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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

By Shepherd Laughlin and Aleksandra Szymanska


12 : 03 : 2015

Anthropocene : Consilience : Life Sciences

As the boundaries between modern society and nature begin to


blur, consumerism is becoming more integrated with our living
world. As this shift unfolds in the decades to come, brands will
need to think on a planetary scale if they want to remain relevant
in The Age of the Long Near.
Introduction

Whole-system Thinking
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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

What This Means To Your Brand


1. Consumers are now looking for purpose, and assessing your brands long-term contribution to society and
the planet.
2. The Anthropocene is here, and its no longer possible to deny that major change is coming. Brands need to
position themselves as trusted partners in uncertain times.
3. The rise of Natural Capitalism means calculating your brands monetary cost or contribution to ecosystems.
Share this information.
4. Waste is now a resource and opportunity. Convert cast-off materials into energy, or materials for high-end
garments.
5. The divide between rural and urban is blurring, leading to the Agropolis. Source ingredients as close as
possible to your consumers.
6. Synthetic tweaking is the future. Create products and campaigns that shift the GM debate away from
benefits to business, and toward benefits to consumers.
7. Consumers are uneasy with Synthetic Biology in the short term, but brands need to take the long view and
imagine how biotech can transform your products and supply chain.
8. Nature and technology are merging, so look toward the emerging crop of biological innovators for partners
in branded initiatives.
9. Natural forces are now being harnessed in the built environment, so use energy itself as a medium for
creating engaging consumer spaces.
10. Planning cycles are now extended, so imagine how biology could help your brand adapt to a future in
which nature and society are merged into a single system.
Weve been emphasising the downsides of being able to control the environment, but merging with and
understanding nature has been an exceedingly good deal for our species
says Juan Enriquez, life sciences entrepreneur and author of Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and
Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth.
Asking now how our ability to read, copy and rewrite life code will benefit consumers is like asking very early on
whats the internet going to be good for?
As predicted, the Turbulent Teens have seen waves of political and economic turmoil. But a larger, more systemic
crisis looms on the horizon: the relationship between human society and our living world.
As the human impact on the environment intensifies, it no longer makes sense to view nature as something
untouched by human activities and with little influence on our lives. Instead, we are thinking holistically about nature,
in terms that go beyond traditional environmentalism. We are moving towards a world in which human innovation
and nature will be integrated and hybridised.
In Whole-system Thinking, we explore:
: Anthropocene Mindsets what the advent of the human epoch means for our views on consumerism
: Trash to Table why restaurateurs are taking inspiration from natural systems
: The New Biodisruptors how technology innovators will reshape public perceptions of genetic modification
: Animal-free Omnivores why ethical eaters will ultimately see the virtues of life grown in labs

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

: Cult of Resource how artists and designers are inspired by the merging of nature and technology

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Drivers

Bioluminescent Forest by Friedrich van Schoor and Tarek Mawad


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People are beginning to realise that we have turned a corner as a species. As we alter the biosphere at a planetary
level, we are starting to understand that, to survive, we will have to channel natural forces to our advantage.
Anthropocene Mindsets
In an age of entanglement between human activities and
nature, the environment is no longer a pristine space to
be protected from consumerism, as previous
conservationists believed.
The idea of creating a benign, sustainable economy has
failed consumerism is now part of the environment,
and vice versa.

Plastiglomerate, a rock formation containing plastic inclusions, a


proposed marker for the Anthropocene, found on Kamilo Beach,
Hawaii, June 2014

Anthropocene, the human epoch, is a term that has


been widely adopted to describe the geological period
since humans began to significantly influence the world
around them. The term implies that humanity now has
such a pervasive influence on the Earth that it has
become a force of nature.

