Zero Footprint
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Zero Footprint
We absolutely can reduce the ecological footprint of humanity all the way down to zero!
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Cradle to Cradle Design – So Much More Than Recycling

Cradle to Cradle Design – So Much More Than Recycling | Zero Footprint |
It’s easy for the concepts of Cradle to Cradle design and a circular economy to become shorthand for recycling, but both are much more complex than that. As currency in a circular economy, Cradle to Cradle (C2C) products are sustainably manufactured, with safe ingredients, that can be perpetually recycled – all of which are critical to the approach.

To advance toward a more circular economy, product manufacturers and users must ask not only what happens to a product at the end of its useful life, but what went into that product: technical and biological nutrients, energy, water, labor; it requires a complex, holistic approach.
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Recycling Opens the Door to a Circular Economy

Recycling Opens the Door to a Circular Economy | Zero Footprint |

Recycling is critically important, but it's only one part of a larger, globally emergent environmental paradigm known as the Circular Economy. 


The name is literal, referring to an industrial economy that goes far beyond recycling and which only creates secondary materials from primary ones. The Circular Economy is restorative by intention and based on eliminating material loss. To that end, it employs renewable energy, minimizes or eliminates toxic chemicals and avoids waste through careful design. It looks closely at how we design, make, sell, re-use and recycle products to determine how to secure the maximum value, both in use and at the end of their life.


With this all-encompassing approach, the Circular Economy aims to eradicate waste -- not just from manufacturing processes but systematically, throughout the life cycle of products and their components. Consciously designing durable goods to be restorative will keep components and products in longer use, and ensure that biological materials can re-enter the biosphere at the end of their lives.


Can it work? "Towards the Circular Economy," a 2014 report from the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, estimates that shifting to this model could add over $1 trillion a year to the global economy by 2025 and create 100,000 new jobs within the next five years if companies put their energies behind developing circular supply chains and increase the rate of recycling, reuse and remanufacture.

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'Vertical farm' blossoms in Chicago

'Vertical farm' blossoms in Chicago | Zero Footprint |
An old meatpacking plant in Chicago is being transformed into an eco farm, which its founders says will produce food sustainably, while creating zero waste.


American entrepreneur John Edel is the founder of "The Plant," a vertical-farm initiative that he hopes will show people the ease of adapting to green food production in urban living environments.

Edel says of The Plant's ethos: "It started out minimal (waste) because that's how I've always operated ... Using as little resource as possible to do things. At a certain point I realized if we built an anaerobic digester, we could get our waste down to zero."

Recycling is also a big part of the inner workings of The Plant and tenants work with each other to use their waste output in their food production and farming techniques.

Edel says: "The key to this farm is the closing of loops: energy loops; resource loops; money loops -- by keeping jobs local. If you can close the loops, you can make things more sustainable."

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How One Chicago Restaurant Went Totally Trash-Free

Some restaurants produce eight gallons of waste every hour. Thanks to a sustainability plan, Sandwich Me In stretched that two years.


"Any questions you would ask me, we have a green solution to that. To me, that's the only way to let other restaurants know that this can work, and this can happen."


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MARINE DEBRIS: Why would you move through the oceans if the oceans can move through you? - YouTube

Boyan Slat, founder and president The Ocean Cleanup: "I have invented a method to clean up almost half of the great Pacific's garbage patch in just 10 years, using the currents to my advantage." 


But the oceans won't get clean by means of just a great idea. The Ocean Cleanup aims to not only study the solution, but actually develop the world's first feasible approach to gyre remediation, by using the ocean's currents to its advantage. So there is much more work to be done. 

Via PeerSpring
Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

After watching this video, and another video with Boyan reporting on the feasibility study: ( I get the sense that we haven't really been trying hard enough yet to clean up our mess.  And that, ironically enough, gives me hope that there is so much more we can do.

Daniel LaLiberte's comment, June 16, 2014 9:01 PM
Although Boyan only claims his "gadget" can clean up about half of the plastic in 10 years, the smaller bits, which are probably much more numerous, will also be important to clean up, and it will likely be much more difficult. Some complain that the whole idea seems naive ( but it looks like there is a reasonable value proposition here.
PeerSpring's comment, June 16, 2014 9:27 PM
Daniel - if to think without limits or confines is to be naive, then perhaps the world needs a little bit more of youth innovation? Thanks so much for your thoughtful contributions and re-scoops!
Daniel LaLiberte's comment, August 18, 2014 11:28 PM
It turns out that the amount of plastic in the oceans is quite a lot less than previously thought. Or we don't know where it is in any case, which is perhaps more disturbing: "Ninety-nine percent of the ocean's plastic is missing"
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The Urban Quest for "Zero Waste"

The Urban Quest for "Zero Waste" | Zero Footprint |

Some cities are leading the way in reducing the amount of trash they send to landfills. Here's how they're doing it.

Across the country, a handful of municipalities are radically reducing the amount of refuse they send to landfills, with the eventual goal of reaching "zero waste." Seattle recycles or composts more than half of what its residents toss out. San Francisco diverts 77% of its waste from landfills. Even sprawling Los Angeles recycles or composts about two-thirds of its garbage.


