By Nick Jankel

Professional Global Keynote Speaker, Transformation & Innovation Catalyst, Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, 6 x Dyslexic Author, 3 x TV Coach, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

This article is part 3 of 6 in the series 5 Must-Know Leadership Trends, Ideas & Ideals

Nature-Positivity & Nature-Based Innovations (Leadership Trend 2)

The last thing I am is a techno-utopian. I am optimistic about the capacity of digital and biological technologies to help us to solve our greatest social, ecological, and individual problems—but only when guided by our wisdom as leaders (see Trend 3 on Wise Leadership).

Technological thinking usually comes with abstraction, expansion, and extraction, which, as well as solving many of our Industrial-Age problems like mass hunger and poor health, are now causing many of the risks that the current geological age, The Anthropocene, poses to our very human existence.

Two related ideas to temper our tendency to scale everything, no matter the costs to our ecological or psychological landscapes, are nature-positivity and nature-based solutions or innovations.

Nature positivity is like “body positivity“, but for the environment. It’s designed to be a sticky and catchy buzzword that encompasses a shift in attitude—as consumers, citizens, and workers—that makes restoring and regenerating nature everyone’s business. It provides leaders with a useful, albeit somewhat vague, catchphrase for considering nature in all business and everyday team decisions. It goes beyond the more technical term “net-positive” to signal an ecologically-aware mindset that everyone can nurture and unlock.

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Part of the field of regenerative business—that our sister sustainability consultancy FutureMakers is pioneering—nature-based solutions and innovations are all about “collaborating” with nature to co-create solutions to our shared social and business challenges.

The aim of nature-based innovation is to generate new materials, products, services, operating models, and business models that benefit humankind and animals/plants too. Some great examples are kept here and at the World Economic Forum.

The term ‘biodiversity’ is meant to capture this sense of positive health of the ecosystems and living entities that we rely on for food, safety, and oxygen. If we think that isn’t important, brand new research has shown that the sharp drop in pollinator numbers has been the root cause of c.1% of all human deaths (through the loss of fruit, vegetable, and nut production.)

I don’t think Biodiversity is a great word, but I do know it is crucial for us all to survive, let alone thrive, on this planet. Thankfully, the recent COP in Montreal on biodiversity ended with a “landmark agreement” to protect animal and plant health (and so our long-term sustainability as a species).

Nature-based thinking range from nature-based materials that can help mitigate floods and droughts to regenerative business models. FEMA, of Hurricane Katrina (in)fame, suggests that materials like permeable concrete and asphalt, for building pavements and roads that absorb rainwater and help prevent flooding are a good examples of an NbS.

A classic example of a regenerative business model is shrimp farming that restores mangrove forests in Asia; or this farm in California featured in the awesome documentary The Biggest Little Farm:

The interest in nature-based innovations is so big that Oxford University has set up a nature-based solutions initiative, based in the biology dept but working with academics from across the institution and society; and Shell has an NbS program to accelerate their ESG goals.

There are some useful guidelines for ensuring NbS doesn’t lead to a lot of greenwashing BS here.

Given that 64% of US consumers are happy to pay a premium for a sustainable product, and that there are many other benefits to being a seriously sustainable business—like talent attraction and retention, with 60% of Gen Z workers rejecting jobs at workplaces with a non-green reputation—organizations that are serious about nature will be those that sustain for longest.

Maybe it’s time to challenge your innovation teams—or emerging leaders, as we do on our up-and-coming leader programs—to explore nature-based solutions in your sector or industry.

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