A vibrant economy is essential for sustainability and vice versa. We have learned in recent years that without a real sustainability, the economy cannot continue to operate. One solution to the current problems in our economy lies in understanding and applying the ecosystem logic. Nature exhibits a real economy and genuine sustainability so that if our economies were developed with nature as a model, we could use energy and resources efficiently and without generating waste, and it would create hundreds of millions of jobs, as Gunter Pauli defends. And this is something that we endorse.
An economic system based on ecosystems would function with what is provided by the local environment, such as naturally renewable energy resources that primarily express the laws of physics. The physics describe the underlying forces that each planetary species makes a dynamic use of.
Emulating the functional and material efficiency of ecosystems and natural habitats is a pragmatic way to achieve sustainability and high efficiency in resource utilization without sacrificing competitiveness while creating added value. The use of nutrients and energy shows the elegance of ecosystems that we should better copy. Nature turns an apparent shortage into sufficiency and ultimately into abundance. The cascade of energy and nutrients, in which absorbed minerals nourish microorganisms, microorganisms nourish plants, plants feed other species, and waste of some is the food of others, leads to sustainability by reducing or removing any external energy input, or otherwise, and by eliminating waste and costs, not only in the form of pollution, but also in the insufficient use of materials.
Our current economic system that has failed to stop the bleeding loss of millions of jobs and youth unemployment that reaches dramatic proportions in the industrialized world will barely accommodate the one thousand million of newcomers to the labor market, particularly those from developing countries. We are experiencing an inability to imagine meaningful jobs and provide worthwhile challenges to an entire generation, equivalent to primarily passing the message on to young people that there is no future.
More than one thousand million people in the world live without electricity. We have to rethink many things about our current economic system that is based on the ruinous notion of insolvency, so that growth is financed through a debt perpetually transferred to future generations. Let us be brave, because moving towards a blue economy will require entrepreneurs to commit their creativity and involvement in science, social affairs, finance, ecology and media. What is needed is clear objectives, perseverance and a strong ethical foundation and the know how to generate a flow of money against all odds.
There are hundreds of reports that reveal unacceptable waste of energy in some cases even reaching 98% (1). This energy is wasted while just a modest increase in energy productivity would boost the economy, create jobs and help save the environment. These same reports reveal that most energy productivity gains will have to come, for example, from improvements in residential and non-residential buildings. Only by increasing the use of the technology available today, such as energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting and insulation, households could reduce their energy bills by a third. Moreover, the total energy consumption, for example in the EU could be reduced by 35% to more than double the rate of improvement in energy productivity in the region from about 1.5% to 3% per year by 2030.
LED lighting fictionalized in 2014 as one of the great innovations of recent decades, is a key element to meet the growing energy demands of the future, since it is already able to deliver improved power productivity by 500% in households. By combining LED lighting, sensors, applications and controls even greater efficiencies can be achieved. LED technology is sustainable “per se” because it largely complies with its three pillars: ecological, economic and social.
But even today the manufacture of energy efficient lamps require small amounts of mercury such as CFLs touted as a great energy saving technology, that rely on this heavy metal. In a society whose goals are health and sustainability, the release of mercury without any recovery guarantees, albeit in small amounts is unacceptable. Hence the importance of generating intense light without mercury.
The best sustainable innovation is now possible. When Roger Hanlon of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole (Massachusetts), studied how jellyfish squid and fungi produce light, he found that the luminescence is triggered by calcium, which acts as a switch that activates a protein that releases energy as light. The light source is not a heavy metal, but two renewable materials that are available in abundance. The light emitted is bluish, which does not match the standard preference for white light; however, the white color may be obtained by optical effects instead of chemical additives. The blue light thus generated, particularly the brighter version found in depth crustaceans, also has other applications, such as hardening adhesives.
The elimination from the production process of a toxic ingredient such as mercury facilitates manufacture locally. Multiple efficiencies can be achieved and mercury suppression would result in the reduction of considerable collateral costs that formerly were to be borne by society.
This last example is one of many examples of business initiatives that illustrate how a blue economy can benefit not only our planet but also its inhabitants through positive liquidity, reduced material intensity and energy savings.
1- E.g. http://www.newscenter.philips.com/asset.aspx?alt=&p=http://www.newscenter.philips.com/pwc_nc/main/standard/resources/corporate/press/2015/Energy-Productivity-and-Economic-Prosperity-Index/The-2015-Energy-Productivity-and-Economic-Prosperity-Index.pdf
Belen Cavanillas is director and co-founder of smartLIGHTING since 2012. She has a Degree in Commercial Business and Marketing from ESIC, Spain.