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Can GRI light up the future of mankind?


Abstract and Figures

There is strong evidence across the media that humanity has finally come to recognize the certainty and imminence of a global environmental crisis due to man-triggered ecological alterations. This widespread recognition of what is happening around us has matured even further as studies acknowledging that everything on Earth is interconnected begin to mount across various branches of learning. The appreciation of this simple linear and two-dimensional relationship implies enormous consequences for economic and management studies, as alternative business models will eventually have to supersede the old practices that still govern major industry sectors (e.g. energy, cement, agriculture, automotive, pharmaceutical, etc.). This paper argues that traditional knowledge found in developing countries can sometimes harness the potential of sparking genuine alternatives to established business practices. With a focus on the most fundamental geochemical cycles on Earth − nitrogen, water, and carbon − and the primary resources they govern (soil, water, and air), three case studies are presented to illustrate how traditional knowledge in the context of GRI (Grassroots Innovation) projects can lead to challenge the dominant logic, when allowed to thrive in terms of adoption and scalability.
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12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
Australian Centre of Entrepreneurship Research (ACE) - Business School, Queenslands University of
Technology, Australia
WorlDynamics Pty Ltd, Australia
There is strong evidence across the media that humanity has finally come to recognize the
certainty and imminence of a global environmental crisis due to man-triggered ecological
alterations. This widespread recognition of what is happening around us has matured even further
as studies acknowledging that everything on Earth is interconnected begin to mount across various
branches of learning. The appreciation of this simple linear and two-dimensional relationship
implies enormous consequences for economic and management studies, as alternative business
models will eventually have to supersede the old practices that still govern major industry sectors
(e.g. energy, cement, agriculture, automotive, pharmaceutical, etc.). This paper argues that
traditional knowledge found in developing countries can sometimes harness the potential of
sparking genuine alternatives to established business practices. With a focus on the most
fundamental geochemical cycles on Earth − nitrogen, water, and carbon − and the primary
resources they govern (soil, water, and air), three case studies are presented to illustrate how
traditional knowledge in the context of GRI (Grassroots Innovation) projects can lead to challenge
the dominant logic, when allowed to thrive in terms of adoption and scalability.
Developing countries, geochemical cycles, environmental changes, interconnectedness, traditional
JEL Classification: Q01, Q51, Q54
Understanding and managing complexity is a very difficult endeavour for the human
brain. We are not programmed to think in a way that is non-linear, circular, high-
dimensional, accounts for time lags, etc. The literature on the topic is vast, ranging from
systems theory (Bertalanffy, 1975) to chaos theory (Levy, 1994), constantly reminding us
of our limits, as even the most intelligent and devoted minds of our time still cannot fully
comprehend apparently simple matters such as natural events, animals’ behaviours,
diseases, and many other phenomena that surround our daily lives. Yet humanity acts as
if it had a complete understanding of extremely complex schemes like natural
ecosystems. We are clearly unable to control our own little domain (e.g. peace, poverty,
crime, politics, discrimination, hunger, clean water, etc.), but at the same time act freely
and carelessly against Nature with the illusion at best of knowing the consequences
of our actions (Deb, 2009).
The natural tendency of modern society exemplified in the actions of MNCs (Multinational
Corporations) being them a manifestation of us consumers, shareholders,
entrepreneurs, and employees − is to consider only one issue at a time, as need presents
itself, and this gradual process of losing sight of the wholeness to concentrate on the
detail of the moment has led to an extreme specialization (Shepard, 1969; Rosen, 1983)
which is the chief reason of why we failed as a race to understand the environment on
countless occasions and are now on the brink of irreversibly destroying it. So, is there a
solution to the predicament caused by human behaviour over the last few centuries?
Should we stop progress all together and go back to being a primitive society (Zerzan,
1998)? Even if it was possible to rewind human history, this would be a very painful
exercise and it is not the purpose of this paper to idealize primal societies. Instead, the
researchers join forces with those who attempt to redirect human development on the
right path, one characterized by being environmentally sustainable and socially more
Today's society has finally acknowledged the big environmental challenges it faces and
has also deconstructed most of these critical threats identifying their primary causes,
which almost entirely relate to an uncontrolled production and consumption by man of
goods and services. Therefore looking at how major industries could improve their
business practices is an area of research that cannot be overlooked. However, most of
the current studies look at how MNCs can make their existing processes more
sustainable through CSR best practice (Carroll and Buchholtz, 2014) or how government
policies can promote positive change (Schmalensee, 2012), but very little research has
looked at changing the rules of the game, the possibilities of challenging the dominant
logic to transform entire industries (Prahalad, 2004).
