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It's crucial that organizations address societal challenges to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems.
Although I love science and technology, the last thing I am is a dyed-in-the-wool techno-utopian. I am optimistic about the capacity of digital and biological technologies—including AI-enabled business models like ChatGPT, as you can read here—to help us to solve our greatest social, ecological, and individual problems—but only when guided by our wisdom as leaders (see 2023 Must-Know Leadership Trend 3 on Wise Leadership and Wisdom in the Workplace.)
This is because techno-bolstering and technological thinking usually come with a heady brew of abstraction, expansion, and extraction, which, as well as solving many of our Industrial-Age problems like mass hunger and poor health, are now causing many of the risks that the current geological age, The Anthropocene, poses to our very human existence.
Two related ideas to temper our tendency to scale everything, no matter the costs to our ecological or psychological landscapes, are nature-positivity and nature-based solutions or (nature-based / regenerative innovations).
Nature positivity is like the idea of “body positivity", but for the environment. It’s designed to be a sticky and catchy buzzword that encompasses a shift in attitude—as consumers, citizens, and workers—that makes restoring and regenerating nature everyone’s business.
Nature-positivity provides leaders with a useful, albeit somewhat vague, catchphrase for considering nature in all business and everyday team decisions. It goes beyond the more technical term “net-positive” to signal an ecologically-aware mindset that everyone can nurture and unlock.
Part of the field of regenerative business—that our sister sustainability consultancy FutureMakers is pioneering—nature-based solutions and innovations are all about “collaborating” with nature to co-create solutions to our shared social and business challenges that restore and regenerate living systems.
The term ‘biodiversity’ is meant to capture this sense of the positive health of the ecosystems (and living entities) that we rely on for food, safety, and oxygen. If we think that biodiversity isn’t important, new research has shown that the sharp drop in pollinator numbers seen in the last few years has been the root cause of c.1% of all human deaths (through the loss of fruit, vegetable, and nut production and accessibility).
I don’t think biodiversity is a great word, but I do know healthy ecosystems are crucial for us all to survive, let alone thrive, on this planet. Thankfully, the recent cop15 in Montreal on biodiversity ended with a “landmark agreement” to protect animal and plant health (and so our long-term sustainability as a species). Nature-based solutions and innovations are key pillars for long-term improvements in biodiversity.
The aim of nature-based solutioneering and innovation is to generate new materials, products, services, operating models, and business models that benefit humankind and animals/plants too. They should be a win-win-win: a win for nature, a win for society, and a win for the organization that is unlocking new value (whether in profit, surplus, impact, or citizen engagement).
Nature-based solutions and nature-based innovations range from materials that can help mitigate floods and droughts to regenerative business models.
FEMA, of Hurricane Katrina (in)fame, suggests permeable concrete and asphalt, for building pavements and roads that absorb rainwater and help prevent flooding is a good example of an nbs . Some more examples are kept here and, chiming with davos2023, at the World Economic Forum.
The interest in nature-based innovations is so big that Oxford University has set up a nature-based solutions initiative, based in the biology dept but working with academics from across the institution and society. Shell has an NbS program to accelerate their ESG goals.
Classic examples of regenerative business models are shrimp farming that restores mangrove forests in Asia; or this farm in California featured in the awesome documentary The Biggest Little Farm:
There are some useful guidelines for ensuring NbS doesn’t lead to much greenwashing BS here.
Given that 64% of US consumers are happy to pay a premium for a sustainable product, and that there are many other benefits to being a seriously sustainable business—like talent attraction and retention, with 60% of Gen Z workers rejecting jobs at workplaces with a non-green reputation—organizations that are serious about nature-led thinking will be those that sustain for longest.
Maybe it’s time to challenge your senior leaders—or emerging leaders, as we do on our up-and-coming leader programs—to explore nature-based solutions in your sector or industry.
Cambridge-educated thought leader and keynote speaker, Nick develops highly-original ideas and powerful tools to ensure people across the planet can transform themselves, their enterprises, and their systems to thrive in a disrupted, digital, and stressed world. His advanced methodology, The Switch On Way, provides a rigorous brain-based pathway for unlocking the power of transformation. It includes a transformational leadership curriculum, disruptive innovation and systemic change methodology and 90+ proprietary tools and practices for transforming people and their problems. It covers: Purposeful, Conscious, Systemic, Creative, Inspirational & Collaborative Leadership (incl. storytelling & agility). Through his transformational leadership programs and leadership futurism, Nick has advised organisations like Novartis, Nike, No.10 Downing Street, Kelloggs, Genentech, Intel, lendlease, HSBC and Unilever, helping them engage with the "triple threat" of global risks, 4th Industrial Revolution tech (AI, Blockchain, IoT) and seismic cultural changes. At the pinnacle of leadership thinking he has spoken at LEGO, SAP, Google, The Economist Innovation Summit; taught at LBS, Yale, UCLA, Oxford, SciencesPo, UCL; and written for the FT and RSA. He co-wrote an academic paper on innovation which is in top 1% of citations. Through his personal transformation books, TV shows (BBC, MTV), workshops, and products he has inspired over 3 million people worldwide to evolve their consciousness and transform life, love and parenting. A pioneering wisdom philosopher, he has spoken at Aspen Ideas Fest, TOA, Science Foo, Science of Consciousness, BBC World Service, CBS, The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and many more. Nick has a Triple 1st in Medicine & Philosophy from Cambridge University, has been a purposeful entrepreneur from age 24, and is the author: “The Book of Breakthrough”, the international bestseller "Switch On", and "Spiritual Atheist" (2018).
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