Thought Leader: An unconventional approach to sustainability

For most companies, the green agenda has been about assessing manufacturing and distribution processes and then finding ways to minimise their impacts on the environment.
Instead, taking our inspiration from nature, our company has adopted Cradle to Cradle philosophy that looks instead at the whole life-cycle of product and, using technology and lateral thinking, is finding ways to recycle every component of that product back into productive life.
This new philosophy of sustainability was developed in 2002 by the German chemist Michael Braungart and an American architect William McDonough. In their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, they said that products should be conceived from the very start with intelligent design and the intention that they will eventually be recycled, as either ‘technical’ or ‘biological’ nutrients. Time magazine has called it “a unified philosophy that – in demonstrable and practical ways – is changing the design of the world.”
It’s philosophy that looks at the world with new perspective, because it doesn’t romanticise nature or demonise factories or manufacturing processes. It’s an approach that accepts that, in the modern world, we need to make things – and the goal should be to find ways that balance commercial activity with the natural world.
A birth-to-rebirth philosophy sounds deceptively simple, but it turns conventional sustainability on its head, because conventional thinking is all about language of negatives. The green lobby talks about “minimising” human impacts, “zero footprints,” “banning” harmful substances or “reducing” energy use.
This approach is, of course, better than doing nothing. But, effectively, what it’s saying is that adopting “less bad” approach is inherently ethical. What we’re saying instead is that it doesn’t matter how much we manufacture, or how much “waste” we create because, as in nature and the changing seasons, waste simply become the raw materials or nutrients for further manufacturing – with products being reborn and reborn.
Instead, Cradle to Cradle® makes planned obsolescence respectable. It encourages consumers to buy more products, but to do so from innovative companies that have policies in place to recycle old products, turning waste into new products or into nutrients. The approach to business taken by the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where we supplied carpet for interior spaces for new stand development, is good example of this philosophy at work.
The MCG operates to strict principles of sustainability and in the past few years has introduced rigorous Closed Loop recycling programmes. These are all about reducing waste, reusing materials and using landfill only as last resort. That represents real commitment for stadium that feeds over 300,000 corporate hospitality customers and serves over four million food and beverage products every year.
As an example of waste management in practice, the polystyrene beer cup was found to be the largest contributor of non-recyclable waste with total of almost 80 percent. The solution? Replace it with recyclable Closed Loop PET beer cup. The MCG now recycles 100 percent of this major waste contributor. Since the introduction of Closed Loop recycling at the MCG, approximately 72 percent of all waste generated each month is now recycled – the equivalent of approximately 97 tonnes of recycled waste, 48 tonnes of emitted carbon dioxide and 1.6 million litres of water. The stadium also makes use of rainwater capture, solar panels – and all the other technologies that forward-looking companies are adopting.
Longer term, we want all our products – and our company – to be Cradle to Cradle® certified, to be using 100 percent purchased renewable energy for processing and manufacturing, have factory effluent water that is cleaner than the water it is discharged into – and at all stages in the product life cycle actively support the reuse or recycling of materials at the highest possible level of quality.
We are already working with affiliates and suppliers to build community of like-minded companies to adopt this birth-to-rebirth philosophy because, as more companies work together, the sooner the circular economy will be achieved. M

Andrew Sibley is sales and marketing director for Desso, leading European manufacturer of carpets, carpet tiles and artificial grass. It sources all its wool from New Zealand and provided the surface for Dunedin’s new covered stadium, hybrid natural grass pitch reinforced by 20 million artificial fibres.

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