“We need to go beyond the global agreements, we need to focus on simply getting things done on the ground and deliver”. To say it, in this exclusive interview with The BioJournal, is Gunter Pauli, author and initiator of The Blue Economy, called “The Steve Jobs of Sustainability” by prominent newspapers such as Le Point and The Huffington Post. He writes on his blog: “My Latin American friends rather call me ‘The Che Guevara of Sustainability’. I prefer no reference to anyone who already passed away, and wants to be judged by my children only”.
Briefly describe Gunter Pauli is not simple. His entrepreneurial activities span business, culture, science, politics and the environment. Among other things, under his leadership, Ecover, a Belgium based company that manufactures ecologically sound cleaning products made from plant-based and mineral ingredients, pioneered an ecological factory in 1992, featured on CNN Prime Time News. He founded the “Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives” (ZERI) at the United Nations University in Tokyo, and subsequently established The Global ZERI Network as a foundation, redesigning production and consumption into clusters of industries inspired by natural systems. Even from this interview, his whole driving force emerges.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Professor Pauli, in 1994 you introduced the economic philosophy of the blue economy when the United Nations asked you to reflect on the business models of the future in preparation for COP3 in Japan, where the Kyoto Protocol was decided. Could you explain to our readers what is exactly the blue economy?
I have worked for 30 years to create the Green Economy. And then one day I realize that whatever is good for you and the Earth is expensive, and whatever is bad is cheap, and that does not make sense. That is what made me realize that as long as the Green Economy tries to outcompete the traditional business that promotes economies of scale, ever lower prices producing more of the same then the Green Economy will fail. It simply cannot compete, even if one introduces a lot of very creative and dedicated ideas. So that why it became clear that we have to change the business model! The Blue Economy is not about another label on another proposal that wishes to improve the abysmal social and ecological performance of the economy as it is. The Blue economy works with what is locally available, the focus is on generating more value.
one day I realize that whatever is good for you and the Earth is expensive, and whatever is bad is cheap, and that does not make sense
How is the blue economy interconnected with the bioeconomy and the circular economy, which are two increasingly prevalent economic paradigms?
We all share the same commitment, we want societies to respond to their basic needs, we want the environment to rebound, we want to have young and emerging companies to be competitive. However, I have come to the conclusion that we need to change the business models, it is simply not going to work tweeking around the fringes, and it not going to have any serious impact.
The IMF estimated the global subsidies on fossil fuels in 2015 at 5.3 trillion USD, or 6.5 percent of global GDP. In this scenario, how can we accelerate the transition to a bioeconomy?
It is amazing that those who advocate the free market, tolerate these massive subsidies. But, let us be clear, if we change the business models, we go beyond the mere production of more with much less (take the case of coffee, have your cup, grow the mushrooms, deliver to the left-overs as chicken feed) meaning that we are not continuing to focus on one business, we are focusing on the tremendous capacity to do 500 times more, just with a cup of coffee.
Without the people on board, it’s really difficult to deploy across the board everything you need to do to really de-carbonize. How can we bring the bioeconomy down to earth, linking it to practical opportunities in important sectors of the economy like agrifood, marine, cities, or key industries where technology will deliver a sustainable future?
We have to urgently stop declaring disaster around the corner. We know it is there. We have to stop being negative. The only way forward is to focus on these tremendous portfolios of opportunities. That is the exceptional way to communicate and this is more than just having a few jobs saved, because we know the overall data is not good. Youth unemployment is up. So we need to wake up the child in us, we need to focus on the entrepreneurship that is innate to many people when they see these incredible opportunities from producing water while farming tomatoes, or producing paper from mining waste, or converting farming from 2D to 3D producing massive natural gas unheard of, outcompeting shale gas.
We need to go beyond the global agreements, we need to focus on simply getting things done on the ground and deliver
In December 2015 the COP21 in Paris ended with an agreement described by many as a historic achievement. The COP 22 and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) will be held in Bab Ighli, Marrakech, Morocco from 7-18 November 2016. What are your expectations?
None. I was involved in the first COPS and seeing this process spun out over 22 years is a show of inefficiency. We need to go beyond the global agreements, we need to focus on simply getting things done on the ground and deliver.