Tag Archives: cradle to cradle

From the Club of Rome to 2013 (and beyond) – regenerative thinking and some developing practices

(Originally posted June 2013. Most recently updated September 2014)

I read a recent blog post which made the claim that In the past 25 years, only lip-service has been paid to SD, particularly around the use of fossil fuels.”   I don’t agree – I believe that we’re much further down the track than most people know. 

To me, the past 25 years have been the design phase of developing a regenerative economy.    Increasingly, those designs are being translated into innovation in the built and made environments. So I’ve started putting together a list of the developing principles and practices of Regenerative Thinking as I understand them. Continue reading

Is the tide starting to turn in business sustainability awareness?

When the tide comes in across the sandflats, sometimes it doesn’t look like there’s anything much happening at all.  There’s a trickle here, a trickle there – it almost looks like nothing is changing.  Then some of the trickles start to join up and you can see that something is starting to happen.

This is how I’ve been feeling just recently, watching an increasing number of win/win/win stories of business sustainability.  (A selection of which I’ve posted in the LinkedIn Regenerative Business Group.) Continue reading

Inspirations from Cradle to Cradle…

One of the early books that hooked me into Regenerative Business was “Cradle to Cradle” by Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough.  I loved it – not just for the cool plastic “paper” it was printed on, but for the exciting ideas inside it.

I tried to share it with some of my executive coaching clients, but they handed it back completely uninspired – it was “too detailed” or “too depressing”.  Re-reading it, I had to agree.  The edition in question seemed to start from “your chair is poisonous, your carpet is poisonous and so are your kids’ toys”.

So a little while ago, I went back through it, drawing out the bits that I have found most inspiring.  Here’s a cross-reference to what I have found and loved in it.  It’s a personal perspective, but if you’ve got it on your bookshelf and not got around to it (yet), maybe this will help:

“Inspirations from Cradle to Cradle”

Is there a process behind our heroes?

Joel Makower’s recent blog “Why aren’t there more Ray Andersons?” was an interesting read with great insights into who Ray was from other famous sustainability players.  The ongoing conversation from that article is the basis of this post.

There was a process BEHIND Ray Anderson’s “aha” moment on sustainability…

I only met Ray through his books, including “Business Lessons of a Radical Industrialist” and “Mid Course Correction.  Among the many insights he shared was his personal process of transformation. In my interpretation, this was:

  • The person – an innovator, entrepreneur and good leader (Jim Collins would say “Level 5”).
  • The timing – that he was looking for a new challenge after 20 years of success. – an external prompt – ongoing demand from his customers – to do “more” about sustainability (persistently re-iterated by then research assistant Jim Hartzfeld).
  • The do-able first step – to form an internal working party (proposed by Jim Hartfeld).
  • A personal challenge to deliver internal inspiration (from Jim Hartzfeld to inspire the working party).
  • The timely provision of inspiration (the friend who sent him “The Ecology of Commerce”).
  • The realisation we CAN destroy eco-systems (in the book “The Ecology of Commerce”).
  • The vision of entrepreneurial possibilities for business (in the book “The Ecology of Commerce”).

If disasters have multiple causes, the emergence of a hero may be the result of a process rather than a miracle. Is a more relevant question “What happened to turn Ray Anderson on to sustainability and how do we re-create the process?” And perhaps we need more Jim Harzfelds as well?

There was a process behind the “aha” moments that got me started, too…

What stopped me for many years was the assumption (I think based on mass media messages) that sustainability was a problem, that there were no potential solutions, and that the primary thing for me to do was use less.

What got me turned on was also a process :

  • Turning 40 and asking “well what do I REALLY want for myself in the coming decades” (to make a difference reducing corporate burnout as a professional coach)
  • Learning to listen to myself during my initial coaching studies
  • Noticing that I was (reluctantly) interested in a Masters in Sustainability announced at lunchtime during graduate eCommerce studies
  • Doing post graduate studies and being introduced to the books “Natural Capitalism”, “Mid Course Correction” and “Cradle to Cradle”

There was my serial “aha” (with a great inspiration from Ray Anderson included). I had been a supply chain systems consultant, and these particular books spoke to both my personal and business experience. Because of this experience, I believed (and still hold the assessment) that as an individual consumer I could not make a significant difference. Much as I loved my bush garden, I had no sense of power or possibility or connection to “this sustainability thing”.

What these three books gave me was HOPE – and a positive, explicit vision of practical ways our system could be AND WAS changing. These ways were congruent with my own knowledge of the inside operations of factories and warehouses in a range of industries.

That’s what activated me – HOPE and a specific positive vision.