Less Than Zero?

The prime benefits in adopting zero waste are environmental; many cities that have enacted zero-waste plans say they have taken up the task in the name of sustainability.


And supporters argue that reducing waste doesn't necessarily mean increasing costs. For cities with limited landfill space—and the higher fees that come with it—most zero-waste activities cost less than normal garbage disposal, says Gary Liss, a zero-waste consultant who has helped about 20 cities form plans to reduce waste.


One caveat: "Zero waste" doesn't necessarily mean "no waste." Most cities use a definition from Zero Waste International Alliance, an environmental group, which says that diverting 90% of waste from landfills without the use of incinerators is "successful in achieving zero waste, or darn close."


Why don't cities shoot for 100% diversion? "We're not crazy," says Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that promotes sustainable communities. The closer cities get to that goal, the harder it is to go further, largely because there are so many products out there that just can't be recycled—and people continue to buy them.

Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

By "Zero waste" I really do mean "no waste".  I do recognize that as we get closer to no waste, it will get harder to make more progress.  But perhaps closing the loop will make it easier at some point, by making it more obvious that everything must be made in a way that facilitates 100% recycling.

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How the zero-waste economy benefits everyone

How the zero-waste economy benefits everyone | Zero Footprint |
In a truly circular economy where waste becomes nutrients, economic growth would be decoupled from environmental restraints. See who is leading the way.


Welcome to the emerging world of the circular economy. Faced with rising prices for energy and raw materials, along with pressures from environmentalists and regulators who have passed “extended producer responsibility laws” in Europe and some U.S. states, forward-thinking companies are finding ways to take back, reuse, refurbish or recycle all kinds of things that otherwise would be thrown away. In contrast to the traditional “take-make-dispose” linear economy, which depletes resources, a circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. Inspired by nature, a circular economy aspires not merely to limit waste but to eliminate the very idea of waste: Everything, at the end of its life, should be made into something else, just as in the natural world, one species’ waste is another’s food.


No wonder companies see the circular model as a business opportunity. The transition to a circular economy could generate savings of more than $1 trillion in materials alone by 2025, according to an analysis by the U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation,  McKinsey & Company  and the World Economic Forum,  which are collaborating to promote circular thinking.

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Remaking the industrial economy | McKinsey & Company

Remaking the industrial economy | McKinsey & Company | Zero Footprint |
A regenerative economic model—the circular economy—is starting to help companies create more value while reducing their dependence on scarce resources. A McKinsey Quarterly article.


Could economic growth be decoupled from resource constraints? Could an industrial system that is regenerative by design—a “circular economy,” which restores material, energy, and labor inputs—be good for both society and business?


MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum1(see sidebar, “An enabler in a big system”), suggests that in addition to the implicit environmental benefits that a circular economy would bring, there is a significant economic impact. In fact, our research suggests that the savings in materials alone could exceed $1 trillion a year by 2025.


Circular thinking

A circular economy replaces one assumption—disposability—with another: restoration. At the core, it aims to move away from the “take, make, and dispose” system by designing and optimizing products for multiple cycles of disassembly and reuse.2 This effort starts with materials, which are viewed as valuable stock to be used again, not as elements that flow through the economy once.


The circular economy aims to eradicate waste—not just from manufacturing processes, as lean management aspires to do, but systematically, throughout the various life cycles and uses of products and their components. (Often, what might otherwise be called waste becomes valuable feedstock for successive usage steps.) Indeed, tight component and product cycles of use and reuse, aided by product design, help define the concept of a circular economy and distinguish it from recycling, which loses large amounts of embedded energy and labor.


The “take, make, and dispose” model of production has long relied on cheap resources to maintain growth and stability. That world no longer exists. By applying the principles of a circular economy—a system that is regenerative by design—forward-looking companies can seize growth opportunities while laying the groundwork for a new industrial era that benefits companies and economies alike. Capitalizing on the opportunities will require new ways of working, but the benefits are well worth the cost.



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Circular economy solutions for a sustainable world

Circular economy solutions for a sustainable world | Zero Footprint |

The circular economy - a concept which ensures that products are designed with their eventual reuse, upcycling or biodegradation in mind - emerged as the most prominent trend that is driving the innovation of sustainable solutions worldwide, according to Sustainia100, a report released on Monday by Scandinavian think thank Sustainia.

Circular economy thinking was evident in a quarter of all solutions, including Japanese manufacturer Teijin, whose “Eco Circle” recycling process makes it possible to recycle polyester products multiple times without compromising on quality. This process helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 77 per cent compared to new polyester made by petroleum, according to Teijin.

Laura Storm, director of Sustainia, commented: “We are seeing how especially the circular economy is a growing focus area. Companies re-think consumption, waste, materials and return-systems at impressive scale”.

“The global pressure on our natural resources has led to increased resource scarcity, which calls upon industries to transform their way of operating. Clever use of materials is a key innovation driver,” she added.

