People working together to grow sustainability

Growth and Blue North

February is our financial year-end, and much of our time in the past weeks has been focused on wrapping up projects and planning for the new year. While we are in the business of sustainability, we are still in the business of being a business! And being a viable business almost unavoidably brings up questions of how we grow.

This is interesting as, for those of you who have been through some of my workshops or been exposed to my thinking, I challenge the concept of “growth” and go to lengths to show how irreconcilable growth and sustainability are… ”you cannot grow exponentially on a finite resource base”!

So, what’s this about? Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? I think the answer to this potential criticism lies in developing a more complete understanding of growth. Our industrial thinking understands growth narrowly in quantitative terms – more energy, more materials…more stuff! This narrow view is what lies at the heart of our sustainability challenge and why we are fundamentally exceeding our “carrying capacity”.

When we look at natural systems for cues (or life in more general terms), we see growth in much more nuanced ways. We see, in fact, that growth IS life! Everything goes through phases of growth, individuals grow (think of an acorn becoming a giant Oak tree), and complex ecosystems, like the kelp forests we have along our southern coastline, grow.

The key difference is that their growth is both in physical/material terms… AND in qualitative terms. The material growth is always for a phase, ultimately a maximum physical throughput and size being reached. But this does not stop the system continue to develop in extraordinary and seemingly unlimited ways. An example of this qualitative growth is the explosion of information in the system, information captured in the genetic diversity of all the life active within the system. Seeing growth in quantitative and qualitative terms is key to reconciling the growth/sustainability paradox.

But before I get too high on my hobby horse, how does this relate to my opening comments? The short answer is that at Blue North we understand that we need to expand our team in order to serve a growing client base, but that, while we grow quantitatively (more people), our real reach and impact is via our online solutions. In other words, the real growth we are experiencing in Blue North is enabled by our technologies and thus is qualitative in nature. Our platforms are enabling us to make more connections, build more relationships, challenge more mindsets, inspire more people and deliver more on-the-ground change. This is qualitative growth!

Our team has a great mix of agriculturalists, ecologists, and engineers. Collectively we apply this diverse set of skills and knowledge to develop new thinking and new solutions. But the kicker is that we work very intentionally to bring this knowledge to bear via our online tools. This is where the leverage is, this is where the real growth – the qualitative kind – is happening.

This year we are budgeting to bring in at least three additional people into our client-facing teams and two into our IT team. We are also hard at work figuring out how we streamline our online offering to make it easier for clients to engage, select what’s valuable to them and, thus, expand our user base, reach and impact.

An exciting year of growth – of the right kind – lies ahead!