Monday, March 18, 2013

Designing Wealth: The Missing Piece in the Sustainability Puzzle"

Paraphrasing from Howard Brown's recent article in Good: "Designing Wealth: The Missing Piece in the Sustainability Puzzle":
With wealth comes access to the products and services we rely upon to make our way through world the through including food, shelter, education, transportation, to name a few. But with access comes strain on and depletion of the shared resource base we tap into to generate, expand, and maintain these offerings.

In response to this impact, primary strategies to counter this downward spiral have to do with recycling, recirculating, and reusing resources, using renewable resources, and becoming more efficient at using resources. "The reality is that no matter how good we get at recycling and waste management, and no matter how efficient we become, the more resources we use, the more we lose as waste and pollution. Each time we recirculate resources, we lose some of them. Becoming more efficient doesn’t fundamentally change the relationship between resources and wealth creation. Wealth expansion has to accelerate at a rate much faster than increases in the rate of recycling or gains in efficiency. In other words, we must do much, much more with much, much less.
For Brown, the missing piece of the sustainability puzzle involves wealth production. "It isn’t really dependent on how much more resource mass we mine, but on how much more wealth we can mine from the available resource mass. Wealth is security, freedom, options, and opportunity. Wealth is weightless and invisible."

Brown goes onto to illustrate where opportunities exist, "Today, most of the products we make and depend on every day are actually mostly waste. Think about toothpaste for a moment. Why do people need it? The ultimate benefit of toothpaste is oral hygiene, or healthy teeth. What if you could eliminate the fillers, packaging, and all of the other resources associated with manufacturing, delivering, retailing, and storing toothpaste? There are scientists working today on a semi-permanent biofilm that will prevent tooth decay. Others are working on an enzyme that keeps teeth healthy. There are countless products that are material whose benefits could be delivered in an entirely different, weightless or nearly weightless way."

Brown is challenging us to expand our thinking. In addition to the models of renewability, find and develop business models where the essential need is identified first i.e. support healthy teeth and oral hygiene, and then systematically strip away all excess, so that we're designing and materializing only for that core goal. Instead of diverting our attention and resources in the development of unnecessary packaging and infrastructures, focus on "naked value" first so we can profit from designing only what is essential in helping people reach their goals.