Rome Club Report 2018, Chapter 3.3: "Blue Economy"

Original author: Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Anders Wijkman
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3.3 Blue economy

In April 2009, Günter Pauli presented some basic research and concepts of local economic development as a possible report to the Rome Club entitled “Blue Economy: 100 Innovations, 10 Years, 100 Million Jobs” . He painted a bold vision, inspired by the German proverb Schaffen ist auch Wissenschaft (The creation is also a science). This vision was based on the understanding that nature in general (as well as a wide range of ecosystems in particular) overcame almost every conceivable problem for thousands of years. Nature thus inspires how human society can chart a path to the future. The path can be derived from the ingenuity of ecosystems that continue to provide a variety of products and services on which all life depends.

This new “Blue Economy” will strengthen all social systems that create culture, tradition and social capital, as they provide resilience in adverse times and joy in good times. It would also allow us to learn to live within obvious limits as we evolve from scarcity to abundance. The Executive Committee of the Club of Rome enthusiastically encouraged Pauli to continue this line of thinking, writing and presenting the book. She gained tremendous success and has since been translated into 41 languages.

For years, Pauli has been observing ecological and social systems, which allowed him to postulate several basic principles (see box below) that could orient the pursuit of a world where nature restores its evolutionary path and society strengthens its social network. This goal will improve the quality of life for all, giving them the opportunity to learn how to meet basic needs with what is available locally. The book was published in 2010, and over the years Paulie learned many new lessons. The initial vision and 100 proposed innovations were tested for practicality. He adapted the guidelines as an attempt to explain how quickly changes can be achieved thanks to a modern business philosophy based on the logic of globalization, to move from cost reduction and ever-increasing economies of scale to Blue Economy, which works better and transforms industries faster than anything that is often considered sustainable. All of this must begin with our ability to respond to the basic needs of all people.

The pursuit of food security goes hand in hand with the need to produce and use goods within our planetary boundaries. It is necessary to respond quickly to the basic needs of all people on Earth, while there is an equal need for a transition to a healthier diet. The combination of food security, sustainable agriculture, and health problems drives the world to embrace innovation. This innovation will be social, technological and organizational. It is clear that one technology will not offer a complete solution. Any answer to the challenges faced today will require a series of answers that will evolve over time. Most of them will rarely give better results. But some basic principles may help us in finding breakthroughs.

21 The Principle of the “Blue Economy” (2016 edition)

  1. Consumer products and systems drew inspiration from nature.
  2. These systems are non-linear.
  3. Systems can be optimized (not maximized) and can co-develop
  4. Systems demonstrate resilience due to ever-growing diversity
  5. Systems work first on the fundamentals of physics, adaptive chemistry and biology.
  6. Products initially renewable, always organic and biodegradable
  7. Success in work depends on changing the rules of the game.
  8. Isolated problems are interrelated in order to create a set of opportunities.
  9. Efficiency includes the ability to return nature to the evolutionary and symbiotic path
  10. Benefits include strengthening the House of Commons.
  11. The goal is to respond first to basic needs.
  12. Use what you have.
  13. Replace anything by eliminating unnecessary products.
  14. Everything has value, even waste and weeds.
  15. Health and happiness - the result
  16. Volume is saved, production is carried out in sets instead of economy of scale.
  17. One initiative generates multiple cash flows and benefits
  18. Vertical integration of the value chain in both primary and secondary industries
  19. Management without business plans, but due to complex system analyzes
  20. All decisions affect profit and loss, as well as balance
  21. All ethics have basic ethical principles.

3.3.1 Basic principles

In 1994, Günter Pauli, after working at the United Nations University, UNU in Tokyo, founded the Zero Emission Initiative (ZERI) and developed a network for scientists who think collectively, going beyond the obvious. The search for solutions that were originally presented at the Third Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention (“COP3”) in Kyoto in 1997 was inspired by “how nature evolves from scarcity to abundance.” It began with the observation that the only species on Earth that can produce what no one wants is people. Nature continuously consistently includes matter, energy and food, and each aspect contributes to its best opportunities. The concept of unemployment in ecosystems does not exist. Being against this idealistic structure, ZERI is developing business models, that increase resource efficiency while generating more food and nutrients than ever expected, using only locally available resources. The updated guidelines are presented in the box above.

A small selection of practical innovations from there can serve as a model of the optimistic slogan “Come On” (Well, come on).

