Tag Archives: natural capitalism

Always meant to read Natural Capitalism but not gotten a “round TUIT”?

If you’re interested in seriously cool sustainability then there’s a book you should read.   It’s about more than being good – it’s about reinventing the basic mindsets and models behind the systems that deliver our products and services.

Natural Capitalism” is a big read – and it discusses some exciting strategies for creating the next Industrial Revolution.  If you’re still working up to it, here’s a kick-start for you from our article archives: Continue reading

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.

Powerful conversational practices for smart sustainability professionals

“It is through conversations that we interact with each other, coordinate actions and get things done.  Conversations underpin and accompany everything we do, and what we do and do not accomplish.”
Alan Sieler, ‘Coaching to the Human Soul. Volume 1’ p.249

Getting things done in the world – and particularly in business – happens through conversation.  Yet how many of us have been trained to understand and use conversations well?  When did you get taught the basic building blocks of language or the different types of conversations and how to combine them?

Whether you want to influence business leaders, deliver a successful project or organise a dinner party, understanding key types of conversations, their content, structure and purpose can help us communicate more effectively and be more successful. Continue reading

“The future is going to belong to the resource-efficient…” How’s your resource literacy?

The past belonged to the labor-efficient… but the future is going to belong to the resource-efficient.”      – Ray Anderson in “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist

As global population grows and recognition increases that business and industry operate inside a closed and finite eco-system, new design criteria for our products and services are emerging.  Doing profitable business inside a finite eco-system will increasingly demanding a deep understanding of what resources we use and how well we use them.  

Success will go to those with resource literacy

In the same way that computer literacy has become increasingly critical to business and career success in the last two decades, a high level of understanding of the resources used to deliver our products and services will be critical to success over coming decades.

Resource efficiency will require a full-system perspective on products, services and systems – accountability and opportunity won’t only lie inside organisations, but across supply chains and delivery systems.  Products and services designed with 20th century mindsets using 20th century systems are typically 1% efficient in their use of natural resources – rethinking them for a finite ecosystem is a major potential source of strategic advantage.

How’s your resource literacy?

What do you know about your business and its resource usage?  What do you use inside your four walls to deliver your products and services?  How much of what you use comes from renewable sources?  How much uses up finite non-renewables?

What happens down your supply chain?  Where do the materials  and energy you use come from?  What happens when something leaves your door – where does it go, what does it take to get to your customer and what happens next?  What happens at the end of its useful life?

Can you answer these questions about the organisation you work for:

  • How clean is your energy?  How efficient  is your supplier?
  • How effectively does your organisation use that energy?  (From the teakettle in the kitchen to the office computer to the factory plant and equipment.)
  • What are the environmental impacts of the water you use?
  • What happens to your waste water and sewage?
  • Where do the inputs you use come from and what are their impacts? (Even small businesses use computers, paper and telephones)
  • Where does your waste go?  How effective are any recycling programs you contribute to?

Do you know what’s already going on?

What’s happening in your industry locally and globally?   Who’s doing more than compliance?  Who’s benefiting from radical efficiency programs?  Who’s re-designing their supply chain and their business models? Who’s going all out for regenerative business – climbing Mount Sustainability and planning to “do well by doing good”?

Big thinkers and clever entrepreneurs have been working on new design criteria for our commercial systems at a range of levels.   There’s an emerging toolkit for measuring and understanding how we use resources.  Some of the tools include:

  • The Natural Step
  • Natural Capitalism
  • Cradle to Cradle
  • Environmental Management Systems
  • ISO 14001
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Input/Output Assessment
  • Ecological Footprinting.

Can you see the whole picture?

These systems and models are all about our increasing understanding of the impacts of our products, processes and services at every stage in their life:

  • What they’re made from and how they’re made – not just inside your four walls, but all the way back to the original resources.
  • The resources consumed during their life – for some products, this substantially outweighs what it took to make the product.
  • The impacts and resources of disposal – what happens when something’s useful lifespan is finished – there is no “away” inside a finite eco-system.  End-of-life matters.

Can you look at a product on a retailer’s shelf and see its resource usage?  Can you picture the warehouses, offices, factories, truck, trains and boats that it’s been through?  Can you envisage the web of the industrial and commercial eco-system behind them – the service stations, accountants, lawyers, printers, marketers and web developers? Do you have a feel for the resource usage that multiplies down through this supply chain?

 If you can then you’re starting to understand the range of opportunities open to you.  If you don’t, then this could make a big difference to your future success.  You don’t need a degree in environmental science to get started – you do need to learn to observe differently – to understand resources and how they’re used.  If your resource literacy isn’t up to scratch then it’s time to get started.  

Where can you start?

Google the tools in the list above, explore the online resources of Natural Capitalism, or for a short executive summary buy your copy of The Deep Green Profit Handbook online now!


Leigh Baker is a regenerative business coach and educator who teaches people in business how to find their opportunities in the sustainability game.

What do you do when you’ve done efficiency? Levelling up in the sustainability game…

While efficiency is a critical element of sustainable business, it’s not the be-all and end all.   The real end game of sustainability is a big one – to re-invent how we make and deliver our products and services so that they’re profitable AND actively good for  their host communities and eco-systems.  The business winners of the future will build their careers and profits by taking the sustainability game to this exciting new level.

A new design paradigm…

Applying efficiency inside business-as-usual thinking limits our ability to finRegenerative Businessd the win/win/win solutions that are increasingly part of the developing regenerative business revolution.  Levelling up in the sustainability game requires a bigger design perspective:

  • Re-designing commerce so that “growth” is about delivering valuable services rather than selling more products.
  • Re-designing how we use non-renewable material resources so that they are continuously recycled and remanufactured.
  • Re-designing production processes to primarily use renewable resources.

Efficiency still counts…

This isn’t to say that efficiency isn’t important.  Most of our products and services have their roots in an out-of-date belief that natural resources are unlimited – and it’s a view that has been difficult to shift.   In Australia, for example, our energy efficiency record has barely improved in the past 40 years.  So we still have many opportunities to make significant bottom-line improvements by improving our efficiency.

Levelling up to regenerative thinking…

The bigger game of regenerative thinking (business that actively enables community and eco-system regeneration)  has been going on since the 1990s.  It’s a developing necessity and it’s going to change some businesses radically.  Those that aren’t tuned in to the bigger game could find that they’re making their industry’s equivalent of vinyl records or camera film.   The “truth” about climate will become irrelevant in the face of this new wave of innovation.

Those that ARE tuned in are the ones that will be developing new competitive capabilities and expanding into overseas markets with new products and services (like Australian companies Close the Loop and Futuris amongst many others).

Have you “hit the wall”?

If you feel you’ve done all you can in your business as far as efficiency goes that’s great.  So now it’s time to step back and look more widely for opportunities – out into your industry; up your supply chain to your customers and their end consumers; and down your supply chain to where your inputs come from.

Build your knowledge of the simple principles behind the next level of the sustainability game and start exploring for your opportunities.  It’s amazing what’s going on – and a whole lot of fun.  Dive in and Google “regenerative business” or “cradle to cradle” or “biomimicry” and just see what you find.

Sustainability is about more than efficiency – it’s about radical innovation and profitability – it’s time to level up!


Leigh Baker is an author and facilitator who teaches the straightforward principles of Regenerative Business and the soft skills that innovators need to turn their ideas into results.  Her short book “The Deep Green Profit Handbook” summarises the straightforward principles behind the emerging regenerative business revolution in plain business language.

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.