The city, the future, and you – sustainable business

October 21st, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Millennial City | Comments Off

This is Part 4 of Chapter 5 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on futurist.com and on dothefuture.com. Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle How Cities and Millennials will Shape the Future is leading. What do you think?

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CHAPTER FIVE – Part 4
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

It comes down to this: sustainability is either as a constraint in manufacturing or a tremendous opportunity to transform the way we do business. Earth’s greatest challenges begin with manufacturing, which is both a challenge and an opportunity. Not all wastes can be recycled. That is where a product’s impact on the environment must be considered. Creating products with less packaging, that are easier to repair, that last longer, that use less harmful materials, that can be fully recyclied is the ideal.

Critics tell us this will never work. It can never be done. It is impossible. It will never be accepted. How often have those words been spoken? Listen. It will. It can. It is. And the transition to a low carbon economy doesn’t have to be a financial burden. It can actually open up whole new worlds of opportunity.

Toyota pioneered the next evolution – lean manufacturing in direct contradiction to the image of factories spewing pollution from smokestacks. When it first emerged, the concept was revolutionary known as “just in time.” It kept inventories low. It fundamentally changed how products are invented, manufactured, shipped and sold. Companies all over the world have saved money, quadrupling productivity by tailoring the Toyota method to their own.

Wal-Mart aims for zero waste by 2025. Wal-Mart has realized that reducing waste saves money for their business, their suppliers and their customers. It boils down to savings. Subaru’s zero-waste program is a money-maker and a job saver. For the past few decades, they’ve sold three million vehicles without a layoff, while enjoying the cost saving green dividend of not wasting anything. Do the math. Companies and cities that lower their impact on the natural environment are more likely to thrive in a world with limited resources than their competitors.

On the flipside, one company’s waste can be another company’s raw material. Some companies get rid of waste by dumping it. The US Business Council for Sustainable Development had an idea, something that will work for everyone – By-Product Synergy (BPS). By-product streams from one manufacturing is matched with users at another facility to create new revenues. Collaborative networks are creating cost savings and the need for virgin-source materials.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says producing food and energy side-by-side offers one of the best formulas for boosting food and energy security while simultaneously reducing poverty in many countries.

Life may not always be as black and white as this. There may not be a perfect solution for everyone. But imagine what we could do if everyone decided to do whatever it takes to make the world a better place. Challenge yourself. What’s your dream?

What about non-manufacturing activities? In the not so distant past, the United Nations once declared leisure a basic human right. Practically speaking, that might mean you have a right to party; or if you’re a music fan, the right to listen to whatever music you like; to attend rock festivals. But there can be downside consequences. Summer’ city festivals are great fun but between trash produced and power consumed, they’re not so great for the environment.

Milwaukee’s “Rock the Green” is the brainchild of Lindsay Stevens Gardner, owner of event management and marketing agency LuLu Live. Gardner understood the consequences and came to a responsible solution. A color-coded labelling system was developed to mark discarded compostable materials, organics, recyclables and trash. A program collected and funnelled food through grinders. Food and drink vendors began offering organic, sustainable and local ingredients on their menus. And admission included a free reusable water bottle. Not half bad.

When it comes to fun in the sun environmentalism, Lollapalooza is second to none. Keeping Grant Park and the planet healthy and around for future generations seems to be a key mission for Lollapalooza. A waste diversion incentive program offers hundreds of recycling bins, composting stations in the picnic areas, and a team of hired professionals and volunteers. Fans can take environmentally friendly transportation to the festival. And even before that, fans can
purchase certified carbon offsets from Green Mountain Energy Company when they buy their tickets. At the festival, Green Street art vendors are selected for their individual causes. Whether they create fashionable goods from recycled materials, use earth friendly materials, promote environmental awareness, or have fair trade agreements with people around the globe.

Lollapalooza’s non-profit presenting sponsor, the Parkways Foundation, is the philanthropic partner of the Chicago Park District. Since 1994, the Parkways Foundation has funded park projects all over Chicago. The festival has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the Foundation for historic preservation and restoration, programming initiatives and environmental enrichment. Initiatives like these are going on in great cities all over the country. They’ve got it covered, or so it seems. The question is, where do we go from here?

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[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]