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Archive for the ‘Waste=Food’ Category

How Do We Raise A Generation of Circular Economy Natives?

A circular economy is “all about closing resource loops,” shifting away from linear “take-make-waste” modes of production and consumption to closed loops that produce no waste and facilitate reuse. circularEconomy-f1It’s also about mimicking natural systems, a shift that makes systems – rather than bullet points –the context for defining and solving complex problems, and for fostering more effective learning and design.

Yet, even though we are immersed in natural systems, most of us weren’t explicitly taught the skills to see and understand them. We weren’t taught to see systems of closed-loop cause and effect relationships, or for that matter, to look to nature as a model for our economy (though nature is indeed the ultimate circular economy).

How do we raise a generation of young people who are circular economy natives, who naturally look to close loops to create positive impacts on health, ecosystems, materials, energy, value, and society?

In this session, we’ll look upstream, to seven emerging trends in education, communication and cognitive science. We’ll “connect the dots” among these trends and examine the valuable contributions each has to make in our efforts to educate for a circular economy.

If you’re interested in these questions, join me on November 21, for a 45-minute discussion, part of this year’s Disruptive Innovation Festival.

NOTE:  The title of this talk was inspired by John Sterman’s ground-breaking paper: “Learning in an about Complex Systems.”

If you missed the session, it will be up on the Disruptive Innovation Festival for 30 days so please do check it out.


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Waste = Food (or Why I Love Johnny Appleseed)

I’m becoming more and more convinced that when it comes to living “green” – or within the means of nature – we don’t have to get an advanced degree, or follow a 20-point check list.  Much of what we need to do is remember what we already know.

I grew up reading about Johnny Appleseed (real name:  John Chapman), the American folk hero who walked across America planting apple trees, handing out small bags of apple seeds along the way.  Last night, I read “The Story of Johnny Appleseed” (Aliki’s version) with my seven-year old son. It was the perfect ending to Halloween madness.  We both paused at this line:  

“On and on Johnny walked, planting as he went. When he needed more seeds, he collected sackfuls from the cider mills.”

When I asked my son what he thought of Johnny taking seeds from the cider mill, he said “that’s cool … ‘cuz they probably would have just ended up in the trash!”.  

I poked around this morning and found out that Johnny wasn’t just handed the seeds from the mills.  He had to separate the seeds from the apple pulp, wash and dry them, then put them in small sacks.

Long before the principle of “waste equals food” was so compellingly described by McDonough and Braungart in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, Johnny Appleseed was living the idea.  

So what can we learn from Johnny?  If we want to live sustainably – within the means of nature – we’d be smart to look for opportunities where the waste of one, can become the food for another.  In this way, we do as nature does, allowing all materials  to continuously circulate in closed loops of production, use and recycling.

Most of our products, however, are created using a linear manufacturing process, e.g., take -> make ->  waste.    We take raw materials, such as copper, iron, and minerals from the Earth.  We make goods, for example, cars, refrigerators, and computers. And then, because most of these products end up in the dump, where they cannot be put to use by anything or anybody, we waste.  (Check out “The Story of Stuff” for more on this). 

We don’t have to create unusable waste.  If we imitate living systems, waste from one system can become food for another. Old tires can be become shoes, plastic bottles can turn into fleece jackets, the remains of coffee plants can be used to grow mushrooms*, and paper can become kitty litter or animal bedding. 

So how can we close the loop?   If you compost food wastes at home, you’re already doing it.  Your “waste” is becoming “food” for your garden.

If I think about it, I learned early on about the idea of “waste = food” from my parents. As a little girl, I tagged along on trips to the garage sales and flea markets.  To them, one person’s junk was another person’s treasure.

*See the ZERI site for a terrific case study.