Sustainability comes with fits and starts (part 1)

The arbitrary growth of a circular economy
PostedApril 06, 2016, in  Step 6: continuous innovation
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The Paris Agreement gave the sustainability movement a push in the right direction. There is now a legally binding agreement, but the practical aspect can be tough. Are we really on our way to a sustainable world? Is the fossil fuel industry coming to an end or is it too soon to cheer? There’s good news and there’s bad news. 


First the good news: sustainability absolutely does have momentum. In China no less than 1000 coalmines are being shut down and in Great Britain all the coalmines are closing. The U.S. is revising its policy on coal mining, in order to take climate change into consideration first. Even in Saudi Arabia – the leading oil state – new voices are being heard: according to the Saudi Minister for Oil the end of the oil era is in sight. He says that Saudi Arabia is going to focus strongly on solar energy. 

Source: Olearys, Flickr Creative Commons

New direction

The business community is slowly coming around. Remarkably, the new direction comes from oil company, Shell. Initially, Shell also appeared to focus on sustainable energy sources, but that strategy came to an end about ten years ago. Since then, “maximum pumping” was the motto, but in the 2015 Annual Reports Shell once again advocates wind, solar and bio-energy. Apparently it is not limited to just ambitions because Shell has already set its sights on a windmill project in the North Sea. Recently, a natural gas project worth $ 40 billion was cancelled. When it comes to oil giant like Shell it’s important to stay critical, but the signs are tentatively positive.

Zero waste

There is more good news. Increasingly, innovative start-ups are introducing practical, circular solutions. For example, the American company, Ecovative, makes biodegradable packaging based on mushrooms. And recovering wind energy is much more efficient with a Power Plane: a glider that replaces the traditional windmill. Another inspiring example can be found in the Japanese village of Kamikatsu, where 80% of the waste is recycled or composted. In 2003, the inhabitants jointly decided to deal with waste in a new way. This led to waste being divided over 34 categories(!) for maximum recycling. In 2020 ‘zero waste’ will be a fact in Kamikatsu.

Briefly: sustainability has the wind in its back. The genie is out of the bottle at last, increasingly sustainability is becoming the standard. So much for the good news.

Next week: the downside of sustainable growth. How conflicting interests, profit maximization and undesirable side effects get in the way of the transformation. 

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PostedApril 06, 2016, in Step 6: continuous innovation
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