Future competitiveness and sustainability of industry production systems, of SMEs in particular, depend on how, when and how deeply we change the resource (i.e. natural and artificial materials for industry, including by-products, sub-products, waste, water, etc., and energy, also indicated as ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’) management model. Sources of minerals and metals, as well as stocks of fish, timber, water, fertile soils, clean air, biomass, biodiversity are all under pressure, endangering the stability of industry provisioning and production systems. In the same way, decline of availability of cheap, high density energy from fossils mines the ‘centralised’ energy model.
Tackling the problem of resources means dealing with finiteness on earth. Technology from the XX century could investigate their availability quite accurately, but their variables now show unexpected changes undermining the effectiveness of predictions and forecasts. This is one of the the drivers of the heavier challenges we are going to face in terms of global and site availability, distribution, consumption and accessibility of resources.
Mainstream models of linear growth based on the assumption of a ‘pyramid of (unlimited) natural resources’, show their limits in real life. The hype is currently on energy and environment, and the following crisis of ‘central’ production and distribution of energy from fossils. However, reduced availability of natural resources and growing supply risks, call for the highest commitment of industry, research and policy makers to innovation in strategies and instruments for development.
Our research on sustainable development uses a soft and hard systems approach to analysis and design of solutions to local and global needs. It is inspired by the ‘closing circles’ approach (Commoner, B., 1971) to sustainable use and management of natural resources, sustainable consumption and production, policy effectiveness, life cycle assessment and material flow accounting, with a full deployment of the most advanced instruments and indicators for field and lab research.
OPUSNET designed and promotes the successful prototype of Tavolo Majella for systems innovation for development, a network organisation of public and private players in Abruzzo (Italy), who point to close the circles of local resources with the ET Programme©, where the problems of scarce resources, energy risk, recession, pollution and environmental disasters are reinterpreted under a new light unveiling the opportunities for competitive sustainability. Those opportunities are exploited by radical innovation in production and exchange systems, that require low investment but large participation of actors and stakeholders in clusters and networks, turning negative externalities into factors of competitive advantage and sustainable development.
We developed an innovative business model to grab the opportunities of the ‘circular economy’ at enterprise level, by closing the circles of resources and stimulating industrial symbiosis. The model gives strategic support to small and large companies for competitive and sustainable growth in diverse sectors, transformation of waste cost into profit, crisis recovery, global change management, innovation and investment boost, operating and environmental cost cutting, as well as for emissions reduction, jobs creation, business diversification and new business development without change of mission. The positive externalities observed in the Tavolo Majella test, also revealed a clear potential for sustainable development of the target region, and for job creation, increase of follow-up investments, cross-sector growth of new business, social inclusion and protection of cultural heritage.
Research and innovation on the circular economy, global change and new models for competition and sustainability, are the main activity of the OPUSNET Labs, committed to provide the greatest competitive edge to industry as well as the most innovative strategy solutions to policy makers.
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