In a utopic society that searched for the common good, rational thinking would imply a
voluntary change of direction by all actors involved, hence mainstream research and
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
innovation efforts would be most appropriate for both, ideas development and their
implementation. However we are conscious of the fact that human arrogance, corruption,
and greed will continue to endure sustaining processes of production that are flawed and
have a negative impact on the planet. Therefore the need to search for significantly
different know-how capable of producing radical innovations with the potential to
transform entire industries is paramount. One type of knowledge that has been validated
for centuries and could represent the foundation for a more conscious development of
humanity is the one retained by indigenous communities (Corry, 2011; Leach et al.,
2012). Hundreds of them still exist around the globe (Grim, 2001) though relentlessly
threatened by government repressions, economic interests of large corporations, or
simply the allure of modern ways of life − and have nurtured traditional knowledge aimed
at maintaining a balance between human actions and natural resources.
In an attempt to make a case for GRI (Grassroots Innovation) this paper concentrates on
the primary resources of our planet (soil, water, and air) and the most fundamental
geochemical cycles that govern them: nitrogen, water, and carbon. For each one of these
three domains, the researchers elucidate how the cycle functions and what parts of it
have been mostly exposed to the industrial specialization that modern society has
progressively fostered in order to push economic growth. Next, the methods of this study
are discussed, and the preliminary results presented: an update on the main pollutants of
the three geo-chemical cycles is given and 10 GRI cases are ranked based on expert
opinions concerning their degrees of innovation, adoption and scalability. Finally the three
most relevant case studies are discussed, in connection with each cycle, to illustrate how
traditional knowledge in the context of GRI projects can hold the potential of challenging
the dominant logic, hence capable of changing widely accepted industry practices.
Literature Review
In the past 10.000 years humanity has witnessed an unusually long period of steady
environmental conditions (Rockstrom et al., 2009; Folke et al., 2011). This era of
ecological stability known as the Holocene has been characterized by a favourable
functioning of three geochemical processes: nitrogen, water, and carbon cycles, which
have played a pivotal role in preserving and maintaining a stable and relatively warm
climate on Earth. As such, the Holocene has fostered human expansion and
development and has been remarkably conducive to the hitherto incessant population
growth and technological advancements. Until 1800 AD, the relationship between man
and the natural environment had not been significantly altered. However, over the period
that goes from the first Industrial Revolution up to modern times − and particularly during
the 'great acceleration' of the last 60 years (Steffen et al., 2007) the world has
experienced unprecedented transformations: human population has more than tripled,
material consumption has literally boomed in most countries and global connectivity has
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
evolved at an astonishingly fast rate (Steffen et al., 2011). This last period of time has
been referred to as Anthropocene, from the Greek roots anthropo- meaning 'human' and -
cene meaning 'new' (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000), in light of the understanding that the
profound influence of human actions on the Earth's ecological functioning could have
determined the coming of a new geological epoch.
As a matter of fact, what distinguishes the Anthropocene from previous geological eras is
that for the first time in history many geologically significant conditions and processes are
undergoing major changes almost exclusively due to human enterprises. According to
scientists investigating the soundness of these assumptions (Steffen et al., 2011;
Slaughter, 2012; Gowdy and Krall, 2013), the list of impacts would also comprise
significant alterations of the nitrogen, water and carbon cycles, the primary global (bio-
)geochemical processes central to making the Earth a place where life can spring, grow,
and thrive. Essentially these cycles consist of natural circulation pathways through the
atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere for the basic elements of living
matter. Along their journey, these elements take various forms and continuously flow
back and forth from the nonliving (abiotic) to the living (biotic) components of the
biosphere (i.e. the part of the Earth that is capable of supporting life and in which living
organisms exist). Apart from their close connection with climate and related
environmental concerns, the three cycles are strongly correlated with the three natural
resources that are of great importance for man-centered activities: soil, water, and air.
The nitrogen cycle plays a pivotal role in preserving healthy ecosystems, notably with
regard to vegetation. Soil bacteria and humus are critical natural ingredients of the
nitrogen cycle, however, with the advent of Industrialization, man has introduced massive
amounts of nitrates into the environment in the form of fertilizers urea, ammonia,
ammonium salts and nitrate salts to meet growing food demand (Nishio, 2002). While
fertilizers may be beneficial to plants, they are not always as healthy for the rest of the
environment as indicated by groundwater contamination and the annihilation of marine
Humans add today more nitrogen to ecosystems than the total amount produced by all
natural processes combined (Galloway et al., 2008; Rockstrom et al., 2009). The amount
of nitrogen fertilizers that is not absorbed by plants which on average is one-half of the
nitrogen fertilizer applied ultimately breaks down into nitrates and penetrates the soil.