This concept has begun to influence humanists, cultural critics and consumers.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

This is the meaning of the Anthropocene: that the


future of the human and material worlds are now totally
entwined
says writer McKenzie Wark, speaking at the November
2014 Digital Labor conference at the New School in
Manhattan.
There is no longer a homeostatic cycle that can be put
right just by withdrawing. There is no environment that
forms a neutral background.

The Great Acceleration: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene, 9th


Taipei Biennial, The Deluge - Noah's Ark by Hung Chih Peng

Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson

The planet itself thus becomes our greatest experiment.


The Anthropocene presents the Earth as the ultimate
fusion of nature and human society, the ultimate Whole
System.

Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson

Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson

System Collapse
Whether we choose to respond to climate change or not, it is increasingly clear to the general public that human
activity is fundamentally altering our environment.
Recent signs point to a tipping point in opinion. A New York Times/Stanford University poll carried out in January
2015 found that 61% of members of the US Republican Party, previously resistant to the idea that humans are
influencing climate change, now believe that if nothing is done, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious
problem in the future.
Among the general population, the shift in thinking is even starker. In a February 2015 poll by The Future Laboratory
just 12% of Britons and 11% of Americans said that in the year 2035, my life will not have changed to accommodate
shifts in the environment.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Everything is Not Awesome by Greenpeace


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Re-enlightenment Rising
In 2013, LS:N Global described how science was bursting out of the laboratory and into the public consciousness
in Re-enlightenment Rising.
Now, as people are equipped with more knowledge of
science as well as greater interest, they are more readily
engaging with it as an answer to the large-scale,
systemic problems we face.

Zooniverse

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This mentality can be seen in the rise of citizen science,


as consumers use a variety of new platforms to
contribute to science in their spare time. Community
biohacking groups have sprung up in more than 50 cities
across the US and Europe. Zooniverse, a community
platform that enables people to take part in experiments,
has gained more than 1,288,000 active participants
since it was launched in 2007, and the number is
growing rapidly. This shift has also prompted IT
companies such as IBM and SAP to launch citizen
science initiatives.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Consilient Thinking
With sweeping global problems to confront, collaboration
between specialists from all fields is increasingly
necessary. Consilience, which Pulitzer Prize-winning
scientist and philosopher Edward O. Wilson defines as
the interlocking of causal explanation across
disciplines, is the order of the day.
In 2011, MIT professor and Nobel Laureate Phillip
Sharp called for convergence between the life sciences,
physical sciences and engineering.
The Smog Free Park by Studio Roosegaarde, to be unveiled in
Rotterdam in 2015, uses an electronic vacuum cleaner to remove
smog particles

This merging of technologies, processes and devices


into a unified whole will create new pathways and
opportunities for scientific and technological
advancement,

he wrote. Four years on, Consilient Thinking is reaching beyond science to have an impact on consumerism.

Phillip Ross for Mazda Rebels


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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Impacts

Fluidigm promotional video by Fuseproject


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Innovators are embracing a deeper engagement with living systems, facilitated by biotechnology and genetic
engineering. Just as nature and humanity are merging, biology is merging with technology. Meanwhile, the food
chain is merging with personal technology, the dining sector is redesigning its supply chain from a Whole-system
Thinking perspective, and brands are creating models of commerce that benefit the environment rather than
exacerbating existing problems.
The New Biodisruptors
Just as the information revolution began with home
tinkerers such as Steve Jobs, a new generation of
biotech innovators is shaking up Silicon Valley.
The first industrial revolution was about machines and
the second one is about information,
says Nina Tandon, CEO and co-founder of EpiBone,
which grows living human bones for skeletal
reconstruction.
The third one will be seeing what we can do as we
connect what we know about fabrication and information
with what we are learning about biology.

