from implementing sustainable technology are resource productivity & economic development
  129. The top barriers to sustainable technology adoption are the local of local qualified workers & institutional capacity
  130. The marketing benefits of demonstrating sustainable technologies in developing countries can be significant
  131. Major reductions in the environmental impacts of the chemicals industry can be achieved by adopting best practices
  132. Resource scarcity & human rights issues surrounding metals extraction mean the industry is facing some tough realities
  133. People living in extreme poverty could drop from 1.2 billion in 2010 to under 100 million by 2050
  134. An environmental disaster scenario could mean 3.1 billion more people living in extreme poverty by 2050
  135. Unless the world’s booming economies can lighten the weighty anchor of resource consumption, we will all sink
  136. The largest metals & mining companies have environmental external costs of $220 billion, 77% relating to carbon
  137. The picture that emerges is of a metals sector under seige, an industry that is soon to be the victim of its own success
  138. Iron & steel energy efficiency & end-use steel efficiency could deliver $278 billion in resource savings by 2030
  139. The sustainability impacts of the extractive sector are serious – sometimes even tragic & catastrophic
  140. Technology, the source of so much destruction in the mining & metals industry, can also be its saviour
  141. Today, less than a third of 60 metals analysed have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50% & 34 are below 1%
  142. The best available sustainable technology is not always the most applicable, especially in developing countries
  143. Technology can help to rescue the high-impact extractives sector from its siege by the forces of sustainability
  144. Extractives companies need to recast themselves as resource stewardship companies
  145. Extractives companies must become experts at circular production and post-consumer “mining”
  146. Customers & governments need to give up their compulsive throw-away habits & embrace the take-back economy
  147. Necessity, rather than an unexpected attack on conscience, will drive the transition to a circular economy
  148. Sustainable technologies are transforming our outdated industrial model, which is no longer fit for purpose
  149. Without innovation, we are unlikely solve many of global social & environmental problems
  150. Eco-innovation is the next evolution beyond eco-efficiency, to strategically transform the whole business model
  151. When it comes to reinventing capitalism, eco-innovation is one of the next waves business will want to surf
  152. Technology presents citizens with far greater opportunities to engage with sustainability issues than ever before
  153. Hyper-connectivity makes responsiveness more possible – and less likely
  154. Value-action gaps make stakeholder feedback more collectable – and less valuable
  155. The wisdom of the crowd can – without validation – also become the tragedy of the commons
  156. The proliferation of sustainability standards has led to market confusion for investors & consumers
  157. What is missing across the sustainability standards arena is greater clarity & more co-ordination
  158. It is inevitable that advances in “big data” analytics will start to be applied to sustainability databases
  159. Sustainability data structuring, searchability & signposting will become at least as important as a qualitative narrative
  160. What really matters for the fututre of transparency is how sustainability data is organised & made accessible
  161. Sustainability reporting is only one face of the transparency coin; on the other side is sustainability ratings

UN Sustainable Development Goals – Finalised Text & Diagrams

Transforming Our World:

The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development

5 Ps of Sustainable Development, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), 2015
5 Ps of Sustainable Development, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), 2015

Download Full Document

Transforming Our World (PDF, 29 pages)


This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.

All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

The Goals and targets will stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:


We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.


We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.


We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.


We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.


We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realised. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

5 Ps of Sustainable Development, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), 2015
5 Ps of Sustainable Development, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), 2015

17 Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

Word Map of SDGs

UN Sustainable Development Goals - Word Map (2015)
UN Sustainable Development Goals – Word Map (2015)

Download Full Document

Transforming Our World (PDF, 29 pages)

Download Diagram

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Image[/button] 5 Ps of Sustainable Development (Simple)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Image[/button] 5 Ps of Sustainable Development (Detailed)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Image[/button] UN SDGs Word Map (PNG)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=”“]Link[/button] UN Sustainable Development Platform (website)



Masterclass: Transformational Leadership for Sustainability

Masterclass: Transformational Leadership for Sustainability

24 June 2015, Johannesburg, South Africa

The Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) invites you to an exclusive masterclass with globally recognised sustainability expert Dr Wayne Visser, Transnet Chair of Sustainable Business at GIBS and Senior Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Dr Visser will share the latest research, standards and cases on what makes the best sustainability leaders effective as change agents in their organisations and in society.

