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Phytoplankton Business: Opportunistic or Sustainable?

December 5, 2010

Thalassiosira, a diatom, transformed EM photo

I believe that Marine Agriculture can drive the development of  marine phytoplankton as a sustainable raw material on a global scale, leading to a further social development in areas, which where so far not participating in the positive effects of globalization, and hence, leading to a dynamic economic equilibrium with a growing global society without depleting natural resources.


Let’s assume that proteins – rich in essential amino acids -, or edible oils – rich in omega-3 fatty acids – from marine phytoplankton would find an increasing level of incorporation into existing feed/food products.

The market potential for such a raw material would qualify as a multi billion dollar revenue operation.

What might the result be on a global scale? For example, this:

  • Immense amounts of carbon dioxide would be prevented from entering the atmosphere;
  • It might easily save 1 % of the fresh water currently used in agriculture, which is about 10 % of the global usage of fresh water in households. Re-allocation of this ‘saved’ water is likely to have a positive impact on global sustainability.
  • Participation in the value creation chain chain by many individuals, communities, companies, networks, societies.

So far so good. But the following might also happen, if markets operate opportunistically:

  • the number of producers will increase;
  • the market will search for highest return of investment in any segment, which in an opportunistic paradigm, will lead to continued demand by the buyers for lower prices from the producers.
  • the producers will fight their competitors by any possible way in order to increase market share (with prices dropping), using trade barriers, excessive application of patent rights, making exclusive deals with clients, etc;
  • the producers will search for ways to reduce costs (or be forced out of the game):
    • increase scale of operation by automation, expansion, mergers;
    • decrease material costs, at the end, only guided by the need to produce as cheaply as possible (forgetting that quality has its price)
    • decrease labour costs;
    • search globally for those areas where income from work is not in support of creating means to support and manage a family and its household in dignity, to finance education of their kids, but where works only prevents too many family members from dying.

In the long run, it is likely that the industrial development around a new resource will end in monopolistic behavior by the market players, fighting for whatever resource becomes the limiting one, serving only existing markets were there are potential buyers, ….I don’t want to write an economic analyses…I hope that my point is clear.

The scenario sketched above would lead to a great party for a few, lasting only as long as they allow the music to play, or wish to be entertained. Sounds familiar.

New markets around a new resource such as marine phytoplankton may be successful and sustainable, if defined within an economic concept that values moderation in profit generation, and also attributes respect for another important aspects of doing business, namely its social responsibility. Such attitude might not enthuse every venture capitalist. But it may get support from investors who measure success by different metrics, and on longer time scales, while still enjoying a reasonable return on their investment and in the knowledge to have contributed to a stabilized global economy.

For those who never thought about it, but doing business is using land, capital and human resources (to whom belong these factors?) and recombine them in an intelligent way so that they result into a product (the idea of the entrepreneur), which will generate revenue (the risk of the entrepreneur),  at a profit which makes the entrepreneur take the risk. Obviously, 2 out of 3 elements – land and work force – that are needed to setup a business, have nothing to do with financial assets; therefore, evidently -at least in my view-, the profit should also compensate these elements for the risk they take, for the very fact that the society in which they came to existence (by infrastructure, cultural development, recreational opportunities to allow a motivated and well spirited society, schools, etc) were available to the entrepreneur without any historic investment from his side.

Concluding, social responsibility rests on the shoulders of entrepreneurial activity simply because you can only take and consume land and human resources in a sustainable way if you invest in your society in order to make the same available for future entrepreneurs.

Therefore, I am convinced that an opportunistic attitude will not turn the potential of phytoplankton as raw material in a long-lasting positive global development.

I believe that it is possible to turn the potential of marine phytoplankton into a long lasting, stabilizing, profitable and sustainable global operation being non polluting, zero CO2 emitting and zero fresh water consuming….. and at the same time promote human development on a global scale, helping everybody a step forward and thus contribute to the foundation which is needed to create a truly globalized world.

For that to happen, I believe that the emerging market participants in this area should embrace  the normative guidance as defined by all elements that make up corporate social responsibility (CSR), creating shared value (CSV) on a global scale , respecting fair trade, and implementing the triple bottom line (TBL) into their accounting system.

I really think that such a development is possible –  why?

Because I share a thought voiced by a young designer/artist, David Bleja:

Though if there’s one species that has shown an ability and a willingness to change, it’s us. We have the resourcefulness. We have the creativity. We have the ability to discard the old and embrace the new. We have the ability to dream of a better future and work towards it. We just need to use it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2010 6:44 PM

    The photo at the top looks like a Borg sphere travelling at transwarp speed.
    Sorry dad I just had to say that xD

    • Bernd Kroon permalink
      December 9, 2010 8:41 PM

      Well, Robbert, what can I say, except that I think… you’re right! I made that image to express a dire need for change! At transwarp speed if you like!

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