Since 2008, raw materials have had a high priority on the European Union’s agenda.
When we think about international environmental conferences, similar pictures come to our minds: experts flying in to chic venues, abundance of good food and long discussions of impacts that are hard to gauge. Which brings us to the question: do we really need to launch the tradition of another yearly environmental conference in Europe? Dr. Harry Lehmann, who conceived the idea of the European Resources Forum, thinks that the answer is certainly yes. Before heading for the first sessions of the ERF in Berlin, my colleague Tanaka Tabassum and I spoke to Dr Lehmann on his motivation for “another” environmental conference. As well as leading the planning division of the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA), Dr. Lehmann is a veteran in the field of sustainability policy with an academic background in physics. Clearly, this is not a man who builds castles in the sky.
I cannot stress the grandeur of the China National Convention Centre. It sweeps you off your feet and mops the gleaming floor with your flabbergasted face. I’ve been to smaller airport terminals and I have visited a sheikh’s palace that would fit five times over. Should the might of the late great leader ever be lost among Beijing’s smog and active lifestyle, the buildings will most definitely remind you of what you so gravely forgot. Walking past a gargantuan hallway, stumbling in and out of doors you do eventually end up in what happens to be the World Resources Forum 2012.
Student Reporter Adam Wong interviewed Yi-Heng Cheng, CEO of Kunshan Quanta K&M Consulting and Shanghai Microtech Co. Ltd. on the future of resource consumption in China. The emerging economy is today in the historical position that European conturies and America were some decades ago, and rapid industrialisation means that the ever-hungry economy is fiercely demanding all the time. But the world has changed significantly since then and countries face the challenge of either being swept away by the tide or being eroded in its wake.
“As my mother said, it’s important for a girl to have more than one suitor.”
Dambisa Moyo, economist and author of multiple New York Times Best-seller books, applies her mother’s maxim to Africa’s economic situation. For Moyo, the girl in the saying represents Africa. And amongst the many suitors clamouring for hand, is China. However, while China’s financial engagement in (sub-Saharan) Africa has strongly increased in the last few years, it has also become subject to widespread criticism, mostly by Western countries. For China, economic relations with Africa are of great significance.
What happened to the “paperless office”? Despite being surrounded by smartphones and computers, the myth seems not to have become reality. The Economist reports that, since 1980, global paper consumption has increased by half, leading to many of the world’s vast ancient forests being chopped down. The World Resource Institute (WRI) has estimated that only one-fifth of the earth’s original forest remains untouched in relatively natural ecosystems, which WRI calls frontier forests. These forests are necessary to regulate the earth’s climate, storing over 430 billion metric tons of carbon.
No longer is waste a muddled, stinking pile of garbage. With evermore refined technology, the waste management industry has finally come of age. The most recent technological hubbub in waste management has been made by a Finnish company called ZenRobotics. Their only marketable product, a robotic recycling arm, purportedly utilises a variety of sensors to distinguish different types of materials in a waste stream and then separates them accordingly. Whilst technological advances are impressive in their own right, increasing technological sophistication does not provide an all-encompassing solution to the global waste problem.
This is the first part in a two-part series on the role of systems thinking in business solutions for sustainable development. Here is part 2. For most of us, it is rare to go through a single day without hearing the words “sustainability” or “green” applied to anything from Apple products to Zinfandels. The widespread use and the trendiness of these terms by businesses have evolved them into almost catch-all phrases that seem applicable to any sector. Nevertheless, the underlying ideas and needs are common.
Addressing the problem of water scarcity was the major concern during the World Water Forum 6. Many solutions were suggested, but it seems that the answer to this crucial problem can be found in the sustainable use of water resources. In the field of sustainability, innovation must be applied in every possible sense, in order for modern civilization to keep developing and flourishing. While attending several different discussion panels that focused on possible solutions such as desalination, replacement of malfunctioning infrastructure and filtration of rainwater, a certain proposal gained my attention. During the High Level Panel on Transboundary Waters, Mr Ger Bergkamp, Regional Group and Programmes of IWA, introduced the idea of the use of different water qualities.
Since the beginning of days humans have always tried to imitate nature, both in real life and in mythology (e.g. Daedalus and Icarus trying to imitate the flying of the birds). As technology advances, many advances return back to the concept of imitating nature in order to preserve a balance on earth. For example, the industrial and municipal water cycle are now being adapted to reuse wastewater. Water reclamation is a reflection of water’s value and increasing scarcity in many parts of the world – there simply isn’t enough fresh water to meet demands. In water reclamation, we emulate Mother Nature, where water is recylced and reused on a global scale. In fact, with the current technology we can do it faster and better. Water reclamation is the treatment of wastewater to make it reusable. The idea is that for some uses, like watering the lawn or some industrial uses, water does not need to be as clean as for others, such as drinking. Water reclamation can also mean that water is treated from toilet to tap, like in Singapore, where wastewater undergoes reverse osmosis and is immediately recycled. Further opportunity exists in reclaming minerals from wastewater, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are valuable for agriculture.
The panel ,“Hydraulic Fracturing: The Case for a Global Ban,” consisted of Ms. Hauter from the United States, Borislav Sandov of the Bulgarian National Civil Committee against Shale Gas, and Corinne Lepage, former Minister of the Environment for France and current member of the European Parliament. The panelists discussed how they believe a global ban is in order while coming from countries with differing viewpoints: Bulgaria and France have both banned it, while the United States is actively drilling. Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations. Used in combination with horizontal drilling, the technology has allowed access to natural gas reserves in shale formations previously considered uneconomical. The process requires millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of chemicals (per frack, per well). The combination is injected underground at high volumes and pressure, fracturing the shale and leading to the release of natural gas.
Most bacteria can eat different types of molecules, however a lot of them like sugar primarily. When the sugar is over, they switch to the next type of food available. Societies are not so different. When the resources are depleted, they have to switch. They go through a transition, until they have adapted to the new conditions.