Masterclass benefits:

  • This session combines theory and practical case studies and after attending you will be able to:
  • Identify the characteristics of good leaders for sustainable business (traits, styles, skills/competencies and knowledge);
  • Assess what makes leaders effective change agents, and self-assess what type of change agent you are or need your organisation to employ; and
  • Understand the new ISO standards (Annex SL) and the specifications of Clause 5 on Leadership.

Who should attend?

  • Learning and development practitioners, HR directors, heads of procurement, as well as management representatives for sustainability, environment, occupational health & safety, social responsibility and quality will benefit from this masterclass.

Masterclass outline:

  • Drivers of Sustainability Leadership: Internal and external context; and the rise and fall of sustainability leaders.
  • Characteristics of Sustainability Leaders: Traits, styles, skills and knowledge; competency frameworks; and actions of sustainability leaders.
  • Sustainability Leaders as Change Agents: Change frameworks by Kotter, Visser, Ainger and Gladwell; and purpose-inspired leadership types.

Masterclass details:

  • Date: Wednesday, 24 June 2015
  • Time: 08:30 – 12:30 (a light lunch will be served after the event)
  • Venue: GIBS Campus, 26 Melville Road, Illovo, Sandton, South Africa


Please click here to confirm your attendance by 29 May 2015. For further information contact Bongiwe Ramaboea on 011 771 4161 or

Please note that there is no charge for this event. Regrettably this invitation is not transferable and seating is limited.


Book Quotations – From “Beyond Reasonable Greed”

Beyond Reasonable Greed

Book Title: Beyond Reasonable Greed: Why Sustainable Business is a Much Better Idea!

Authors: Wayne Visser and Clem Sunter

Publication details: Tafelberg Human & Rousseau, 2002

For more information: See the Book Profile


  1. Magic is the revelation that results from a profound change in perception or understanding

  2. Bad magic has moved many companies into a state that is beyond reasonable greed

  3. The board of directors have become a group privileged people driven by unreasonable greed & feathering their own nests

  4. Corporate governance is sometimes not worth the (shredded) paper it is written on

  5. If the people implementing corporate governance do not have their hearts in the right place, it becomes a charade

  6. We must constantly shapeshift, liberating ourselves from the old form that defined and constrained us in the past

  7. Shapeshifting means morphing into a completely new being, with new characteristics & potential for the future

  8. Sustainability is a new way of perceiving business – its purpose, its methods & its impacts

  9. For companies that can adapt & respond to sustainability, there are new markets to capture & profits to be made

  10. For companies that are ill-prepared, sustainability is going to become a financial burden, even a threat to survival

  11. In order to make real progress towards sustainability, companies must first admit that we face a serious global crisis

  12. The fact of the matter is that our lifestyles, our products & our business processes are unsustainable

  13. We need companies that have the foresight & courage to be part of the solution, rather than remain the problem

  14. Being in business today is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland – a chaotic & confusing place to be

  15. The demigod once known as the shareholder has mutated into the multiheaded beast called the stakeholder

  16. Introspective accounting has been turned inside-out & become accountability to the big wide world out there

  17. Suddenly, the formerly mute public citizen has an amplified voice through technology-enabled networking

  18. Today, the bark of a small NGO watchdog can echo and resonate around the world

  19. Amidst whirlwind changes, many companies operate on high alert, in a permanent state of emergency response

  20. Our corporate culture is saturated with military jargon, with strategies, tactics, competition, targeting & launching

