Value Chains: from extractive to regenerative value chains

Current value chains are built as part of a globalised linear economy. Over the past years, external shocks have become more frequent, severe and costly, highlighting the fragility of this system. Furthermore, with environmental and social costs often shifted to specific locations and an unequal distribution of economic value, current value chains are not only unsustainable but also unfair. The transition from extractive to regenerative value chains requires rethinking how resources are sourced, used and moved, and how value is distributed. How can we make this major shift towards regenerative value chains, enabling fairness, resilience and sustainability?

Why we need to change the logic of global value chains

While many countries and companies around the world have been committing to major transitions in key sectors as energy, built environment, and mobility, ensuring sustainability and fairness throughout global value chains is of paramount importance. The predominant model of a linear economy is fostering ever-increasing resource extraction and generation of waste, with large-scale environmental and social implications. It is nowadays becoming increasingly clear that current production and consumption systems are pushing planetary boundaries beyond their equilibrium and are failing on several social indicators around the world.

According to the International Resource Panel, global material use has more than tripled since 1970, and global material demand per capita has grown from 7.4 tons in 1970 to 12.2 tons per capita in 2017. At the same time, biodiversity has been declining to a staggering 30%. Currently, the extraction and processing of natural resources are responsible for 90% of global biodiversity loss and water stress, 50% of global climate change impacts and 1/3 of air pollution health impacts. If current trends would continue, global material consumption is predicted to double by 2060.

In overusing Earth’s resources, and by distributing the benefits unfairly, our economic model is taking far more than the planet can sustainably give. Resource use has significantly improved living standards and wellbeing of many, in particular in high-income countries, but this now comes at an unprecedented cost to climate, environment and health. We are now overstepping planetary boundaries and locking ourselves out of the safe operating space in which human societies evolved.

A major shift towards regeneration

We are in urgent need of deep system change, embracing all stages of the value chain, in order to decouple the impact of resource use and the delivery of wellbeing for humanity. This is not an easy shift and only possible by undertaking an integrated approach along and across supply chains, relying upon multi-stakeholder collaboration at scale.

Regenerative value chains draw inspiration from the working of natural systems, as systems that are self-sustaining, reciprocal and resilient. A regenerative system seeks to restore and renew natural resources and ecosystems, while providing wellbeing for all. Regeneration is about going beyond minimising the negative impact, and actively thinking on how to increase the positive impact of our actions.

But, how would this look like in practice? While the movement towards regenerative business models and value chains has been gaining momentum, great efforts are still required to go beyond ‘regeneration’ as a mere buzzword. During WRF’23, we aim at looking at different sectors and different value chain stages to explore what solutions and challenges are being put forward to move towards sustainability. As many of the deep root causes of the ongoing triple planetary crisis are to be found in the way we use natural resources, the transition to regenerative value chains requires a radical rethinking of how resources are sourced, used and moved, and how value is distributed.

How do we design and implement regenerative value chains? What policies are needed to support this shift? What level of international cooperation is required in order to ensure that the sustainability transition benefits all stakeholders and does not create winners and losers? How can companies implement regenerative business models and innovations? How can the trade and finance actively sectors support this transition? How can we ensure that while we minimise the virgin raw materials extracted, we work to improve the environmental and social performance of sourcing activities?

These overarching questions will provide the grounds to dive into more specific topics, related for instance to, critical raw materials, secondary materials, energy transition, built environment, informal sector engagement, commodity trading and much more!

Shaping the debate at WRF’23

During the conference programme, we’ll dive into several topics to move global value chains towards sustainability, through a focus on the following thematic areas:

  • Transforming value chains: drivers, challenges & examples
  • Circular and regenerative economy
  • Governance of raw materials value chains
  • Responsible sourcing
  • Lifecycle approaches
  • Trade and finance

Are you working on topics related to the conference track of value chains and wish to partner up for the conference? Get in touch with us at!

About WRF’23

The World Resources Forum (WRF) is a world-leading conference in the field of sustainable natural resource management. We act as a multi-stakeholder platform to foster an open and solution-oriented dialogue among policy-makers, scientists, businesses and civil society organisations. Following previous conferences which engaged over 15,000 participants in Switzerland, Japan, China, Peru, Costa Rica, Australia and Ghana, WRF’23 ‘Rethinking Value – Resources for Planetary Wellbeing’ will take place in a hybrid format in Geneva (Switzerland) and online, on September 4-6 2023.

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