Juno DNA testing machine by Fuseproject for Fluidigm

For more on why the new wave of technology investment is expanding beyond medicine into consumer
biotechnology, read our New Biodisruptors microtrend.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Agrilopolis Living
Urban agriculture is often seen as the future of the food
supply. We are now seeing new systems for growing
food in urban settings, beyond vertical farms.
Growing Underground has created a micro-herb
operation in a tunnel 33m beneath the streets of
Clapham in London to grow micro-greens and salad
leaves. LED lighting and other technology ensure that
conditions remain stable throughout the year for
continual production, while all nutrients are kept within a
closed-loop system.
In Japan, Fujitsu has converted a microchip factory into a Low-potassium lettuce growing in Fujitsu factories in Fukushima
radiation-free lettuce farm, while in Singapore,
Panasonic has created an indoor vegetable farm to supply fresh produce to local restaurants.
Trash to Table
The dining sector is also rethinking its relationship with larger ecological systems. Silo restaurant, originally launched
in Melbourne by entrepreneur Joost Bakker, offers a seasonal menu that avoids waste, and produces all of its own
ingredients. Chef Douglas McMaster opened a Brighton branch of Silo in September 2014.
Joost Bakkers Melbourne restaurant Brothl goes even further towards re-inventing dining from the perspective of
Whole-system Thinking. The menu is based around broths created using bones and offal discarded from
neighbouring restaurants.
I truly believe that nutrient-dense soil produces nutrient-dense food. We cant keep stripping the land and not putting
back what we take out.
Bakker tells The New York Times. For more, read our forthcoming Trash to Table microtrend.

Joost Bakker: Flowers for Bones, film by Earl Carler for The New York Times
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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Domesticulture
City-dwelling consumers are cultivating a new
relationship with the food chain that gives them control
over provenance and growing conditions.
Rather than emphasising craft and artisanal
techniques as urbanites did in the 2000s, this new
wave combines urban farming with technology. This is in
line with Whole-system Thinking and its emphasis on
fusing natural processes with advanced technologies.
Massachusetts start-up SproutsIO is now testing a
smartphone-responsive hydroculture system that
Niwa smartphone-controlled plant-growing system
enables consumers to grow produce in their homes.
Instead of the laborious DIY approach of conventional
urban farming, SproutsIO adopts a plug-and-play approach, and a clean design with the potential to reach a wide
consumer base interested in convenience above all else. You place the seed pod into the SproutsIO, you add water
and you turn on your app, and its good to go, explains SproutsIO founder and CEO Jennifer Broutin Farah. It can be
as easy as making a coffee in your espresso machine.

Fungi Mutarium by Livin Studio

Fungi Mutarium by Livin Studio

Fungi Mutarium by Livin Studio

Powered by Waste
Brands and designers are looking at waste as a source of energy and nutrition. In July 2014, Sainsburys worked with
waste management firm Biffa to convert food waste into electricity using anaerobic digestion at its store in Cannock,
near Birmingham. The store will no longer be connected to the grid for day-to-day power needs.
Livin Studios project Fungi Mutarium imagines technology that enables edible fungi to be grown on discarded
plastic. The project imagines a future in which plastic waste could be converted back into organic matter, blurring the
lines between the natural and the synthetic.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Bold New Ekocycle Suits by Hallenstein Brothers


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Neo-materialism
Brands are rethinking materials and supply chains from
a Whole-system Thinking perspective, making products
that actively benefit the planet when consumed.
G-Star RAW has created garments using textiles woven
in part from recovered ocean plastic, which threatens the
health of the planets oceans. Demand for the products
creates a further incentive to clean up eco-systems.
A partnership between musical artist will.i.am and CocaCola has resulted in Ekocycle, a brand initiative that
educates consumers about recycling. The Ekocycle
Cube is a 3D printer that enables consumers to print
objects using post-consumer recycled plastic, cutting
down on the waste produced by 3D printing.