  21. Businesses struggle to distinguish between short-term storms and the long-term trend of a climate that’s changing

  22. When business fails to distinguish the long-term effect of gradual changes, it displays classic boiled frog syndrome

  23. There are many threats that could boil the corporate toads, from creeping income inequality to climate change

  24. Most companies are already in hot water – perhaps mistaking the cooking pot for a jacuzzi?

  25. The rules of the game are changing in radical ways that will make cherished business thinking & practices obselete

  26. The best chance for companies to survive change is to develop a better understanding of how evolution itself works

  27. Remember that evolution also happens in great leaps of sudden transformation, so-called discontinuities

  28. Mathematicians know well that dynamic systems often go non-linear after a specific tipping point is reached

  29. Change is often like an epidemic – it starts slowly, but when it reaches the steep part of the S-curve, watch out!

  30. In change, the tipping point is always a relatively small number, substantially less than the expected 50 percent

  31. The universe & society as a rational, mechanical construct is giving way to a new, creative, holistic understanding

  32. Sustainability stands on the brink of transforming the underlying business model of the past few hundred years

  33. Holism is a fundamental tendency in nature & society to form wholes of every-greater synergy

  34. The relationship between things – be they objects, people or systems – is as important as the things themselves

  35. The greatest creativity – in nature, huamns, organisations & society – happens when different fields overlap

  36. Some strategies of global business are like selfish cancer cells taking over – and ultimately killing – their host body

  37. The current model driving business has outlived its usefulness

  38. The symbols of success so beloved by CEOs, the financial media & market analysts alike are beginning to look empty

  39. Business already faces clear and present dangers in the economic, social and environmental spheres

  40. No society can function fairly or effectively if every individual is blindly pursuing his or her self-interest

  41. Each time the world changes, humanity is forced to let go of some of its most cherished beliefs

  42. As a global society, we desperately need to create a new mythology to guide & inspire our collective psyche

  43. We are living through a time of profound change & no more so than in the business arena

  44. The old ways of the past are no longer appropriate for a postindustrial, sustainability-driven society

  45. Sustainability is not only a new scientific concept, it is an entirely new busienss philosophy based on a new mythology

  46. Sustainability requires that business thinks differently about its role in society and how it goes about what it does

