Inspired by (hi)story and future-fit capabilities

Written by
Laetitia Nossek
On
April 26, 2019

Easter Island’s history - and particularly the aspects of a cultural and ecological shift - is for me an inspiration to help companies change their perspective. It is a story that has fascinated me in my first year of university and has a tendency to pop randomly up in my mind.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) was in 1000 A.C. the last island in the Pacific colonised by Polynesian sailors. These isolated explorers developed a unique culture, with some of the most iconic images as result, the large stone heads called Moai that were placed along the coastline. Upon arrival, the island was covered with trees – as many as 16 million of them, some of those reaching a length of 30 meters. The inhabitants of this island were farmers, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, meaning they burned down those trees to harvest wood and to create open spaces.

A couple of centuries later, the growing population began taking its toll on the island. Heavy deforestation led to erosion and serious drought. Around 1550 A.C. all trees were gone and therefore the material to make the canoes used to fish as well. Food supply was a serious issue, and the islanders began to fight and even cannibalize each other.

Jared Diamond tells about the Easter Island story in his best-selling book, Collapse, as ‘the clearest example of a society that destroys itself by overexploiting its own resources’. Once deforestation began, it wouldn’t stop until the whole forest was gone. He called this ‘ecocide’ and warned that Easter Island’s fate could one day be our own.

Recently some evidence is found of this story being a myth. The Easter Islanders have cut trees and changed their landscape, yes, but rats brought by sailors that ate tree seeds were the main reason no new trees were growing. This led to a new balance on a lower level. There were still, for instance, plenty of bananas to live from. The last ‘push off the cliff’ for the Islanders came in the form of new sailors, mainly slave drivers, that brought diseases with them and saw the Islanders as cheap labour. The true story of Easter Island is therefore one of ecological degradation and lack of cultural resilience.

The lesson of the old story of Easter Island has been used by many environmental activists, but the new story might be even more alarming. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more.  

Eventually the story of Easter Island shows us two different sides of human traits.

1. Opportunists. In the old story shown in the form of a population that took their chance of ‘free’ resources that eventually caused the downfall of an island. This could have been reality. In the new story shown in the form of slave drivers that took their chance to take advantage of ‘free’ labour.

2. Collaborative, interdependent, fluid in values, and dependent upon the living world. The Islanders had a thriving culture and were able to – almost literally – move mountains.

Economic thinking of the twentieth century has some constraints. At the heart of economics stands the portrait of rational economic man: he has told us that we are self-interested, isolated, calculating, fixed in taste, and dominant over nature – and his portrait has shaped who we have become. But human nature is far richer than this as we can see in this story of a couple of centuries ago. Economic thinking has brought us far, but perception is changing, and we have to stay inside the lines of our resource supply. How can we bring the best of both worlds together?

Well, one way is to embrace the circular economy. I like to use the concept of the circular economy as one that helps us to keep the value of materials and products high for as long as possible. The circular economy can help you to change your perception in the way you do business. It shows you how to design your business models  in a way that still makes business sense, but also acknowledges the value that materials have. You might know the different business models that are the basis of the circular economy, so I don’t want to get into that too much.

Looking at this model, designed by Peter Lacy & Jacob Rutqvist and presented in their book ‘Waste to Wealth – The Circular Economy Advantage’ you see the different types of capabilities companies need to thrive in the circular economy. Circular economy is a buzzword and is much talked about, but key is to understand and obtain – if not already present – these capabilities. Without them, companies that adopt circular business models face a substantial risk of failing without reaping the benefits. Because they do not know how implement such models.

When shifting to a circular business model, effects will show across your entire organisation since it requires major changes in how companies operate. Five areas are especially affected and require new capabilities to successfully make the transition to circular models.

1. Managing complex and collaborative circular networks

Aim for regenerative product and material loops. Think beyond the traditional core and build an ecosystem of partners that operate and monetize the entire product lifecycle. This will not only make you more resilient, but will also help you to think outside the box and maybe come up with some new, innovative additional products and services. A win-win for not only you, but also for your partners!

2. Innovation and product development: designing for many lifecycles and users

You’ll have to think about retaining value of products by designing with more than one user and lifecycle in mind. In doing so, you will not only think about new business models – for instance selling or leasing new components and parts and parts upgrades – but by tracking and tracing your products you will receive useful data on consumer behaviour and preferences.

3. Sourcing and manufacturing: circular supplies

The goal here is to achieve a consistent supply of high-quality, pure, non-toxic inputs that are fully renewable, biodegradable or recyclable. Outputs should not be seen as waste with no value, but as something that could be used productively in other ways.

4. Sales and product use: continuous customer engagement

The biggest change is that companies will need to embrace on the concept of continuous customer engagement. You will have to engage your customers on an ongoing basis, providing services and helping users to maximize a product’s utility across its whole lifecycle instead of focusing solely on product sales. As you can imagine, after-sales service has a major role in managing the products’ lifecycle.

5. Return chains: opportunity-driven take-back

Reverse logistics and return chains are the fifth area in which new capabilities are needed, and arguably the one that holds the entire circular loop together. The goal is to find the optimal volume and quality mix of end-of-life-products, components and materials that should be targeted to return from the markets. Important here is to be compliant with government regulations and to be directly engaged with your customers to ensure that the most valuable resources and materials flow back to you while fitting your quality requirements.

Do you see the potential for your organisation if you have these capabilities? We at nlmtd help companies to become and remain future-proof. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to talk about these topics. Together we can move mountains!