G-Star Raw For the Oceans

You Buy, The Sea Pays by Young &

You Buy, The Sea Pays by Young &

You Buy, The Sea Pays by Young &

Rubicam Paris for Surfrider Foundation

Rubicam Paris for Surfrider Foundation

Rubicam Paris for Surfrider Foundation

Natural Capitalism

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

More brands are assigning economic value to aspects of the natural world that formerly were not quantified. Puma
has implemented an environmental profit and loss system in which the company assigns monetary value to natural
assets such as clean air, fresh water and productive land. This enables the company to gauge whether its activities
ultimately benefit the environment.
Other companies that are beginning to place a dollar value on eco-system services include the Dow Chemical
Company and Pumas parent company, Kering.
It is my conviction that sustainable business is smart business. It gives us an opportunity to create value while
making a better world,
writes Kering CEO Franois-Henri Pinault.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Consequences

Ambio lamp by Teresa van Dongen


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As the fusion of technology and living systems continues, consumers will begin to see how genetic engineering can
work in favour of health, transparency and ethical eating, values they already hold dear. Meanwhile, as technology
harnesses energy alongside natural processes, artists and designers are creating work that reflects this exchange.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Animal-free Omnivores
At the moment, the public is uncomfortable with
genetically modified (GM) foods. Public views diverge
more widely from the views of scientists on GMO safety
than on any other issue, according to a January
2015 study by the Pew Research Center. While 57% of
the public believed that genetically modified foods were
generally unsafe to eat, only 11% of scientists surveyed
expressed this belief.
But few people have yet considered the idea that GM
products could potentially reduce reliance on the
industrial agriculture system and increase transparency.
Muufri Animal-Free Milk
According to a September 2014 report from research
company Hartman Group, those Americans who were avoiding or reducing GMOs in their diet cited transparency as
their foremost concern.
Several companies are developing products such as milk, eggs and leather that can be grown in
laboratories. Modern Meadow can cultivate a square-foot leather sample in less than two months in a lab, compared
to the two or three years needed to produce leather from an animal. Muufri is using bacteria to grow milk using six
key proteins for structure and function, and eight key fatty acids for flavour and richness. And the IndieBio company
Clara Foods aims to produce ex-vivo egg whites.
Although these novel systems appear unnatural, they have the potential to be much more transparent than the
current industrial agriculture system, according to scientist, entrepreneur and biohacker Ryan Bethencourt. He
imagines a billboard contrasting the bloody scene at a traditional slaughterhouse with meat grown in vitro in a lab. All
you see is meat, thats it, with sugar, water and nutrients, in a very clean system, almost like an Apple-type factory
floor, he says. The contrast is just so strong.
Biosynthetics 2.0
The emerging field of synthetic biology follows on from
Consilient Thinking to combine insights from physics,
engineering, computer science and other disciplines.
This approach enables scientists to create new biological
systems, fusing nature and technology.

Silk Leaf project by Julian Melchiorri

Synthetic biology is attracting attention from brands and


governments. In January 2015, UK business secretary
Vince Cable announced a 40m (55m, $61m)
government investment in synthetic biology, for a total of
200m (284m, $300m) in government funds invested in
the field since 2012.

One early consumer application for the field is in


cosmetics. San Francisco researchers at Solazyme developed the anti-ageing skincare brand Algenist based on
their research into engineering algae into a source of fuel. Synthetic biology company Intrexon has entered a
partnership with Johnson & Johnson to develop new skin and haircare products. These will be made using DNA
technology that enables researchers to control the quality, function and performance of living cells.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Mercedes-Benz Vision G-Code


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Glowing Lines, part of the Smart Highway

Glowing Lines, part of the Smart Highway

Glowing Lines, part of the Smart Highway

concept by Studio Roosegaarde

concept by Studio Roosegaarde

concept by Studio Roosegaarde

Super Surfaces
Whole-system Thinking is ushering in a phase in which artists and designers look more readily to the living world for
inspiration. In line with this, automotive and infrastructure designers are creating advanced surfaces that convert
sunlight into energy.
In November 2014, Mercedes revealed the Vision G-Code SUV, a concept car finished in multi-voltaic silver paint
that relays solar energy to the cars internal power system, and also generates electricity from wind.
Dutch design firm Studio Roosegaarde has developed Glowing Lines, a project that aims to replace street lamps
along Dutch roads with strips of photo-luminising powder. These absorb solar energy during the day and glow at
night, marking out lanes and showing drivers the shape of the road ahead.
Cult of Resource
A new secular reverence for nature is emerging along with Whole-system Thinking. Artists and designers are
blending nature with artificial technology, venerating both.

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In October 2014, Irish artist John Gerrard created Solar


Reserve, a large-scale virtual simulation of a Nevada
solar plant. Occupying a prominent location in
Manhattans Lincoln Center, the work took on the
character of a secular shrine. For the second year in a
row in 2015, the courtyard of the MoMA PS1
contemporary art museum will pay tribute to energy and
nature as a background for summer revelry. This years
installation by Spanish architect Andrs Jaque will create
a huge network of water-filtration pipes. When the water
reaches a certain level of purification, bioluminescent
micro-organisms will make it glow.
Water-purifying structure by Andrs Jaque, winner of the Young
Architects Program at MoMA PS1

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Futures
As we re-invent our lifestyles around Whole-system Thinking, in the far future architecture will merge with energy,
biodiversity will be preserved using synthetic life, and advances in synthetic food production will unleash culinary
creativity.
Energetic Architecture
In the context of a system-level crisis, architects are
fundamentally rethinking the relationship between
energy and the built environment to create holistic
systems.
For some, this means sustainable designs that harness
existing natural flows in novel ways. The Masdar
Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, for
example, is developing a facility that uses seawater to
irrigate the surrounding desert, producing fish and
shrimp for human consumption and plants for biofuels.
Masdar City by Foster and Partners, Abu Dhabi
More radically, architects are re-imagining energy flows
as a medium for architecture. Sean Lally, founder of the
Chicago architecture group Weathers and author of The Air from Other Planets: A Brief History of Architecture to
Come, imagines speculative futures in which regions of electromagnetic, thermodynamic, acoustic and chemical
energy can be turned on or off and reconfigured at will in urban spaces, much like street lights.

Im trying to create a visual language and an aesthetic quality to energy and these new states so people can see the
potential beyond sustainability as a moral good
Studio Roosegaard has created a concept for Beijing that reflects Lallys ideas about malleable regions of energy.
Its Smog Free Park envisages zones of clean air in public spaces, created using patented ion technology. The
studio has also designed high-end Smog Rings made from compressed particles vacuumed from the air. The park
will be realised in Rotterdam in 2015 before travelling to China.

The In Vitro Meat Cookbook by

The In Vitro Meat Cookbook by

Rustic In Vitro, The In Vitro

Bone Pickers, The In Vitro

Next Nature

Next Nature

Meat Cookbook by Next Nature

Meat Cookbook by Next Nature

Transhuman Cuisine
Artists have begun to explore the long-term implications of synthetic biology for food culture, imagining how people in
the future will eat when the boundaries between nature and technology have fully collapsed, and even the ability of
humans to process food may have been technologically enhanced.
The Dutch group Next Nature has created the In Vitro Meat Cookbook , featuring meat paint, revived dodo wings,
meat ice cream, cannibal snacks, steaks knitted like scarves and see-through sushi grown under perfectly controlled
conditions.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Royal College of Art student Paul Gong created the Human Hyena project, which explores a future in which
synthetic biology might allow us to create microbes that enable humans to digest mouldy and out-of-date foods.
I imagine transhumanists, DIYbio enthusiasts and
makers coming together to form a group known as
human hyenas, who want to tackle the increasingly
serious problem of food wastage
Living Technology
Noting that the human body processes certain
computations more efficiently than any silicon microchip,
researchers are looking towards a future in which
computers will use DNA to store data and make
calculations. Research published in the journal New
Scientist estimates that each gramme of DNA could
potentially store 455 exabytes of data, which means that
only about four grammes would be needed to store all
digital data now in existence.

Human Hyena by Paul Gong

Artists are already exploring these possibilities. The band OK Go is working with the University of California, Los
Angeles to encode its latest album in DNA.
Anti-extinctionists
Synthetic biology is creating a new approach to
conservation that substitutes lab-grown products for
natural ones, preserving eco-systems through
commerce.
The biotech start-up Pembient has set out to supplant
the illegal trade in rhinoceros horns by creating an
identical product grown in a lab using rhinoceros DNA.
Demand from Asia, where some claim rhino horn has
medicinal properties, has driven the rhinoceros nearly to
extinction. Pembient, however, has found that these
consumers are willing to accept lab-grown rhinoceros
horn as a substitute for the real thing.

The Beaked Porcupine, Endless Species by Kathryn Fleming

Were trying to build natural products using an artificial process


Matthew Markus, CEO Pembient
Post-oil World
In a finite world, we are no longer asking whether our economy will move away from oil, but when. A world that
powers itself without oil will be radically different in ways that we cannot predict, but it will certainly involve new
approaches to biological systems and technologies inspired by life.
In a post-oil world, you would expect an explosion in renewable energy enabled by smart grid technology, a move to
electric vehicles, air travel via advanced biofuels and lots of ways of converting waste to new uses, says Sarah
Tulej, senior sustainability advisor at Forum for the Future.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Lunar Economic Zone by Zhang Wang


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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Toolkit

The Age of the Long Near calls for truly integrated thinking,
which moves far beyond the environmental, and sees brands and
businesses as inextricably embedded in global networks. Only by
understanding the opportunities and threats that can come from
counterintuitive places can brands truly maximise their potential.
This consultancy toolkit gives some pointers along the way.

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WHOLE-SYSTEM THINKING

Toolkit
: Businesses need to move away from individualistic thinking, and instead focus on
a shared narrative, with shared responsibilities. Brands and businesses need to look
at the wider implications of their decision-making, turning themselves into a
positive ecosystem that enhances everything it comes into contact with
: One mans waste is another mans fortune. Smart business will see long-term
thinking as commercial viable growth; not a gimmick or even a moral imperative.
Think in multi-revenue work streams, and find value in unlikely places, such as
waste and our biological futures
: Dont be afraid to bet on the counter-intuitive, and apply new mindsets to old
problems. An artist will dare to do what an economist never would, and the results
can often be surprisingly impactful. Rather than taking a reactive approach,
become proactive and playful in the way you tackle the future
: Its time to accept the fact that synthetic biology is the next step in technology.
Smart brands need to own the nature-tech discourse in a passionate and proactive
way, to make sure they remain part of the conversation, and can even move it
forward
: Think of your role in research, politics and academia. Brands need to be the
conduit for heavy-hitting subjects, and help move these Big Ideas away from
something abstract, and into something impactful. Be a leader in bringing science
into the everyday
: Reframe GM, and create a more meaningful, acceptable term. The negative
connotations of this debate are unsolvable, so start creating messaging around biohacking, synthetics and genetic tweaking. This will be increasingly important in
enabling our transition towards synthetic, efficient futures
: Brands and businesses need to think more progressively than just recycling, and
to go beyond vertical integration. You need to better understand the complex global
webs of connection that are providing opportunities and threats to your business
: Brands need to understand that what is for the greater good is also often good
business practice too. This isnt fuzzy ethics, but good business, so brands need to
start collaborating across sectors and markets in unusual ways. Rather than just
focusing on those connected to you in a direct, transactional, sense, think about
how you can bring about greater transformations
: Be active not passive, and believe in improvement, not just maintenance. This is
the key to the Spiral System, which isnt a closed loop or a complete linear
narrative: it is an open and constantly expanding process

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