The Eco-Industrial Revolution

July 20, 2018
David Oswald
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

The world is at a turning point with respect to the way we impact global biodiversity and ecosystems and this precipice could be the catalyst for the third industrial revolution, an eco-industrial revolution. I have been collaborating with colleagues from the Secretariat for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) for the past eight years and from July 2-13, 2018 I had the privilege of attending their scientific and policy meetings in Montreal, Quebec.

The Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding agreement amongst 196 countries (parties) that outlines how biodiversity and ecosystems will be conserved and sustainably used. With the stark reality that biodiversity is in decline[1] and the health of our global ecosystems is worsening[2] we are desperately in need of leadership that can decouple economic development from ecological degradation. These two weeks of meetings were focused on the scientific and technical issues as well as policy and implementation directives to help make this happen.  The resounding message coming out of the country-to-country discussions in the plenary was that we need “transformative change” in all segments of society.

A significant part of this transformative change can be encapsulated with the phrase “mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems” which was discussed and debated at length during the meetings. Essentially, this means taking into consideration impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems while making plans or decisions in government and business. While this may seem like a fairly simple conservation-oriented proposal, its impact could be incredibly significant for future economic development.

Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems into policy and business is a design process. It entails factoring in the important role that the environment plays in providing services such as clean water, food, fresh air and climate stability. These ‘ecosystem services’ are underpinned by biodiversity and overall ecosystem health and our industries and societies are 100% reliant on them[3].  Environmental management tools are a set of operational methods, strategies and techniques that can help to integrate biodiversity and ecosystems into business to help realize sustainable development. The next industrial revolution, an eco-industrial revolution, is already underway with low carbon development now a priority, but the next step will be a widescale integration of ecosystems and biodiversity into business.

Decoupling economic development from environmental degradation does not necessarily constrain business – in fact, I would argue it can be an opportunity for creating unprecedented value: socially, economically and environmentally. The creativity and innovation that is required to usher in the eco-industrial revolution will create jobs, spawn new technologies and generate value in ways not thought of before. The future may be bright if we move in the right direction and the learners, faculty and staff of RRU can be a big part of this revolution, if not the architects of it.

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

[1] IUCN, 2018. The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species.

[2] IPBES, 2018. Summary for policymakers of the regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for the Americas of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

[3] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis.