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Last week I asked: “If your company were focused on building regenerative capacity—its own, of its value chain, of its communities, of the local and planetary ecosystems that support it—how might you do your business differently? What new opportunities might emerge?”

It seems the theme’s a meme. It’s there in The Upcycle, the new book from Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart, and Flourishing, the latest gem from John Ehrenfeld. It’s even on many lips at FortuneGreen this week.

Think about it:

  • What if the extraction of the raw materials that make up your product or that enable your service built soil and revitalized ecosystems? Or what if there was no primary extraction at all?
  • What if your manufacturing or service delivery processes were “net zero” consumers of energy and water? Or “net positive” producers of renewable energy and clean water?
  • What if your embrace of “extended producer responsibility” (or total producer responsibility) not only eliminated your non-product output but also glued your customers to your business?
  • And what if all this delivered exceptional financial results, as well as the satisfaction of a job well done?

That’s what I’m talking about these days with our clients.

This morning I posted Beyond “Sustainability”: Better Questions.

This afternoon a new book arrived: The Upcycle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

The subtitle: Beyond Sustainability: Designing for Abundance.


I’ve written the last few weeks about systems thinking, its power and challenges. (You can catch up here and here.) Here’s where that thinking is currently taking me.

For all of the initiatives around sustainability over the past couple of decades, for all the enthusiasm, progress and breakthroughs, there’s a growing acknowledgement that we’re nowhere near close to where we need to get. (At the “Nexus: Energy, Food & Water” conference at Wharton last week, every presentation started with “By 2050 there will be nine billion people on the planet, and….”)

In the face of this and so many other challenges, more people are asking: “Is ‘sustainability’ good enough?” It’s not, of course. As Michael Braungart observes: “If somebody asked you how your marriage was doing, and you said, ‘Well, its sustainable,’ they wouldn’t be enthusiastic. They’d say, ‘I’m terribly sorry to hear that.’”

So what’s beyond sustainability? Braungart and Bill McDonough talk about “cradle to cradle.” John Ehrenfeld talks about flourishing. Jean Russell talks about thriveability. But what would that look like? What would we have to do—as business people, customers, citizens—to get there?

Eight years ago, a client asked us just that question. Our response was “Sustainable Business: A Declaration of Leadership“—a manifesto that summarized the drivers, guiding criteria and specific actions we would need to take (we being everything from companies to governments to what we quaintly call “consumers”) to build a modern, productive, supportive industrial society that can actually live in harmony with the natural system to the planet to sustain it. And thrive. And prosper.

Download it—and let me know what you think. Next week I’ll tell you what I’m thinking now.