EXPERT OPINION: Gunter Pauli, Author of "The Blue Economy: 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs"



Posted on 08 April 2013  | 
Gunter Pauli is the author of The Blue Economy: 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs, designer of new business models, and provider of solutions that use ‘what is available’. Follow him on Twitter and read more about his groundbreaking initiatives on the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives website. Gunter speaks to WWF about Blue Economy during the 3rd Coral Triangle Regional Business Summit in Bali, Indonesia.

You mention that change happens in the periphery -- can you elaborate on this?

In the centres of power, the changes that happen are marginal and incremental, mostly because of political reasons. This prevents bold changes from happening, and this is why innovative projects tend to happen at the periphery. It’s in the periphery that you can do crazy things, and where other people will not notice what you are doing -- this is where there is no systemic resistance.

To illustrate, consider one of our projects in Latin America, where Paolo Lugari and his team of Las Gaviotas rehabilitated a remote, sparsely populated 8,000-ha savannah into the rainforest it once used to be. Scientists had warned us that the task would be impossible, but through perseverance, the forest and biodiversity were eventually brought back.

What are the key “ingredients” to make change happen?

It’s really important to celebrate the inexperience of people, and not to rely on experts. This way you can really think out of the box. Another consideration is the need to bring a diversity of people together, along with their wisdom. Finally, don’t try to plan everything at the beginning!

What are the main misconceptions about the Blue Economy?

The first one is that there is a guru. I am just a mouthpiece for the work being done by many people around the world. The Blue Economy is not a silver bullet. Rather, it presents the opportunity to take a closer look at society, and how our actions affect each other and the planet, and then make changes within ourselves. One thing we must all agree on is that we can do better, much better.

What is the greatest difficulty in promoting a Blue Economy?

People’s desire for instant gratification. The issue is not to delay the gratification, but to make people wait a little longer to get more benefits. By benefits I don’t mean the latest iPhone -- I’m talking about healthcare, energy, transportation, food, etc.

This calls on the importance of changing our own behaviour toward more well-being. For example, what did you have for breakfast? Perhaps orange juice or coffee, both of which have a very low pH (in other words, they are very acidic). The room where this interview is taking place is probably relatively acidic too, maybe pH 4. Through our daily actions and in our environment, we are basically acidifying our bodies, which increases our exposure to diseases such as cancer. So if you were to choose something healthier for your breakfast, what could you choose? Maybe papaya, avocado and green tea which are relatively low-acid.

Now look at corals. Corals have a pH of 8.2. These are systems from which life emerges and where no cancer thrives (including in fish). There is a whole symbolism about corals in the Coral Triangle which can be a lesson to the world, and this is why I am excited to work here.

Can you provide some examples of opportunities for businesses in the Coral Triangle?

Let’s take the example of airlines. We need a better way to circulate the air in the plane cabin so that it is not too dry, which creates discomfort for passengers. In fact, this is one of the most sustainable solutions for airlines. Passengers and crew in planes are also exposed to cosmic radiation.

By giving people iodine supplements, we can decrease the risks resulting from this exposure -- and one place where iodine is found is in seaweed, which grows abundantly in Indonesia. This example also illustrates how we can make people think and react through something new and unusual.

We need to link people to the world -- to raise their awareness and to make connections. Here, this connects the airlines to saving the Coral Triangle

Why are such bold ideas not taking hold?

We need more visionary CEOs to introduce new ideas. We also need to get rid of supply chains, which only care about pricing considerations. Admittedly, it’s really hard to get out of this system.

For example, I once assessed a tomato sauce factory for a leading consumer goods company, with the idea to recover and reuse the skins from the tomatoes that were crushed to make the sauce. But because of the way the supply chains were structured, it was impossible to implement.

However, there is evidence that it IS possible to do this. There are now eight factories in Brazil that make detergent out of orange skins. We need to get much more out of waste -- there are so many opportunities.

For example, on fishing boats fish could be filleted in at least three different ways to increase their value (right now, most of the fish coming out of Asia is “junk”). You don’t need costly certification to achieve this. At the end of the day, we need to make the most out of our products that we already have instead of always trying to get more and more.

What are the common characteristics of the Blue Economy projects that have been successful?

Taking into account local wisdom, locating projects at the periphery (where there are no experts), and a combination of experience and age. In fact, our projects involve people from 18 to 75 years of age!

We need young people’s impatience and older people’s patience. We have given too much power to words and to who has the loudest voice. Some talented people express themselves differently (through art and dance for example), and we need to be mindful of the value of such expression.

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