ISPO.com: NOW Partners will cooperate with ISPO regarding trade fairs, conferences, and innovation labs. What kind of company is NOW?
Walter Link: We are a network company, the legal form is a so-called Benefit Corporation, which is legally committed to the common good. In addition, we are independently certified as a B Corp and are wholly-owned by a charitable foundation. Our more than 100 globally active partners and their teams have, for the most part, been focused on integrating regeneration into business and economic success for several decades. To this end, we have developed many business innovation approaches and understand how to implement them in companies and economic systems.
What does your name “NOW Partners” stand for?
The “NOW” stands for the urgent need to act now. “Partners” means that we work in partnership with our clients and other stakeholders to help shape a new mainstream in business. Like most visitors to the ISPO fairs, I have decades of experience as a co-leader and co-owner of companies. I know how hard real change really is. That's why one of my guiding principles is to complement visionary transformation with pragmatic transitions.
You call the integration of economic success and positive impact on all stakeholders Regenerative Value Creation. What does that mean?
Regenerative Value Creation is the DNA of the next mainstream economy that all big trends point to. Customers and employees, investors and legislators increasingly expect more sustainable corporate behavior. This is not just a nice philosophy; it is an already successful reality in companies of all sectors and sizes that we can learn from.
While the industrial revolution has brought many benefits to people, it has also adversely affected all significant systems of life. Therefore, we as humanity, and also the animal world and nature, are facing a fundamental question of existence. The next 10 to 20 years are crucial. Will we choose an economy that not only enables us to survive, but also to realize our positive potentials? Regenerative Value Creation is necessary to achieve this. It integrates the regeneration of people, societies, and nature into economic development and business success, which is needed to sustain companies.
You have been working on this for over 30 years – how did this come about?
I went to school in Hamburg in the 1970s. We faced the results of the Second World War and the Holocaust every day. We also faced the rapidly progressing environmental destruction and human rights problems all over the world. And at the same time, there were also many solution-oriented movements, like the environmental movement and the Green Party, the women's movement and the peace movement, and also a lot of technological innovation.
That made me feel like we can have a positive impact on the world. And because we can, we have a responsibility to do so. I grew up surrounded by people who said we had no choice during Hitler’s dictatorship. I don't know how I would have behaved then. But today I know that in our democracies I have a choice every day. This freedom to make a difference is the main driving force of my life.
What did you do differently when you joined your family business 30 years ago?
I wanted to implement these ideas about sustainability and regeneration. We already did a lot on the social level back then. But I realized that by selling air conditioners in Asia, for example, we were also directly responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. When I tried to convince our business partners to change these and other technologies, I realized that as a trading and manufacturing company, we had quite limited influence.
That's why I started to build these transregional business alliances in Western and Eastern Europe, South and North America, to co-create critical mass for fundamental change. We learned from and with each other how to operate in a more regenerative way. Together with experts, we have developed many innovative approaches, such as cleantech and circularity, inclusiveness and impact investing. We have entered into many collaborations with NGOs, governments, and the UN to align economic frameworks with regeneration.
Many interconnected currents have emerged over the past decades, which must, and therefore will, become a new mainstream for business. So far, evolution has always prevailed, despite all of its detours and aberrations. Companies that align with the much needed evolution will win.
Besides large industrial and commercial enterprises, you also changed your family's farm in Germany‘s Odenwald?
Yes, that was very important to me, because I love nature and in particular that land, where I spent so much time as a child and which had nourished my family for centuries. With the help of the Schweisfurth Foundation and an innovative farming family, I converted our farm from polluting chemical agriculture to organic farming. It did not only regenerate the soil and strengthen biodiversity. It also made it much more successful financially. We developed a new model which, after a lot of resistance, inspired many others who at first thought this was green nonsense.
Now I am working worldwide to spread regenerative agriculture, which is one of the most versatile solutions to human problems. We can solve a lot of our climate problems by capturing CO2, which helps to regenerate soil and makes it more fertile again. Done properly, this agriculture is more productive and therefore also more attractive to farmers, strengthening rural communities, including in the Global South, where many people are forced to migrate unintentionally by poor economic conditions.
For more information, watch the U.N. Food Systems Summit Dialogue organized by NOW Partners, United for Regeneration & the Club of Rome, and co-hosted by Walter Link and Sandrine Dixson-Decleve here: https://now.partners/united-for-regeneration-cocreating-resilient-food-systems/
To overcome these challenges, outdoor activities are certainly part of your life – where do you relax, what inspires you?
I love to swim – in the sea, in lakes, in rivers, everywhere. I generally like being in nature – in the mountains, in forests, quietly walking or rapidly biking. What I love about nature is that it contains everything: Wildness and tranquility, continuity and constant change. The more I am in nature, the more I feel that I am a part of it. This gives me a lot of inspiration and strength. The natural world is our extended body. When nature is sick, we all suffer. When I can contribute to regenerating nature and people, it fills me with so much joy and strength. That's why I feel my work is a privilege. I get to do what I love.