The Blue Economy
by Gunter Pauli

 The Blue Economy

10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs

The Blue Economy began as a project to find 100 of the best nature-inspired technologies that could affect the economies of the world, while sustainably providing basic human needs - potable water, food, jobs, and habitable shelter. Starting with 2,231 peer review articles Dr. Pauli and his team found 340 innovations that could be bundled into systems that function the way ecosystems do.  These were then additionally reviewed by a group of corporate strategists, expert financiers, and public policy makers.  Further meetings with entrepreneurs, financial analysts, business reporters, and corporate strategy academics reduced the list to one hundred. These are listed in an appendix of The Blue Economy.

Many of the innovations inspired by nature are so interesting by themselves it is easy to forget that the key to the book is their integration with real world economies as ways to provide sustainable benefits to the commons. The Blue Economy is presented in 14 chapters, each of which investigates an aspect of the world's economies and offers a series of innovations capable of making aspects of those economies sustainable.


Below are "in-a-nutshell" descriptions of the chapters with very brief examples. Please see the Table of Contents (upper right column) for further details.

One - Timeless Resources for the Challenges of Our Times

Chapter 1 makes the point that nature works with physics, with immutable laws that have the inherent advantage of requiring no externally-provided energy. The central principle of The Blue Economy is the idea of cascading nutrients and energy the way ecosystems do. A cascade is a waterfall. It requires no power, it flows with the force of gravity. It transports nutrients between biological kingdoms — absorbed minerals feed microorganisms, microorganisms feed plants, plants feed other species, with the waste of one being nourishment for another. Cascading energy and nutrients leads to sustainability by reducing or eliminating inputs such as energy and eliminating waste and its cost, not just as pollution but also as an inefficient use of materials. In ecosystems there is no waste because the by products of one process are inputs to another process.

Two - Emulating Ecosystems for a Blue Economy

Chapter 2 discusses how to achieve true economic sustainability. The solution rests with linking processes into whole systems. For example, at Picuris Pueblo in New Mexico cascading nutrients and energy produces income while preventing the forest fires that so often devastate the western landscape. "Slash" (the small diameter wood that intensifies fires) is usually removed with machines that do their own ecological damage. Instead, fire prevention is integrated into a whole systems model that is compatible with Native culture.

Slash in not burned but chipped into mulch. Some of the mulch made from the removed wood is inoculated with local, native mushrooms and spread on the tracks left by the equipment used to harvest the slash. In as little as two years, the forest floor is restored. The bulk of the wood is dried and preserved. However, it is preserved without using a polluting, chemical approach. Instead, the fumes created by the incomplete combustion of charcoal production are used to preserve the construction grade lumber. The chips that remain after the process of collection, carpentry, and charcoal are inoculated with native mushrooms obtained from tissue cultures. After harvesting the highly nutritious mushrooms, the spent chips used as the growth substrate are fed to the newly introduced bison herd. Something is replaced with nothing and produces sustainable forests, wood for construction, food for people and animals. There is no waste.

Father Nzamujo at the Songhai Center in Benin, Africa provides food security, jobs and health care from slaughterhouse waste. These are real results, the results of today not tomorrow or in some unspecified future when enough corporations have spent enough on greening their factories. Paolo Lugari at Las Gaviotas secures drinking water and renewable energy, jobs, biofuels, and food where there was once only dry, useless land. Cascading nutrients and energy to attain clear objectives like food, water, and energy is the norm in nature. However, sustainable production systems, such as those successfully implemented by Nzamujo and Lugari, also generate multiple benefits beyond the principal aim of their design. These additional benefits supplement positive cash flows and reduce material intensity and energy costs. This rise in integrated cash flow is the logic that supports, and the strongest argument in favor of, this new approach to business.

Three - Nature's Resource Efficiency

Chapter 3 describes how to resolve the complex problems we are confronting, both in our individual domiciles and our greater domicile, our Earth. Successful future industries will reexamine the basics of science and seek inspiration for innovative solutions that apply physics first and chemistry second. If we consider the underlying forces and the systemic conditions that predict the results prescribed by physics, then we will understand why chemistry in nature differs markedly from the chemistry that dominates our lives today. The few molecules retained in natural products and production processes reflect the best possible use of physics.

