Who is Gunter Pauli?
The Huffington Post called him "The Steve Jobs of Sustainability". His Latin American friends rather call him "The Che Guevara of Sustainability". He prefers no reference to anyone who already passed away, and wants to be judged by his children only.
He has the ears of the CEOs of leading mining companies and is about to unveil his new model for extracting ores, especially gold from the ground that will triple the miners' cash flow and turn these formally brutal dynamite explosions into a surgical intervention. The Return on Investment is so good, that mining executives who have known Gunter for years believe that this could be the real revolution with share prices coming out of the deep (most lost +50% in one year) to triple and quadruple. The numbers are solid, the innovations have been proven, and the model is being tested as we speak in the Americas.
He partners with leading oil companies in Europe to help them get rid of their stranded assets. All investments in oil, gas and petrochemicals from the sixties and seventies are at the end of their useful life. Over-investments in Saudi-Arabia and China, plus the prospect of low crude prices for a few years more stalls investment. There are +100 petrochemical installations up for closure in Europe alone, but the social and environmental cost is too high, and the margins are too low to permit investments in a reconversion of the sector. Gunter sees great opportunities and a company he chairs in Italy have already transformed 5 petrochemical facilities into profitable operations. At the request of the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and in collaboration with ENI, this revival of competitiveness is considered so strategic for Europe that it is directly supported by the Presidency of the EU Commission.
The Belgian Government is open to his advise on how to transform the threat of rising sea levels while stimulating the creation of new industries. His proposal will be unveiled later this year, but is based on 3D sea farming that has been pioneered in China over centuries. Gunter believes that producing food 2D on land is out of date, time has come to massively produce food, feed, fuel, fertilizers and chemical feedstock from the sea. The first plant operates in South Africa, the Indonesian Government is offering 100 square kilometer concessions and the Belgian Government is ready to change the laws. The first operations are up and running in the United States, and dozens more are coming on stream.
The Chinese Government appreciates his hands-on approach. When a Taiwanese inventor converted rocks and plastics to paper for packaging and print, Gunter put his network behind this breakthrough that requires no water, no tree cutting and offers paper that can be recycled forever. Four factories in 4 years have demonstrated that this is not just a good idea, this is a new standard that will totally upset the forest, paper and pulp industry. It's better, it's cheaper and makes sense. Dozens of delegations from around the world visit the plants and soon (stone) paper plants will emerge in South Africa, Mongolia, Egypt ... all nations void of water and trees!
Gunter manages a loyal network of 3,000 researchers, keen on seeing their innovations put into practice. He also works with 850 doers, people keen to get their hands dirty. While these industrial projects that have mobilized $4 billion in investments the past few years, his biggest impact may well be in education. He agreed to produce for Chinese schools (cooperation with the Ministry of Environment Protection, Ministry of Education and the Normal Universities) a total of 365 fables bringing children a new reality (like "Paper made from Stone") that even the parents consider "fantasy". He has already produced and published 108 in China and has another 7 years to finish the rest. These books are now test-run in 5,000 schools and will soon go nationwide. The number of fables in Chinese schools (and elsewhere), make his "Blue Economy" book that sold 1.2 million copies in 39 languages look like a bummer.
He started as a small entrepreneur in Japan, then moved back to Belgium, created 12 companies in 12 years (2 failed) and was hired by the United Nations University in 1994 with the support the Japanese Government to help prepare the Kyoto Protocol. None of his proposals were accepted back in 1997. However, with the support of 2,600 corporations and a few game-changers in the UN, he decided to pursue his design of highly innovative business models that 20 years later offer a fresh look at how industry will compete, how the poor can join a thriving middle class, how we can respond to basic needs of all with what we have, and how regional development will outcompete the globalized economy.
His think tank ZERI has been ranked by the University of Pennsylvania as one of the most innovative in the world (#7 in 2016) and having interacted with over 100 heads of government, and with 200 projects implemented he knows how to translate science and innovation into disruptive business models and pragmatic government policies by generating more cash flow than even hedge funds consider possible.
"I have never been against GMO, petroleum or globalization. I am on a permanent quest to find much better!" Gunter Pauli
The question to be asked, reading this background: "Does this man consider himself a rebel?"
Here are his reflections on the question asked by Ilaria Bonacorsi of the Italian magazine "Left".
