Note: This blog is the first in a series to be written by guest author Anthony Watanabe, documenting a year-long “REgeneration Tour” that he is about to begin this July with his family.
Usually the best life experiences begin as a simple question: McGill or UBC? How should I propose? Employee or employer? Or in my case: How can I show my kids the incredible world around them, beyond a two-week family vacation?
From that innocent question many years ago was born a “family sustainability sabbatical,” which will begin in July 2013.
While the family sabbatical is a personal dream come true, it was also important that it included a professional mission linked to my work in sustainability for the past 10 years. One of the things I’ve loved about sustainability is the blurry line between life and work. Collaborating with businesses and governments to drive environmental progress is not a nine-to-five job, which can be challenging.
On the other hand, it’s much more than just a job: it’s a mission and a way of seeing the world. And, in my opinion, there is no other way to work. For me, running a sustainable innovation consultancy has been a marriage of professional development and personal values.
In my eyes, the blur is beautiful and I see no reason to change things during my year of travel.
The REgeneration tour
My guiding question is: How are profitable businesses making a net positive impact on the environment?
While most businesses are still focused on “doing less harm,” many have begun actually cleaning water, restoring habitats, regenerating infertile land and rehabilitating sites, precisely to save money, to reduce risk, to drive efficiency and to innovate.
Indeed, sustainability and innovation have never been more closely linked, as witnessed by a friend’s former role at a multinational packaging company where she carried the title of “director of sustainovation.”
With a primary focus on developing nations in Asia and Latin America, The REgeneration Tour will shine a spotlight on projects where there are net positive results or even net positive intentions.
Why is it necessary?
Why is this even necessary, some may ask? The driving forces that are bringing us to the brink are well known: population growth, urbanization, rising consumption and climate change. Globally, over 60% of ecosystems have degraded in just the last 50 years. Recognizing that such ecosystem risk poses a real and soon-to-be present danger to their success, a number of leading firms have already begun innovating around biodiversity.
Sometimes, this is complex. For instance, restoring wetlands requires a rich mix of scientific knowledge, data, financing and measurement—and patience. Other times, as in the case of the Savory Institute’s regenerative grazing of cattle to allow grass to regrow, it’s quite simple.
In most cases, like those life experiences, it begins with a new set of questions about the art of possibility.
- What is the role of business in a world of seven billion people and counting?
- How can an organization build and strengthen its social permission to operate?
- What are the enabling conditions for a net positive impact?
- How can we better bridge strategy and science?
- Is there a business case for regenerative design?
These are the questions I hope to answer during The REGeneration Tour.
I’m excited to share my experiences and learnings through social media, blogs, photos and video. I will also be delivering presentations during my travels, to share information, solicit feedback and refine ideas.
In many respects, the tour is already a success because I know it will be a turning point for how my sons, who are now nine and seven, view the world. The challenge at hand is to broaden the tour’s scope of impact so that it is also a turning point for how businesses view the world and to increase its potential to make the world better.
A MaRS client, Anthony M. Watanabe, Ph.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, advisor and investor helping organizations innovate through sustainability. From July 2013 through July 2014, he is embarking on a journey around the world to research and develop the business case for regenerative design. See more…