A gravity driven vortex device will eliminate air from water without any additional energy input. If you make ice, you are freezing both water and air. Air is an insulator and the expensive energy needed to freeze and maintain the ice in hockey rinks and ice arenas is thus dependent on the amount of air in the water. By eliminating the air, the energy savings reduce production cost, decreasing the effect on climate change by eliminating the greenhouse gases produced by the 100,000 kW hours per year of electrical generation required to maintain ice arenas. Yet, as is shown by the limited acceptance of green business initiatives, reducing the inputs to climate change is not sufficient inspiration for businesses to risk their capital. On the other hand, additional advertising revenue inspires everyone. Ice without water is clear. At the level of professional hockey, clear ice permits using the rink for team branding and television advertising. At the local skating arena, it does the same for local businesses. Save some, earn more, the key to sustainability.

Four - Leading the Way for Market Leaders

In Chapter 4 we learn how standard "MBA" analysis makes it impossible for large companies to innovate because of the "inside the box" thinking demanded by corporate systems and the diverse and sometimes conflicting interests of management and shareholders. In essence, corporations are locked out of sustainable advances by the logic of their decision-making process. One of these principles is known as "supply chain management." This describes a company's efforts to control the supply, cost, and timing of the materials it needs for the items it produces for sale.

One successful innovation discussed in Chapter 4 shows how to use this to advantage by integrating a sustainable technology into an existing supply chain. Natural enzymes can sequester carbon dioxide, making it available for other processes that require it, such as the carbonic gases used in the production of construction materials. Industry has resisted even more conventional scrubbing technologies because of their cost. However, now that Canadian entrepreneurs have devised a means of using enzyme sequestration directly in the existing scrubbing systems of coal-fired power plants and cement factories, even the least progressive management can be inspired to invest. The fact that the sequestered carbon dioxide can create additional revenue may be inspiration enough. All too often breakthrough innovations require scrapping existing facilities. That makes it hard for even the most progressive companies to adopt innovations; however, no or low additional cost to provide an additional income stream can motivate everyone.

Five - Nature's MBA (Mastery of Brilliant Adaptations)

Chapter 5 expands upon The Blue Economy approach to planetary sustainability. The objective of introducing innovations is to better respond to basic needs. Replacing a toxic process with a less toxic alternative equates "doing less bad" to "doing good." That is exactly the approach that sees billions of dollars invested in less toxic and longer lasting batteries. Yet, even less toxic batteries rely on mining, smelting, and toxic chemistry. They will do less bad but not enough good. The vast majority of batteries are not recycled but are dumped into landfills, toxifying our ecosystem and posing long term health hazards.

Is it enough "to do less bad?" Under the old business model a company polluting less, reducing its release of toxins into our environment, our homes, and even into our childrens' bedrooms, might even get an environmental award! Perhaps it is time to adjust our thinking and increase our ambitions. The innovations described in The Blue Economy demonstrate how we can simply replace bad with good. For example, there are fire and flame retardants produced from food grade ingredients that are ready to be adapted by the construction and home-building industry. These can achieve the necessary protection without endangering food supply and health.

Six - Cascading Models, Multiple Cash Flows

Chapter 6 notes that at times of upheaval positive minds look for solutions wherever they can. There are always pockets of growth even when the overall economy is considered to be in decline. Health care, food supply, and the environment are three areas where experts anticipate increased expenditures even in rough times. This growth potential is clearly demonstrated by the burgeoning worldwide demand for tropical mushrooms. Ever since a middle class with purchasing power emerged in China, demand for the fruiting bodies of shiitake and other edible fungi has been explosive. Double digit growth rates have been the norm for over two decades. Europe and North America are also discovering the enoki, maitake and reishi as healthful, protein-rich foods.

What if the coffee and tea waste from coffee shop chains were systematically converted into rich substrate for growing mushrooms at inner-city production centers? It can and has been done. In the San Francisco Bay Area, two college graduates followed through on the scientific studies and testing involving growing high-protein shiitake mushrooms on coffee shop waste. They began collecting coffee grounds from local coffee shops in the early morning hours, then seeding them with mushroom innoculant in a warehouse. Two years later, their startup enterprise is enormously successful. A similar initiative started across the bay in Marin City. There, children grow mushrooms on nothing less than the biomass of removed invasive species blended with coffee grounds. The same can be even done with abundant orchard prunings. This would further stimulate entrepreneurship.

Seven - Spinning a Silken Tale

Chapter 7 discusses silk as a replacement for titanium. Titanium is the ninth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and the seventh most abundant metal. The production of titanium consumes large quantities of magnesium, chlorine, and argon gas as well as vast amounts of energy. Titanium must be welded in an inert atmosphere to protect it from contamination with oxygen, nitrogen, or hydrogen. Both the energy inputs and the use of scarce and mined resources are extremely high. Yet, even those customers who are prepared to pay the price and ignore the environmental damage will adopt a new product if it is compatible to their use, meets their production criteria, and cost less.

At the University of Oxford in the Department of Zoology, Professor Fritz Vollrath is a creative resource for biocompatible polymers. While working in Panama for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution, Prof. Vollrath encountered the golden silk orb-weaver spider. By studying how this spider composed and recycled its silk, and its three-dimensional spinning techniques, Vollrath and his group are able to produce equipment and processes to manufacture surgical silk tubes and filaments as a conduit for nerve regeneration, medical sutures, and silk medical devices to regenerate damaged cartilage and bone tissues. The natural polymer silk as well serves as a substitute for titanium in products as various as airplane parts and razors. If we compare a life cycle analysis of titanium with the simplicity of converting mulberry leaves to silk and controlling spinning pressure and moisture at more-or-less ambient temperature, we quickly understand how we can move towards sustainability.

Eight - From the Mighty to the Minuscule

Chapter 8 tells the story of Dr. Jorge Reynolds, one of the original inventors of the pacemaker. Anyone studying the heart must be fascinated by the whale's heart, and Dr. Reynolds is no exception. Through extensive studies of living whales he learned that whales have channels of cells dedicated to guiding electric currents in and around their hearts. These currents coordinate the cardiac rhythms. Dr. Reynolds realized that these cells can adjust their pathways to bypass damaged tissue. The whales' regulating currents are produced by the blending of potassium, sodium, and calcium at the molecular level. To understand how these electric currents were produced without either metals or batteries, Dr. Reynolds studied the whale heart beginning with the embryo at the time of conception. What he learned made him rethink pacemaker fundamentals.

Today pacemakers prolong millions of lives by replacing the natural capacity to generate electric currents with a battery-powered device that connects deep into the heart. Recalls in the hundreds of thousands have lately plagued these devices. Inspired by the whale, Dr. Reynolds recreated the cell-thin tubes to improve the distribution of current throughout the heart and developed a nano-scale pacemaker. Instead of replacing the natural function of the heart, it channels current from healthy to damaged tissue. While medical devices take years of pre-approval testing, the potential contribution of this innovation to sustainability and health is immense. A $100,000 surgery, expensive drugs, and continuing care could be replaced with a $500 outpatient procedure. Indeed, imagine that one day every electrical device that currently operates using small batteries accumulating in landfills can be eliminated by electricity generated from walking or talking. Eliminating the adverse environmental impact of the batteries in these devices sources will greatly relieve the impact on our ecosystem on which we depend for life-important materials like drinking water and fertile soil.

Nine - A Rainbow of Possibilities

Remaking Coloration and Cosmetics

Chapter 9 rethinks coloration. Sometimes new applications find their way to the market in a most surprising manner. The wings of a dragonfly have a unique ability to concentrate sunlight. In Japan where dragonflies symbolize new light and joy, this ability caught the attention of those studying how to generate renewable energy so efficiently that it makes the coal fired power station look like a dinosaur. This dragonfly technique for concentrating light is what we need to shift from generating electricity with silicon, a highly polluting process, to generating electricity with a steam-powered turbine, a well-known, well-understood, technology for which engineering knowledge and manufacturing access are readily available.

Solar power concentration is already an emerging and proven industry in countries like Spain. Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses mirrors to focus sunlight onto water, very much as does the dragonfly. Heated water can power a generator, a technology that is easily implemented. By 2050 annual Concentrated Solar Power investments could exceed $100 billion, creating almost two million jobs and eliminating 2.1 billion tons of CO2 emissions!

Ten - Envisioning New Energy Options

Chapter 10 asks "How does the coconut fill with water?" There is no pump. Neither does it absorb rainwater. How do trees build giant structures overcoming gravity? Where does osmosis in plants derive its power to override gravitational forces? Osmosis and CO2 bubbles in capillary veins push juicy nutrients upward. There is interplay with surface tension. Indeed, how can we neglect the power of that grand force of gravity, the attraction of the moon? It is responsible for tidal ebb and flow, another very predictable force to be reckoned with. There are many forces that are exploited in great detail by natural systems and at minute levels to insure that everything has power whenever it is needed. This stands in stark contrast with the industrial solutions we have invented and financed.

Thermoelectricity is the conversion of temperature differentials to electricity. In the future, many instruments will work without a battery or power from a wall socket. For example, electronic equipment might draw power from the warmth of the human body. In Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques has developed a way of harnessing natural body heat to generate electricity. The difference between the temperature of the human body and the surrounding hot or cold environment is enough to generate electricity. Normally, a difference of several tens of degrees is required to generate enough power but the differences between the body's surface temperature and its immediate environment is only a few degrees. "Only low voltages can be produced from differences like these," explains Peter Spies, the project manager at the German research institute. Since these, like cell phones, create a significant portion of the demand for polluting batteries, their implementation will clearly help sustain the planet.

