Environmental Ponderings No:11

Have you ever said things to yourself like, “It’ll never happen to me”, or “It won’t affect me”, “I can never do that”, or “It doesn’t apply to me”? Do these phrases sometimes come back and bite you?

In the environmental business, we get many issues that do just that. I am not just talking about “the public”. We professionals get caught out as well. It is often on matters where we are entrenched in the detailed knowledge of “the business”. We know it all, we’ve seen it all and we’ve even got the T-shirt…..

One of my more embarrassing experiences in this area was with zero waste. I had worked with many companies and managed to bring down their waste generation to single digits. I then read a book by Gunter Pauli called “Upsizing – The Road to Zero Emissions, More Jobs More Income and No Pollution”. Pauli observed that industry works to priorities such as fast returns on investments and maintaining a focus on the core activities of the company.  He postulated that core activities are not an end in itself, as believed by corporate strategists, but a beginning. There is a need for diversification and cooperation, for more from less, for Upsizing. He said that to operationalise Upsizing, we must stop expecting the earth to produce more but start doing more with what the earth produces. As an example, he quoted agro-forestry  where less than 5% of its output is effectively used and 95% is discarded. If the economic system were to use that 95%, it would be possible to satisfy 20 times more material needs without expecting the earth to produce more. Think about all the extra jobs, more productive industries and reduced waste streams.

This was enough for me to start thinking creatively about all the “lost opportunities” that so many industries were casting aside because, “..their Return On Investment was longer than two years..”  Through such creative thinking, we managed to turn a company around from facing a massive investment in a new multi-million rand water treatment plant, to a change in production sequencing which not only reduced the quantities of waste effluent produced, but also reduced the quantities of potable water utilised.

Some of you may have read my past comments on my own efforts in reducing my water consumption and generating electricity from solar panels. You may have said to yourselves, “…that doesn’t apply to me”, “other people can do that, I can’t.”  I read a number of articles and journals which may give you cause to re-think.

An article in a recent issue of the “Mail & Guardian” suggested that perhaps Eskom electricity was becoming too expensive for many to afford. It was suggested that the poor just stopped paying for electricity and the more affluent classes were beginning to cut back on electricity usage and switch to alternative energy sources such as photo voltaics, wind power and solar geysers.

It was reported that for the first time recently, the UK did not need to use coal to generate Grid electricity  for a full 24 hours, making use of alternate energy sources such as wind power, gas, and photovoltaics, instead. In the same article, it reported that the UK subsidiary of Unilever was sourcing 100% of its electricity requirements from Scottish wind farms.

So, have you done everything that you possibly can to reduce your reliance on grid electricity, cut your wasteful consumption of potable water and reduce the amount of recyclable materials that you put out in your black garbage bags every week?

Just a last word. Strategists are beginning to suggest that petrol and diesel combustion engine cars may stop being produced in Europe as soon as 2025. Can I refer you back to my first paragraph above?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with over 30 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2017.