Here, being nitrates water-soluble, can remain in groundwater for decades and the
addition of more nitrogen will have an accumulative effect. When nitrogen wind up into
waterways has similar dire effects such as the poisoning of aquatic life. In fact, massive
quantities of nitrogen in water can trigger giant algae blooms an event commonly
referred to as eutrophication and when the algae die they decompose in a process that
subtracts oxygen from the water. A great deal of aquatic species including fish can’t
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
survive without oxygen and consequently either perish or migrate to new underwater
Main human activities impacting the transfer of nitrogen encompass:
Fossil fuel combustion which releases nitrogen oxides (NOx), a well-known
greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
Use of artificial nitrogen fertilizers: on average, plants utilize less than one-half of
the nitrogen fertilizer applied by growers with much of the remaining nitrogen
fertilizer leaching into the soil and altering the natural intake.
Release of nitrogen in wastewater sewage produced by human waste.
Water on Earth gets always recycled as it continually moves through the cycle of
evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and runoff. In other words, salt water of the
oceans is the fresh water of rain, ice caps and glaciers, surface runoff, rivers, aquifers,
and groundwater discharge: an extremely precious resource. While safe drinking water is
essential to humans and other life forms, WWF (2003) and FAO (2014) estimate that
approximately 70% of the fresh water used by humans goes to agriculture more
than twice that of industry (19-23%), and dwarfing municipal use (8-11%). Apart from a
misuse of water resources, there are also concerns about pollution of freshwater
ecosystems and a projected decrease of precipitations due to climate change in already
relatively dry subtropical areas, potentially causing 47% of the world's population to
live under severe water stress by 2050 (OECD, 2012). Main human activities that alter
the water cycle include:
Agriculture, contributing to water pollution from excess nutrients, pesticides and
other various pollutants.
Industrial water pollution triggered mainly by the manufacturing sector in
developing countries where production sites are generally based. But also
ammonia from food processing waste, heavy metals from acid mine drainage,
sediment in runoff from construction sites, logging, slash and burn practices or
land clearing sites.
Daily consumer products like detergents, disinfectants, insecticides, chemical
compounds found in personal hygiene and cosmetic products, all of which contain
organic water pollutants.
Construction of dams cause the deterioration and loss of river deltas, ocean
estuaries, and irrigated terrestrial environments, leading to reduced water quality
because of dilution problems.
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
Urbanization alters the natural amount of water that seeps into the soil, resulting in
increased volumes and decreased quality of surface water.
Carbon dioxide is a constituent of air, with a very low concentration of less than 0.04%.
Being transparent to most of the sun's radiation, the higher the carbon dioxide in the air
the larger the proportion of solar radiation that is retained by the earth as heat, causing
global warming. The inputs and outputs of carbon naturally move in and out of the soil
and water via the photosynthesis (the process that connects plant with the atmosphere)
and respiration processes (NASA, 2001), but anthropogenic activities are increasing
levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere faster than ever recorded (Metz et al., 2005).
Main human activities causing alarming increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
Burning fossil fuels (factories and vehicles), which transfers carbon from the
geosphere into the atmosphere.
Deforestation practices that remove forests to make land available for agricultural
or urban areas. Forests store carbon dioxide and help to control climate. By cutting
trees, humans cease their carbon absorption and allow dead trees to release
stored carbon into the atmosphere as CO2.
Agricultural and land use practices leading to higher erosion rates, washing carbon
out of soils and decreasing plant productivity.
Coral reefs highly sensitive ecosystems that contribute to the ocean's ability to
absorb carbon from the atmosphere on a regional scale suffer the effects of
changes in the chemical composition of oceans due to acid rain and polluted runoff
from agriculture and industry.
The current debate between the multilevel perspective (Rip and Kemp, 1998) and social
practice theory (Bourdieu, 1977) the most prominent theories to address how society
could reconnect to the natural environment (Hargreaves, Longhurst and Seyfang, 2013)
is reserving a special place for the strategic management of green niches, where
networks of actors experiment with and mutually adapt greener organizational forms and
eco-friendly technologies (Smith, 2007). Within this context, a few scholars (Seyfang,
2013; Tonelli and Cristoni, 2013) have recently argued that the know-how on which to
concentrate and build upon for scalable sustainable solutions should be the sort of
knowledge that has maintained for centuries a balance between human actions and
natural resources − namely indigenous wisdom.