Eleven - True Gold: Mines as Platforms of Healing

Chapter 11 explores the possible sustainability improving adaptations for one of humanity's most aggressive interventions: mining. Armed with dynamite, and consuming massive amounts of water and energy, humans extract minute concentrations of gold from the depths of the earth. Could this ever emulate natural systems? No natural process ever uses such brute force to acquire such minute amounts. Although we may not be capable of converting mining into a benign operation, nor undo the errors of the past, can we at least design a strategy that can mitigate the environmental and social pain that mining has inflicted? We learn that lichens are great miners, capable of extracting specific inorganic molecules like magnesium from rocks. Bacteria are known to selectively separate metals through chelation. 

Mines need massive amounts of electricity to pump water and air, to produce ice to cool the shafts, and to transport ore. It makes sense to explore innovations that can save such energy expenditure — and many have been tested and applied and are ready to be taken up by progressive business entrepreneurs. Jay Harman's mathematical model inspired by the Fibonacci code is a the root of the designs of his Pax Scientific companies that have the potential to cut energy costs by 20 to 30 percent. The vortex technology developed by Swedish innovator Curt Hallberg could be used in the deep mine shafts where ice making machines are necessary to control temperature. Using a vortex to remove the air from the water used to make the ice would reduce the energy cost by ten to fifteen percent using only the force of gravity. Other compelling examples abound in this chapter.

Twelve - Buildings Designed by Flows

Chapter 12 investigates buildings. Each of us has an opportunity to create our own little cosmos at home, at school or at work. Even though the air outside is polluted and acidic, there is no reason to suffer the same assault inside. On the contrary, the design of our buildings could be so sophisticated that the interior naturally evolves to a more ideal slightly alkaline habitat. Starting at home, we can use our understanding of the flows of air and matter to create an environment conducive to life. We can design homes and schools, offices and care centers, with the same logic that our bodies have evolved, remembering that life in the ocean thrives on alkalinity.

Swedish architect Anders Nyquist worked with the local authorities responsible for the Laggarberg School in Timrå by Sundsvall to convert an old school building while adding a new wing to the school facilities. He designed a temperature control system driven by natural airflows that continuously refreshes the air. Guess what happened when the positive health statistics and the low rate of absenteeism became known? Families started moving to the neighborhood to insure that their kids would be educated in the healthiest environment of modern times. When parents are happy, children study better. When children study well and are healthy, their parents are happy. This is not difficult to understand. The same happens in ecosystems: once nutrients and energy flow, more species join and evolve, converting a perceived scarcity to a serene and beautiful environment.

Thirteen - Cascading a Blue Economy

Chapter 13 notes that ecosystems are all about connecting, creating networks of networks, allowing everyone to contribute to the best of their abilities, while operating within clearly defined boundaries where nutrients and energy are endlessly cascaded as defined by the laws of physics. Within each of these systems, which can be as diverse as a desert, an alpine mountain range, a wetlands, or a tropical rainforest, the same management principles apply. Traditional business thinking asserts that an increase in productivity is only possible by shedding jobs. Nature knows better. At a time of crisis, with millions out of work, and hundreds of millions of young people suffering from a sense of uselessness, our opportunity to shape a Blue Economy is very encouraging. Emulating natural systems can unleash local entrepreneurship much like evolution embraced innovations through diversity. There is no greater power for change than youth prepared to take the risk.

Epilogue - Realizing A Dream

Inspiring success stories from Zimbabwe,  California, and a look to the future by Gunter Pauli.

Appendix 1  - A Table of 100 Innovations Inspired by Nature

This appendix demonstrates the foundation of The Blue Economy's subtitle - "10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs." It presents a synopsis of each innovation and an estimate of the jobs it could create. These estimates are based on Dr. Pauli's study of the industry affected. This is an entrepreneur's dream. Some of the innovations are proven in the real world, some are benchmarked in pilot implementations, some are estimations drawn from peer reviewed science. All can change the world in their own way.

Appendix 2  -  100 Innovations Inspiring Competitive Business Models

This appendix provides descriptions of the innovations that have a benchmarked ability to create jobs by producing competitive businesses. Each is accompanied by an estimate of the jobs created, and a description of the cash flow potentials

Bibliography and References

The Bibliography includes noteworthy books and journals.



There are further references linked here.


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