Important note: This article was written some years ago now, mainly as a mental experiment to test a few thoughts. I’m not pro unlimited growth and I believe that the current industry has the wrong focus to start with. Instead of trying to solve problems or needs of people it wants to sell and create needs that weren’t there. Keep that in mind while reading. Also, it seems that the company Nanoflowcell is not living up to what they promised. Actually, the founder has been accused of fraud in previous businesses that he ran, but I’m leaving the link and reference for now as an example of someone trying out visionary technology to counter what’s currently available.
Do you think about what you buy and how it has been produced?
Many people within the field of Permaculture strongly encourage that you should limit what you buy and scale down your life – but today I’d like to make a bold statement:
You don’t have to limit how much you consume as long as it has been produced in the right way.
I know that this is a provocative statement, but let me explain what I mean. (I would be really happy if you would give me some feedback on this idea in the comments section below – but first read through the whole article to grasp the full idea.)
“…nature…never tries to limit the resources in use.”
In Permaculture design we try to mimic natural systems and improve them to be more beneficial for ourselves. What I see in nature is that it never tries to limit the resources in use. They are used to their full potential within the system and then recycled at the end of their life. That’s the kind of approach we should take to consumption and production of goods.
I’m not saying that I fully approve of the hysterical economy, where items that no one really needs are produced and marketed to then be thrown in the trash a short while after. I am aware, though, that most people are not willing to give up their comfortable lifestyle and the possessions they have today. Therefore I suggest that we could do it in a different way.
It’s all about the product design and making changes in the production chains. I’m not saying it would be easy. Not in a world where money talks to such a high degree. Businesses continuously have to change their designs to keep up with the demand and push their prices down to stay ahead of competition. But I still believe it could be possible to do that in the “right” way.
I remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about a team of architects helping companies redesign their production plants and offices to be highly efficient, fully self-sustainable and leave a lot less or no waste from the production. (If someone has a clue what the documentary might be called I would appreciate a link so I can include it here.) The companies hiring them were at first worried that they would end up paying more than for a “traditional” design, but ended up saving millions per year! That’s the kind of thinking I’m talking about.
Humans in the western world are very ego driven, and that’s something other cultures are now copying. But if we redesign the systems now it does not have to turn into a disaster. Take Nanoflowcell as an example. These guys truly get it! In order to create something that will have a greater impact you might need to first design products that appeal to the more ego-driven parts in people. Thus they have designed a sports car with killer specs – but which runs on saltwater. Wait what?! Yep, you heard me, saltwater. If you haven’t heard about this before, just Google “Quant-e” or check out their site for more info. The fantastic thing with this is that seen in a greater perspective, it is not about a sports car. It’s about a technology that could be used for power plants, fuelling transport tankers, trains, you name it! But they market it as a sports car first, because that’s how you get the right attention.
I would like to present a few demands I believe need to be implemented when designing consumer goods, to avoid that they deplete our ecosystem of its resources:
- Products designed to have a short life-cycle need to be made out of 100% renewable and recyclable materials
- Products designed to have a longer life-cycle should as far as it is possible meet the same criteria + also be repairable
- In case the product requires scarce materials in the design these should be recyclable
Let me give you some examples of products this could apply to:
Clothes: Fashion changes by the minute and many people enjoy changing their style frequently. Even if the clothes would be designed to only last a short while, all the fibers used in the garments could be made out of recyclable materials. Easy to grind down and re-shape into new garments with a new design a few months later. It would be great if each clothing company was obliged to recycle the materials from their own products. Keep the raw materials within the same production chain as far as possible.
Cell-phones, cars and other items with a (hopefully) longer life span should be based on a higher degree of exchangeable parts. Check out Phonebloks for instance. With such a system you would get the updated modules you need/want and the old ones go back to be recycled.
In all cases the production should ideally be made using 100% renewable energy sources. Same thing goes for transports.
If the requirements I list above would be met, there would be no environmental reasons for limiting consumption. Just as in nature, all materials would go back into the cycle and then be reused as needed.
I decided to split this post up in two parts since it was turning too long. I’ll dive deeper into some of the issues and tell you some about how I consume myself in a few days time. Meanwhile I would really appreciate your views on this issue. Shoot away in the comments section below or in the social media where you found this article posted.