Last night, on the eve of Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference (www.metrovancouver.org/zwc) , the Board of Change (www.boardofchange.com ) hosted a Round Table conversation with the German chemist turned ‘Cradle to Cradle’ prophet, co-founder of EPEA (Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (www.epea-hamburg.org), co-author of Re-making The Way We Make Things, and keynote speaker at Metro’s 2013 Zero Waste conference, Dr. Michael Braungart.
It was a close up conversation, with room for only 40 Board of Change members to attend.
For anyone who has read Braungart or heard him speak, he can be humorous, self-deprecating, sarcastic and disarmingly blunt, but amidst it all, his facts and anecdotes are galvanizing, while his call to action almost naïvely simplistic in the face of the Global Goliath currently holding the planet hostage.
It seems almost farcical, when Dr. B declares that each of us would do more to help save the planet by keeping our hair short, (and using less shampoo); or, counter-intuitive as it may sound, by taking the elevator, instead of the stairs, (it lowers our carbon dioxide emissions, as well as our need for caloric replacement from mother earth’s abundance).
What a difference it would make, he insists, to the airline fuel consumption and the carbon footprint of air travel, if each of us could just remember to go to the loo and evacuate – before we board the flight!
Amusing as this advice appears – Braungart is being serious.
Braungart promotes a Cradle to Cradle economy, one that strives to ensure materials, products and services circulate back into our production processes. Everything we make, use or consume must either become a biological nutrient or a technical nutrient for the next stage in that product’s or service’s life cycle.
At end of life, materials that are ‘consumed’ (i.e. food, water, resources) must go back into the ‘biological’ cycle, as nutrients, while any materials that are ‘used’ (i.e. provides a service such as a washing machine or a car) must become part of a ‘technical’ cycle, as technical nutrients with efficiencies created therein to reduce environmental impact.
According to Braungart, our fixation with the 3 R’s hierarchy perpetuates a Cradle to Grave economy, rather than driving Cradle to Cradle innovation.
In Braungart’s view, recycling merely ‘downcycles’ materials for a poorer, degraded and inferior next use of those materials, when we should be ‘upcycling’ materials, to create more ‘circular’ recovery value from the materials we use or consume.
Dr. B urges us to stop tweaking and improving the wrong systems – in the name of sustainability. He points out that every time we try to make ‘the wrong thing perfect’ we merely get things ‘perfectly wrong’, with depleting and damaging results for the planet.
A fitting epitaph for our exhaustive (& exhausting!) efforts to make humankind’s impact on the planet sustainable.
Our so-called ‘solutions’ are turning out to be perfectly wrong, and with an alarmingly short timeline on our horizon, we need to get it right.
It’s time for action, and Dr Braungart suggests that if each city or community would just commit to focusing on one sustainable innovation, and model that so that others can follow, we’d have a collection of templates for other cities and communities around the planet to roll out the change.
For more seemingly simplistic advice on saving mother earth and all of us on her, check out Dr. Michael Braungart and his work with EPEA.