What food entrepreneurs can learn from natural ecosystems

Apply the same principles, and your brand will be primed for positive change.


If you have even a speck of interest in the natural environment, you would have had to have lived under a rock to have missed the wonderful Sustainable Human piece on the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995.

Yellowstone National Park in America was experiencing an uncontrollable rise in deer population, resulting in destruction of habitats, pasture and vegetation through overgrazing, and leading to an unsustainable environment and loss of an irreplaceable ecoregion.

When just twelve wolves were brought in to ‘manage’ the deer numbers, harsh as it may seem, the natural loss of deer was the whole point — so no surprises there. What was surprising, however, was the exponential environmental and behavioural change these twelve — just twelve! — wolves brought about.

The deer avoided areas they could get trapped in by the wolves. Valleys and gorges thrived. Trees grew five times their previous height. Bare valley sides became forests full of diverse tree species. Then? Erosion reduced, and the rivers reformed. The birds came back. The beavers came back. The beavers starting building… and the river life came back. Coyotes hung back because of the wolves, and the bunnies came back. So the hawks came back. You see where I’m going with this?

But the narrator, environmental and political activist George Monbiot, says it better.

However many times you may have seen it, I urge you to take this moment to breathe it in — it’s endlessly fascinating, and never gets old. A sort of magical logic, or logical magic… either way — amazing.

And even more amazing -  it’s still happening.

Twelve wolves, to stop the deer eating everything in sight. No-one really expected more. But the change has been utterly transformational, and a stunning example of pure beauty and strength in nature, with countless unforeseen changes still taking place to this day and beyond.

“It is like kicking a pebble down a mountain slope where conditions were just right that a falling pebble could trigger an avalanche of change,” said Doug Smith, a wildlife biologist leading the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

Through understanding and nurturing our global ecosytem, project by project, the natural world is starting to see significant and effective change taking hold. All thanks to the steam and perseverance of some very admirable environmentalists and naturalists.

But it improves our lives in turn.

The ‘rewilding’ movement, for example, championed in the UK by Rewilding Britain, inspired by George Monbiot, seeks to restore natural ecosystems and reintroduce lost species. But one of its primary goals isto improve our wellbeing, from reinvigorating rural economies to restoring our health and connection with nature.

After 400 years of extinction, beavers are being reintroduced to Britain’s Forest of Dean, in a project that increases biodiversity, but mainly designed to reduce the risk of flooding in our towns and cities.

Little by little, we sense and see the positive effects of recovering natural ecosystems leaking through the cracks in our own daily lives, and it gives us hope for a future fixed.

We can harness the power of healthy ecosystems through our brands.

We’re not all in the world of science and ecology, of environmental welfare and activism. We aren’t all academics, buried in research, strategising and hypothesising for a better long-term future.

But entrepreneurs are passionate, and motivated, and visionary, and in our brands and businesses we have decisions we can make today, and connections we can make today, and products we can make today, for good.

The Yellowstone National Park example is a metaphor for what we have lost, are yet to lose, and often what we don’t even know we’ve lost… but also what we have to regain, if we choose to put some simple everyday changes in place.

The people we partner with, the conversations we have, the suppliers we engage, the materials we use... these all form our individual brand ecosystems that connect and support the bigger picture, so we must get them straight — the health of humanity is only as good as that of the planet it inhabits.

As entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity (and responsibility!) to apply the principles learned from Yellowstone in parallel, through what we choose to learn and how we make decisions. To track and test these decisions as far as we can take them, and plan in positive impact and reach.

Not only will establishing our own brand ecosystems strengthen our confidence and change-making potential— but, like the wolf-led evolution in that North American wilderness, it will filter through our infrastructures and cultivate our communities like ‘a falling pebble’, and ‘trigger an avalanche of change’.