Ecosystems are the royal path to Sustainability

Ecosystems in nature are communities of living organisms, interacting with each other within a given environment.  These collaborative biological networks tend to evolve into symbiotic relationships enabling each organism to develop a sustainable place within the ecosystem.

Ecosystems are also the most recent and lasting evolution in strategic alliance development.  They are replacing the traditional one-to-one alliance structures.

Ecosystems, within a context of business development, are communities of common interest, partnerships of companies which come together to provide services to their clients.  The growth strategy through ecosystem development involves business partnerships outside one’s own firm and often outside one’s traditional channels to market.

Ecosystems are the royal path to sustainability.all_globe_rgb

Sustainability has become an evergreen theme in corporate strategies and government programs.

Sustainability means capable of enduring, therefore the sustainability theme is not so much a project (connotation – a temporary solution) as a framework, a new way of working and organizing our daily activities.

Ecosystems in nature are the very delicate balance of symbiotic relationships which have taken hundreds of thousands of years for animals, and millions of years for plant life to develop.  Ecosystems are sustainable because the delicate balance has allowed each organism to finds its balance so that its survival is achieved through a “give-get” model of constant interactions within the ecosystem.

Rapid economic development over the past 200 years with the rise of the industrial age, along with exponential human population growth, has created an imbalance in nature’s ecosystems around the world (water and air pollution, reduced biodiversity, climate change…).

Business and NGO ecosystems are now the royal path forward to resolve the very dilemma we have created, i.e. the gradual and systematic destruction of our natural ecosystems.  The ability to (re)organize and find the way to ‘give’ (contribute to their ecosystem) and ‘get’ (receive from their ecosystem) is now a critical success factor for many companies and organizations.

Typically, and by convention, the term ‘sustainability’ for humans, means the long term-maintenance and well-being of the species which has multiple dimensions:  environment, ecological, economic, political, social, cultural, et cetera.

Within this context, business ecosystems signify the complex configuration and interaction of all stakeholders who are involved and engaged within the sustainability framework.

Ecosystems cut across all of these dimensions and provide a platform for sustainability which is the best chance we have at achieving a balanced and appropriate approach to long term survival and short term quality of life.

The ability to reconcile the often contradictory goals of short-term economic efficiency with long-term social well-being is often described in sustainability literature as the 3E:

  • Environment – local and global issues of pollution and climate change and over-population, addressed locally and on a global level
  • Economic – healthy growth, incentives for long-term investments, renewable energy, reduction of carbon footprint, right to work, upward mobility
  • Equity – social balance for a relatively equal access to health, safety and opportunity across all regions, genders, ethnic origins and religions

Healthy ecosystem development and the way that these extremely complex problems are handled are now front and center for the heritage of the next generation and even more so for the successive ones to follow.

For the first time in over a hundred years global trade has decreased over the past two years.  This is in part linked to our permanent state of “crisis” (at least in popular economic literature).  But more importantly, it reflects the way we articulate the global-local model and the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

Sustainable models require very sophisticated ecosystem development at a local, regional and international levels of cooperation.  Reappraising the way we are organized and the way we interact with each other, plus the advent of technology, is changing who we are and how we live and work.

The millennials (or Gen Y) are exceedingly concerned.  Business and governments around the world are now partnering to provide better models.  Terms such as eco-villages, green buildings, smart cities, electric transport systems, permaculture, renewable energies …are becoming realities through ecosystem development and advanced value networks.

Previously closed binary systems are opening up to greater and more sophisticated collaborative solutions and frameworks.  The old goal of win-win-win is becoming a reality.  From this perspective, the economy is a subsystem of human society, which is itself a subsystem of the biosphere, and a gain in one sector should not infer a loss from another.

Carrying capacity is the way we are defining the ability of planet earth to sustain us as a species.  Our carrying capacity has reached the tipping point and more exponential growth of human population is just not sustainable, at least within the current framework.

Scientific attempts to express human impact mathematically often use an IPAT formula.  This formulation attempts to explain human impact in terms of three components:

  • Population in terms of pure numbers, globally and locally
  • Consumption in terms of affluence of resource usage
  • Impact per unit of resource use (as per technology used)

The equation is expressed: I = P x A x T

Terms:  Environmental Impact, Population, Affluence, Technology

Ecosystems at all levels of business cooperation and social organization are helping to right the ship.  The green economy (digital workplace) is replacing the brown economy (industrial workplace) as companies decentralize and strive for value creation outside of the traditional office or factory (new ways of working).

This is how we should interpret the declining numbers of global trade:  not as economic decline but as another major transition of a new sustainable model (from agriculture to industry to information, from analogue to digital, from linear organizations to multi-party exchanges…).

Ecosystems are the wave of the future of human organizations.  Business are thinking less about competitors and more about complementors.  The simplest form of this change is an “alliancizing” of the channel distribution networks.  The most complex forms are versions of value networks such as public-private partnerships.

Technology firms seem to be the best at designing and implementing the new model.  The old relationships of supplier > company > client need to be quickly updated to incorporate multiple dimensions of symbiotic relationships.  One-to-one business discussions are being replaced by one-to-many relationships.

The best and most advanced companies are already working on new ecosystem models, leveraging communications, networks and information technology.  They are training their people to think in the new way, and to cooperate whenever possible, even if short-term gain is compromised.

The goal of business ecosystems is to create sustainable value for the clients, the personnel and for the organization.  Consultants and professionals working in this field need to accelerate the thinking and help to define the new paradigm.

We are just now at the beginning of an inflection point in our new ways of organizing economic and social behavior.  Ecosystems are the royal path to sustainable solutions.