  47. For business to survive & thrive in an age of sustainability, it must rethink its identity, its underlying nature

  48. At the moment, the majority of businesses embody the characteristics of a lion – an impressive predator

  49. The future calls for different strengths in business, such as those of the mighty elephant – a wise leader

  50. Faced with the changes & challenges ahead, the skill of shapeshifting is going to be indispensable to companies

  51. The world is changing so fast that only a company with the adaptability and resourcefulness of a fox will survive

  52. Sustainability only works when it is a passionately embraced philosophy that infuses every business level and action

  53. There is nothing small about multinationals – the critical thing is what they do with their immense size and power

  54. As military jargon crept into the boardroom – strategy, tactics, targeting – so did the persona of the predator

  55. Companies regularly shrug off their social & environmental impacts in the pursuit of economic growth & profits

  56. Business has become used to viewing its economic contribution as a justifiable end in its own right

  57. Companies, and their government regulators, seem unable or unwilling to say no to harmful economic growth

  58. The biggest myths of our time – which pervade business – are that growth is always good and bigger is always better

  59. In contrast to trickle-down economics, in most companies, the benefits always seem to trickle upwards

  60. Prevailing economic incentives make it almost impossible to not to choose profits over people & the planet

  61. Nature’s underlying characteristic is one of interdependent relationships & symbiotic co-operation

  62. Competition in nature only takes place within a broader context of co-operation

  63. In a sustainability era, a company’s success will depend on cultivating multi-stakeholder, win-win relationships

  64. Cowboy companies believe there are no restrictions on growth, resource consumption or waste generation

  65. The world has become a smaller, fuller place, in which the corporate cowboy lifestyle is no longer appropriate

  66. Are we ready to accept that the common good is not being served by today’s predatory business model?

  67. For companies that wish to endure – to be literally sustainable – adaptation is the key

  68. Most companies have a very poor radar system for detecting & responding to threats that build slowly over time

  69. Forget quarterly; companies are going to need to learn what it means to survive epochs & symbolic ice ages

  70. Sustainable companies survive & thrive by their capacity to identify, nurture & sustain cooperative relationships

  71. Like Dumbo, sustainable companies need to believe they can fly against the odds & in the face of public perception

  72. In business, we are short-sighted slaves to this year’s calendar, next quarter’s performance & this week’s diary

  73. Business & economic growth will always be dumb – rather than smart – until it mimics the intelligence of ecosystems

  74. Sustainability extends accountability to stakeholders; so sustainable companies choose to engage constructively

  75. Unsustainable companies waste time, energy & money trying to manipulate or fight their stakeholders

  76. Sustainability raises the bar of legislation; so sustainable companies proactively anticipate the rising tide

  77. Unsustainable companies will increasingly incur fines, penalties & clean-up costs & be targeted for litigation

  78. As the rules of trade shift, sustainable companies will increasingly refuse to trade with predatory companies

  79. In the future, access to finance by unsustainable companies will become more difficult and expensive

  80. Avoiding the costs of social and environmental impacts will make sustainable companies more profitable in future

  81. The switch to a sustainable economy is creating new market opportunities that smart companies are investing in

  82. Unsustainable companies will increasingly fail the corporate governance acid test applied by investors

  83. Government policies must make companies reap the full cost of the social & environmental impacts they sow

  84. Unsustainable companies must expect to suffer consumer boycotts, civil lawsuits & disruptive NGO activism

  85. In the high stakes game of public reputation, sustainable companies are more likely to attract loyal support

  86. Only when sustainability is an investment criteria will sustainable companies will reap fair financial rewards

  87. Values are exactly what they say they are – a reflection of the things we value

  88. Companies’ values are made visible by their actions, not their words or spin doctor’s marketing material

  89. Profit maximisation is often anti-competitive, driving companies towards market domination & monopolistic control

  90. Companies have adopted the predator persona so completely that hunting & killing in the market feels natural

  91. Businesses are not genetically programmed to be predators & neither are the people that work for them

  92. Why do we teach our kids to be caring at home & then teach our executives to be ruthless in the workplace?


Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business

Article by Wayne Visser

Written for The Guardian.

Web 2.0 is not just about sharing photos on Facebook. It is a new mindset focused on collective intelligence and co-creation.

Web 2.0, or the ability to share and manipulate information online through user collaboration, has had a disruptive effect on business. Customers now expect to participate in the corporate world, and place a greater value on transparency in return.

This new environment, termed “wikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, is based on four principles: openness, peering, sharing and acting globally. Here are the top 10 ways that web 2.0 technologies and digital cultures will impact on business, driving them towards more sustainable behaviour during the next decade.

1. Net value footprinting

Business has evolved over the past two decades from being highly opaque to gradually embracing more transparent practices. This has been a result of regulation, such as the Toxic Release Inventory in the US, which requires thousands of American companies to report their use of more than 650 toxic chemicals, and voluntary efforts including the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability guidelines.

But in a web 2.0 world, companies are expected to measure and disclose their impact across the entire lifecycle of their products. This process of quantifying business’s economic, social and environmental costs to society is sometimes called full-cost accounting. I call it “net value footprinting”. Good examples of this approach include Puma’s environmental profit and loss statement and the research carried out by Global Footprint Network.

2. Forensic impact analysis

While progressive companies are steadily improving their transparency, there will also be millions of irresponsible companies trying to fly under the radar of regulation and public scrutiny, running polluting operations that expolot cheap labour and abuse human rights.

These rogue businesses can now be caught and exposed through the emerging practice of forensic impact analysis. This will happen through a combination of traceability technology (which finds the electronic footprints left by all businesses in the supply chain), forensic substance analysis (which can identify the source of fibres, chemicals and other product components) and vigilant activists and consumers who capture malpractices using photographs, videos and audio recordings leaked via social media.

This approach has been pioneered in the food industry, where reputable businesses use barcodes to monitor and qualify every stage of their production process. Tracking techniques were also used to expose Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste along the Ivory Coast.

3. Crowdsourcing

Companies from the pre-digital age still believe that focus groups, public meetings, stakeholder panels and the occasional online or instore survey are adequate for taking the pulse of their customers and investors. At the same time, they are often distrustful of ideas suggested outside their organisations.

By contrast, web 2.0 savvy companies realise that the world has moved into an era of crowdsourcing. Future businesses will use filtered, or expert, crowds to monitor their reputation, get feedback on sustainable innovations and ask for help in solving difficult dilemmas. For example, Sony’s Open Planet Ideas and FutureScapes campaigns aimed to generate new sustainable technology ideas.

