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Naked Value

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Designing Wealth: The Missing Piece in the Sustainability Puzzle

This article was orignally published at GOOD.is. It is impossible to build a sustainable or resilient society without expanding wealth. Things like renewable energy and materials, recycling and other methods of resource recovery, or collaborative consumption are essential ingredients for sustainability, but they are not nearly enough. Without a concurrent, dramatic expansion of wealth, there will be continued recession, economic hardship, and political destabilization, which are certainly not the ingredients of a sustainable society.

Most of us advocate environmentally sustainable strategies because we know they are essential. But how many of us ask ourselves what it will actually take to create enough wealth to include eight billion people in a robust and sustainable economy? The scale of the problem just seems too large. But it’s one we urgently need to focus on. How do we generate much more wealth for more people with a fixed resource base and environmental constraints?

During the last 150 years, we successfully expanded wealth to billions of people. Today, more people have access to food, shelter, and education than our ancestors could have imagined. But this expansion has been resource intensive and, ultimately, unsustainable. Businesses and the economy as a whole are already feeling the pinch of resource demand exceeding supply. The resource base simply isn’t available to meet the needs of a growing population, at least not if we continue to think of wealth and resources in the same way. 

The primary solutions typically offered have to do with recycling, recirculating, and reusing resources, using renewable resources, and becoming more efficient at using resources. The reality is that no matter how good we get at recycling and waste management, and no matter how efficient we become, the more resources we use, the more we lose as waste and pollution. Each time we recirculate resources, we lose some of them. Becoming more efficient doesn’t fundamentally change the relationship between resources and wealth creation. Wealth expansion has to accelerate at a rate much faster than increases in the rate of recycling or gains in efficiency. In other words, we must do much, much more with much, much less.

Here’s the gigantic missing piece of the sustainability puzzle: wealth production isn’t really dependent on how much more resource mass we mine, but on how much more wealth we can mine from the available resource mass. Wealth is security, freedom, options, and opportunity. Wealth is weightless and invisible.

Today, most of the products we make and depend on every day are actually mostly waste. Think about toothpaste for a moment. Why do people need it? The ultimate benefit of toothpaste is oral hygiene, or healthy teeth. What if you could eliminate the fillers, packaging, and all of the other resources associated with manufacturing, delivering, retailing, and storing toothpaste? There are scientists working today on a semi-permanent biofilm that will prevent tooth decay. Others are working on an enzyme that keeps teeth healthy. There are countless products that are material whose benefits could be delivered in an entirely different, weightless or nearly weightless way—vaccinations with dissolving needles, packaging that’s integrated into products, bacteria-safe surfaces without chemicals.

How can we get the most wealth with the least amount of resources, even without many of the physical products we associate with wealth? Through smart, intentional design focused on reducing resource mass and delivering more value.

We need to design for naked value—for the benefits that people seek, stripped of as many of the resources used to make and deliver products and services as possible. When we recycle resources, we need to reinvest them to produce much more wealth. When we redesign products and services, we need to design to harvest more benefits—more oral hygiene, more health, more safety—from each ton of resources used. This is how we will succeed in producing much more wealth with a fraction of the resources per capita currently needed.

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Give "Naked Value" to Clients & Colleagues this Holiday

Looking for a holiday gift for clients or colleagues that will help them see resources and business in a different light and give them a competitive edge? How about "one of the most important books any business manager can read right now," a book that will "inspire them to take action"? We offer a discount on bulk purchasing for Naked Value: 6 Things Every Business Leader Needs to Know About Resources, Innovation & Competition. If you’d like to place an order of 10 or more copies, contact us now to find out more.

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Talking Resources at the Naked Value Launch

Last Friday we celebrated our new book, Naked Value: Six Things Every Business Leader Needs to Know about Resources, Innovation & Competition, at a launch event in New York City, which was co-hosted by the Buckminster Fuller Institute and the new Design for Social Innovation graduate program at the School for Visual Arts (SVA). It was an evening of conversation with a fascinating group of people. Guests included design professionals, finance executives, investors, sustainable business practitioners, architects, NGO managers, and many others.

We were especially pleased that Allegra Fuller Snyder, daughter of Buckminster Fuller, was able to join us. Allegra commented that Naked Value co-author Howard Brown was a very special student of Bucky’s and that she was pleased to see how he has carried on the seeds of Bucky’s ideas over the years and continues to do important work of his own. Cheryl Heller, a pioneer in communication design and social innovation and the founding chair of SVA’s Design for Social Innovation program, was also there along with several of her students, each of whom has a unique perspective based on their own experiences in design and business.

One of the most important aspects of the evening was that it brought people together from a variety of fields whose paths might not have otherwise crossed. It was exciting to hear the room buzzing with conversations about resources and innovation and to hear people talking about the value of products and services in dMASS terms. The gathering showed how we all share a common interest in resources and in the relationship between resources and value.

It was a small manifestation of what dMASS Inc. is about – accelerating innovation that does better with less, and doing so in part by breaking down traditional barriers across disciplines and industries and focusing on how businesses can succeed by changing the way they use resources. Resource security is an issue for everyone across the globe. We are all essentially competing for the same resources. Businesses’ ability to compete in the marketplace and society’s overall ability to meet the needs of a growing population depend on using fewer resources to deliver more benefits to more people. We believe we can play a large role in influencing how resources are used in a way that's good for business and good for the world.

We are very pleased about the initial reception for the book, and grateful for the active and growing dMASS community. I think it is the straightforward connections the book makes between business, environment, and economic interests that has helped draw a multi-disciplinary audience.

Those of you who regularly visit our site or subscribe to our newsletter understand the exciting implications of the naked value concept. While the book, newsletter, social networks, and website constitute the visible face of dMASS right now, we are working hard to build a set of tools to help businesses, investors, and customers evaluate products, innovation, and risks associated with products and services. You will be hearing more from us about that in the coming months.

In the meantime, I hope you will read and enjoy the book and the newsletter. I also hope you will continue to share innovations with us as you find them. Finally, I would like to express our appreciation for your continued interest and support.

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