Achieving this quantum leap through macro-level economic integration and synergies really require a different approach to our existing industrial solutions that have become largely compartmentalized on the macro level. It means looking outside the box of the different domains, developing networks and platforms that cut across those domains, enable transparency, cross-domain collaboration and synergistic solutions to emerge.
Whereas we traditionally try to achieve efficiency by focusing on some specific technology or domain optimizing it in isolation; making more efficient lightbulbs, cars or houses. But the real overall efficiency gains today are not so much in these individual components as in enabling synergies between different systems. In the 20th Century we achieved ever greater efficiency gains through centralization and specialization, but today we have to a large extent reached peak productivity gains from this process. Today with information technology’s capacity to interconnect components parts, the gains in efficiency and productivity are more in networking different technologies and solutions into service systems that create synergies between the different elements, thus doing more with less. The next generation circular service business model is all about connections and synergies. Instead of selling “things” it is about selling solutions that network many different products to enable synergies between them, doing more with less, resulting in dematerialization. So here are our three key ideas for enabling a sustainable economic and business model through intelligent design and connectivity that drives dematerialization, more functionality and the need for less “stuff.”
Firstly, systems thinking, seeing and looking for the connections within the whole system, because this is where the real leverage lies, the more disparate and diverse the connections the greater the possible synergies and emergent capabilities. In many ways this could be the definition of innovation, being able to see the connections between things that others have not and being able to actually put them together into a functioning system that delivers greater functionality.
Second feedback loops: looking at how different processes can complement each other through the exchange of waste resources. Waste is everywhere in our current linear model, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that the material that we extract from the planet totals about 20 times the body weight of a person, per person per day – and 99% of it ends up as waste in a landfill within 6 months. The possibilities for the design of intelligent feedback loops, building symbiotic networks of connections between industries, to capture this are endless.
Third, thinking in networks and access: How do we do more with less, dematerialize the economy? We build connections instead of things, we deliver access instead of products. Just look at your average city and you will see cars parked almost everywhere being used on average only about 5% of the time, while at the same time we go on buying more cars. 95% of that function is locked up in the fact that it is a product, not a service, if we just look at the car as a service then this could be flipped around from what it currently is, 95% “thing” and 5% function, to 95% functionality and 5% “thing.”
From this perspective, sustainability is really about intelligent design, the organization of things into functioning systems that can do more with less. This is why it is a knowledge and information age, it is the knowledge, the intelligence that enables us to design these systems better, to see the synergies, and the information that enables the implementation of that to real time organization and coordination. It is the optimization of the connections between things and not the things themselves that enables the real efficiencies, dematerialization and ultimately the potential for a sustainable process of development.