Can products and materials be healthy for humans and the environment?
Can we live with nature without destroying it?
Can functionality and aesthetics be combined?
Can production be fair in every aspect and be economically successful at the same time?
Can we live with animals without exploiting and mistreating them?
Changing the way we think does not necessarily mean going without. Consuming less is important and effective but only a part solution…
‘Better by design’ is also a big part of the future. Nature has the solutions! By eliminating the concept of waste; we can plan ahead beyond goals of avoidance, minimization and guilt. If we change the way things are manufactured, products of consumption and service can be designed from the outset in such a way that their material contents are beneficial, safe, reusable and profitable.
After their useful lives, they can form the basis of nourishment for something new or appreciate into a higher form, ‘up cycling’ (like in nature, where things grow). This can take the form of ‘biological’ nutrients that grow or easily re-enter the environment without depositing synthetic materials and toxins, they are safe and healthy materials and create food for natural systems. Or this can take the form of ‘technical’ nutrients that can be continuously and safely recycled into new materials or products indefinitely, circulating as materials within closed loop cycles, as opposed to down cycling, which is unsustainable (recycling into lower grade materials or products of lesser value as this inevitably ends in landfill).
Waste is bad business, it costs money to make waste and dispose of it! For example it takes 23 tons of materials to make a 1.4 ton car (statistic from Ford), that is 22 tons of waste, an awful lot of material is wasted and that has to be sourced again to make the next car. However if the car was intelligently designed and waste was food for another cycle then the waste would have value not a cost and materials from an old car could be reprocessed into a new one. Using ‘biological’ and ‘technical’ nutrient materials, this means it would then only take 1.4 ton of materials to make a 1.4 ton car. Sounds farfetched? Not at all, this is almost achievable now with current materials and technologies and without compromise. Intelligent Design and Triple Bottom Line accountability doesn’t just have environmental and social benefits; it makes commercial and business sense as well.
Intelligent design and the production of ecologically-intelligent materials means materials will no longer end their lives in landfills, be incinerated or recycled into those of a lower quality, also inevitably ending in landfill.
What does this look like in practice?
Cars, household appliances or furniture for example will not be purchased, they will be leased and then returned to the manufacturer at the end of their life-time to be disassembled and re-used again as ‘technical nutrients’ for new products.
Buildings will imitate nature, like with their water handling and they will produce more power than they need. Other sectors will use materials that are compostable and will be returned to the earth as ‘biological nutrients’ ready for the next cycle.
England, for example, passed legislation in 2005 stating that all vehicle manufacturers and professional importers must put in place collection networks to take back their own brand of vehicle when those vehicles reach the end of their lives. These manufactures must ensure that value is recovered from 95% of the weight of each vehicle by 2015.
However ‘Zero carbon’ and ‘zero waste’, at best, leave things as they are - we need to go beyond zero to development that delivers positive impacts. We have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. Therefore to become ‘sustainable’ is progress but in reality this still leaves us in deficit, genuine sustainability would require that urban development actually increase the bioregion’s ecology and carrying capacity, or life support systems.
Dr Janis Birkeland has coined the term 'Positive Development' to describe a new model example in which human infrastructure and development provides greater life quality, health, amenity and safety for all without sacrificing resources or money. With a different form of design, development itself can become a ‘sustainability solution’, including the way we understand waste and design systems with net positive impacts.
The Transition Town movement began as a response to the inevitable threat of peak oil, climate change and our current financial systems failure. It has grown since 2006 in response to local communities wanting to prepare for and adapt to ‘life beyond how we know it’, an inspired collection of people and ideas. After only two years there were over 100 formal Transition Town initiatives and nearly 1,000 at early stages worldwide. They cover the whole range of initiatives and solutions from simple small beginnings through to Organics, Permaculture, alternative energy and building systems and the removal of chemicals and toxins from our environment.
Several have introduced local currencies to support local enterprise. Time banking is a concept being tried which rejects price, valuing all hours equally. This also brings value to household and voluntary work traditionally not valued as highly. A lot of thought has been put into alternative currencies like the Argentine currencies, the North American scripts, Swiss WIR-Wirtschaftsring, The Danish and Swedish JAK, Canadian LET and the recently launched Totnes and Lewes Pounds; These alternatives are inflation and Interest free operating by charging for services. This is based on the premise that charging of interest is not right, as money is meant to be a unit of exchange. Charging of interest creates money from nothing, it creates an imbalance in the ‘exchange’ as no work is done, value added or anything produced. Local currencies however, bring power back to communities and makes survival easier.
The movie “THE FUTURE OF FOOD” is a must see example. International trade has become paramount at the expense of local communities and countries where they now only exist on what is left over after trade, the dregs. However the old ways of permaculture, organics and biodiversity combined with local currency systems and time banking means of exchange, could bring power back to communities where traditionally they would feed, supply and provide for themselves first, and trade from their excess second. This is Natures system, we should follow Natures solutions.