It’s a question that is often asked, and I was recently reminded of this idea while reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Written some 16 years ago, I decided to take a second look at a book that was way ahead of its time in 1993. Unfortunately our society still hasn’t caught up to his insightful concepts, especially in the area of eliminating waste.
Intelligent Product System
Paul’s comments on the topic were inspired by the work of Dr. Michael Braungart and Justus Englefried of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) in Hamburg Germany. They proposed an Intelligent Product System which attempted to solve the issue of waste management by eliminating waste altogether.
The cool thing about nature is that there is no waste, nor toxic byproducts produced within the cycles of nature. The sun and rain create an abundance of plant life in which thousands of species thrive. Higher up the chain we encounter the dynamic of animals feeding on plants or devouring smaller animals. At every point in the process there is an input from a previous step, and an output to the next, a natural progression that repeats itself.
Can business shift from a linear (cradle to grave) to a cyclical (cradle to cradle) system?
Native American Wisdom
America wasn’t always a nation of waste and pollution. The Native Americans demonstrated a great respect for nature and the need for humans to integrate into the cycles of nature rather than claim dominance over them. The notion of waste was foreign to tribes from coast to coast, as all plants and animals were used to their fullest.
The industrial revolution changed all that, as the notion of extracting natural resources to produce products with relatively short lifetimes became the norm, and after World War II the trend toward consumption, rather than living our lives with respect for nature, produced unprecedented volumes of energy waste and toxic trash.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Business can adopt (or re-adopt) the approach of producing products that use the least amount of materials and energy, and designed to be recycled or reused, thus extending their life and reducing the amount of waste generated.
The Cradle to Cradle Philosophy
- all materials should be non-toxic
- all materials should be recyclable in either the biological cycle or the technical cycle
- all materials and constructions should be easy to part into single, original materials
- design closed loops from extraction to production to use to reuse
- only use materials from sustainable sources
- use renewable energy
- a building can generate it´s own energy (solar power, solar heating, passive solar heating and lighting)
- don’t mix waste or waste water from different sources; it makes reuse more complex
- use natural sources like rainwater, if possible in combination with passive climate control such as green roofs
- buildings and production facilities can even clean water through on site filtering and natural processes, making the water that leaves the premises cleaner then the water that was taken in
We can create products that respect nature, while providing jobs and profits.