Business Creates Eco-Side!
The social imperative is far more daunting than most people imagine--the objective of zero waste, zero destruction. We need (and soon) an economic system that mimics nature itself, where waste of one species becomes food for another, where disruptions and imbalances occur but are self-correcting, self-restoring. Thinking in these large terms does not trivialize the environmental progress that has gone before, but it does make clear that the existing laws and standards--based narrowly on whether human health is threatened or whether business can "afford" to reduce pollution--are utterly inadequate to the crisis.
The usual conservative skeptics who front for business will attack this formulation as a back-to-poverty recipe for destroying modern life. But that leads to the truly radical core (and new evidence) of the Lovins-Hawken argument. The industrial transformation is not only technically feasible and already under way in some business practices but promises greater economic returns, both for shareholders and workers. If industries would pursue these possibilities aggressively in their own self-interest, environmental reform may not even require negative incentives like "green taxes" on energy consumption that are politically difficult and penalize the less affluent by raising the cost of living.
Could this be true? In the $9 trillion US economy, the authors explain, around $2 trillion in spending is devoted to waste, that is, activities or materials that yield literally no value to the buyer. If that estimate is correct, there are incredible opportunities for genuine efficiency--the engineer's version, not the stockbroker's. Because transformation enhances productivity and will create new sectors of positive activities, it should expand employment too.
Cost savings will flow from mundane matters--tightening the factory plumbing and designing energy-efficient buildings--as well as esoteric realms like nanotechnology, reconstituted materials and systems-design integration. The payoff, as some industrial pioneers have already learned, can be a factor of ten-, fifty-, even 100-fold. Steelcase, the largest maker of office furniture, created an upholstery fabric that is disposed of by composting. Remanufacturing firms in the United States now generate more revenue than the consumer-durables industry. Anheuser-Busch saved 21 million pounds of metal a year by knocking an eighth of an inch off the rim of its beer cans.
To take an especially compelling example, consider the idea of making manufacturers take responsibility for what ultimately happens to their products, whether it's an automobile or dishwasher, packaging or toxic chemicals. In the US political context, that sounds way too radical, but actually, the principle is already in widespread use (and is better known as leasing). Whether it's Volvo, Boeing or Carrier, the company retains title to the leased car, jetliner or air-conditioning system, services it conscientiously and eventually reclaims it for resale or disposal. The logic of the relationship puts responsibilities on both producer and customer, but especially gives the producer incentives to pursue the efficiencies of long-life design and to minimize the costs of eventual disposal. Europe is far ahead of the United States in exploring this mode of reform; several nations already have "takeback" laws for cars, packaging and other goods. America is not the world leader on eco-reform and hasn't been for many years.