First: Stop Being a Diplomat
When the Ambassador of Belgium in Tokyo told me in 1981 that I should rewrite my report about how Belgian companies could penetrate the Japanese company, after I had rewritten it twice, I told him to write it himself and left for Italy to participate in the Club of Rome meeting organized by Dr. Aurelio Peccei, former CEO of FIAT and Olivetti. Little did I know that a diplomat was not permitted to leave his posting overseas without the permission of the Ambassador. When I sent a summary of my vision of how to do business in Japan to Baron Daniel Jansen, member of the Club of Rome and president of the Belgian Federation of Enterprises he confided that "these ideas are not mainstream but since nothing else has worked, we should give it a try".
This encouragement led to the creation of my first enterprise in 1981 in Tokyo, dedicated to implementing the vision I had, selling beer, chocolate and fine linen textiles, and soon after I succeeded in licensing Belgian pharmaceutical patents to Japanese enterprises, closing joint-ventures and coordinating direct investments. The Japanese took notice of this success and took the bold step to promote my initiatives overseas claiming that: "if this young entrepreneur can succeed, why can't large European and American companies?" An independent career was born, and a rebel imposed himself on the market. It was Aurelio Peccei who had argued that I should never work for a multinational and certainly not for the government and preserve at all cost my freedom to think and act as I considered best for all.
You have a Chance when you start Young with Mother's unconditional support
When the Huffington Post (France) named me in 2014 "The Steve Jobs of Sustainability", my Latin American friends were quick to respond that I should be named "The Che Guevara of Sustainability". Perhaps they were right, since I would never worry to please, rather always worry about doing what is considered the best for all, often upsetting many who would feel the pinch from this out of the box thinker and doer who pursues a clear vision: create a better world with what we have. It all started at a very young age when I was reading about the genocide of the Native Americans and decided that I should go to the United States to rescue whatever and who ever could be rescued. Barely 8 years old, I pledged to save all money and depart at the age of 18. Luckily, my mother fully supported this crazy dream and indeed upon graduating from high school I left for Nebraska where once the Sioux roamed the land. A rebel with a cause … and patience.
Only Worry About the Others' Weaknesses (and there are many)
One year later I returned to my motherland, frustrated but ready to embrace the realities of life knowing that sometimes it is not worth fighting for a lost cause. Rebels fights for the cause they (believe) can win, even when the chances are small. Where would we get the clarity from that this is worth pursuing? It was during my early years in Japan that Mr. Shoichiro Honda explained that he never studied business, and never undertook strategic assessments like the SWOTS analysis (strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats). As a fresh Master in Business Administration from a fine European school (INSEAD, France) I questioned how he could decide on a pathway for his company without knowing his strengths. How could he decide to produce cars when his only experience was motorcycles? His answer was compelling and has guided me ever since: "I have no strengths, and my list of weaknesses is long. However, when I make the list of weaknesses of my competitors and opponents, it is even longer and that gives me the courage to pursue what I think is best".
Fantasy for Others is My Reality
I realized that Mr. Honda was as much a rebel as Che Guevara whose silhouette adorned my bedroom during my teenage years, much to the dismay of my father who thought that communists will destroy the Western culture. When he destroyed our family nucleus by escaping to Iran with another woman after 28 years of marriage, I learned that his betrayal was my greatest chance in life: take care of mom. Rebels realize that in every bad news, there is good news. My mother who had encouraged me to hold on to my dreams for a decade, and who welcomed me after I realized it was a pipedream, deserved the unconditional love from her son, just like this son had an unconditional commitment to steering this world towards a much better horizon. It seems that rebels not only go for the impossible, with passion and perseverance, but that they are surrounded by an unconditional love that offers faith and clarity that few seem to have in their quest to achieve what other often consider as fantasy.
Rebels do not live in a world of fantasy. Their world is one filled with realities, and realities they want to change. The main challenge is that everyone else in society considers these realities fantasy. The rebel has the unique capability to not only take what others consider fantasy as their reality; they are capable to go beyond their dreams. That is what gives them the courage to continue on their evolutionary path throughout life, taking one strategic breakthrough after another without ever being concerned about the pitfalls that are known to cause trouble and pain. The rebel does not face up to problems, rather avoids them, sailing around, picking up force and speed from adversaries. And all the inflicted pains are considered a passage that allows soul searching for the inner truth and strengths towards a next phase of action. A real rebel does not operate in terms of war games with battles lost and battles won, rather a rebel sees nothing but opportunities, avoiding confrontation ensuring regular surprise flipping flashes of a transformation that are presented as if the rebels lives an atmosphere of toys and sweets. This explains why rebels hardly meet objections rather transform the complex in something clear and simple, even when it is not, savoring the sympathy, especially from the arts.
