My two previous blogs emphasizing destination rather than diversion and survival rather than sustainability have led me to think about Black Friday, the launching pad for the Christmas shopping season. Now I know that many of my colleagues have been urging us to put the brakes on growth and production, lest we deplete our resources and ultimately render the planet unfit for human habitation. But I think all that purchasing and consuming can actually be a positive thing, provided we take the right approach to it. And the approach I have in mind is one I call the “four C’s” — consume, collect, collaborate and create a circular economy – which, taken together, could actually enable us to grow, prosper and put people back to work without either using up precious resources or negatively impacting the environment.
Now, what if we had just as much infrastructure devoted to collecting and processing all of our reusable goods – not just bottles, cans and paper, but everything that we buy on Black Friday – as we do to their production? Let’s suppose that less than half of the roughly 138,000 manufacturing facilities we now have in the U.S. were to be expanded to serve those purposes, turning them into destinations for every material used in products that we now routinely discard. If 50,000 of our largest plants were each to hire just 100 new employees to accommodate such an input, that would add up to five million additional jobs built around collection of everything from unusable electronics and appliances to furniture and food waste. Think about how monumental it would be to have industries collaborating to create this circular economy that enabled materials to be utilized over and over, without wasting anything – in fact, virtually eliminating the very concept of waste.
Just imagine the CEOs of major U.S. technology firms – Apple, Dell, HP – collaborating on the types of plastic and battery components they are all going to use. Imagine consumer product companies agreeing on a ‘common catalyst’ to be utilized in the manufacture of such diverse items as plastic, inks and fragrances – all to ensure consistency in processing after collection. In other words, enterprises around the globe coming together in the common cause of keeping the planet livable by creating a whole new industry whose raw materials are all manner of ‘used up’ products and components.
It’s a prospect that I am starting to get pretty excited about myself – and one I’d very much like to have a part in when it comes to designing the plans and infrastructure it will take to support it The best part is, we already have an ‘economic model’ that is larger than all the world’s companies combined – one in which nothing is ever wasted and everything that’s consumed is consumed over and over, leaving no negative impact. I’m referring, of course, to Mother Nature. By mimicking the model she’s provided us, we can actually make consumption and growth both viable and desirable.