Elaine Rumboll
Elaine Rumboll

Ecovation – lessons from nature for ecologically innovative capitalism

Scientists the world over are in agreement: The earth’s resources are depleting at unprecedented rates and ecosystems all over the planet are in decline. Is this the end of the world as we know it or is it a massive opportunity for the endless inventiveness of humanity?

There is evidence that human beings are rising to the occasion by developing innovative solutions to the problems that confront us. Interestingly, many of these solutions are coming from industry and big business, usually the prime suspects for the cause of environmental crises.

What these pioneers are illustrating is that business in the 21st century must move towards a new model of capitalism, or risk jeopardising the future of the planet and, of course, their own existence. This new model does not insist that they compromise growth or even profitability. Instead it suggests simply that profitability needs to be based on a sustainable model of ecological innovation. Ecovation is the process by which responsible capitalism aligns with ecological innovation to construct products which have a generative nature and are recyclable back into the environment for usage in other industries.

Many scientists, entrepreneurs and business owners are investing time, money and resources into discovering innovations that serve the environment while still making good business sense. In fact, environmental technology — or green technology — is currently estimated at a value of 550billion Euros annually worldwide.

These Ecovation leaders are turning challenges into opportunities and looking to nature for their inspiration. Unlike humankind, nature knows no waste. Every natural ecosystem works in harmony — one species’ by-product is another’s sustenance — while in contrast, our human-made systems often create more waste than actual goods produced.

A recent article on the IOL website entitled, “Our Wasteful Consumers”, claimed that the global community dumps an estimated 50 million tons of unused food into landfills each year. Within the current context of worldwide food shortages, this is an alarming statistic. Unfortunately, other precious resources like water and air are suffering from poor management and planning too.

The good news, however, is that big problems mean there is big room for improvement.

Several new inventions are making inroads on the market in order to fill this space, and trends show that, where affordable, consumers are likely to make greener buying choices. Businesses that invest in green technology today will stand to win over a growing market of ecologically conscious consumers in the future.

Furthermore, companies that cut out waste in their production cycles also stand to save money, as Lean Management principles in the motor industry clearly demonstrate. So, both the environmental and financial imperatives exist to push ecovation forward as the new model for capitalism.

Many exciting examples of environmental technology have emerged over the past few years, from biofuels and inventions that harness natural energy to air purifying tiles and anti-bacterial bamboo sheets.

Engineering and architectural design are two disciplines that are increasingly embracing the green movement as people and businesses start demanding more efficient buildings with a smaller impact on the environment. From recycled bricks, straw wall insulation, solar energy and VOC-free paint, to anti-pollution tiles and grey water recycling tanks, seemingly every aspect of construction and interior design is getting a green makeover.

Some people may be put off by the extra cost of these innovations upfront, but the money they will save in the long term is worth the initial investment. And considering South Africa’s current energy crisis and impending electricity price hike, looking to alternative energy sources and removing yourself from the national grid finally seems to be an attractive option.

The demand for biodegradable alternatives to plastic and packaging is also growing and several such products are making their way into the South African market. Unlike conventional packaging, which is made from toxic chemicals and takes hundreds of years to degrade, these alternatives are 100% natural and break down into water, CO2 and compost in as little as 45 days. What’s more , they look, feel and function in exactly the same way as conventional packaging. Exclusive Books, The Body Shop and the Young Designers Emporium have already brought these biodegradable bags into their stores.

Such strides towards ecological innovation also make good business sense as they enhance the reputation of your business and help to build brand loyalty.

These simple examples demonstrate that a move towards sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the luxuries and comforts we have become accustomed to. It just requires looking for smarter, cleaner, more efficient ways of doing and making the same — or better — things.

It makes sense for the planet, it makes sense for consumers and in the long term it makes financial sense to go green. It has been stated that, in future, the two most pertinent questions which consumers will require businesses they purchase from to answer will be: Where does it come from, and where is it going to?

It is at one’s peril that these questions are ignored in manufacturing and production of consumer goods and services.

The scene is set for business to join the ecovation movement and nature seems to be the blueprint to follow on this quest towards an ecologically innovative model for capitalism.