Unbalanced metabolism

75% of CO2 emissions are produced in cities. The world is facing major environmental challenges and cities are a major contributer to the consumption of energy, natural resources and emissions. So most discussions are about the ecological footprint of a city – a factor that describes the amount of land required to sustain its metabolism. Based on this definition Herbert Girardet, consultant to Habitat II, the UN agency concerned with sustainability in cities, calculated that London’s footprint, for example, is 125 times its surface area. This is the equivalent to Britain’s entire productive land. Another example is Tokyo. The raw materials on which the city feeds and processes the waste products it excretes takes 1.2 times the land area of the whole of Japan. If mountains and other regions are discarded and only habitable land included, then this becomes 3.6 times the land area of Japan.

No wonder that the center of attention within sustainable development is on reducing CO2 emissions with concepts like decentralized infrastructures for energy production, waste and water management systems evolving from today’s recycling model to a new model that includes the product lifecycle and inverse logistic procedures.

You can only be CO2 neutral, when you don’t exist

Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart
Keynote speaker Smart City World Congress, Barcelona / Spain, 13.-15.11.2012

“Even trees are not CO2 neutral. You can only be CO2 neutral, when you don’t exist. Trying to reduce emissions therefore is the wrong thing. And doing the wrong things perfect means doing things perfectly wrong.”

With two examples he underlines his statement: Firstly, the sealing of buildings is tax supported in Europe – however behavior of inhabitants is not adequately changed. He quoted a study that detected climate in a building often being worse than outside. Consequently there is a negative impact on health that is shown, for example, in Asthma being the most common chronic disease among children worldwide and rapidly growing. In Europe 10-15% of children are affected. Secondly, things are not used to “be smart”. So it doesn’t help to make them more sustainable or extend lifetime. Inventing tires for double milage only extends the problem.

Therefore he invented the “Cradle to Cradle Concept”. It is a biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems. It models human industry on nature’s processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolism. It is a holistic economic, industrial and social framework that seeks to create systems that are not only efficient but also essentially waste free. Companies designing products that go in the biological cycle are for example Puma, KLM and Maersk. According to Braungart future cities could affect the climate like forests, being carbon positive, not neutral only. Currently 25% of the world emissions come from buildings. An urban area set up in the cradle to cradle concept is the “Park 2020” near Amsterdam. Also the city hall of Venlo in the Netherlands is based on the concept, so are companies in the building industry like Thoma Holz buildings, Schüco windows, Moas tiles. Philips, famous for light products just recently decided to align the company according to Braungart’s concept. Their first lighthouse project is selling light to the city of Rotterdam instead of lightbulbs. Cost for electricity decreased by 60% – Philips and the city of Rotterdam share the saving.