Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” –R. Buckminster Fuller

SUMMARY: The renowned, groundbreaking, eco-conscious carpet company, Interface, wanted to source recycled material in a way that would benefit communities and the environment. The Zoological Society of London wanted to develop a model of community-based conservation that would be self-funding, empowering, and bring immediate benefits to local people. The resulting public-private partnership is Net-Works.

PROBLEM SPACE: Nature takes time to recover from human exploitation. Over-fishing has depleted fish stocks worldwide, but with so many coastal communities so dependent on fishing for their livelihoods and fleets of industrial trawlers continuing to “strip-mine” much of the high seas, there is little chance for stocks to naturally replenish. Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) gives marine life a chance to recover and thrive again, but these and other conservation initiatives take a lot of time, resources, and political engagement to develop, and they have to be actively defended from poaching.

While communities can experience long-term benefits from such initiatives, in the short-term, conservation efforts often impose difficult costs or penalties on communities, e.g. bans on fishing that immediately affect livelihoods and income, especially for the poorest families. Traditionally, conservation has also been heavily donor-dependent. Communities often become reliant on handouts, which lock them into a destructive poverty trap. Furthermore, donors naturally want to see results quickly and may be reluctant to fund the same activities in the same place over a long period of time. This can lead to a focus on short-term fixes over more sustainable, long-term solutions that would ultimately produce much better results.

SOLUTION: Net-Works is a highly innovative program that interweaves community development, environmental protection, and closed-loop economic production.

Net-Works currently engages with 24 fishing communities in the Philippines and 9 in the Lake Ossa region of Cameroon who recover and then recycle discarded nylon fishing nets into yarn for use as carpet tiles. A dangerous waste product that harms marine life becomes a valuable raw material. A fair price is paid for the nets and a community-based supply chain is created. Innovative local banking initiatives, including community-managed savings and loan groups and a collective Environment Fund that invests in local conservation projects, all help to break donor dependency and make conservation self-funding.

Net-Works is helping to restore marine life through the establishment of marine-protected areas and the replenishment of mangrove forests while strengthening local economies and enhancing community well-being and resiliency. This impressive project is now poised to expand into Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Net-Works’s rapid expansion has demonstration that it is a scalable and replicable model. They have proven that it is possible to establish a community-based supply chain for waste nylon and feed it into the mainstream market. They offer communities a fair and non-inflated price for the nets, helping to turn what was once seen as waste into something of value. In this way, Net-Works has created a “circular economy” solution for a critical global problem.

You can read more about Net-Works on their website.