Where there’s a will, there’s a way - plastic at Rio+20
The Rio+20 Earth Summit begins in two days time. It provides a platform for world leaders, the private sector, NGOs, campaign groups and many others to come together to discuss how to develop a green economy, how to eradicate poverty and what an institutional framework for sustainable development would look like.
For the third Earth Summit (the 2nd was in Johannesburg 10 years ago) there are seven priority areas: decent jobs, energy, building sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness. That’s a lot to cover in three days.
The previous Earth Summits have produced a number of positive results. These include: making eco-efficiency a guiding principle for business and governments; changing patterns of production, particularly the production of toxic components; encouraging governments to seek alternative sources of energy to replace the use of fossil fuels; encouraging cities to increase their reliance on public transportation systems in order to reduce vehicle emissions, congestion and the health problems caused by polluted air and smog; and raising awareness about the growing scarcity of water.
However, much more needs to happen. Increasing populations and higher rates of consumption have meant the world’s ecosystems are in decline. A sixth of the world’s population lacks access to food, electricity or safe drinking water. This is neither sustainable nor morally fair.
Rio for business?
How can the business world help? What does Rio mean for business? Developing a green economy requires vision, innovation and participation of big corporations and SMEs. A green economy would re-balance things, protect ecosystems, while allowing for growth and improvements in people’s lives. It is the key to the Earth’s, and humanity’s, future.
John Liu, an expert in ecological restoration, has a vision for a green economy that would be based on valuing the biosphere (all of the ecosystems of the earth) above the goods and services we consume. It’s a simple yet radical shift from the current state of human behaviour.
Everything we rely on to live comes from the biosphere: food, water, air, medicine, fuel, clothing, and raw materials. However, counter-intuitively and unsustainably, we are destroying the biosphere – the oceans, land and air around us – which provide us with all these things.
If you are a business, what does changing patterns of behavior mean in real terms, in light of the need to shift economic activity away from being so destructive? One example is drawn from a Hong Kong based stakeholder, who is at Rio+20 and gearing up for an important event on 21 June. Doug Woodring, an environmental entrepreneur, is among the organizers of the Plasticity Forum in Rio. He is inviting public and private sector stakeholders to join him for an event that aims to encourage support for opportunities and innovative ideas for using waste plastic as a secondary raw material.
A priority area at the Rio talks is the Earth’s oceans. Plasticity Rio '12 will explore the innovations and solutions that industry leaders and communities are undertaking to ensure that plastic and used material is treated as a resource, therefore minimizing its impacts on our shared global ecosystem. By challenging our ingenuity to devise more strategies that convert garbage into gold, a greener, more stable, fairer economy can be realized.
Why is plastic waste such a big issue? For an example of the destructive nature of plastic in our oceans, we need look no further than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the ocean clotted with plastic micro particles that has grown 100-fold since the 1970s.