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Journal of Cleaner Production 15 (2007) 1198e1204

Towards a sustainable society: United Nations University’s Zero Emissions Approach
Ruediger Kuehr*
United Nations University (UNU), Zero Emissions Forum - European Focal Point, c/o UNU-EHS, UN Campus, Herman-Ehlers-Str. 10, D-53113 Bonn, Germany Accepted 12 July 2006 Available online 26 September 2006Abstract The Zero Emissions approach comprises a research and action-based program, launched at the Tokyo-based headquarters of United Nations University (UNU) in 1994 and actively supported, among others. by the Japanese government as part of its security policy. Through the Zero Emissions lens, material cycles from intake to emissions should be managed as a holistic system. Thus, the primary focus isthe intake of natural resources within renewable limits and final emissions within acceptable limits. This implies the optimisation through an integrated system of processes and consequently the mimicry of the hierarchy of natural ecosystems in the anthropogenic sphere. A network of industries through clustering builds integrated systems in which everything has its use. The Zero Emissions conceptrequires industries to re-engineer their manufacturing processes in order to fully utilise the resources within the systemsdthe set target of Zero Emissions. Other concepts such as cleaner production emphasise the minimisation of emissions and wastes through recycling, reuse and reduction, but mainly concentrate on the ‘‘end of pipe’’. In the anticipated ‘‘Zero Emissions society’’, consumers wouldpreferentially purchase functions instead of material goods and thus, be actively involved in the creation of a new service economy where all materials are automatically sent back to the producers after they lose their function. Additionally, the design of goods should lead to eradication of the concept of waste. The UNU Zero Emissions Forumdthrough networking with academia, industry andgovernmental policy-makersdpromotes international multidisciplinary research and development efforts to analyse trends in society and technology and pave paths for concrete pilot projects. Thus, the Forum has gathered concrete experience through a number of case studies all over the world. Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Zero Emissions society; Zero Emissions; ZERI; The Natural Step1. Introduction ‘‘A production without wastes and harmful emissions; hardly any idea is more convincing and challenging’’. That was the introduction to a radio story by the German Bayerische Rundfunk in late 1997 about enterprises without chimneys. First reactions called this a crazy idea, another product of eco-hysteria or simply impossible. But these critics have become more careful when itturned out that the government of Japan together with industry, sciences and local governments

are strongly supporting this concept and substantially investing in the research of if and how Zero Emissions could become a new industrial standard and a model for a sustainable society [1]. What is this real Utopian concept about, which has already entered the PR campaigns of big automobilemanufacturers [2e4] which serves as the title for future oriented task forces on, e.g. sustainable production and consumption, the reorganisation of cities, and which is attracting growing interest in regional planning? 2. Zero Emissions: the term

* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ49 228 8150213; fax: þ49 721 151234 313. E-mail address: 0959-6526/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. Allrights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2006.07.020

The key question of many conferences has been and still is: To what extent should we reduce wastes and harmful

R. Kuehr / Journal of Cleaner Production 15 (2007) 1198e1204


emissions and how much does it cost? Following the Zero Emissions approach, the response is simple but rather provocative: We are reducing wastes and harmful...
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