From green to blue economy | Inquirer Business
Mapping the Future

From green to blue economy

Color-coding in the environment field can be quite confusing, partly because it is applied on ecosystems, infrastructure, services, economies, and other subjects.  For ecosystems, “green” refers to the terrestrial ecosystem and “blue” refers to the marine ecosystem.

But when the United Nations made “Green Economy” a major theme of the Rio+20 world summit in June 2012, it referred to concerns beyond terrestrial. At the summit, Green Economy is viewed, in the context of sustainable development, as the type of economy that “should contribute to eradicating poverty, as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating new opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the earth’s ecosystems.”


Many other definitions of green economy have emerged before, during, and after Rio+20. It is easier to see how it can be applied than to find a definition that is acceptable to all.

A green building, through adoption of energy efficiency measures, is an example of a green economy initiative. In addition to green buildings, the other main sectors in a green economy are renewable energy, clean transportation, water management, waste management, and natural resource management.


On the way to Rio+20, the Pacific Small Island Developing States (Pacific SIDS) started promoting “Blue Economy, ” which is focused on the marine environment. For the Pacific SIDS, “green economy” is a “blue economy” that prominently features oceans, which account for almost 71 percent of the earth’s surface. Some concerns of the Pacific SIDS are increasing their share of benefits from the use of their marine living resources and building the resilience of marine ecosystems to the impact of climate change and ocean acidification.

Although various countries have different priorities—blue, brown, gray, and, of course, green, etc. that represent varied types of concerns—there is general acceptance that nature must be at the center of a green economy. Thus, building the resilience of nature, improving governance of natural resources, and mainstreaming ecosystem values (such as, building ecologically sound enterprises) must be prominent in a green economy plan.

Then came Gunter Pauli, a Belgian entrepreneur, who started a project to find the best nature-inspired technologies that could affect the economies of the world. The result is his Report to the Club of Rome, “Blue Economy: 100 Innovations – 10 years – 100 million jobs.” That project started the transformation of the “green economy” to a new concept of “blue economy,” which is now attracting the interest of creative entrepreneurs in various countries.

Like “green economy,” which is not limited to the green ecosystem, this “blue economy” is not limited to the marine ecosystem. It is the economy that responds” to the basic needs of all with what we have. As such, it stands for a new way of designing business: using the resources available in cascading systems, where the waste of one product becomes the input to create a new cash flow.” (Jan Steffen, International Union for Conservation of Nature). Dr. Catia Bastioli, Chief Executive Officer at Novamont S.p.a, European Inventor of the Year 2007, sums it up this way: “The blue economy fosters our transition from a product-based economy to a system-based economy.”

Some of the basic principles of this “blue economy” are: “Substitute something with nothing—question any resource regarding its necessity for production. Natural systems cascade nutrients, matter and energy—waste does not exist. Any by-product is the source for a new product. Sustainable business evolves with respect, not only for local resources, but also for culture and tradition.”

At the next Management Association of the Philippines’ General Membership Meeting (MAP GMM), our theme “From Green to Blue Economy: Opportunities and Some Initiatives,” refers to this broader definition of blue economy. But we are also highlighting opportunities and initiatives in the marine environment, or more broadly, the aquatic environment, which also includes the freshwater environment.

I hope everyone now knows—and appreciates—that our country is in the world’s center of marine biodiversity. With the Malay Archipelago, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, the Philippines forms the ‘Coral Triangle,’ with 70 percent of its apex, the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea, being in the Philippines. But what have we done to protect, conserve, and sustainably tap such wealth to address poverty and other socioeconomic concerns in our country? Not much. But I hope that Republic Act 10601 (Agricultural and Fisheries Mechanization Law), which was approved only on June 5, 2013, could lead to significant positive initiatives on this topic.


The basic tasks before us, aside from securing and protecting our marine environment, include continuing the inventory of our marine species, as many of them have yet to be identified and catalogued, and developing technologies that can be used to set up enterprises using our blue ecosystem wealth in a sustainable way. For these and other tasks, we need manpower, including scientists and researchers, as well as entrepreneurs with a “blue economy” mindset.

Developing manpower starts from educating and motivating our youth to go into the study of the marine environment. Most of them have a limited view of the opportunities here—they see it as simply traditional fishing and, since most fishermen remain poor, this field does not interest them. Based on my interviews of high school students in my trips to our countryside, their preferred courses are criminology, nursing, and computer technology. I don’t know why criminology is so attractive to them, but if they will apply it to protect our oceans, that’s a good starting point.

We need marine museums, with living species, so that our people can see and appreciate our wealth since not everyone can go into scuba diving. I envy the museum of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which gives a glimpse at the beauty of our Philippine coral reefs. Due to limited resources, the much smaller and partial CAS museum counterparts in our country, the Science Centrum and Museo Pambata, can only present fabricated exhibits, with photos and stuffed toys of some marine species. They need support as they can greatly help bring about improved understanding of our blue ecosystem so that our young ones (and “young once”) will be encouraged to conserve and develop our blue environment resources for the common good.

Developing a blue economy in our coastal and aquatic areas, as well as in our entire country, requires public and private sector partnership. The WWF has initiated work along this line through its Coral Triangle Programme. It is engaging entrepreneurs and innovators to help demonstrate the blue economy approach through the “adoption of new technology and finance schemes and facilitating Public-Private Partnerships ” in the Coral Triangle.

One example of a blue economy initiative focused on the blue ecosystem is aquaponics, the combination of fish farming and vegetable farming. Pauli’s case study reports that aquaponics represents the highest growth niche in the aqua culture business, which is now the world’s fastest growing farming sector with an average worldwide growth rate of 6 to 8 percent and a worldwide value of $86 billion in 2009.

Aquaponics produces cultured fish in a controlled environment. Hence, it does not deplete natural aquatic resources but only taps them for the initial stock. The leading producers of cultured fish, Pauli’s project reports, are China, with 70 percent of the market, India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Australia leads in providing technologies for backyard aqua or hydroponics.

Another blue economy initiative in Pauli’s project is the design of ecological sound fishing boat that does not use fossil fuel. Actually, every step of the whole value chain of fishing—from the fishing vessel to the processing and delivery of products—offers opportunities for blue economy initiatives.

With our biodiverse marine resources, I believe we can do as well as, or even better than, the countries mentioned above in developing a blue economy that is centered on the blue environment. Pauli believes anyone with the right blue economy mindset, of finding innovative solutions to sustainable development, can do it. “If you don’t have money or experience, use what you have locally available,” he says.

To motivate entrepreneurs further, Adrian Ross, Acting Executive Director and Chief Technical Officer of the Partnership in Environment Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), will present blue economy opportunities and initiatives in the context of sustaining marine and coastal ecosystem services in the East Asian Seas region at our MAP GMM on June 25. Our second speaker, Edwin Khew, former member of the Singapore Parliament and now President of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS) and Managing Director of Anaergia, will present the initiatives of Singapore in moving towards having a blue economy, a component of their sustainability blue print. Among Singapore’s initiatives is the production of renewable energy and bio-fertilizer from organic waste, which Khew will also discuss in more detail at the Special Forum covering this topic and urban greenery on June 26.  Join us at these two events on June 25 (11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) and June 26 (8-11:30 a.m.).

(The author, President of EARTH Institute Asia, chairs the MAP Committee on Climate Change and Sustainable Development and represents MAP/ business at the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]  For previous articles, please visit

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