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Beyond Copenhagen

I’m still hopeful.   However, the agreements that I’m most hopeful about are not those being carved out (or carved up) by large national governments in Copenhagen.   I’m most hopeful about the agreements that result from the collaboration between purpose driven companies and their business networks (suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, partners, and most importantly customers).   When it comes to sustainability, these agreements are often facilitated by state, provincial, and municipal governments, and are ultimately driven by end customers.  They form the basis of new environmental standards and best practices that have support from the ground up.  They enable innovation and create new market  opportunity.

Two such efforts that I see in the market are the Sustainability Consortium and the Cradle-to-Cradle System Design Framework.  

Both efforts are still in their early stages.  In my opinion, both:

•    Seem to be taking a whole systems approach to solving the significant environmental challenges that we face
•    Are innovation engines that will drive economic growth

Here is my current understanding of these two initiatives.

The Cradle-to-Cradle Systems Design Framework (C2C)

Imagine using a product and knowing, with confidence, that it will have a positive impact on the world around you, either while you are using it, and/or when you are finished with it.

C2C is a set of frame conditions that can be plugged into the design of any system.  Systems can encompass products, buildings, processes, companies, business networks, cities, countries, and even the planet.   
The basic tenants of C2C in a nutshell seem to be:

1.    All materials can be broken down into three categories, technical nutrients, biological nutrients, and un-marketables.  Design systems (e.g. products) so that there are no un-marketables.

2.    Do not mix technical nutrients with biological nutrients, and design their flows so that you can upcycle components, not just recycle them.  For technical nutrients, this creates the concept of a reverse supply chain.  For biological nutrients, waste from one use should equal food for another.

3.    Design systems to optimize economics, ecology, and equity, not just balance them against each other.

4.    Don’t just be less bad, be more good. Move beyond being efficient to being effective and even celebrate abundance.  

“Consider the cherry tree. Each spring it makes thousands of blossoms, which then fall in piles to the ground-not very efficient. But the fallen blossoms become food for other living things. The tree’s abundance of blossoms is both safe and useful, contributing to the health of a thriving, interdependent system. And the tree spreads multiple positive effects-making oxygen, transpiring water, creating habitat, and more.”  – MBDC Website

Think biomicry

“Cradle to Cradle(SM) Design mirrors the healthy, regenerative productivity of nature, and thereby creates industry that is continuously improving and sustaining life and growth. ” – MBDC Website

5.    There is no such thing as a bad chemical in absolute terms, but it’s the use context of a chemical that makes it ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

6.    In practical terms we have nearly infinite energy (from the sun), we just need to learn how to efficiently harness it for use.

7.    All life (all species) is important and all members of a species are equal (e.g. all people on the planet are equal).   

8.    The C2C framework has specific detailed criteria for materials (including toxicity in context), reutilization, energy, water, and social responsibility.

The Cradle-to-Cradle Framework is an innovation engine that essentially redefines quality.   If the first industrial revolution brought us the 18th century design paradigm for the way industry is currently structured, ‘Industry 2.0’, the C2C design paradigm could bring us Industry 3.0.  See the MBDC website for more details.  (It’s conventional wisdom in the software industry that a product doesn’t really get it right until version 3.0 :)).  

The C2C framework has been implemented by major companies such as Aveda, Allied, Cabot, Eastman, Herman Miller, Nike, and the US Postal Service.  Thought leading governmental agencies in the NL, China, and California have been inspired by the Cradle to Cradle Systems Design Framework (see specifically CA’s Benign by Design and Green Chemistry Initiative) .  

The Cradle-to-Cradle Framework, like the Sustainability Index, is still in the early stages, and there is significant room for further innovation.  I’m hopeful.

More Related Links:

  1. Six page C2C summary
  2. Intelligent Product Systems (more depth)
  3. Short Videos @TED or @Walmart


The Sustainability Consortium

Imagine walking into a store, and with single synapse clarity understanding just how sustainable any given product on the shelf really is.  That’s ultimately what the Sustainability Consortium could offer the end consumer.  In the process it could unleash new efficiencies, and wide reaching innovation within the global supply chain.

The Sustainability Consortium was initially incubated by Walmart in conjunction with their major partners as part of their supply chain visibility initiatives.  Since it’s inception, an impressive list of global companies have become involved with the innovation of this emerging standard.  Walmart’s ecosystem alone is the size of a national government with a constituency consisting of 100,000 suppliers, and hundreds of millions of customers.  Walmart’s new mission is  ‘Saving people money so that they can live better’.  

More Related Links:

Sustainability Consortium
Treehugger’s POV
Huffinton’s POV
Sustainability Index Fact Sheet

The companies that participate in the above initiatives are purpose driven companies, and they cater to purpose driven customers.  This gives me hope.  I believe that these companies understand the long term benefits of optimizing economics, ecology, and equity (social), and not sacrificing one at the expense of the other.  

In my opinion, many of the principals behind these two initiatives also map nicely to SAP’s sustainability strategy. Since I work for SAP, this gives me hope and a strong purpose in my daily work.  SAP powers companies representing about half the world’s GDP.  I’m hopeful that SAP will be a leader that will play a key role in the enablement of Industry 3.0.

Back to Copenhagen.   Who knows, perhaps someday, the national governments of the world will agree to treat all human beings equally when it comes to green house gas emissions, and choose sensible targets.  An agreement at this level would make sustained life easier, and the road ahead clearer for all of us.  It’s always nice when national and supra-national governmental organizations can help create the right conditions for positive change.   However, don’t hold your breath in protest waiting for it to happen this year.   It will take a long time.  (If you do hold your breath however, take solace in the fact that you’re emitting less CO2. ;-))  

For now, survive and thrive by taking control of those things in your immediate sphere of influence.  Keep working diligently at the individual, company, and sub-national government levels to facilitate the survival of all species, and build Industry 3.0 in the process.

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  • both of these concepts, that I had heard of but was not 100% familiar with their definition.

    Personally, I think change has to be driven through "people's wallets". In my neighborhood, they just introduced recyling bins, allowing people to reduce the size of their regular garbage bin, and saving money in the process. As the price difference is ridiculously low, I don't see anybody around me with a smaller bin.

    Gas is very expensive in Europe and people drive smaller cars (ok, there also is no parking :-)).

    Also, in Germany, 15 years ago, stores were already required to recylce any product packaging that they sold product is. If something you buy comes in a big box, you can leave the box directly in the store. This achieved the following: many products now come in no or very light packaging. This is a direct result of the stores having to pay for the get what I am saying. We need this here in the US. Why don't we have it?