What is the Blue Economy?

Publication Date: 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 - 10:45am


Lou Waldegrave

“Nature does not know the concept of waste; the only species capable of making something no one desires is the human species.”

In 2004, Gunter Pauli launched the Blue Economy based on the ZERI (Zero Emissions Research & Initiative) philosophy. Pauli made it his mission to engage a global network of experts and creative minds, and starting from ideas based on science, to seek solutions inspired by nature’s design principles.

Dedicated commitment towards this new paradigm began in 1996, when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Pauli decided to create the ZERI Foundation to translate design into pioneering experience. More than ten years later, in 2009, the Blue Economy: 10 years – 100 innovations – 100 million jobs was presented as a report to the Club of Rome and has since sold 1.2 million copies and been printed in 39 languages.

The Blue Economy supports an open source movement that has the potential to shift society from scarcity to abundance. It aims to incorporate the best for both our health and the environment, by using the resources available in cascading systems and ensuring that product waste is utilised as input to create a new cash flow. The Blue Economy works towards solutions for all societies, whether they be unreached communities or global corporations, by engaging a local system of production and consumption, which concentrates on working with available local resources and adapting skills and the existing infrastructure accordingly.

For example, a coffee company can generate income from its core business – selling  coffee – but less than 0.2% of the coffee bean ends up in your cup. The rest is considered waste. The same coffee company could generate revenue from the mushrooms farmed on that organic waste, and whatever is left of the protein rich fungi is excellent animal feed and great for worms who turn it into a natural fertiliser. The cycle is unbroken and we see how one revenue model can be transformed into a model that provides three or four different sources of income and employment.

To understand the Blue Economy and its conception, first we need to look further into its origins and the principles of the ZERI Foundation upon which it is based.

“Nature does not know the concept of waste…”

It is on this fundamental precept that the research and initiatives of the ZERI programmes have been built. ZERI contributes towards promoting a global search for practical solutions. The Foundation firmly believes that the search must be based on the acceptance of the interconnectedness of local and global issues, and that, unless we understand the connections from the microscopic cellular scale to the supra global, with each affecting the other in subtle yet profound ways, it is impossible to find appropriate solutions.

Searching for examples that are practical, affordable and informative, ZERI concentrates its efforts building on local expertise and culture within the local ecosystem, and using what is available.

To achieve this dramatic shift, the economy has to evolve from a core business based on a core competence, to a portfolio able to generate multiple benefits for business and society – and one that puts nature back on its evolutionary and symbiotic path.

The Blue Economy recognises that companies have focused excessively on cutting costs and therefore pursued a global strategy looking for the cheapest and most flexible place of manufacturing or service delivery. However, the drive towards ever cheaper products has resulted in an increased deprivation of cash in local economies, which have less employment and less purchasing power. This leads to less money circulating in the communities and results in an economic contraction.

The Blue Economy seeks to inject money back into the local economy and offer high quality products at a lower cost price. For instance, the global supply chain of food implies that up to 90% of all the value added, generated in the supermarkets, is spent on transportation. With little or no transportation required, costs are reduced, margins are improved and prices to the consumer are lowered. 

This short and succinct tutorial animation describes this process and how it works.

The Blue Economy is about bringing humans, natural systems, and the economy back into balance. ‘Blue’ business models should engage with and utilise local resources, and build on the participation of every stakeholder to make the move from scarcity to abundance. If embraced and successfully applied on a global scale, the Blue Economy could represent massive savings in material and costs, by ensuring a restorative and regenerative system which rebuilds natural, social and economic capital and lowers health risks for people all over the world. 

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