Lessons from nature


Less or better?

A traditional environmental message says we must recycle more and consume less. Ever heard Nike or Puma say the same? Wonder why this type of message does not engage the majority of people? Sure, for some people they get it and a simpler life as a better life. But recycling and consuming less is just an example of being less bad rather than being good. And anyway, how much less do we need to consume to be sustainable?

So perhaps we need to pay more attention to what goes into the products we consume. We tend to get way too complicated when we invent things. Plastics get more and more complex, to the point that we have over 3000 different chemicals in Europe but no real idea if they are harmful or not. Nature is different, using just carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen it produces abundance. If it wants to make something different is juggles these four basic ingredients around and adds a hint of other elements. Simplicity = diversity in nature...and none of it is toxic.

The basic principle is materials parsimony i.e. using less types of materials and focusing on those that are environmentally friendly and economically recyclable. The result? Products that you really can upcycle and avoid the cost of dumping. Today companies can green screen their raw materials to ensure they do not contain any nasty surprises. Sounds expensive? The EU has calculated that implementing green screening will cost €2.8 to €5.2 billion to implement such a scheme in Europe with a saving of €54 billion in improved health and lower medical bills. Seems like a positive subsidy.

VAUDE, the outdoor clothes manufacturer, have identified one polymer than they can use to make most of their clothing (including the zip). Now all old VAUDE products can be thrown into the same recycling pot without any expensive separating. Could all companies do this so that old sweatshirt becomes a nice new hat?

Learn more, read Earth Inc.

Author: Richard Date: 11.07.2013