When applied to today’s social problems, these forms of conservative and traditional
knowledge take the name of GRI as they are in fact innovative for a ‘modern’ mind-set
desperately seeking environmental sustainability. Opposite to the work of MNCs, which
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
do not have a local outlook, GRI projects refer to the development of environmentally
sustainable bottom-up solutions that meet the local needs, interests and values of the
communities involved. In this work, drawing from the insights of Seyfang and Smith
(2007), who argue that bottom-up initiatives might succeed where top-down approaches
have routinely failed (e.g. the EU Emission Trading Scheme or the Rio +20 Conference
on Sustainable Development), the authors explore instances where GRI may hold the key
to overcome the impasse in which human development has wound up.
Research Methodology
This paper is the first output of a study that investigates the potential impact of a
widespread use of sustainable GRI practices. The overall research project started with a
review of the academic literature combined with a range of mixed sources which
included reports from national as well as international agencies (e.g. NASA, WMO,
UNEP) and recent articles from leading newspapers with a strong emphasis on
sustainable business practices (e.g. the Guardian, The New York Times, EcoWatch, and
BusinessGreen) to find confirmation, or otherwise, of how industrial activities impact the
primary global (bio-)geochemical processes. Strong evidence for each cycle was
collected from a comparison of the different accounts. This article presents a
reconstruction of the relevant data to derive a comprehensive understanding of each of
the three cycles, their functioning, and the industrial processes that most jeopardize
The next step of the study was to find evidence among indigenous communities
worldwide − of traditional knowledge being utilized in the form of GRI that could represent
real substitutes to existing 'modern' practices. This was accomplished in three stages.
First the researchers had to track down indigenous communities and significant GRI
projects worldwide. This was accomplished through an extensive web-based search
which provided a total of 32 relevant cases covering a comprehensive range of
sophistication, purpose, location, and way of commencing. Next, the researchers reduced
the sample to those projects that had some sort of relevant connection with the
geochemical processes under scrutiny. The exercise meant a further cut down to just 10
highly significant cases ranked in terms of their innovation, adoption and scalability
potential. A variant of the Delphi technique (Linstone and Turoff, 1975) was used to elicit
expert opinion over the relevance (to the geo-chemical cycles) and potential of each GRI.
The choice in favour of a Delphi survey was made to avoid problems of bias raised by
group dynamics and to give experts the possibility of reviewing their judgements. While
40 experts were invited, the final panel comprised 18 participants, a size still deemed
appropriate for the application of the Delphi method (Hasson et al. 2000). Participants
were invited by e-mail and then telephoned. The invitation letter, sent a month ahead of
the telephone call, explained the nature of the study and provided sufficient information
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
for the prospective participants to self-assess their suitability (Dalkey, Brown and
Cochran, 1970). While each expert had a Master degree and a minimum 5 years of
expertise in either CSR or sustainable business practice, the panel was heterogeneous in
terms of backgrounds, thus allowing for a range of opinions to arise. Apart from an even
mix of males and females, experts also represented different age groups, countries (Italy,
France, USA, and Singapore), and industries covering education, healthcare, natural
resources, mining, banking, automotive, energy, construction, and agriculture.
The experts answered questionnaires in two rounds, with replies measured using a five-
point Likert scale. A set of 9 open ended queries, regarding the participants’ professional
background and views on specific subjects, was also included in questionnaire one. The
relevance of each comment was assessed by the proportion of experts that raised that
specific comment and the level of agreement over it (De Franca Doria et al., 2009).
The terms innovation, adoption and scalability were so defined:
INNOVATION : referred to eco-innovation, the development of products and
processes that contribute to sustainable development. It means applying the
commercial application of knowledge to elicit direct or indirect ecological
improvements (Lambin, 2014, p.102). The interviewee was asked to judge how
ecologically innovative each product/concept/idea/process was and whether it
had the potential of being considered a radical “breakthrough” capable of
changing established industry practices.
ADOPTION : alluded to the process of diffusion by which an innovation is
communicated through certain channels over time among the participants of a
social system (Rogers, 1995, p.5). The interviewee was asked to evaluate if the
innovation had already been used in multiple places or what was its potential
based on factors such as government regulations, comparable products already
on the market, implementation costs (cost effectiveness), general attitude
towards change, etc.
