“Big” is not bad in itself when we’re talking about increases in growth and consumption – it’s how we design the systems to accommodate such expansion that is critical. Adaptation of our technology is also a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs both to do good and to do well at the same time – the kind on which they should actually be feasting right now.
When you travel to different parts of the world, you come to realize that growth is a largely uncontrollable phenomenon. For even as places like the U.S. and Europe achieve population stability, other regions – China, India, South America – are expanding at a dynamic rate, both in terms of their economies and populations. And as parts of the planet once viewed as noncompetitive suddenly emerge as powerhouses, and the Southern Hemisphere gets wealthier, increased production and consumption of commodities become inevitable.
But is this such an undesirable trend? It needn’t be – if it is handled in a manner that makes both economic and environmental sense.
Rather than just allowing such growth to proceed willy-nilly, we have to start thinking in terms of “closed loop systems.” That means, for example, that if we’re going to increase the manufacturing of items made from plastic, we should, first of all, switch to using 100% polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks, rather than petroleum. And second, we need to recapture and recycle all the plastic that goes into those products once they’ve been discarded. That way, if a billion phones a month are sold, there’s no problem as long as they’ve been designed with resource recovery in mind – and a system in place for implementing it.
So once we accept that we really have no control over the pace of development in large sectors of the world, let’s start putting some serious brain power into developing sustainable technologies for utilizing such precious resources as plastic, glass, paper and cardboard. It’s something that all of us can help make happen – but the key is going to be collaboration. This means bitter competitors are going to have to work together in the realization that “closing the loop” is not an option, but a necessity, and the sooner we become partners in this endeavor the better off we’re all going to be.
Having the good fortune to be part of Greenopolis, an organization that’s playing a leading role in this effort. I feel extremely optimistic that such cooperation is now in the process of becoming reality. But what I want to emphasize is that it needs to be done in a big way, and it’s something we can no longer afford to put off.
So I say: let’s welcome this chance to show that production need not be the enemy of sustainability. If it’s done properly, in fact, it can be a genuine cause for celebration.