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Sidestreams – when the world is not enough

Finnish business angel Ari Hyppönen explains how the world's voracious consumption of natural resources can be seized upon as an opportunity...

Kuva: Pekka Karhunen

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Humankind is using renewable natural resources, such as forests and oceans, at such a rapid pace that earthly ecosystems cannot keep up. Our ecological footprint surpassed Earth’s production capacity in the 1970s. Today, we are using natural resources at a rate of 50 per cent in excess of the planet’s ability to recover. This year, by 20 August we had already exhausted nature’s budget for the year, and are now operating in overdraft. Inevitably, the debt will have to be paid back at some point.

The situation is not much better with non-renewable resources, such as minerals. These are dug up from the ground using enormous machines, transported to refineries, forged into products, shipped to stores, bought and carried home and, once they are no longer used, returned to the ground in landfills. The most incredible aspect of this huge logistics chain lies in the fact that we re-bury more than 98 per cent of these materials in landfills within six months of their excavation.

This means that we are eagerly eating ourselves out of house and home, and it looks like many of the raw materials we have gobbled up will run out within the next few decades. Planet Earth is our only source of raw materials and it clearly is not sufficient to satisfy the current demand, let alone growth in consumption. Sounds rather hopeless, doesn’t it?

Well, that depends on your point of view. Strictly from a business angel’s perspective, I would say: all this actually looks very promising! As the prices of raw materials and landfill gate fees continue to rise, new companies will inevitably emerge in various industry sectors, having recognised the business potential created by these changes. Recycling of materials, processing of waste and shifting to renewable energy sources are huge tasks. When rapid changes like this occur, slow old giants have to make room for agile newcomers.

For this reason, I have decided to direct my own investments toward start-up companies in new, exciting, up-and-coming growth industries: waste management, reuse of goods and recycling of materials, and electric vehicles. Demand will arise for innovation and new business models as Earth’s dwindling resources make us realise that extraction from waste flows and landfills is easier and cheaper than prospecting for ore, that not every home needs their own set of power tools lying in the cupboard, and that our current cars are ultimately just sophisticated oil-burning devices.

Further reading:

Earth Overshoot Day
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
FiBAN – Finnish Business Angels Network

Ari Hyppönen is a Board Member at FiBAN and a business angel for ZenRobotics, swap.com, Oceanvolt, and several other start-up companies.

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Training

Sitra aims to boost the ability of Finnish decision-makers and change-makers to deal jointly with the key social challenges and opportunities of the future. The objective of our training function is to generate new ideas and new solutions. Our activities aim to create learning environments that enable thinking about and developing things together.

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