SCALABILITY : was regarded as the ability of a system, network, or process to
handle a growing amount of work in a capable manner or its ability to be enlarged
to accommodate that growth (Bondi, 2000, p.195). The interviewee contributed
in assessing how capable each idea was of reaching a critical mass and how
feasible its implementation would have been on a large scale.
After analysing all the responses, 3 cases top ranked, based on expert opinions
concerning their degree of innovation, adoption and scalability were selected for further
discussion of GRI projects that can change widely accepted industry practices in an effort
to help restoring balance in geo-chemical cycles.
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
The study gathered sufficient evidence to determine that each cycle is vitally important to
maintain life on earth and is currently jeopardized by industrial processes. A cross
analysis of the collected data led to the identification of the following human activities as
the most damaging for each cycle.
Figure 1: The largest pollutants of the three geo-chemical cycles
As illustrated in Figure_1, agricultural activities are by far the primary cause of the
increased nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Together with livestock
manure, they account for 67% of total emissions. In the case of water pollutants instead,
the impact of agriculture drops to 20%, leaving the lead position of this sad classification
to household consumption with an estimated 35%, followed by industry at 23%. The third
diagram depicts carbon emissions, which are primarily caused by industry, in particular oil
and gas production (6.4%), cement (5%), chemicals (4.1%), iron and steel (4%).
Agriculture plays again a main role together with transport, deforestation, and household
With regard to traditional knowledge currently employed around the globe in ways that
are environmentally sustainable, the preliminary results of this study are promising. Of the
32 cases of GRI initially encountered, 10 were selected to be the most significant for the
geochemical processes. The findings are summarized below (Figure_2) as each GRI
approach was given a value (on a scale 1 to 5) in connection with the geochemical
processes and along the dimensions of innovation, adoption and scalability.
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
Figure 2: Top 10 Cases of GRI
A short account of each of the top three ranked cases follows next to more clearly
illustrate the nature of the innovations and their potential.
GRI to reduce man-made nitrogen input
Nitrogen is a scarce commodity in the natural environment and farmers have cultivated
land for centuries solely relying on natural composted manure and other natural
ingredients, as well as crop rotation. Their in-depth knowledge of soil ingredients coupled
with the ability to predict weather patterns have enabled them to successfully continue
cultivating land under extreme climatic conditions without damaging the environment.
In an attempt to curb man-made nitrogen release into the soil, an India-based GRI
organization has been able to leverage Indian farmers’ unique knowledge and local
embeddedness to develop a range of 100% pure, natural and organic agro products that
contribute to the growth of crops without disturbing the environment. The Society for
Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI), was born
in 1993 with the primary objectives of “systematically documenting, disseminating and
developing grassroots green innovations, providing intellectual property rights protection
to grassroots innovators, working on the in situ and ex situ conservation of local
biodiversity, and providing venture support to grassroots innovators”
Over the last few years, SRISTI has been particularly active in developing natural
products through a dedicated laboratory. SRISTI’s unique ability to design and produce
high-quality herbal formulations for agricultural purposes stems from the open-source
approach it takes to product development. Indeed SRISTI’s core activity is the
establishment of knowledge networks by connecting innovative minds and bearers of
traditional knowledge with centres of excellence and innovation. As a result, SRISTI has
been able to furnish its web of farmers with a vast range of environmentally-friendly
products to boost crop yields at a reasonable price. These products are extracted from
natural herbs and can be standardized as per the specific type of crop or soil. It is
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
because of these reasons that experts in the current study were unanimous in assessing
SRISTI as a successful example of both product and process innovation.
SRISTI innovations are now well-known locally and being purchased by Indian farmers in
large quantities. Even more importantly though, some of these products have been
recognized as scalable solutions to overcome agricultural and related poverty issues in
Africa. In October 2013, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
has announced a partnerships to share SRISTI natural fertilizer (and other SRISTI low-
cost agricultural innovations and technologies) with African countries initially Kenya as
a pilot country to promote local sustainable development. The overall goal of this
program is “to improve agricultural productivity and food security in Africa by fostering
agriculture mechanization among the small-holder farmers using Indian grassroots
Of course nitrogen-free fertilizers cannot be regarded as a one-size-fits-all solution for the
multitude of water and soil contamination issues, yet its global spreading may play a
pivotal role in reversing the detrimental effects to the environment of unsustainable
cultivation methods.
GRI to use water more efficiently
Water is life! Rural smallholders have always relied on natural methods for maintaining
their land healthy and fruitful. Generation after generation, these populations have fine-
tuned their cultivation methods without altering their intimate relation with the surrounding
environment and as such have succeeded in finding sustainable techniques to boost crop
yields. No human community would ever achieve so without being deeply connected to
nature dynamics and secrets. In modern times, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)
has gained the attention of the international community as it has proved to be one the
most outstanding examples of agricultural innovation triggered by farmers’ ancient
wisdom and connectedness to the natural environment.