Via John Casey
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Researchers Assign Monetary Value to Nature to Promote Sustainability

Researchers Assign Monetary Value to Nature to Promote Sustainability | Zero Footprint |

In a study published recently in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) and Yale University have developed a first-of-its-kind, interdisciplinary equation to estimate the current monetary value of natural resources such as fish stocks, groundwater or forests in the U.S. In assigning natural capital monetary value, the approach will have widespread implications for policymakers and various stakeholders, and will also advocate for the creation of robust asset markets for natural capital, a much-needed advance.

Unlike earlier approaches, the method takes into consideration the “opportunity cost” of losing future units of natural capital that could have helped replenish the resource, providing economic benefits in the long run. It is underpinned by the economic principles also used to value physical or human capital.

“Sustainability can be defined as ensuring that the assets the next generation inherits are worth at least as much as they were when the previous generation received them,” said Abbott. “As humans, we are not going to have zero impact on the environment, but we want to make sure that the value of human, physical and natural capital that we pass on to future generations is worth no less than when we inherited them.”


“We are pursuing this research to help provide better measurements of society’s wealth, so we can know whether we’re moving in a sustainable direction,” Abbott concluded. 

Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

Not only can humans have zero impact on the environment, we can do better than that.  If we can ensure that the world's natural assets have *more* value in the future, then we will be *improving* the environment. This is absolutely physically possible.  


We can ensure that enough fish remain in the oceans such that fish populations can actually *grow*. We can ensure that our agricultural practices actually *improve* the soil, as we use some of its products, and recycle 100% of our waste back to the land.  After we shut down the fossil fuel industry entirely, we can sequester some fraction of CO2 out of what we burn in biofuels, until we get back to the balance nature has depended on for millennia.


Measuring the value of natural assets could be abused, of course, if it is not done properly. Some might say we should never put a price on nature, but perhaps the proper price for natural resources should gradually grow arbitrarily high until we learn to leave nature alone.

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Scientists vindicate 'Limits to Growth' – urge investment in 'circular economy'

Scientists vindicate 'Limits to Growth' – urge investment in 'circular economy' | Zero Footprint |

The new Club of Rome report (the 33rd) says that:


"The phase of mining by humans is a spectacular but very brief episode in the geological history of the planet… The limits to mineral extraction are not limits of quantity; they are limits of energy. Extracting minerals takes energy, and the more dispersed the minerals are, the more energy is needed… Only conventional ores can be profitably mined with the amounts of energy we can produce today."

A fundamental reorganisation of the way societies produce, manage and consume resources could support a new high-technology civilisation, but this would entail a new "circular economy" premised on wide-scale practices of recycling across production and consumption chains, a wholesale shift to renewable energy, application of agro-ecological methods to food production, and with all that, very different types of social structures.

Limits to economic growth, or even "degrowth", the report says, do not need to imply an end to prosperity, but rather require a conscious decision by societies to lower their environmental impacts, reduce wasteful consumption, and increase efficiency – changes which could in fact increase quality of life while lowering inequality.

Via Willy De Backer
Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

Zero Footprint means not just lowering our environmental impact, but eliminating it, and eliminating waste by recycling 100% of the resources we use, powered by 100% renewable energy.

Willy De Backer's curator insight, June 6, 2014 2:01 AM

Good review of the latest study by Prof. Ugo Bardi for the Club of Rome on how climate change and resource constraints will force us to rethink our way of life.

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Interview: San Francisco's Quest To Recycle All Trash by 2020

Interview: San Francisco's Quest To Recycle All Trash by 2020 | Zero Footprint |
Jack Macy's recycling crusade that has resulted in the city reusing or composting 80 percent of its garbage.


Jack Macy: I think what’s important is looking at nature — in nature all the waste is used in the ecosystem and is a resource. And if we look at what is considered waste, it’s actually valuable material. So “zero waste” acknowledges the inherent value of discarded materials as valuable resources. 


For every ton of material that we dispose of in a landfill or burn in an incinerator, to replace those products, we have to go and extract typically virgin resources, raw materials. This extraction process, and the refining, manufacturing, and transportation, results in creating many times more waste — on average more than 70 times the amount of waste. And so if we can reduce, reuse, or recycle that ton, then we are saving up to 70 tons. 


e360: And what about the materials in the landfill? 


Macy: Those materials in the landfill are basically being wasted unless we go back in the future and mine them — which I think we’ll probably be doing. But once you mix them together, you’re degrading them and contaminating them. Also, when you put materials in the landfill, if they’re organic materials, they’re creating significant methane emissions. And then you have leachate and other pollution — you have all these other impacts. All of that is unsustainable. So if we want to move towards a sustainable system, then zero waste makes sense as a vision. 


Macy: People like the fact that they can recycle so many things and compost all their food scraps. Our communication talks about the great benefits of composting and how the compost goes back to feed the farms and soil for healthy food. That’s coming back into the city, so we’re closing the nutrient-organic composting loop, and that is a great sustainability story. 


People like having a healthy environment here, and they support sustainability if it doesn’t feel like too much of a burden.

Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

Since San Francisco is already recycling about 80% of their trash without enormous effort or cost, we should all be following their lead.

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