4. Disruptive partnerships

Companies have had a decade to get used to the idea of cross-sector partnerships, which have been heavily promoted through the United Nations and given a boost through inclusion in the Millennium Development Goals. But now business is expected to get into more challenging partnerships that disrupt the status quo. One example is Rio Tinto working with the World Conservation Union to reduce the impact on biodiversity.

These relationships also play out online. Greenpeace used social media very effectively to campaign against Nestle’s Kit Kat brand, after finding an Indonesian supplier was clearing tropical rainforest to grow palm oil. A year later the campaign group praised Nestle for its no deforestation commitment through its challenging partnership with TFT, a sustainable forestry NGO.

5. Open sourcing

One of the biggest changes in the society over the past 10 years has been the explosion of social media. This revolution goes beyond sharing our holiday photos on Facebook or micro-blogging the minutiae of our lives on Twitter. The more fundamental innovation is a shift in thinking and practice towards open sourcing, which at its heart is about the idea of co-creation.

This has influenced good business practices. After a decade under siege – with big pharma being accused of overpricing patented brands and blocking access to cheaper, generic and often life-saving drugs – GlaxoSmithKline committed to put chemical processes that it has intellectual property rights over that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a patent pool so they can be explored by other researchers. Similarly, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk decided last year to open up all its patents “for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

6. Wiki-ratings

A common feature of web 2.0 design is that it allows users to express an opinion on content, from the ubiquitous “like” button on Facebook to the fresh-red versus rotten-green tomato movie rating system on When it comes to business, wiki-based platforms allow the public to rate and comment in detail on the economic, governance, social and environmental performance of companies. One such platform is Wikirate, where I serve on the advisory board, which allows for real-time updating. Any ethical infringement – or a positive sustainability innovation – will be reflected almost immediately in the company’s rating. Other pioneering examples in the ratings space are GoodGuide, WeGreen, and Project Label.

7. Prototyping

In a web 2.0 world prototypes are launched early, as imperfect versions used solicit rapid user feedback in a process known as”beta-testing”. One way to bring about such rapid, open-source prototyping is through competitions.

The X-Prize describes itself as “bringing about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” by offering multi-million dollar prizes in return for innovative ideas to tackle global problems. Another example is Virgin’s $25 million Earth Challenge to help design a “commercially viable design which results in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of the earth’s climate system”.

8. Smart mobbing

Web 2.0 technologies have spawned a new type of protest activity called smart mobbing. This means using real-time media and sharing platforms, such as text messages and social media status updates, to rapidly organise a crowd.

Viral text messaging in the Philippines helped to oust former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and the use of Twitter proved pivotal during the Arab spring uprisings in 2011. Smart mobs can also co-ordinate virtual activity, such as when the hacktivist group Anonymous encouraged its followers to launch cyber attacks against Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and other companies opposing Wikileaks in 2011.

Mission 4636, meanwhile, created a text-mapping emergency communications system after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In future, companies and governments will need to anticipate and respond to activist smart mobs as well as seed their own.

9. App farming

The war of the computing giants has turned into the battle of the apps, spawning a new generation of software applications focused on social and environmental solutions. Google Play lists more than 400 sustainability-related apps. The most popular is BlaBlaCar, which connects drivers with empty seats with people looking for a ride, allowing users to search the biggest European car-sharing community.

Common tools in this genre include ethical shopping guides, carbon footprint calculators and educational games. Businesses of the future will be judged on whether they can seed and grow farms of apps that provide solutions to the world’s most serious challenges.

10. Plug and play

Today’s smart technology detects its operating environment, installs whatever software is needed and begins operating without any action by the user. Rather than having to manually unplug or switch off household electrical devices to save energy, plug-and-play technology for the home automatically detects all idle devices and disables them remotely. Similar approaches apply to optimal energy-efficient heating and cooling of buildings, and low-carbon driving, which automatically chooses acceleration and cruise speeds that reduce emissions.

