Rock the Cradle

This week in class we discussed industrial ecology, biomimicry and closing the loop. Biomimicry uses nature as a model to make products and when we reduce the environmental impact, we produce a phenomenon called industrial ecology. When these two things come together, we (hopefully) have a closed loop (making a product, reusing the product, breaking down the product and making resources from it to fuel new ideas/products which are the building blocks for the product we started with). It seems daunting, to the say the least, to create such a loop but when you do as Michael Pawlyn suggests, you begin to observe things in nature who have created these closed loops for years and you model your product designs after them. The bug that can predict a fire 80km away had me completely amazed and if he can do it, surely we can. Right? But where do we start, you ask? Three small things might be to 1) use waste as a resource (one company is able to use the waste from another company for their product0 2) gather and use energy efficiently (use more sunlight as a renewable source of energy) and 3) optimize rather than maximize (instead of mass producing new products constantly, a quality product could be remanufactured or upgraded instead of disposing of for a brand new one). Businesses that do this, such as the Denmark facility, use these principles or tenants to act out industrial ecology. Another example is a place called Burnside in Nova Scotia. Burnside is a huge industrial park with over 1,200 businesses in a particular area and together, they promote “greening” by creating waste exchange programs among fellow businesses, promoting energy conservation and providing technologies to promote resource use efficiency for their clients. When I read about these businesses, it made me think, why aren’t we doing this in our neighborhoods? So, if I have left over paint, why couldn’t I offer it up to my neighbors instead of letting it waste or better yet, preventing them from buying a new can? The concepts aren’t hard, it’s the “doing it” that we make hard. We also looked at a chart of life principles, which gave initiatives and examples of each, so one could participate. The principles were: 1) evolve to survive (how to endure efficiently) 2) be resource efficient (use the resources out there) 3) adapt to changing conditions (join in the efforts) 4) integrate development with growth (strategies to do so and maintain our environment) 5) be locally attuned and responsive (get involved in your city) and 6) use life-friendly chemistry (use natural elements as solutions). And if you think you’re already doing a good job of this, just take the carbon footprint estimator…you’ll discover just how off you are! I scored an 86, the average is 160 and I know there are a ton of things I could do better! For instance, if I’m a full fledged “cradle to grave” (use a product until I’m finished and then throw it away) consumer in a particular area, then I could strive to be a “cradle to cradle” consumer and find a way for my product to be used efficiently somewhere else instead of disposing of it. In class, we had to brainstorm ideas on this particular subject and our group came up with reusable grocery bags…we would take donated, used fabric and make grocery bags that could be washed if needed and used again, but they were also stylish. Another area I needed to do better in and realized from the carbon footprint estimator, is replacing all of my light bulbs with LED bulbs, unplugging appliances when not in use and recycling more! In other words, I needed to hear this so I could rock the cradle!

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