Our emerging challenge…

In Innovation Diffusion terms, the challenge I see in front of us now is how to get this new way of doing business “across the chasm” to the Early Majority who are motivated differently from Innovators and Early Adopters. My experience in CleanTech circles is that the Innovators and Early Adopters have “got it”.

To me, if popular, powerful voices make “sustainability” look difficult and expensive to the Early Majority then that “chasm” will get wider, especially if they have to risk their reputation on “costly new programs”. So the more well-known people we can get to speak out about how straightforward, sensible and rewarding sustainability is when it’s done strategically to achieve win/win/win outcomes the better.

I assess that it’s also important to distill the systems changes required to get started into simple, powerful memes that suit our time. Easy, useful products and ideas get cross the “chasm” quite easily

My ideal (regenerative) iPhone

My ideal iPhone wouldn’t be mine…

My ideal iPhone would be a product of service. It’s body would belong to Apple and I’d lease its services – as an entertainment and communication platform.

My data (music, notes, apps, movies, etc.) would be on a removable memory card in the same way the SIM card is removable.

It would be upgrade-able at local Apple stores…

Instead of buying a whole new device, if there was a better camera, screen, or internal processor I’d join a virtual “queue” for an upgrade ( with a premium for a top spot, of course).

I’d take my iPhone into an Apple Store and they’d upgrade while I waited. It would be specially marked so everyone could see that I had “the latest”. This sort of service thinking would be easy for the inventors of iTunes and AppStore.

Apple would get an increase in revenue from the upgrade, but they wouldn’t have to get a whole new device manufactured , packaged, stored or shipped to generate that revenue. I’d get better device functionality and more fun – and without adding to the collection of e-waste in my hall cupboard.  (And if Apple aren’t generating any e-waste for external parties to dispose of, they could well increase the protection of their intellectual property.)

It would be designed for re-manufacture…

My ideal iPhone would be designed to be as easy to pull apart as possible (with the right, exclusive tools – of course). Where components couldn’t be disassembled, they would all be made of the same material so they could be crushed and recycled without contamination reducing the material quality.

Apple’s manufacturers wouldn’t be buying virgin materials at premium prices  – they’d be re-using components and materials again and again and again.

It would be designed for total safety…

My ideal iPhone would be safe to manufacture as well as safe to use.  Everything material and process would be absolutely safe for its makers, its community and our finite ecosystem.

No costs for handling safety materials, no outsourcing supply across continents to less-regulated environments, no reputation risks.

Tell her she’s dreaming!!!

Maybe I am – I’m not an Apple insider.   Or maybe they’re a whole lot further down the regenerative road than we know, and just not telling us.  Or maybe I’ve missed a shift in the wealth of incoming information I receive.

But if we can’t describe what we want, how can we expect it to be delivered?

I wrote The Deep Green Profit Handbook because I loved the ideas of Cradle to Cradle, Natural Capitalism and Biomimicry – and I knew my executive coaching clients didn’t have time for hundreds of pages of technical detail.   I wanted to summarise the straightforward principles of regenerative business in straightforward business language – and I did it in just 100 large-type easy-read pages.

What do you want?

What fundamental shifts can you imagine that would deliver a regenerative economy designed to nurture and restore the finite eco-system we inhabit?   Can you describe them in the language of your target audience?  Can you make them relevant to the interests and concerns of the most powerful people you know?

Recent research is showing that the key skills for sustainability practitioners are the “soft stuff” –  mastery in communication, collaboration and influencing.  Because if you can’t communicate well, there are very real limits to the usefulness of what you know.

These days we know that these aren’t magical talents based on charisma – they’re learnable skills with strong foundations in linguistics, philosophy and neurobiology.  So make sure you’re developing your ability to communicate, collaborate and influence.


Leigh Baker is an Ontological Coach who teaches innovation, communication and influencing skills to sustainability practitioners.

7 design principles for Regenerative Business

I got seriously interested in sustainability years ago, during post-graduate studies.  I was fortunate to be introduced  through  great books like “Natural Capitalism”, “Cradle to Cradle” and “Biomimicry”. 

Along with  a mass of detail and lots of “reasons why” sustainability was important,  I found a set of  straightforward strategies that challenge out-of-date 20th century assumptions about the “how” of doing business.   I went looking for a book that summarised them in straightforward business language, but I couldn’t find one.  (So I wrote  one.)

