While sustainability is a noble and worthwhile business strategy, after decades of exploitation, and accelerating climate change, our ideal goal should be to put back into nature more than we take out, writes Hermann Haupt, Vice President CHEP Sub Sahara Africa at CHEP
Innovation and sustainability have long been the watchwords of modern business. However, at a time when we have been exploiting the environment at an unsustainable rate for centuries, with biodiversity having plunged1 since 1970, plastic pollution at catastrophic levels2, and climate change accelerating3, it is critical that we start to talk about regeneration, and not just sustainability.
We need to ask ourselves, do we want to live in a world of steady decay, or do we want to live in harmony with nature?
Sustainability alone cannot undo the negative impact that industrial systems have had on the planet. Sustainability strategies are now in place across several sectors. But even if these are implemented, future generations cannot hope to have the same quality of life as we do.
According to sustainable investment house One Day In July, global temperatures are on track to rise by 3.2 degrees C4 by 2100. To mitigate and even reverse this trend, we need to reduce or sequester carbon by 1 442 gigatons by 2050, according to Green America5. That’s more than half of all the fossil fuels that remain in our reserves.
An article in the journal Nature6, estimates that in order to achieve the goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, roughly a third of fossil fuel reserves need to go unused. We need to do less, and in fact reverse the rate of exploitation.
This is where regeneration comes in – to amplify sustainability, and to move us towards a net-zero environmental impact by actively reversing the damage we have already done. Regeneration, in simple terms, means “putting back more than we take”. This is the approach we need, to avoid a future world that is worn out, dry, and unable to feed the insects, animals, plants and trees that depend on it.
It’s time to go back to basics. The present needs to renew itself for the future, and we need to help our planet do that, by changing what society expects from it. We need to move away from degenerative systems that waste and pollute, and move to systems that can heal the damage done.
In the agricultural sector, farmers have already adopted regenerative7 practices that contribute to good soil health and even replace lost nutrients in the soil. This has inspired other industries to look into regeneration.
In the supply-chain sector, where our organization operates, the regeneration approach is still in its early stages. Achieving effective regeneration will require manufacturers, logistics firms, distributors and producers to first reduce waste and emissions. From there, we can begin to look at putting back.
In this case, going back to basics means putting the earth at the center of our economic system, and making decisions that put the planet and society first. Ultimately, what is good for the earth will be good for humans. It will simply take a little longer for us to reap the benefits. But that may be the lesson we need to learn – to be less selfish, less impatient.
Instead of consuming resources and producing waste, we should look for a system of consuming existing waste and producing resources. This will help change the narrative of sustainability to regeneration. Like many things, it’s easier said than done, but inaction will never yield a progressive future.
At CHEP, we have taken the first steps towards building regenerative supply chains. These are contained in our most recent Sustainability Review8. Its principles can be applied in business, in communities and in the natural environment; in forestry, waste, carbon emissions, and safety.
Devising this strategy, we have realised the critical importance of collaboration. Regeneration will benefit all of us. So if it is to work, it will require buy-in from every industry, every country and every one of us. We need to transform the way we deliver life’s essentials.
We are all in this together. COVID-19 has re-emphasised this truth. We should carry forward our newly learned spirit of global solidarity and apply it to healing our world.
We have an opportunity – perhaps the last chance we’ll ever have – to transform our production systems, and to create new ones that bring us back to our roots. To produce and feed ourselves within the sustainable capacity of our planet.
But to get there, first we’ll have to regenerate. That journey starts here.