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Dr Wayne Visser discharges his professional responsibilities as a Professor of Integrated Value and Holder of the Chair in Sustainable Transformation at Antwerp Management School. He also happens to be the founder of CSR International, Director of Kaleidoscope Futures and Fellow at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. He is also a prodigious author (40 odd books) and an inveterate traveler (having visited in upwards of 80 countries) in addition to being a person who cares deeply about a holistic form of living that fosters an inclusive approach.
In “Thriving”, Dr. Visser galvanizes an enviable repertoire of knowledge in dissecting the intersectionality between humans with nature. Using an ‘umbrella’ or ombudsman terminology, ‘regeneration’, Visser identifies in an innovative manner “six keys to thriving”. The numeral six seems to strike a special resonance with Visser as it appears in various passages and chapters of the book. Every Chapter ends with either a soulful or a mellow dirge, which again bears ample testimony to the multifaceted attributes of its author.
So what exactly are the six keys to thriving? In Visser’s world, complexity, circularity, creativity, coherence, convergence, and continuity form the core components of thriving. Each one of these facets strives and seeks to transform societal notions about work, and life. As the author himself alludes to the fact, the concept of ‘thriving’ envelopes and encompasses the Stockdale Paradox. For the uninitiated, this paradox is named after Admiral James Stockdale who survived seven unspeakably brutal years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Only when human beings confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, while never letting their hopes down, will mankind prevail in the end.
Expanding on the Cradle-to-Cradle concept pioneered by Swiss architect Walter Stahel and his co-author Genevieve Ready (currently Cradle-to-Cradle is a registered trademark of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) consultants), Dr. Visser emphatically welcomes the cultivation of a “circular economy” – a ‘biomimetic’ process that replaces the current make-take-dispose approach to materials with a make-borrow-return-reuse method. This approach has for emulation nature’s long-evolved, low-waste, energy-conserving processes. Similar to a tree that is born from soil created by other dead trees, grows using local resources, produces fruit or seeds, and dies, but not before creating food and soil for other organisms (a cycle), human beings can make products that are part of an ongoing circular system. Visser also made a stirring and hard hitting documentary called “Closing The Loop” (2018) in which the benefit of a circular economy is elaborately and fascinatingly demonstrated. Today only about 10% of the global economy is circular in nature.
“Thriving” is peppered with inspiring real life examples of the regenerative process that is currently driving sustainability across the globe. Chemical industries such as the behemoth BASF trying to transform themselves by investing in renewables, Bio energy and Carbon Capture and Sequestering and experimenting with Green Hydrogen to combat global warming; asset management giants such as Blackrock pulling away investments from industries that are not committed to battling climate change; companies such as apparel manufacturer Patagonia making it a way of business to sell products that are eco-friendly; Tesla’s sustained push towards environmental sustainability and Orsted’s phenomenal transformation from a fossil fuel company in Denmark to one of the biggest renewables company are some of the more riveting illustrations that make for some fascinating reading.
Visser also paints a very sobering picture by bringing his reader’s attention to the environmental catastrophes that have occurred in the age of the Anthropocene. The Great Barrier Reef is undergoing a dangerous ‘bleaching’ process that threatens to wipe out the coral population. There has been a 67% extinction of various wildlife species since 1970. This makes the restoration of ecosystems an uncompromising necessity. At the COP 26 summit recently concluded at Glasgow, more than 90% of the countries with forests have pledged to stop deforestation and to restore nature to its original form. Plant based food companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are purveying a healthier lifestyle and preservation of both bio-diversity and animal welfare. Cultured and fermented meat grown in laboratories take away wastage of water, land and lives since cultured meat is manufactured or prepared out of cells taken from live animals instead of killing them.
Diversity and inclusion is a major aspect to which Visser devotes – and rightfully so – ample space in his book. Bemoaning the prevailing gender disparity, Visser explains to his incredulous reader that assuming the current trends were to continue unabated, it would take an absurd 250 years to right all wrongs encompassed by gender disparity! However organisations such as Unilever are showing the way by designating compulsory positions at the Board level for women and elevating feminine talent to its deserved designations. But still, as Visser shows, lots more needs to be done on this front.
“Thriving” is a relevant, necessary and seminal book that could not have come a day sooner than on the date it has been made available for sale. The world is in dire need of a socio-economic transformation and the time to usher in such a paradigm shift is NOW!