The Arts: A Rebel's Logic
Rebels translate complex situations into a clear logic, insensitive to though aware of the staunch opposition from vested interests, which are overcome through minimum winning coalitions. Rebels never look for a majority, knowing that the silent majority will only join when the shift is inevitable, and never before. The rebel rather looks for the few who will tip the balance in a tightly knit friendship and an unshakable alliance exploiting every leverage point in the social fabric. Rebels advance this new truth to a core group that is self-evident, and therefore quickly grasped by others, leading to action on the ground without any resistance. How could someone be against a paper that is made from mining waste, or marble cut-offs, that have accumulated over centuries and transform this with a minute amount of polymer into a paper for print and packaging that is recyclable forever. Unless, someone works for the paper and pulp industry and obviously sees the demise of a career and a business that was thought to be a safe heaven in a flash, it is hard to be against this logic.
How can you be against the farming of mushrooms on coffee, the moment we realize that we only value 0.2% of the biomass? How can you be against paying farmers 10% of the retail price for his produce when everyone else is taking commissions on top of his costs without any consideration for the survival of his family, the rural life, and the Earth? The disarming promise of freeing up millions of hectares of land for natural forests and food while cleaning up air, water and soil, and ensuring that those who work at the bottom of our value chain have a life worth living is too compelling. This is the power of the rebel: making the impossible seems so simple.
A Rebel is different from a Revolutionary
The rebel is always driven by the common good, an intuition that there is much better. Rebels do not fight the bad; that is the role of Robin Hood and Interpol. Rather rebels fight for the opportunities that no one sees. He or she is a positive whistleblower. Of course, a rebel is an altruist, since any rebel that has a strong ego, wishing to put the self in the center is a revolutionary. This distinction is light for the outsider but decisive for those who act on the ground and make things happen. A rebel is not in search of power, rather in search of massive and positive change, empowering the landless, inspiring the moody, enjoying each moment when small steps are taken in the right direction. A revolutionary wants total control - one day and keeps control of his troops whereas a rebel believes that a job well done is the job where one is not needed, quickly providing the space and time to embark on the next intervention that could be tiny and insignificant for those who do not grasp the full picture, but strategic and homeopathic for those who connect the dots between - at first sight - totally unrelated phenomena.
Rebels never create Waves - they Surf
The rebel navigates the web of life, knowing where the energy is strongest, and the resilience is greatest, only pushing the points where power is released and leverage can be obtained. The rebel understands the power of feedback loops and multipliers, where with little effort, grand shifts can be obtained. Steve Jobs worked tirelessly to iron out what seemed idiotic details to his entourage, but now that Apple has lost its rebel, loyalists since the beginning sense the difference and sense this love of unconditional strive, and yet once the product is out, it is self-evident. Che Guevara was a revolutionary, impatient with a firm believe in the power of arms, incapable to engage with the grassroots of the Bolivian rural communities. He was paid with a bullet in the head, while exhausted from a fight against the unknown enemy and his asthma attacks.
Rebels operate with the existing forces, never trying to be the wave as a revolutionary would attempt exerting an extraordinary (personal) effort, rather rebels ride the waves that shape society permitting a swift move across without ever making a special effort. The answer and the call for action is always just around the corner, any corner. Once a rebel always a rebel, but always bathing in a new light, able to transform and transcend the present, re-emerging and reincarnating as a master who is prepared to learn from students. The leadership of a rebel is therefore one that ensures that new leadership quickly emerges and space is not preserved for the one, rather it is vacated so that the future is secured. After all rebels are not appointed, nor elected, they put themselves in charge.
Rebels at home among Peasants and Royals
The rebel knows how to navigate in different worlds, from hard work with the peasants ensuring food, managing the creation of top soil and the flow of water, to dining with the royals, able to enjoy family and friends, while finding extended periods of solitude to nourish the mission which no one entrusted. Rebels thrive on clear ethics at the core, rejecting the double moral that characterizes society that is considers less bad … as good. To pursue this lifelong mission of a rebel in heart, soul and action, there are only two simple rules: first that there are no rules, and second that rebels never accept a no for a no … and are still able to smile even when it hurts.
In the end it is all about Responsibility
When I look at the 40 years of professional life, then I certainly have been a rebel, caused pain and discomfort which I regret while opening the minds of many who now believe they can do better their parents and they themselves ever believed. Now that the University of Pennsylvania ranked our creative network as one of the most innovative think tanks in the world it is clear that this rebellious diplomat failed in the foreign service but now has to accept the responsibility that comes along with recognition at a ripe age: Inspire the next generation to be even more rebellious.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.