Michael Braungart, Gunter Pauli, Francesco Tonucci and Livia Tirone at the Global Eco-Forum in Barcelona

This week at the Global Eco-Forum in Barcelona, Spain, we had the pleasure to witness some interesting debates by Michael Braungart, co-father of the Cradle to Cradle concept, Gunter Pauli from the Zeri Foundation, Francesco Tonucci from The City of Children project, sustainable architect Livia Tirone and many others. This is the first of hopefully many more Global Eco-Forums, organised by Barcelona-based Eco-Union, who organise training days and activities around all aspects of development and sustainability of the environment. The aim of the conference and online network is to reflect, discuss and generate new ideas for a more sustainable and responsible society.

There were definitely some interesting debates started, when Michael Braungart (who just arrived and had to leave again straight after his speech to take another flight) suggested we should all go to the toilet before boarding the plane, which would save around 5 tones of kerosene due to the loss of weight. Local responsibility & Global Sustainability?

The first part of the morning debate was called: Local responsibility & Global Sustainability? The discussion started with moderator Luis Jiménes Herrero pointing out that social responsibility and sustainability are not the same but one can hardly talk about the latter without the responsibility. Spain's director of Greenpeace, Juan López de Uralde, explained us why and how by 2050 all of Spain's electricity should be from renewable sources and Anna Bolaños from the company Agbar (the Spanish company dedicated to services, distribution or treatment of water), explained how co-responsibility is the key to a more sustainable use of water. Imma Mayol, fifth Deputy Mayor of Barcelona City Council and chair of the Committee on Sustainability, was urging us to act faster, and to get away from the phantom created by politics, that sustainability would stop progress. She believes people are too confident that technology will save us all. Instead she thinks there need to be a big cultural change in the way we live; a more responsible consumption, more thinking and awareness and more action needs to be taken.

The conclusion of the debate, which later engaged the audience as well, was that we cannot speak of any sort of process or development if it is not a sustainable one, as then it couldn't be called development (or process). We also have to include culture in sustainable thinking and be aware of the effect one sustainable action in one place might have on others, which could be totally unsustainable in turn. The perception of well-being and happiness related to economic growth is also believed to be wrong, but still far from being able to be measured differently. Quite a few people from the audience wanted to know how the crisis effects sustainable development, whether it might put it on hold or pushes it, but no convincing answer was given.

And then came Michael Braungart: To be an eco-innovator

Braungart's speech was quite controversial with most of the other lectures that day, but not less convincing and inspiring. He started of by justifying why he has to fly so much (his next flight left straight away after his session): "All my flights are compensated by NGOs, so I must fly to use it and not let the compensation go to waste." He reckons he has his lifetime compensated for around 50 times, so get in touch with him if you need some CO2 compensation. Here a few other interesting quotes:

"If you (designers, architects, scientists, etc.) don't want to be an idiot, do something against the climate crisis. It's not about sustainability, it's about innovation, about doing good " (more quotes from Braungart at the Global Eco-Forum on TreeHugger, and, check out Braungart on Population)

Another point of view by Gunter Pauli

Whereas Biomimicry is too much like romanticising nature for Michael Braungart, Gunter Pauli, head of the Zeri Foundation, believes in Biomimicry. As an example he asked why the zebra has black and white stripes. The answer is not camouflage or fashion, but Pauli explains they serve to obtain the perfect temperature by making the air rotate. Another example was a gym building in Denmark inspired by a termite mound: the more people are inside, the cooler it is.

Braungart's counter arguments against designing by looking at nature were: " Is nature taking care of handicapped people? Or has it had a solution it times of cholera?" He much prefers to celebrate abundance, rather than efficiency.

But to get back to eco-innovator Gunter Pauli, who is the founder of 10 companies so far, of which one is no other than Ecover (the eco-friendly cleaning product company), he believes we should rely on the wisdom of past AND future. Positive thinking, creative learning and action on the ground are also useful tools for a more sustainable future. In nature, nothing is linear, so he suggests the same for our learning techniques. Like in the science of life, where there are no dogmas, we should explore unknown territories and avoid comfort zones. He agrees with Braungart that less good is still bad: "Imagine I am a thief that steals less and I get taken to court. I still have to go to prison." Another concept worth quoting:

You give a man a fish, and he has no hunger for a day. You give a man a fishing rod, and he —overfishes!

Gunter Pauli definitely inspired his audience and made us think differently, more positively, about sustainability.

To construct the space of the future

The next session was Francesco Tonucci and Livia Tirone with examples of how to construct the space of the future. The Italian teacher, artist and writer Tonucci gave an interesting presentation about the 'Città dei bambini' (City of the children) project, where they base urban planning on children's ideas for public spaces, because they represent everyone (young and old, handicapped people, etc.) not just children. Tonucchi's research with children resulted in a need for more open spaces around the city to build better communities. One thing the children asked for was a playground with hiding places, and more surprises. They didn't like it that most playgrounds look the same, or that they had to be watch by their parents all the time. They much prefer them drinking mate (a common beverage in Argentina) somewhere nearby.

Architect Tirone gave a very easy to understand break-down of what it takes to make a building sustainable: South facing orientation, double glazing, thermal inertia, trombe walls, green roofs, cross ventilation, etc. She pointed out that the main cost of a building is its operational cost, not the construction of it, and that we have to totally re-think spaces. The spatial dimensions have changed, no less due to the fact that we spend less time at home, and more time in offices. She believes that sustainability can only become mainstream with the initiative of governments, the pressure of users and participation of everyone, but definitely not with fear.

The Global Eco-Forum continues online

The Global Eco-Forum continued with more debates about responsible, sustainable and innovative organisations and territories by local organisations and companies like Triodos Bank, Maderas Nobles or Timberland to just name a few, artistic performances and future visions. The event however is by no means over but carries on virtually. If you want to see the conference online (the videos will be up in the next few days) and take part in the debates, sign up to the network of the Global Eco-Forum. ::Eco-Union ::Global Eco-Forum

Tags: Barcelona | Biomimicry | Spain

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