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How Nature built my business

... and a more meaningful life.

In 2011 I was working for the United Nations Environment Programme on a study into The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) which set out to make an economic case for the conservation of Nature. 

It was my involvement in TEEB that got me thinking about how I could build a business that works with nature, and gives back to it. In 2011 I decided to take the plunge and relocate from Europe, my home for the past 20 years, to the rural Hawke’s Bay region in New Zealand where I grew up. Once there I envisaged I would set about building a business that ‘walked the talk’ of some of the global conversations taking place around how to manage our impacts on the environment. 

Now I want to help others do the same.

Blame all this on my childhood. Growing up as an only child on a New Zealand farm I would spend hours on my own in nature. It was the place I went to for comfort, companionship, solace and adventure. It was all so simple then... I was the land and the land was me. In shamanic thought this is described as the ‘oneness of things’. This deep and intuitive connection with the land fostered in me a fascination and curiosity about the ways in which we can work with nature for our health, well-being and cultural and spiritual identity.

However, career and the city beckoned and in the mid 80’s I left the countryside and New Zealand far behind. In London I initially carved out a career in cultural communications. I loved helping communicate artistic expression and I noticed how much of this was linked to our relationship with the natural world.

Living in such a dense urban society also made me crave that authentic connection to nature I had as a child. I would have paid anything to find that connection in a product that I could use on my skin, a connection that would literally soak into me. I figured there must be a lot of other people who felt similarly discombobulated and I wondered if one day I might do something to help people gain some of that nature connection they craved.

Gradually I steered my career into environmental issues. The storyteller in me thought of this as my contribution to helping give nature a voice. Working on TEEB really pushed my thinking and quietly increased my confidence in my ideas. The interdependency with nature that I had taken for granted as a child was being given a new currency, a new vocabulary. Our connection with, and reliance upon nature was, in the words of TEEB study leader Pavan Sukhdev, ‘being brought into the mainstream’.

This brought me to one of life’s T-junctions – to stay north or head south to the New Zealand hills that were calling me home to create something new?

I wanted to create a company that would not only work with Nature, but also give back to her. I realised that the place I wanted to do this was right back at source, in Hawke's Bay. It was this landscape that had nurtured me as a child and it would be this landscape that I wanted to give back to first.

I returned to New Zealand motivated to create a business that was informed by a mix of professional experience, private passions and urban observations. I wanted the generation of funds for plant conservation to be its heart and it needed to celebrate the craft of the artisan – small batch handcrafted excellence over mass production.

In shaping Archeus, I knew that:

  • I was not interested in creating a business that I would have to retrofit with an environmental conscience down the line;
  • I would make a point of using methodologies being aimed at Big Business, such as the Ecosystem Service Review tool developed by WBCSD and the World Resources Institute, to sense check my planning and decision-making at every step along the start-up phase;
  • I would draw upon traditions and personal experience of the oneness of things;
  • I would build conservation into the business plan from the outset.

I based my thinking and product development on traditional knowledge of ways we have interacted with Nature for health and well-being throughout the ages. My starting point was developing a range of handcrafted natural and organic products, but is growing to incorporate broader ideas of how we can use nature wisdom for modern living through products, ritual and learning.

Three years down the track I can say there is a tangible pleasure in making a complete career change to turn a private passion into the basis for a business, but it is not for the fainthearted.  Challenges abound, but everything takes it course and now I feel proud of myself for pushing through.  

The funny thing is that in addition to low-impact artisan production that recycles as much as it can, I am also reusing and recycling the previous parts of my career. I find I have developed an even stronger sense of Self through doing this. I haven’t just created a business, I have created a more meaningful life.

At TEEB I saw that the missing voice in the discussion about how business needs to consider its impacts and dependencies on nature, was the voice of small business. The discussion was dominated by Big Business, but as we know, it is often at the grassroots and the margins where innovation and change happens quickest.

I am definitely the little ‘s’ of SME. But that’s OK. There are many shapes and sizes in the business ecosystem. Now though, I want to add a small voice to the big topic of how we work with nature.

I am pleased to have had the courage to make the change and to embrace the connection I had to nature as a child. My heart and my hands are once again placed in the landscape, digging deep into the soil. Nature has taught me that what may be a weed to one person, can be something of cultural, food or medicinal value to another – we just need to learn how to look at the natural world across a range of values, to appreciate and work with what is around us. 

Like nature, Archeus and myself are both constantly developing and evolving. Part of my journey now is to consider my new identity as a start-up entrepreneur not as an insignificant little weed, but as something of value.  I want to share my experience and make time to coach others in ways in which one create a business that works with nature, not against her.


1 comment

  • Hi George
    This is great and creates plenty of food for robust discussion. I like the way you are bringing in the small business as they actually count for a “big” portion of the modern economy merely based on the number of small business out there. By getting their input you will get a fantastic cross section of opinion and expertise. What you are trying to achieve is potentially huge and what better way than to garner the support of those who are often directly affected by the impacts of the environment and many of whom have already worked out ways to work alongside or with it for their mutual benefit. This often happening way before the big corporates choose or even bother too!

    Hope that wasn’t too waffly and you get the jist of what I am on about

    Ange

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