Business, Community

SBN expansion reflects evolution of NZ’s sustainability ecosystem

What can we learn from a Spanish fish-farm when planning for business survival, growth and long-term value creation? And why SBN’s latest development is a sign of new economic vitality.

In Dan Barber’s famous TED talk, ‘How I fell in love with a fish’, he explains how an old beef farming area in Spain was restored to an inland freshwater farm. The way that fish farm measures success will surprise you. Different to the usual agricultural approaches, Dan describes how this farm celebrated the health of pink flamingos and other birds which feasted on the farm’s fish and fish eggs, ‘stealing’ as much as 20% of the stock. That logic might sound a little skewed, until you delve a little deeper to understand the inherent wisdom.

Are we measuring success the right way?
Rather than see the birds as a problem, the farm owners see them as a sign of success; a true indicator of a healthy, shared-value creating ecosystem. You see, this farm practices ‘extensive’ farming, rather than ‘intensive’ farming. And the difference is fundamental. The pink bellies of the flamingos are a biological sign that the shrimp and other fish they eat are in excellent health. And even more surprising is that the farm uses no additional food or nutrient sources. It relies on a healthy functioning ecosystem to provide those nutrients and food, at zero external cost. Not only are the birds tolerated, the area is designated as a protected bird sanctuary – one of Europe’s largest.

When you watch Dan’s talk, you’ll understand the message he’s conveying as he explains why he fell in love with a fish from that farm. Dan’s a chef, and he appreciates quality, great tasting food. And though it may take some time for this type of ‘extensive’, whole-systems farming to catch on, more and more farmers are appreciating the value that a healthy ecosystem adds to their enterprise; not to mention the costs it can save, and the waste it can avoid.

We see business the same way. To explain why means re-thinking the way we perceive and think of ‘ecosystems’.

Ecology is often associated with environmental or ‘green’ issues; but it’s actually a branch of biology. It is the study of how organisms interact with each other and their environment. So, the ecology of business is about understanding how businesses interact with each other, as well as with the other organisations, institutions, communities, people and stakeholders in their environment. Sustainable business is about striving for an outcome where those relationships provide healthy outcomes for everyone, whilst the larger system itself – the environment – thrives and flourishes. Achieving this ideal is the very focus of Proxima’s work in all areas of the economy.

So, we were delighted to learn that SBN, the Sustainable Business Network, is expanding its services to offer advisory support for its members and other businesses. To us, this is a sign that the business ecosystem is showing increasing signs of vitality and health. In the same way, we are pleased to see firms like KPMG, EY and Deloitte developing and expanding their sustainability teams. We firmly believe this: the more smart people out there who are challenging conventional thinking, the better; because conventional thinking has, and can, only take us so far towards the future we need to create for ourselves and those who follow after us.

Integrated thinking delivers more shared value, for everyone
Now is the time for a different type of thinking beyond conventional wisdom. A deeper level of conscious thinking that provides greater value to a wider range of people. And, we know from experience what that requires.

The fundamental starting point is taking a more holistic and considered understanding of how our economic and social systems can work to deliver sustainable health, wellbeing and prosperity. Competition has its place, but collaboration, and pre-competitive collaboration, can deliver more value by turning a race to the bottom into a virtuous cycle. Even arch-rivals like Coca-cola and Pepsi have collaborated to improve sustainable performance of refrigeration and logistics across the industry; whilst recognising that the pace and scale of change demands new business models, and completely new ways of working.

As SBN members we’re proud to be a part of all the amazing work their team does, and the progress they have helped others achieve over so many years. We see SBN’s growth and success, and their diversification into providing more business advice as a clear signal – which we have felt too – that the tide is changing. More and more businesses are recognising the financial and reputational benefits of an integrated approach – a new way of business that creates more long-term value by design. From governance and strategy to measurement and reporting, businesses are recognising the benefits of leading towards sustainable value creation, and building stronger relationships with communities, partners and other stakeholders. They are starting to work on building a healthy ecosystem which benefits many, rather than just a healthy business which benefits a few.

We currently have a number of projects on the go where we’re collaborating with other sustainability specialists and consultancies to enable more systemic change, and to deliver more beneficial outcomes to a wider range of stakeholders. In the same way, and with a shared vision of helping others lead towards a sustainable and flourishing future, we celebrate the privilege of working alongside SBN on this mission, and look forward to collaborating in future if the opportunity arises.

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