Friday, August 7, 2009

Creating Conditions Conducive to Life

I've just read an article in Chew Magazine Issue#07 by Frankie Chevalier titled The Green Screen that irrtated me.
The writer, putting down 'eco-friendly' fashion efforts in order to punt trendy remakes as the NEW 'NEW', authoritavely states that when it comes to textile production 'no matter how you do the Maths it will never come to zero'. No references are cited to back this up. The writer overlooks the fact that there are number of USA and European textile manufacturers who have attained Cradle to Cradle accreditation.

If some textile manufacturers can operate profitable waste=food businesses - then they all can.

And this is the important point the Chew writer completely misses - we are not trying to get to zero. Sustainability is about waste=food; that is creating value for other species in the eco-system, not achieving no value.

To back-up the arguments for fashion remakes, the Chew writer asserts that the goal of sustainability is putting in place the 3 R's - reduce, re-use, recycle.
For sure, the 3 R's are important - recycling is essential, reducing and re-using are a good start and a virtuous habit. But the 3 R's are not the whole bottom line of sustainability - and they certainly weren't proposed to be interpreted as some kind of a zero-sum guide to Life on Earth...

The bottom-line of sustainability is for humans to stop using up the Natural Credit that belongs to our children and to join in Nature's efforts to constantly create conditions conducive to Life. At the baseline Nature doesn't just re-use, reduce, recycle - Nature also builds, cleans, restores, renews, recreates... As a principle Nature keeps creating more and more conditions for more and more life - that's the nub of true sustainability...

I am paraphrasing here from Janine Benyus's excellent book, Biomimicry Innovation Inspired by Nature - here's the way Life works to create more conditions conducive to more Life:
  • Nature is powered by sunlight and only uses exactly the amount of energy it needs
  • Nature relies on diversity
  • Nature fits form to function
  • Nature recycles everything - the waste of one species is food for others
  • Nature rewards co-operation
  • Nature needs local expertise
  • Nature curbs excess from within
  • Nature uses limits as power

What's critical here is to break free from the effeciency-imperative of the current economic model and shift into thinking like the living beings we are. Then, we might re-connect to the importance of effectiveness, instead of being lured by the smokescreen of efficiency.
Nature is not efficient - most especially, not by any business school standards. Nature is abundant. Bill McDonough, poineer of the Cradle to Cradle concept uses the example of a cherry tree that yields thousands of blossoms, many of which fall to the ground without bearing fruit. Waste? Not at all. There were enough possibilities for the tree to bear enough fruit, and the surplus flowers have provided food for countless creatures and micro-organisms, as well as building the fertility of the soil to support the tree's next blossoming.
The goal of sustainability is to foster more Life.

Yes, reduce, re-use, recycle - but also sweeten the place where you live by building fertility, cleaning the air and the water, making food, using limits as a source of power, adding information to structure, drawing your power from the sun and only using exactly what you need. Value diversity, co-operate and be part of developing local expertise.

Think like you are part of an ecosystem, because you are.

If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is Nature's way.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
More information on Cradle to Cradle:

1 comment:

  1. I am quite irritated after reading your response to the article in Chew magazine. You take it way to seriously. Reduce, reuse and recycle in terms of clothes, that's all.

    You so confidently quote from Janine Benyus's book; 'Nature recycles everything - the waste of one species is food for others'

    Who is being fed by our waste?
    Are we not part of nature?

    Then you state
    'Nature is powered by sunlight and only uses exactly the amount of energy it needs'

    (this to me sounds very efficient)

    Then in the next breath you say
    'Nature is not efficient - most especially, not by any business school standards. Nature is abundant.'

    These abundances are rooted in efficiency. Without it the cherry tree would not survive.

    Facts are easily construed in the wrong way, as evident in your response. My advice to you is to relax and to stop over analyzing everything, just enjoy it for what it is.