UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 3


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This is one in a series of documents that follow my UCLA winter 2010 course titled Cradle to Cradle: Closed Loop Systems. This interdisciplinary course contributes to the school's Certificate of Global Sustainability.

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UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 3

  1. 1. UCLAx class 3 1 UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 3 For our third class, we did something a little different. To begin with, we changed locations. Rather than our normal Westwood classroom, we met in the historic Royce Hall in the center of the original UCLA campus. Funny things happen when you move to historic old buildings. I think the room we had made arrangements for was 154. Looking at the building map it looked like 154 and several others had all been one space in the past. Just about the time class was scheduled to begin, I noticed people sticking their head in door in the back of the classroom. After a few minutes of that, a woman finally entered the class and informed us that her class regularly met in room 152. At first I couldn’t understand how this was a problem we were involved with, since we were in room 154. We both realized at the same time that room 152 and 154 were actually the same room. So we moved down the hall to 156. It was our plan to discuss the first two chapters of the book Cradle to Cradle, but we started a conversation about the physical book itself that was too interesting keep us from getting to those chapters. For anyone who has never seen the book, it’s not printed on paper. Both pages and cover are made of polymer fibers. The authors discuss this fact in the introduction which is titled This Book Is Not A Tree. It raises some very interesting issues, but doesn’t answer them directly, and the students picked up on this right away. The authors are somewhat vague about what kind of polymer it is. The standard recycling codes 1 though 7 identify different types of polymer that require different recycling processes. Even though they are often collected together, all seven types cannot be recycled together. Each has to be separated. Only six of the seven can be recycled, yet only two are done so an any quantity - numbers 1 and 2. Without knowing the type of polymer the book is composed of, how will any recycling center know what to do with the book should it end up at one. Thee authors also indicate that the book is an example of a technical nutrient - meaning it can be reused rather than recycled. To do that I’m assuming the book would have to be disassembled. It would have been instructive for the authors to walk us though how such a process would work, but they do not. They leave that vague as well. On the book cover there is a cute icon and message indicating that the book is waterproof. I’m not a large book collector by any means, but I probably have more than all my friends combined. I have never had to discard a book because it wasn’t waterproof. Combine these three, plus many more issues raised by the students, and the credibility of the authors took a pretty good hit. Having read the book several times, I know that they’ll recover quickly as we move in deeper. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  2. 2. UCLAx class 3 2 Our second and third hour of class was spent in the Anderson School of Management attending a special event with sustainability visionary Ray C. Anderson. I’ve been a huge fan for many years yet I’ve never been able to meet him or see him speak. So it was a special treat for me. He presents himself as a kind southern gentleman, but I bet he’s as tough as nails. You can’t get to where he has without tough skin and fierce determination. His primary message was tied to his recently published book Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. Mr. Anderson started by showing the equation above. It's a modified version of the one first proposed by Ehrlich and Holdren in 1974 in relation to their work focused on the impact of runaway global population. 'I' stands for environmental impact, 'A' stands for level of affluence, 'P' stands for population, and 'T' stands for technology. The subscript 1 represents current technology that is based on extractive processes disconnected from natural ones. In this calculation, you can easily see how the race to achieve a standard of living and level of wealth equal to the US by developing nations like China, India, and Brazil, multiplied by their vastly larger populations and their deployment of environmentally destructive technology has the potential to create impact on a scale greater than anything we’ve seen to date. Although the original formula this is based on the impact of population, Mr. Anderson leaves it in the equation, but did not address it in his presentation and does not in his book. If we move technology from numerator to denominator, as shown above, it’s instantly obvious that even if population increases and affluence grows, impact can be mitigated by increasing technology. Unfortunately, this still assuming no change from extractive to sustainable technologies means reveals that this equation will never truly reflect reality. And it ignores potential negative effects by technological processes themselves. To begin moving toward minimizing environmental impact and manufacture in a more sustainable manner, technology will more likely remain as both numerator and denominator, as shown above. The subscript 2 in this equation reflects a required change in thinking for technology to transition from extractive systems - take make waste - to ones that mimic nature. Future technologies must be employed that are restorative, cyclical, and renewable. We have to move from the existing industrial mindset to a sustainable one. Mr. Anderson finished with the above equation as his vision for a future industrial system. You’ll notice that the 'A', which stands for affluence, has been changed from upper to lower case. In his proposal, he suggests that a focus on affluence disconnected from happiness is meaningless. That doesn’t mean that he proposes the elimination of it, but he www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  3. 3. UCLAx class 3 3 introduces the letter 'H' in the denominator which stands for human happiness. The current industrial system relies on an underlying economic system that is fundamentally flawed. It is totally dependent upon the gap that exists between what we want and what we need. A gap never closes. As we satisfy more needs, we accumulate more wants. This gap ultimately creates a chasm between happiness and affluence. They are interconnected, but they are not the same. Mr. Anderson believes we need to change our economic focus so that wealth creation doesn’t go away, but is not viewed and promoted as the sole measure of happiness. Removed from this equation is the original 'T' with subscript 1. Our existing technology, based on two-hundred year old beliefs, will have to go and be replaced with new technology that can guarantee endless sustainability. It was a big night for big ideas. When the even was opened up for questions, many of them came from my students. What’s mentioned in this blog and what Mr. Anderson presented are mere sketches of deeper and more complex concepts discussed in his new book Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. I'm currently working my way through it. What’s truly amazing is that these are not just theoretical ramblings, they are based on what he and his company Interface are doing today. He’s not suggesting these as a potential course to take, he’s actually well on his way. I encourage anyone not familiar with him, his company, or their attempt to create a new industrial enterprise, to also check out his first book Mid- Course Correction. Let me know what you think. Click on the links below to download podcasts of the lecture and Q&A: www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601