Monday, February 26, 2007

Guide to Eco-products Pt3 - "better stuff"

A while ago I was quite harsh on "eco-efficient products", but what is the alternative?

One answer is to look out the window. Old Ma Nature has been pretty much sustainable for the last billion years since the oxygen cycle was closed and plants and animals could start breathing. But she is not very efficient - a tree casts hundreds or even thousands of seeds to the wind, yet only one or two might grow into a tree. Instead natural systems work on three basic principles:

i. There is no waste* - everything becomes food for something else.

ii. Everything is solar/gravity powered.

iii. Everything works in synergy (if lions ate all the wildebeest, they'd die out themselves, so they don't).

So the idea is to copy nature - some people call this 'biomimicry', some 'eco-effectiveness', but my favourite version is Edwin Datchefski's 'biothinking', as he boils it down to a simple principle:

Products should be "solar", "cyclic" and "safe"

This translates as: all energy must be renewable, everything must be made out of recycled (and recyclable) or natural materials, and no toxic materials should be used. This is a big departure from our 'linear', oil driven economy and would take a huge effort to change.

As an example, under solar, cyclic, safe, you would use biodiesel rather than buying a fuel efficient car. But, as we've seen before, producing enough biodiesel to fuel all the UK's current transport would take more land than we've got.

This is the second big drawback of the solar, cyclic, safe approach - we are limited by the amount of renewable energy we can capture. Fortunately all that recycling saves a good amount of energy, but the basics of heating, lighting and transport will still need to be provided for. Tricky!

If you're interested in lots of examples of how these principles can be applied to products, try Edwin's excellent book:

We'll look at other solutions in Part 4...

* There are a couple of examples where nature could be said to produce 'waste' - can you think what they are?


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