Natural Capitalism in a Robot World?

I recently saw the movie Robots. Since popular culture probably has a bit more of an impact on the real future of our world, that being the younger generation, analysing the messages in this movie can provide some value. Without ruining the movie for anyone, the basic premise is a completely mechanical world of all Robots. The natural world is completely mimicked; the robots have babies that grow up just like children, except they are delivered in a box, assembly required, and their parts are replaced every year with bigger parts. They even have birds, but these too are of course mechanical. Starting to sound a bit like biomimicry to me.

The ‘bad guy’ is the new leader of a large corporation, who has conspired with an evil scrap yard owner, to increase profits: stop making replacement parts. All the ‘undesirable’ robots will fall apart, and they will collect and melt all the pieces and use them to make only completely new models, for which they can get more profit. While their methods are questionable giving a negative connotation to it, this demonstrates the reuse of materials in continuous closed cycles, further enhancing the biomimicry message.

This also however has the Robot economy moving from more of a service and flow economy to a product orientated relationship with the big corporation. The hero of the movie however decides to capitalise on the ‘need’ he sees in the market and ‘fills that need’ with a robot repair service, giving the service and flow economy strategy a positive portrayal. The hero also manages to stand up to the big corporation and everyone in Robot City rallies behind him, showing that you can make a difference.
While the Robot world seems devoid of natural capital, Robots does demonstrate a couple of the Natural Capitalism strategies for the future generation. Too bad the ‘see a need, fill the need’ entrepreneurial message of the movie didn’t have more ecological connections and that the reuse of waste wasn’t shown in a more positive light.

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Posted in corporate sustainability, ecological degradation
4 comments on “Natural Capitalism in a Robot World?
  1. jeremy says:

    I watched the trailer to the movie and the graphics are pretty impressive (“of course they are” thinks Judith “they have Apple to thank for that”) – nearly as impressive as your application of the principles of natural capitalism (or 2 of them at least) to this rather ‘unorthodox’ case study 🙂

  2. Jennifer says:

    The thing that has always bugged me when it comes to new ideas that seem to make so much sense, such as Sustainable Development, is that they work best and achieve their goals if everybody adopts the idea. For example, while obviously every bit helps, a real positive effect in reversing climate change is only going to happen if there is a commitment from everyone in the world to reduce green house gases. The whole effectiveness of Kyoto, both from a market and climate change perspective, is going to be compromised by the US failing to ratify the agreement.
    I have no doubt that the strategies put forward in Natural Capitalism could work put the world on track toward real sustainable development, while not negatively impacting the economy and actually providing business with competitive advantage opportunities. Hawkins, Lovins and Lovins do present a real win-win, but the next industrial revolution hasn’t started yet. I realise that these things take time, but time is also running out.
    Chances are the mass of people needed to really make this next industrial revolution start is more likely to see a movie such as Robots then read a book like Natural Capitalism. In marketing, it is all about exposure – having a great product is no good if nobody knows about it. For sustainable development and natural capitalism, it is likely the same. Using Robots as a case study was one way to see how these strategies are viewed in mass society rather than just a select few to get a feel for if adoption is taking place.

  3. jeremy says:

    I agree to some extent that the ‘right marketing’ of SD is pretty essential so that it becomes part of popular culture. However, I’ve changed my position on this slightly in recent times. I rejoiced, for example, at the release of The Day After Tomorrow movie beause I thought it would cause climate change to feature more prominently on people’s ‘radar’, but I’m not sure it cut much ice (if you pardon the pun!). I’m becoming more convinced that the answer is business leadership. David put this view very eruditely in his blog – better than I did in class, I think! People like you simply have secure positions of influence and change things from the inside, and do so fearlessly and unapologetically. If you don’t no-one else will.

  4. richard says:

    Roll on the revolution, I am convincd that we will see mass communication on the subject of global warming. When people like Paul Anderson are coming on TV and saying we need to address this issue and Governments need to act, replacing GST with a Carbon Tax, I feel that business will lead the way. I notice now that Australia may have removed its head from you know where and now want to work with China and India to identify ways to address their CO2 emmisions. Now tell me this is not opportunity driven.
    I really believe that every individual has the ability to influence another. A good story that reinforces this is Pay it Forward. Worth a look.
    I have found since my awakening (pretty catchy hey) I have stimultaed my business associates to consider Hybrid cars, Solar hot water etc. How ? They have never seen me as a world saver, but respect my opinion. This is the real power of one. Logic, trust and common sense.
    The movie the day after tomorrow has been a great assistance when talking to my two kids about this subject.
    There is lots of low hanging fruit for all of us, so lets pick it and tell you friends how you did it. My biggest surprise is most people care.

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