"If you are not for zero waste, how much waste are you for?"We need to become a zero emissions culture. We need to stop taking massive amounts of waste for granted and learn to become much more resource conservative and conserving. The biosphere can no longer support our wastrel ways.
People on first hearing this idea may think it is impossible but it's not. Zero emissions is a natural adaptation of the quality control goal of zero defects on a production line, a goal approached through continuous improvement over time. We need to institute zero emissions within basic ecological design principles where
waste equals food
we use only available solar income
love all the children
[This is architect Bill McDonough's formulation. A more complete list of ecological design principles is available from John Todd, one of the founders of New Alchemy Institute and a pioneering developer of ecological waste treatment systems (http://www.dailykos.com/...). ]
If we are to live in an ecological system without destroying it, zero emissions thinking is going to have to pervade our economic system. Of necessity. We have to learn how to think in systems, as part of a system. (And remember our own ignorance as Gödel taught us with his incompleteness theorems.) Here are some of the resources available and some of the companies who are actually making strides toward zero emissions and clean production.
The Zero Emissions Research Initiative (http://www.zeri.org/) is probably the oldest root of this movement.
"Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives (ZERI) is a global network of creative minds seeking solutions to world challenges. The common vision shared by the members of the ZERI family is to view waste as resource and seek solutions using nature's design principles as inspiration."ZERI has a number of case studies available (http://www.zeri.org/...) concerning reducing or zeroing out waste from beer production, sustainable reforestation, building industrial ecologies around such activities as shellfish farming and the asphalt industry.
Gunter Pauli, one of the founders of ZERI, has continued his work with the book and organization The Blue Economy (http://www.TheBlueEconomy.org/). This site includes a library of 93 case studies (http://www.blueeconomy.eu/...) including
Zero Emissions Hydrogen
Plastics from Pollution
Packaging with Fungi
The book Zeronauts (http://thezeronauts.com/) is a recent survey of the zero emissions field.
"In his latest book, John Elkington introduces the Zeronauts – a new breed of innovator, determined to drive problems such as carbon, waste, toxics, and poverty to zero – as well as creating the first Zeronaut Roll of Honor, spotlighting 50 pioneers in the field of zero."
"The Zeronauts is no more – and no less – than a thought experiment. But it underscores how powerful such thought experiments can be. Take the case of Herman Miller: pursuing zero, it has driven down volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 93 percent, hazardous waste by 95 percent, and solid waste by 88 percent (see p.163). Around the world, companies are announcing zero (or net zero) targets. And a growing number have already hit their zero targets in some areas. Some Zeronauts, like Matthew Wright of Beyond Zero Emissions (http://beyondzeroemissions.org/), aim to go beyond, as it says on the box."The book is dedicated to Ray Anderson, the founder and former CEO of Interface, a carpet and textile manufacturer which became a pioneer in sustainable business and zero waste. I met Ray Anderson once at an early The Natural Step (http://www.naturalstep.org/) conference and found him to be a welcoming gentleman with a deep commitment to the environment and the possibilities of business to rebuild a healthy environment.
"We’re going for zero. Mission Zero. Zero emissions. Zero waste. Zero oil.Zero waste is not quite zero emissions but certainly a step closer to that goal.
"That’s right. ZERO oil. It’s a tough challenge since carpet is made from oil, and we’re more than halfway there. By using less energy and material, making products that last and recycling old carpet into new, we already have the most off oil carpet. But we can’t make it to zero alone and we don’t want to. We work with our nylon suppliers to get pre- and post-consumer recycled content materials for our products – including a 100% recycled content fiber from Aquafil - by sending them the fiber from reclaimed carpet. We’re also sharing what we’ve learned with other companies to help them make oil a part of their past as well."
The US Zero Waste Business Council (http://www.uszwbc.org/) is one resource.
"The U. S. Zero Waste Business Council will create a solid foundation that advances the integrity and credibility of Zero Waste. Zero Waste Businesses save money, are more efficient, manage risk, reduce litter and pollution, cut greenhouse gases, reinvest resources locally, and create jobs and more value for their business and the community."The presentations from their recent conference on June 26 and June 27, 2012 are available online:
The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) (http://www.zwia.org/) is another resource.
"The Zero Waste International Alliance has been established to promote positive alternatives to landfill and incineration and to raise community awareness of the social and economic benefits to be gained when waste is regarded as a resource base upon which can be built both employment and business opportunity."The definition of Zero Waste as adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance:
“Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”http://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/... is a good way to monitor the zero waste and zero emissions conversation in the EU.
