How sustainable value chains can support the mitigation of Paul Gilding’s Great Disruption

How sustainable value chains can support the mitigation of Paul Gilding’s Great Disruption

After listening to Paul Gilding’s great and inspiring TED Talk ‘The Earth is Full’, I took the opportunity to read his book ‘The Great Disruption’.

Paul has been an advocate for sustainability for many years. He is building on experience as NGO leader and his many interactions with corporate management teams through his advisory role.
In his book Paul argues that the end of growth is inevitable, as humanity has already stretched the capabilities of Mother Earth beyond the limits. His assessment is built on thorough research and reference to studies of the leading scientists and sustainability pioneers.
The addiction to growth and the resulting overconsumption are the main drivers for rapidly declining capability of mother nature to provide the required ecosystem services to support an ever growing population.
While the scientific evidence has been clear for many years, the inability to act on what is logical will eventually lead to the biggest crisis mankind will ever experience.
While the message is depressing at times, Paul believes in the power and creativity of humanity to fix this challenge. Slow, but not stupid.
Paul suggests to get ready to tackle the issue immediately with ‘war-like mobilization’ and then prepare for a steady state economy, where purpose and quality of products play a greater role than just quantitative output. Reviewing Paul’s suggested plan towards a net carbon zero economy, I believe that value chains (ie. products and supply chains) can play a vital role in that
transformational period.


At least three steps can contribute to economic profit and a new focus on ecologic and societal value:

1. Break the dam of denial and move away from pure economic profit focus – More and more corporate boards and management teams should be inspired by companies that have publicly committed to changing towards sustainable shared value creation.
While there is an encouraging trend, we need more of these true leaders to reach a tipping point in getting corporations to revise and abandon current unsustainable products and operational practices.

2. Build products and services that provide economic, ecologic and societal value – Accepting that the current way of operating is not viable (though often economically profitable), is the first step towards new product offerings. Companies should review their product portfolios and eliminate all products that significantly contribute to deforestation, continued use of fossil fuels and
further increase of landfills.
Products should be built with a lifecycle perspective in mind and should be able to enter technical or biological cycles again.

3. Reconfigure global supply chains to support local communities – In an ever increasing world of volatility, supply chains across the globe need to be flexible and adaptable. The resulting outsourced and globalized network of supply chain nodes is heavily interdependent.
With an increasing number of external shocks, the quality of each local network node will be the deciding factor for resilience. More focus should be spent on how local supply chain operations
are embedded in and support the communities they operate in.

I share Pauls view that a positive and forward looking approach is the best way forward. Once acceptance and buy-in of senior management teams is ensured the full trajectory of sustainable value creation can be exploited.

Please share your thoughts and comments.