3.3.2 Coffee Chemistry and Edible Mushrooms

Agricultural programs based on gene manipulation often ignore the fact that our modern model of industrial and food production is extremely wasteful. Do we understand that a cup of coffee contains only 0.2% of the biomass of harvested red (coffee) berries? The process of fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding and boiling leads to the absorption of a small fraction of the ten million tons of coffee produced worldwide, and disposal of almost everything else as waste.

This understanding gave rise to “coffee chemistry,” including growing mushrooms on post-harvest, post-industrial and post-consumer biomass, using spent substrate enriched with amino acids as animal feed, using small coffee particles as an odor control, UV protection and even hydrogen storage system . Coffee logic can be applied to tea and dozens of other cultures. This combination of innovation not only allows you to replace toxic chemicals, but also creates incomes and jobs. In fig. 3.4 shows a rich, ready-to-harvest crop of mushrooms that flourish on biomass coffee.


Figure 3.4. Mushrooms growing on a biomass coffee plantation. One of 200 examples of cascading natural resource use in a blue economy (Photo: development alternatives)

3.3.3 Bioresource and Thistle Design in Sardinia

Recent cases show that the production of 500 times more food, from the same crop of coffee, and the creation of 300 times more value from readily available biomass is no exception. Over the past 20 years, ZERI Foundation partners have found dozens of other cases that are now expanding, as demonstrated by more than 5,000 farms that combine coffee and mushrooms. The design of bio-resources provides more information on the dynamics of food and chemicals, and the availability of raw materials is a critical success factor.

The Novamont case in Sardinia demonstrates that the treatment of a thistle, a weed that grows on abandoned agricultural land, can be a response to the many needs of society, offering a new perspective for agriculture. Thistles are collected, treated as butter or cellulose sugars, then converted into a complex of biochemicals, including polymers for plastic bags, elastomers for rubber gloves, herbicides and lubricants, and their waste can be recycled into animal feed.

3.3.4. Three-dimensional mariculture and air bubble fishing

The complex of innovative business models is not limited to agriculture on land. The introduction of three-dimensional industrial breeding of marine organisms, combining the cultivation of seaweed, mussels, scallops, oysters, fish, crabs and lobsters, has demonstrated the high efficiency of the revival of healthy seafood production. In a controlled environment, it provides a variety of products, ranging from food and animal feed, to cosmetics and pharmaceutical ingredients, and any residual waste turns into fertilizer. This system does not require initial components such as fresh water, pesticides or fertilizers; on the contrary, this method, which is considered the permaculture of the sea, alkalizes seawater, restores biodiversity and helps to change the diet of consumers to a much healthier one.

One of the most profound changes in modern food production systems is fishing and fish farming. The era of nets, hooks and cages is over. Using sardines as food for salmon is absurd when we need to double the output of products. The ZERI Foundation, inspired by how dolphins and whales catch their prey, focused on the design of fishing methods that are based on air bubbles, and this led to the reorganization of fishing vessels and fishing methods. All female fish with eggs go out to the ocean to ensure future generations and provide an adequate supply of wild catch. Indeed, one of the reasons why fish farming is considered to be more productive than fishing is that fishermen indiscriminately kill females with eggs, and the farm can keep them alive.

It's time to innovate and encourage innovators to break the old, destructive methods. This can not only create new professions, but can also turn the old performance logic upside down. According to Gunter Pauli, a three-dimensional fish farm can generate two jobs per hectare in some marine areas, requiring 25 lines totaling $ 7,500, which produce 600,000 mollusks and 75 tons of algae per hectare per year. All of them are consistent with the Blue Economy philosophy: more value, less investment costs, more productivity and jobs. And people can even become healthier in the process.

To be continued...

For the translation, thanks to Diana Sheremyova. If you are interested, I invite you to join the "flashmob" to translate the 220-page report. Write in a personal or email

More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1 “Different types of crises and feelings of helplessness”
Chapter 1.1.2: “Finance”
Chapter 1.1.3: “An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 3.3: “Blue Economy”
Chapter 3.11: “Financial Sector Reforms”
Chapter 3.13: “Philanthropy, investment, crowdsourcing and blockchain”
Chapter 3.14: “Not one GDP ...”
Chapter 3.15: “Collective Leadership”
Chapter 3.16: “Global Government”
Chapter 3.18: “Literacy on the Future”


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