SRI is the outcome of a successful collaboration between Malagasy farmers and the
French Jesuit and agronomist engineer Henri de Laulanié, who in 1981 embarked on a
project with the rural communities of Madagascar to find ways to overcome poverty and
improve outdated cultivation practices. SRI was devised in 1983 as an organic, fully
sustainable and ultra-productive crops cultivation method which can dramatically
increment rural farmers’ yields whilst at the same time reducing crops’ reliance on water,
seeds and chemical fertilizers. To achieve this, SRI alters altogether the way plants, soil,
water and nutrients are managed by the farmer throughout the whole farming process.
Essentially, SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact with each
1. Early and quick plant establishment
2. Reduced plant density
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
3. Enrichment of soil with organic matter
4. Reduced water usage
SRI’s local adoption was possible by virtue of the relentless work of SRI’s founder, Fr.
Laulanié, who in 1990, set up the “Association Tefy Sainaan”, an indigenous non-
governmental organization which aimed at spreading SRI technique across the country.
Thanks to SRI, Malagasy farmers previously averaging 2 tons/hectare of produce started
to average 8 tons/hectare, and such outstanding results attracted the interest of the
international community, primarily in the person of American scientist and professor
Norman Uphoff, then director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture
and Development at Cornell University. In the years that followed Dr. Uphoff and its staff
became some of SRI’s most passionate advocates setting themselves to disseminate
SRI’s revolutionary practices across the underdeveloped world. Thanks to the support of
USAID, Uphoff initially brought SRI to Asia and given its success he extended the project
to Africa and the South American continent.
Interestingly enough, what most struck Uphoff (2003) about SRI was the key role rural
farmers played in bringing SRI throughout Madagascar, as an impressive example of
farmer-to-farmer extension that supported the spreading of this innovation even despite
resistance from some established institutions. And ‘adoption’ was also the main concept
captured by interviewees in this study.
Today, according to SRI official website
, more than 10 million farmers across 55+
countries worldwide harness SRI with remarkable results: 25-50% reduction of water use,
80-90% less seeds applied, overall cost reduction by 10-20% and increased yields of 50-
100%, on average. It is perhaps for this reason that SRI’s adoption is nowadays being
pushed forward globally by all major development organizations. USAID, IFAD, FAO, the
World Bank all encourage SRI adoption through local training, on-line best practice
sharing and awareness programs.
In terms of its connection to the water cycle, SRI stands out to be an effective, low-cost
and easily scalable solution to the world’s pressing concern over freshwater scarcity.
Throughout the vegetative growth period, in fact, only a little amount of water is applied
by SRI farmers if compared to traditional crops management techniques. During flowering
in particular, only a superficial layer of water is kept, followed by alternate wetting and
drying before draining the whole paddy up approximately 2-3 weeks before harvest, a
method known as “Alternative Wetting and Drying” (AWD).
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
GRI to reverse the carbon cycle
Global warming is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time and the
construction industry uses building materials which are energy-intensive to produce, and
therefore induces a large amount of greenhouse gases indirectly (ABS 2001).
Bamboo is considered to be one of the most ancient building materials ever used by
mankind. Traces of bamboo utilized as construction material in China date back to more
than 5,000 years. The tensile strength of bamboo was initially appreciated in the
development of bridges, but also other types of ancient bamboo infrastructures can be
found in South East Asia, India and South America in the territories once occupied by
the Incas.
Differently from other common building materials, such as concrete or cement, bamboo is
a 100% natural and renewable resource, appreciated for its rapid growth that can avoid
long term depletion of natural resources (i.e. deforestation). Unlike wood, the vast
majority of bamboo types used for construction purposes takes in fact just a few years to
mature to the stage when it can be harvested typically no more than six. Moreover
bamboo takes little time to regenerate: the quickest genus can reach full growth within
two months, growing up to one meter per day on average. Besides being 100%
recyclable, having unique regenerative abilities and a rapid maturation, the prime
environmental benefit of bamboo is its low environmental impact when developing the
actual building material: bamboo requires only 0.02% mega-joules/m3 of the total energy
required by steel, 12% of what is required by concrete and 40% of what is needed by
Being one of the most ecological choices amongst building materials, bamboo has
recently been re-discovered as a result of the sustainability trend in modern architecture.
