Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives
By David Saunders
Are our needs inevitably in conflict with those of the environment? Could we live in harmony with nature without sacrificing economic prosperity and growth? Until now, environmentalists have suggested the only way forward is to reduce economic growth and consumption, but the Zero Emissions Research Initiativechimes an optimistic note, with a new paradigm suggesting that development can be both sustainable and evolutionary when it is in tune with nature.
It is a timely idea that deserves closer attention.
Gunter Pauli is a dynamic entrepreneur who first became well known in Europe as chief executive of Ecover, one of the first experiments at deliberately building a sustainable environmental business.Ecover was very successful, but one day Gunter Pauli realised that while he was making the Rhine less polluted, in Malaysia and Indonesia, where he sourced his natural ingredients, for every kilo of coconut or palm oil he bought, he was leaving behind twenty kilos of waste. Worse, the increased demand he stimulated, led to further logging of the rainforest. Basically, his much-fêted business wasexporting environmental pollution from Europe to Asia. When he called for a re-think, his partners didn't get it - and so he walked away... to found ZERI.
The ZERI Foundation (Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives) approach is a methodology and a decision making tool. It's a way of focusing science and innovation on sustainable solutions and it's an entrepreneurial approach to caring for theplanet. The concept is deceptively simple; don't waste anything - after all, nature doesn't. Nature finds a profitable use for everything. So, learn from nature, and if possible imitate nature.
Put in scientific jargon, ZERI uses an open systems approach in which all outputs from any process are turned into useful inputs for the next process. And this is recursively applied until a network - acluster - of processes has been found that all add value. Using this method new jobs and wealth are created, and waste - emissions and pollution - is eliminated. Gunter Pauli believes that anyone who is polluting must be missing an opportunity to make a profit. And the ZERI methodology allows people to identify this missing wealth and make it real.
Instead of waste outputs, these are treated aspotentially valuable inputs to some new process. Scientists are called in and focused on making the breakthroughs that may be needed to solve the practical problems. Usually a multi-interdisciplinary approach is required for this, and part of Gunter's entrepreneurial genius has been in setting about building a network of scientists who have the necessary skills.
Finally, a pair of businessplans is written for each process - one for including the new product or process as part of the existing business structure and a second for doing that process as a standalone business. The business plans are then factored together, and hey presto! you have the requisite decision making tool for eliminating waste, and creating jobs and profit.
REFORESTATION IN COLOMBIA
11,000 hectares ofdeforested land was purchased very cheaply - for a couple of dollars a hectare. The land was considered worthless as the soil was too acid to grow anything. Scientists were used to locate a tree which could grow in such adverse conditions, which would not become invasive and which would give way to other indigenous species. Fortuitously, the chosen tree, Carribbean Pine, also produces a resin with acommercial value, colofonia.
Technology was developed to grow seedlings and propagate them quickly and cheaply. Local workers were recruited to tend and farm the trees. A factory was built to refine the resin to very high standards, and revolutionary new, low-impact recyclable packing was designed.
The outputs from this process were very beneficial to the land. The soil pH...