News - October 21, 2011

More sustainable: take the lift?

Sustainability is a matter of guilt management. True sustainability starts with an effective design, says Michal Braungart.

The Cradle-to-Cradle guru spoke at the Hof van Wageningen on Thursday to an audience of PhD students at the Production Ecology and Resource Conservation graduate school. The PE&RC gathering was all about innovation and sustainability. To be more precise, about what is going on outside Wageningen in this field.

Guilt reduction
Braungart (of the Erasmus University and the University of Twente among others) was in highly critical mode. Sustainability, he said, is a matter of 'optimizing the wrong things.' And it doesn't really achieve anything. Similarly, Braungart thinks that innovation tends to mean doing things wrongly with greater efficiency. According to Braungart, the driving force behind the sustainability movement is guilt reduction. We buy off our guilt feelings towards nature with sustainability. For example, by striving for carbon neutrality. But carbon neutrality is nonsense, says Braungart. 'Zero emissions only exist if you don't exist. And is that what we want - not to exist?'
Braungart deplores the concept of an ecological footprint. 'Do you know that it takes five times as much energy to walk up the stairs than to take the lift? If you want to reduce your ecological footprint, take the lift. It's more efficient. But that is not what it's about. Sustainability is not an energy problem but a mismanagement of carbon utilization.' Effectiveness is the key, in Braungart's view. To be more precise: eco-effectiveness, or the most effective possible utilization of resources. Braungart: 'Not as efficient as possible, but as effective as possible.' Not using less, but using it differently. True sustainability begins with another approach to design. Design according to the Cradle-to-Cradle principles laid down by Braungart.