On Friday I interviewed Micahel Braungart, the German half of the team that conceived of Cradle-to-Cradle, a book and a design philosophy that is taking sustainability to another level of complexity and challenge. He’s downunder to speak at today’s Better By Design sustainability forum.
I’ve met a few interesting people over the years as a journalist but few who have inspired me as much as Braungart. I’ve been a fan for a while but more so after meeting him in person: he is fast, witty and gracious to a fault. Not bad for a guy who is probably the most radical of sustainability thinkers right now.
Bruangart and his business partner William McDonough say the future for sustainable development is not in reduction and minimisation. It’s not in emitting less and offsetting more. It’s not in switching off and riding in shitty Auckland buses or voting for a great leap backwards.
“We cannot fix the world by being less bad,” he says.
Instead, we need to make being human, living in cities and consuming products and service the most beneficial thing we can do for the planet. “We need to make littering good for the environment. We need to make creating waste the best thing that we can do,” he says.
What’s he talking about is a second industrial revolution, where the cars we drive clean the air as they go, where the machines we make are entirely recyclable and the waste we generate becomes a source of energy.
It’s a radical departure from traditional environmentalism and a wholesale challenge to the current industrial model. Braungart, a former Greenpeace activist and employee, is no lacky for corporates and the consumer society. He accuses companies such as Mattel and Shell of creating weapons of mass destruction, thanks to the toxicity of their products “They are worse than child abusers, because at least with child abuse there’s an adult in the room,” he says.
I’ll be writng more and blogging about his presentation at today’s forum but in the meantime, check out this amazing presentation by McDonough at last year’s TED. Apologies to those who have seen it already.