Australia has their own Zero Emission Network http://www.zeroemissionnetwork.org/
Gil Friend, sustainability consultant and author of the fine book The Truth About Green Business: You Don't Have to Choose Between Making Money and Making Sense (Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2009 ISBN-10: 0-7897-3940-2, ISBN-13: 978-0-7896-3940-7) has been fostering, tracking, and promoting the zero emissions ideal for years. He pointed me to Subaru and their plant in Lafayette, Indiana which has had zero landfill status since May 2004 (http://www.chasesubaru.com/...); the Nike Company's commitment to achieve the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 (http://worldenigmas.blogspot.com/...); and DuPont's corporate goal for nearly 20 years has been zero injuries, zero defects, and zero emissions.
Dupont set a goal in the early 1990’s to reduce various waste streams by 35% to 90% in 5 years, and succeeded — no small accomplishment, in itself. When they regrouped in the mid-90’s to ask, “What’s our next goal?” the decision was zero - zero waste, zero defects, zero injuries. Ed Woolard, chairman and CEO at the time, said that the decision to go to zero was easier than the earlier decision to reduce the waste by 90%. Why? It eliminated the endless - in fact unendable - debate about reasonable thresholds, and replaced it with a clear, binary logic: some waste, defects and injuries, or none at all. Ask Dupont about practicalities and pushback, and they’ll tell you “We run the numbers, and the zero waste initiatives have been consistently more profitable.”
Dupont CFO Gary Pfeiffer observed, some years ago, that “Dupont has reduced its environmental footprint by 60%, and increased in shareholder value by 340%. Can I prove that those two facts are correlated? No. Do I have any doubt they’re correlated? No.”These are all good words and better actions but, if you are like me, you want an independent accounting of such results. For instance, when I mentioned DuPont's zero emissions policy in a small group session of the recent Cambridge Climate Congress, one participant, a chemist, said that DuPont is merely outsourcing most of its chemical production and implied that their zero emissions accounting may not be accurate. Zero emissions has to be real and not just an accounting trick.
However, according to greenbiz.com, "DuPont's buildings division had gone from sending 81 million pounds of waste to landfill in 2008 to zero in 2012" (http://www.greenbiz.com/...) so real gains are being made.
Greenbiz.com also reports that Albertson's, Caterpillar, General Motors, "which has 76 zero waste manufacturing facilities and 10 zero waste non-manufacturing sites around the world," Walmart, PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble, and Supervalu are also working towards zero waste (http://www.greenbiz.com/...).
Whether it's zero waste or the ultimate goal of zero emissions, a clear vision, a tangible goal, and public accountability can be remarkably useful.
SJ Rail [the privatized former state railway of Sweden] set out an exceptionally detailed turnaround strategy (some 2000 sub business plans, according to Mapping The Journey: Case Studies in Strategy and Action Toward Sustainable Development) with explicit goals and objectives, and a longer list of the specific accomplishments that would be needed to reach those goals. And in an unusually imaginative move that I’ve seen no one match to this day, SJ Rail went public with its plans. The company distributed a booklet to all employees summarizing 100 key commitments drawn from its business plans, posted these goals at railway stations, and published that list on a double page spread in the national newspapers of Sweden — saying to its employees, its shareholders and the riding public: “Here’s what we are going to do. Watch us, and hold us to account.”Gary Snyder from "Four Changes" (1969):
As each goal was achieved, it would be checked off — and an updated ad would be published periodically in the newspapers.
The effect was mesmerizing. People across the entire organization had a clear sense of where it was going — and what they needed to do to help it get there — and were self-motivated as knowledgeable members of a larger effort, independently contributing to the momentum of the team. The riding public felt part of the team too. People would come into station and congratulate a conductor, porter or a train engineer on the goals and what had been accomplished — and that sort of feedback was at least as good a motivator as a formal bonus program.
The 100 point, three-year plan was completed in two and a half years — with “sustainability” as a central innovation driver of a successful business turnaround, and employee engagement as a key asset.
(A monk and an old master were once walking in the mountains.
They noticed a little hut upstream.
The monk said, "A wise hermit must live here" -
the master said, "That's no wise hermit,
you see that lettuce leaf floating down the stream,
he's a Waster."
Just then an old man
came running down the hill with his beard flying
and caught the floating lettuce leaf.)
Carry your own jug to the winery
and have it filled from the barrel....
Sidestepping the Impasse: Zero Emissions to Ecological Design
Towards Zero Emissions: The Methane Cycle
Zero Emissions Culture
Summary of Systems Principles
To be entirely realistic, zero emissions is not enough. We also need to find ways to remove greenhouse gases from the air and toxics from the water, earth, and air. Ecological design for geoengineering is my preference:
Ecological Design for Geoengineering
Here's one place to start:
Short Term Climate Forces: Black Carbon, Methane, and Tropospheric Ozone