In future automatic product filters will match our preferences for fairtrade, organic, beauty without cruelty, or other ethical products. When shopping online, we will only see those items that match our preferences. In store, we will be alerted to products that meet our standards by automatically scanning barcodes through mobile devices.

The message is clear for business. Web 2.0 is not just about everybody being continuously online. Rather, it is a new business mindset that uses collective intelligence and co-creation to find solutions to our global challenges, and uses technology to achieve speed and scale in spreading innovation to the parts of the world with the most urgent unmet needs.


[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Kaleidoscope Futures (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2015) Top 10 web trends shaping the future of sustainable business. The Guardian, 22 January 2015.

Share this page


Iron ore and rare earth metals mining: an industry under siege?

Iron ore and rare earth metals mining: an industry under siege?

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Sustainable Innovation & Technology series for The Guardian.

Resource scarcity and human rights issues surrounding metals extraction, coupled with unrelenting global demand mean the industry is facing some tough realities.

The good news: the number of people living in extreme poverty could drop from 1.2 billion in 2010 to under 100 million by 2050, according to UN projections. The bad news is that the flotilla of hope currently rising on the tide of economic growth in emerging countries is at serious risk of being dragged down under the waves. The reason is growing resource scarcity and the environmental disasters that could ensue.

As always, the poorest will be worst affected. The UNDP projects that, under an environmental disaster scenario, instead of reducing the population living in extreme poverty in south Asia from over half a billion to less than 100m by 2050, it could rise to 1.2bn. In sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers may rise from under 400m to over a billion. For the world as a whole, an environmental disaster scenario could mean 3.1 billion more people living in extreme poverty in 2050, as compared with an accelerated development scenario.

The message is simple: unless these booming economies – and the high-income countries they churn out ‘widgets’ for – can lighten the weighty anchor of resource consumption, we will all, sooner or later, get that sinking feeling. To illustrate the point, demand for steel – driven in no small part by a global car fleet doubling to 1.7bn by 2030 – is expected to increase by about 80% from 1.3bn tonnes in 2010 to 2.3bn tonnes in 2030. These trends raise red flags about material shortages of many metals in the future.

Besides steel, rare earth metals are cause for concern, as they comprise 17 chemical elements that are critical in the automotive, electronics and renewables sectors. Not only is demand for these metals rising, China is responsible for about 97% of global production. The United States, Japan and Germany are making big investments to secure their own supplies, but these new mining projects may take a decade to come on stream. As a result, supply shortages are predicted. Yet rare earth metal recycling rates remain very low – only 1% in Germany, for example.

Add the challenge of ‘conflict minerals’ – and the metals sector starts to look like the Titanic. The metals of most concern right now are tantalum (or coltan), tin, tungsten and gold – collectively known as 3TG – which are used extensively in the electronics industry. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries have been the hot spots – and the target of legislation like the Frank Dodd Act in the US – but other conflict minerals can (and probably will) arise for other metals in other parts of the world in future.

Besides resource scarcity and human rights issues, the mining and metals industry has significant environmental impacts, especially on land, energy and water. Trucost estimated that the largest metals and mining companies of the world have environmental external costs of around $220bn, 77% of which relate to greenhouse gases.

For iron ore, if carbon prices would rise to a level of $30 per tonne, iron ore costs would increase by 3.3% across the industry. An adequate incorporation of the water costs of iron ore mining would result in a 2.5% cost increase. Combining carbon and water costs, this could mean increased costs of up to 16% for some operators in water-scarce regions. These land, energy and water impacts also appear to be increasing, as about three times as much material needs to be moved for the same ore extraction as a century ago.

The picture that emerges is of a metals sector under siege, an industry that is soon to be the victim of its own success. And yet it is also one of the sectors that has the most potential for innovation and technological solutions. McKinsey and Co estimate that iron and steel energy efficiency and end-use steel efficiency could deliver $278bn in resource savings by 2030 and go some way towards addressing the metals scarcity crisis. The metals sector may still be in danger, but sustainable technologies could make the situation better.



[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Iron ore and rare earth metals mining: an industry under siege? (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Kaleidoscope Futures (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2014) Iron ore and rare earth metals mining: an industry under siege? The Guardian, 24 October 2014.

Share this page