Europa Bendig
Managing Partner STURMundDRANG
06.06.2023 | reading time: 3 minutes

CHANGING CULTURES MAGAZINE > CODES & NARRATIVES > Sustainable Resource Logic in the Labor Market

Gray Gold: Sustainable Resource Logic in the Market


Europa Bendig is exploring possibilities for regenerative working after we retire – an important issue since 15 years from now, there will be four million more retirees than there are today.


Where do you stand with ‘used versus new’ or ‘old versus young? In our consumer culture, ‘new’ meant ‘better’ for very many years – with associations of ‘innovative’ and ‘modern’, as part of a bright-and-shiny digital world. Whatever is ‘old’ by contrast was gray, out of date and useless. Now however a retrograde movement is observable, as the old is being rediscovered in a progressive way. ‘The new’, after all, requires resources, which are now realized to be limited. We live in uncertain times in which new things lack the appeal of something tried and true. Thus ‘the new’ is losing its former significance as experience becomes more highly valued.




“Gray gold” is the watchword for an ongoing societal process of rethinking aspects of work organization and labor recruitment. The reasons for today’s skilled labor shortage are familiar: boomers retiring, an inverted age pyramid and more people wanting to work part-time ... exacerbated by certain misguided precepts in our educational system. The Institute for Employment Research has projected that the labor supply will shrink by 7 million by the year 2035 unless immigration and/or greater societal workforce participation make up the difference. Declining labor appears to be the most substantial threat to our prosperity, undermining the paradigm shift or systemic multi-transformation into a new era of digital regeneration.


Why not look to sustainable resource
logic for labor market solutions?


Could it be possible to “upcycle” workers? That is, could there be ways for individuals to leverage their experience in regenerative work possibilities existing in their post-retirement lives? Some people are willing to work at that age, interested in supplementing their retirement income or simply passing on their valuable knowledge and skills. Claus Ruhe Madsen, Labor Minister of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, has used the term “gray gold” to describe this societal group. These ‘gray gold human resources’ will be increasing in number, as fifteen years from now the number of retirees will be four million more than there are currently. The goal now is to find ways to recapture the refined value represented by this segment of worker, reintegrating these individuals under an age-inclusive work paradigm.






"Can work life
be approached as
an infinite game?"


In a regenerative culture, work is understood as an “infinite game”. This theoretical understanding means that instead of thinking about work backwards from an “exit” point, as is done in the entrepreneurial start-up scene, it is conceived of as a game without end point to which we adapt throughout life phases and across generations. In Sweden for example retirement age is flexible, ranging between a possible 61 and 69 years of age. Another model is lifespan-based, allocating more part-time work to periods falling within ‘life’s rush hour’ and longer working hours to later periods in life.

Today’s labor market challenges demand more attractive incentives for the younger skilled labor (the few that are out there), but moreover, we need an appreciative corporate work culture that is more age-diverse and life phase-oriented. For that is the key to bringing sustainable utilization of scarce resources to this market as well.


This article first appeared in the 12/22 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

Image references: Image 1: "Header" // Image 2: "Car" // Image 3: "Mirror"



Author: Europa Bendig

STURMundDRANG founder and General Manager Europa Bendig has been consulting on innovation processes for NGOs and international enterprises for 18 years, primarily in the luxury goods, health, services, beauty, living and social businesses. She specializes in cultural codes and narratives that give brands and portfolios cultural relevance and promote customer loyalty.


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