Design principles for a Regenerative Economy

The fundamental design principles for a regenerative economy seem to boil down to the following 7 challenges to common business assumptions:

  1. Everything is a service: challenges our ways of thinking on how we make and supply our customers. The more we know about what customers value in a product (it’s “service”), the more flexibility we have to design regenerative ways to deliver it.
  2. There are no wastes: challenges implicit assumptions that un-usable waste is acceptable or desirable.
  3. Design for total safety: challenges the need to use hazardous materials and our capability to control dangerous effluents.
  4. Design for remanufacture: challenges one-way thinking by demanding that we design materials and processes around the reality of our closed-loop ecosystem.
  5. Use LOTS less: challenges incremental-only improvements, proposing reductions to one-quarter (Factor 4) and one-tenth (Factor 10) of current resource usage as stretch goals to shift thinking about what’s possible.
  6. Use/copy natural processes: puts a focus on the wealth of design solutions available to us – and that most of them have organic, room temperature process solutions.
  7. Think small, local and smart: challenges “heroic” thinking that big is better and that there can be “one size fits all” supply models.

Using the principles…

While the principles aren’t a silver-bullet ‘answer’ they provide an important framework for making in a shift in business thinking.  They form a new form of common-sense  in the face of the rapid shift in environmental circumstances in which business is now done.   Increasingly, they’re being proven to not only be practical, but also very profitable.

They’re deeply grounded in business development and supply chain thinking.  They’re not “everything you need to know” – however they’re a good start to the exciting journey of regenerative business.

Essentially, the principles are intended to spark the process of thinking differently.  They’re not rules, they’re not standards to evaluate success or failure.   They’re ways to put attention on the assumptions we make about how business is done so we can explore exciting, profitable new ways to do business.

Describe what you DO want…

If you don’t want what’s happening at the moment, then have an alternative!

The good news is that there is one, and the better news is that there are proven win/win/win strategies that will enable many businesses to make good money, improve their eco-systems and build their surrounding communities.    

If you don’t know what they are, it’s time you did.  Get reading, find your local CleanTech network, get online.   If all you can do is rage at “selfish business people” and “evil capitalists” then are you really helping?   Or are you just generating resistance?


Leigh Baker is a regenerative business  coach and author of “The Deep Green Profit Handbook”.  She works with sustainability practitioners to maximise their effectiveness as innovators and communicators.

WANTED: Strategic Sustainability Manager

I saw an interesting-looking role advertised recently: Sustainability Strategy Manager.  It looked like it could be interesting – but when I read it, it wasn’t what I’d hoped.  The role reported into Marketing and seemed to be more to do with external communication than with building strategic sustainability capability within the business.

Describing what you DO want

When I see something that disappoints me, I like to take some time to work out what it is I wanted to see.  So here’s my description of the job I’d hoped it would be – the work of a Strategic Sustainability Manager.  It’s probably a figment of my imagination – but what  could be different if it was implemented across our  major listed companies!


A publicly  listed company requires a Strategic Sustainability Manager to work across the Asia-Pacific region. The primary focus of this role will be to assist the CEO, executive team  and board to understand the range of emerging business opportunities developing from sustainability and regenerative thinking and to assist them in setting strategic directions for the business over the coming decade. 

Reporting to the Chairman of the Board, responsibilities will include:

  • Educate the board and senior executives on the straightforward principles and proven practices of regenerative thinking which underpin profitable long-term  sustainability strategies.
  • Develop plans for building resource and life-cycle literacy across the organisation.
  • Develop plans for building innovation and communication skills across the organisation.
  • Work with key supply chain players internally and externally to understand up-stream and down-stream opportunities of strategic sustainability and regenerative thinking practices.

Desired Skills & Experience

A deep knowledge of regenerative business thinking and strategies is critical, as is the ability to communicate it to senior executives.  The expected knowledge base includes service-based economics, closed loop capitalism and biomimicry-based design. 

Candidates will be required to demonstrate familiarity with and experience of concepts such as:

  • Product-of-Service business strategies.
  • Life Cycle Analysis and Design for the Environment.
  • Design for Re-Manufacture.
  • Biomimicry implementations.
  • Factor 4 and Factor 10 resource usage reductions.

Key skills and knowledge for success in this role will be:

  • A deep knowledge of the foundations of sustainable business design, including but not limited to “Natural Capitalism“, “Cradle to Cradle“, “The Natural Step” and “Biomimicry“.
  • An understanding of key factors important in building and sustaining successful business strategy.
  • Facilitation and communication skills to explain regenerative thinking and the business opportunities of sustainability in strategic terms.
  • The ability to build relationships based on integrity and trust.

Successful candidates are expected to have:

  • Formal qualifications in human communication, business development and innovation adoption.
  • A proven deep understanding of successful regenerative business strategy and practice.
  • Excellent coaching, facilitation and relationship-building skills.

As I said in my opening remarks, this isn’t a real job (that I know of) …   yet.  And imagine the difference it could make!