Pine saplings in an area of reforestation. (Source iStock).

+ Currently our mindset is that economic success requires increasing consumption. We don't place enough value on processes that reduce consumption and create resource from waste.

Using the efficiency of the natural world to replace the inefficient, industrial way we use resources can help us tackle some of the most pressing problems we face today.

Industrial systems are consuming our resources and polluting our air, soil and water. With population growth and climate change affecting food production, our food supply is struggling to keep up with demand. And our demand for materials like metal ores is outstripping supply, creating inflationary pressures. These three things are reducing the resilience of the world economy and societies.

By embracing natural processes – such as using bacteria to break down waste into usable products or using algae to do the same with CO2 – we can shift from an industrial model to an ecological model. In simple terms, we can live fuller lives and reduce our consumption of resources.

So what’s stopping us? Currently our mindset is that economic success requires increasing consumption. We don't place enough value on processes that reduce consumption and create resource from waste. Instead of focusing on GDP growth, we should place more value on improving health, education and quality of life.

In many ways, this would not be that different from today’s world. It would be a world where we focused on the services we want, rather than owning stuff (we might join a car club rather than buy a car, for example). It would be a world where we walked more, cycled more and took public transport more often. And it would be a world where we took greater advantage of the efficiencies provided by information systems.

We’re already seeing a shift towards this. China has a circular economy law that drives resource efficiency from the top down and from the bottom up. And emerging economies in India and Africa have adopted mobile phone technology and used it to help manage resources.

Pressure on resources is often felt most keenly on islands — and one island has come up with an innovative response. As well as building reservoirs and desalination plants, Singapore recycles wastewater for its 4.4 million people. Its target is 70% efficiency – meaning each drop of water is used at least twice.

Other countries are only beginning to grasp the extent of the problem – as they struggle to get enough fuel for their power stations for example. As people confront these challenges and realise the instability of the world economy is a function of resource constraints, it may just give us the impetus we need for change.

Moving to an ecological model will require cooperation between different kinds of business. For example, there’s great potential for pharmaceutical companies to converge into biotechnology. In India, I’ve seen pharmaceutical companies moving into processing waste orange and banana skins into fertiliser.

We also need to cooperate with nature. Natural systems are an essential part of the solution and reforestation in particular will be key. Reforestation traps water in the ecosystem, lifts agricultural production and provides biomass.

There are good examples of the benefits of restoring ecosystems but we need to get them known more widely. On the Loess Plateau in China an area the size of France has been rehabilitated with the help of local people. And similar approaches have been used successfully in Ethiopia and Rwanda.

We can learn a lot from the natural world; now it’s time to put those lessons into action and take a new approach to resources – before it’s too late.