Major designers from China, South East Asia and Central America are exponentially
incorporating bamboo in their projects, from luxury homes and holiday resorts to
churches, bridges and housing compounds. Global spreading of bamboo architecture is
occurring rapidly even because bamboo grows basically everywhere in the world.
Bamboo architecture was chosen by the panel of experts that participated to this study as
being the GRI most beneficial for the carbon cycle and air quality. It is widely known
today that construction sites deploying concrete, cement, wood, stone and silica on
average produce high levels of dust. This dust is classified as PM10 i.e. Particulate
Matter less than 10 microns in diameter that can linger in the air for long periods of time
and be particularly dangerous for living beings and natural ecosystems at large. Because
processing bamboo creates no dust, large scale adoption of such natural material is
positively encouraged and seen as a powerful force to restore the fragile balance of the
carbon cycle.
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
Discussion and Future Research
This study brought to light a number of important considerations. First of all, while we
acknowledge the critical environmental challenges that surround us there is still a
prevalent ignorance over what the geochemical processes are and how they operate.
This aspect is crucial to initiate serious change in the human-nature relationship. It is our
responsibility to know how each cycle works, what are its main constituents, what human
activities alter its natural process, and be able to debate over what solutions could be
Connected to the need for widespread knowledge over environmental concerns is the
recognition that change on a global scale can occur only through improved global green
policies. Unfortunately, MNCs entities that behave according to pure economic
imperatives and prosper from a general ignorance in the wider society over
environmental issues can clearly exercise a great deal of power in delaying and
restricting the scale and efficacy of such polices. Several of the experts interviewed in this
study manifested the belief that GRI can help exiting the current worldwide stagnant
economic situation in a concrete and farsighted manner, because living harmoniously
with Nature − which is an incredibly old concept could sadly be considered quite
innovative these days (Leach et al., 2012). Even those who are sceptic about the latent
power of GRI, perceive grassroots campaigns as instrumental to bring about the cultural
changes necessary to really drive the implementation of green policies.
In terms of the word ‘innovation’ attached to the practices of indigenous communities,
experts perceived it to be appropriate, especially in the sense of inspiring approaches
that are truly sustainable because respectful and mindful of the local ecosystem. As part
of this project, ongoing research is now aiming to establish what constraints would mainly
impede a spreading of the GRI success from a local level to a large scale. In other words,
having established thus far that GRI could hold the latent potential to "light up the future
of mankind", the study now seeks to determine if this could actually be accomplished by
revealing thematic categories of concerns that would then need to be analyzed and
weighted. It is anticipated that, given the uncertainty of the subject under investigation,
due to its novelty and lack of available data, this task will still be carried out with the
backing of expert opinions (Linstone and Turoff, 1975). The Delphi method will allow to
synthesize different opinions while assessing uncertainty around those views and control
for biases.
Human alterations of the geochemical processes are progressively being identified,
acknowledged and measured with greater certainty and precision (Rockstrom, 2009). In
12 May 2015, 16th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam ISBN 978-80-87927-09-0 , IISES
the interim however, they are also exponentially gaining global scale and increasing their
harmful impacts. As a result, whilst the scientific community continues to amass evidence
about the necessity of a global re-examination of business-as-usual human relationships
with the environment, very little is done by governments and business leaders alike to re-
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In 2004 Prahalad made managers aware of the great economic opportunity that the population at the BoP (Base of the Pyramid) could represent for business in the form of new potential consumers. However, MNCs (Multi-National Corporations) have continued to fail in penetrating low income markets, arguably because applied strategies are often the same adopted at the top of the pyramid. Even in those few cases where products get re-envisioned, their introduction in contexts of extreme poverty only induces new needs and develops new dependencies. At best, the rearrangement of business models by MNCs has meant the realization of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) schemes that have validity from a marketing perspective, but still lack the crucial element of social embeddedness (London & Hart, 2004). Today the challenge is to reach the lowest population tier with reinvented business models based on principles of value co-creation. Starting from a view of the potential consumer at the BoP as a ring of continuity in the value chain process − a resource that can itself produce value – this paper concludes proposing an alternative innovative approach to operate in developing markets that overturns the roles of MNCs and the BoP. The proposed perspective of ‘reversed’ source of innovation and primary target market builds on two fundamental tenets: traditional knowledge is rich and greatly unexploited, and markets at the top of the pyramid are saturated with unnecessary products / practices that have lost contact with the natural environment.