Written by
Laetitia Nossek

Inspired by (hi)story and future-fit capabilities

Easter Island’s history - and particularly the aspects of a cultural and ecological shift - is for me an inspiration to help companies change their perspective. It is a story that has fascinated me in my first year of university and has a tendency to pop randomly up in my mind.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) was in 1000 A.C. the last island in the Pacific colonised by Polynesian sailors. These isolated explorers developed a unique culture, with some of the most iconic images as result, the large stone heads called Moai that were placed along the coastline. Upon arrival, the island was covered with trees – as many as 16 million of them, some of those reaching a length of 30 meters. The inhabitants of this island were farmers, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, meaning they burned down those trees to harvest wood and to create open spaces.

A couple of centuries later, the growing population began taking its toll on the island. Heavy deforestation led to erosion and serious drought. Around 1550 A.C. all trees were gone and therefore the material to make the canoes used to fish as well. Food supply was a serious issue, and the islanders began to fight and even cannibalize each other.

Jared Diamond tells about the Easter Island story in his best-selling book, Collapse, as ‘the clearest example of a society that destroys itself by overexploiting its own resources’. Once deforestation began, it wouldn’t stop until the whole forest was gone. He called this ‘ecocide’ and warned that Easter Island’s fate could one day be our own.

Recently some evidence is found of this story being a myth. The Easter Islanders have cut trees and changed their landscape, yes, but rats brought by sailors that ate tree seeds were the main reason no new trees were growing. This led to a new balance on a lower level. There were still, for instance, plenty of bananas to live from. The last ‘push off the cliff’ for the Islanders came in the form of new sailors, mainly slave drivers, that brought diseases with them and saw the Islanders as cheap labour. The true story of Easter Island is therefore one of ecological degradation and lack of cultural resilience.

The lesson of the old story of Easter Island has been used by many environmental activists, but the new story might be even more alarming. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more.  

Eventually the story of Easter Island shows us two different sides of human traits.

1. Opportunists. In the old story shown in the form of a population that took their chance of ‘free’ resources that eventually caused the downfall of an island. This could have been reality. In the new story shown in the form of slave drivers that took their chance to take advantage of ‘free’ labour.

2. Collaborative, interdependent, fluid in values, and dependent upon the living world. The Islanders had a thriving culture and were able to – almost literally – move mountains.

Economic thinking of the twentieth century has some constraints. At the heart of economics stands the portrait of rational economic man: he has told us that we are self-interested, isolated, calculating, fixed in taste, and dominant over nature – and his portrait has shaped who we have become. But human nature is far richer than this as we can see in this story of a couple of centuries ago. Economic thinking has brought us far, but perception is changing, and we have to stay inside the lines of our resource supply. How can we bring the best of both worlds together?

Well, one way is to embrace the circular economy. I like to use the concept of the circular economy as one that helps us to keep the value of materials and products high for as long as possible. The circular economy can help you to change your perception in the way you do business. It shows you how to design your business models  in a way that still makes business sense, but also acknowledges the value that materials have. You might know the different business models that are the basis of the circular economy, so I don’t want to get into that too much.

Looking at this model, designed by Peter Lacy & Jacob Rutqvist and presented in their book ‘Waste to Wealth – The Circular Economy Advantage’ you see the different types of capabilities companies need to thrive in the circular economy. Circular economy is a buzzword and is much talked about, but key is to understand and obtain – if not already present – these capabilities. Without them, companies that adopt circular business models face a substantial risk of failing without reaping the benefits. Because they do not know how implement such models.

When shifting to a circular business model, effects will show across your entire organisation since it requires major changes in how companies operate. Five areas are especially affected and require new capabilities to successfully make the transition to circular models.

1. Managing complex and collaborative circular networks

Aim for regenerative product and material loops. Think beyond the traditional core and build an ecosystem of partners that operate and monetize the entire product lifecycle. This will not only make you more resilient, but will also help you to think outside the box and maybe come up with some new, innovative additional products and services. A win-win for not only you, but also for your partners!

2. Innovation and product development: designing for many lifecycles and users

You’ll have to think about retaining value of products by designing with more than one user and lifecycle in mind. In doing so, you will not only think about new business models – for instance selling or leasing new components and parts and parts upgrades – but by tracking and tracing your products you will receive useful data on consumer behaviour and preferences.

3. Sourcing and manufacturing: circular supplies

The goal here is to achieve a consistent supply of high-quality, pure, non-toxic inputs that are fully renewable, biodegradable or recyclable. Outputs should not be seen as waste with no value, but as something that could be used productively in other ways.

4. Sales and product use: continuous customer engagement

The biggest change is that companies will need to embrace on the concept of continuous customer engagement. You will have to engage your customers on an ongoing basis, providing services and helping users to maximize a product’s utility across its whole lifecycle instead of focusing solely on product sales. As you can imagine, after-sales service has a major role in managing the products’ lifecycle.

5. Return chains: opportunity-driven take-back

Reverse logistics and return chains are the fifth area in which new capabilities are needed, and arguably the one that holds the entire circular loop together. The goal is to find the optimal volume and quality mix of end-of-life-products, components and materials that should be targeted to return from the markets. Important here is to be compliant with government regulations and to be directly engaged with your customers to ensure that the most valuable resources and materials flow back to you while fitting your quality requirements.

Do you see the potential for your organisation if you have these capabilities? We at nlmtd help companies to become and remain future-proof. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to talk about these topics. Together we can move mountains!

Posted by
Laetitia Nossek
On
April 26, 2019