Natural resource limits

Published on April 24, 2012 in Updates
A new economy which is resilient and sustainable needs to find ways to do business within the limits of natural resources, and the ability of the earth to absorb polluting waste. This requires a fundamental re-thinking of some things we take for granted: progress, growth, our relationship with the environment, business models and even ownership. It may feel like a daunting task, but there are models to help us, resources to communicate about them, and some businesses showing how it can be done.


Note. This suggested feature of the new economy is one in a series. None of the features suggested come without contention or need for increased knowledge and understanding. We present them as suggestions and as works in progress and invite you to enter the discussion by rating each feature, adding your comments and where possible suggesting additional content. Also please let us know if there are other models that would be essential features of a new economy, which aren’t here yet.


There’s a bewildering number of concepts and models which propose new ways of doing business within natural resource limits, here’s just a few:



They all point to essentially the same thing. That the current model of resource use is linear: it moves in a straight line. So we take resources from the earth, use them and then dispose of them as waste. And that instead, resources need to be recycled. So that the waste products of one thing become the resources for another. Just like in natural systems. So we need to change the straight lines into circles.



For example, imagine an old pair of shoes that grows into flowers, a carpet that cleans the air and clothing that becomes food for plants. These are the kinds of products being developed by Dutch designers inspired by these concepts.

Here are a couple of videos which explain the concepts well. This one is a short animation on fundamentals of circular economics:



And this is a longer, more in-depth look into the Cradle to Cradle concept and certification:


waste= food [cradle to cradle] from TRAUMSTOFF on Vimeo.


So what are the benefits of doing business within natural resource limits?



Examples of Companies Leading the Way

Whatever we may think of the overall ethical credentials of multi-national corporates, some appear to be demonstrating real leadership in Cradle to Cradle and closed loop business models. They recognize that in a resource constrained world, sustainability is the route to their future viability – both business and environmental. As market leaders, these companies have the power to influence their sectors significantly.

Please note, we are including these companies as examples of business practice that we can learn from and use to inspire others. This does not mean that we endorse or support these companies in any way.

The Future: Closed-Loop Business Model

“The financial, social and environmental imperatives for moving to a sustainable economy will dictate how business models evolve over the next decade. We believe that we are entering an era of post-globalization, one in which new business models will emerge based on the overwhelming pressures fueled by regulation, scarcity, consumer behavior and innovation.

We think the future will demand closed-loop business models that move closer to achieving zero waste by completely reusing, recycling or composting all materials.

Our vision of a closed-loop business model includes up-front design of products that can be manufactured using materials reclaimed throughout the manufacturing process and at the end of a product’s life.

To fully realize this new model, industry must find new answers to business challenges. Innovators must create new ways to recycle and reuse waste and turn that into new products. Designers must look at new sustainable raw materials. Leaders must examine the impact on supply chains and labor forces.”

NIKE website accessed 6/5/11. More information on Nike

Interface FLOR is the world’s largest manufacturer and designer of carpet tiles, and has been employing Cradle to Cradle approaches since 1995.

“Interface’s dedication to sustainability has evolved into the company’s Mission Zero commitment — our promise to eliminate any negative impact Interface has on the environment by 2020…

How much does all of this cost? Not as much as it saves… Interface FLOR saved $430 million since 1995 from cradle to cradle business model cycling materials, and through energy and resource efficiency. Innovation driven by saving money and reducing carbon emissions – it has to be financially sustainable. Some processes will become more profitable when oil prices go up”

Lindsey Parnell president and CEO Interface FLOR 2011. More information on interface



B&Q were the first UK retailer to have 100% responsibly sourced wood products, and are currently exploring Cradle to Cradle product design, radically rethinking their ranges to create a different lifecycle of product use. They are also examining how they might shift from selling products to selling services – rather than sell a power drill they lease the use of it or offer fractional ownership.

More information on B&Q



Links and resources

Cradle to cradle European network to share and capitalise on regional good practice in implementing C2C principles.

Cradle to Cradle Good Practice Guide and other studies on themes of industry, area spatial development, governance, and built environment.

Cradle to Cradle consulting and certification

Explanations and examples of circular economy, closed loop and industrial ecology in action from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

More videos on the circular economy by Ellen MacArthur, and video interviews with Interface FLOR and NIKE


Follow on twitter

Ellen Macarthur Foundation @made2bmadeagain

Guardian Sustainable Business @GuardianSustBiz

Cradle to Cradle @CradletoCradle



Credits : Image source : Waste equals food by Ecowonk


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