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The urgency of charting pathways to sustainability that keep human societies within a "safe operating space" has now been clarified. Crises in climate, food, biodiversity, and energy are already playing out across local and global scales and are set to increase as we approach critical thresholds. Drawing together recent work from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Tellus Institute, and the STEPS Centre, this commentary article argues that ambitious Sustainable Development Goals are now required along with major transformation, not only in policies and technologies, but in modes of innovation themselves, to meet them. As examples of dryland agriculture in East Africa and rural energy in Latin America illustrate, such "transformative innovation" needs to give far greater recognition and power to grassroots innovation actors and processes, involving them within an inclusive, multi-scale innovation politics. The three dimensions of direction, diversity, and distribution along with new forms of "sustainability brokering" can help guide the kinds of analysis and decision making now needed to safeguard our planet for current and future generations.
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The current geological epoch has been dubbed the Anthropocene—the age of humans. We argue that the roots of the Anthropocene lie in the agricultural revolution that began some 8000 years ago. Unique human psychological and cultural characteristics were present in our distant hunter-gatherer past, but in terms of the biophysical impact of our species, agricultural represented an unequivocal and decisive evolutionary break. With the transition to agriculture human society began to function as a superorganism functioning as a single unit designed by social natural selection to produce economic surplus. Where environmental conditions were permitted, early human agricultural societies followed the same pattern as a few social insects and exhibited explosive population growth, complex and detailed division of labor, intensive resource exploitation, territorial expansion, and a social organization favoring the survival and growth of the supergroup over the well-being of individuals within the group. Similar economic forces lie behind ultrasociality in social insects and humans—increased productivity from the division of labor, increasing returns to scale, and the exploitation of stocks of productive resources. Exploring the evolutionary mechanisms behind ultrasociality offers insights into the growth imperative that threatens the stability of the earth's life support systems.
History tells us that industrial development with all of its pollution, inequity and exploitation is the inevitable destiny of human societies. Yet is this really the case or are we trapped in a prevailing 'develop-mentality' that demands an endless cycle of inputs, outputs, consumption and waste on a finite planet? And is there another, better way for humans and the biosphere? This incisive, epic work turns the dominant industrial development model and its economics upside down and argues for a new way of thinking about the meaning of development and the complexion of our economy. The book traces the origin and development of the concept of development in the economic context, and suggests a way to achieving post-industrial development with zero industrial growth. The book argues that sustainable development is possible only when concerns for biodiversity and human development are put at the centre of the economy and social policy. It both provides a theoretical foundation to sustainability and presents practical instances of sustainable production systems. Coverage is magisterial and includes history, ecology, economics, anthropology, policy analysis, population theory, sociology, the Marxian critique of capitalism, Orientalism, semiotics and sociology of science. These are interwoven in an accessible but challenging way that enables readers to look at development theory, economics, consumerism and environmentalism from a new vantage point. Distinguishing features includes a critique of development from a natural science perspective, a fresh and thorough account of the concept of sustainability both from a theoretical and empirical perspective and the application of an evolutionary biology metaphor to building a socially responsible alternative to the prevailing developmentality. This is the most sweeping coverage of critical issues in economics, environment, development and sustainability available. It is both an empowering and necessary read for students, academics, professionals and activists from across sustainability, development, economics and environmental studies and beyond, and an invaluable repository of information about the critical issues facing humanity as we continue to develop our over-crowded planet.
The multilevel perspective and social practice theory have emerged as competing approaches for understanding the complexity of sociotechnical change. The relationship between these two diff erent camps has, on occasions, been antagonistic, but we argue that they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, through empirical analysis of two diff erent case studies of sustainability innovation, we show that analyses that adopt only one of these theoretical lenses risk blindness to critical innovation dynamics. In particular, we identify various points of intersection between regimes and practices that can serve to prevent (or potentially facilitate) sustainability transitions. We conclude by suggesting some possible directions for further research that place these crossovers and intersections at the centre of analyses.
Although fertilizer nitrogen makes a great contribution to an increase in crop yields, excess fertilizer nitrogen is polluting groundwater with nitrate in countries which use large amounts of fertilizer. In the case of Japan, groundwater pollution is serious in areas producing vegetables, fruit, tea and livestock. The mean amount of nitrogen which was not absorbed by different kinds of crop was estimated, using statistical data on fertilizer application rates. Municipalities which have high levels of non-absorbed nitrogen due to excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer had high concentrations of nitrate in their groundwater. A municipality which made an effort to reduce nitrogen fertilizer succeeded in improving groundwater quality. This Bulletin stresses the importance of reducing nitrogen applications in countries with heavy fertilizer use, while maintaining yield levels.
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