Trend Day: Wisdom from Sustainability Leaders

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CoreCon Convention Center. The Twelfth Annual Trend Day: Karma Capitalism.

"China's current development is ecologically unsustainable, and the damage will not be reversible once higher GDP has been achieved."
--Zhenhua Xie, Minister of State Environmental Protection Agency

With these words from the Chinese Environmental Minister, Peter Head introduced the inspiration behind the development of the Eco-city Dongtan. Dongtan is being built on8400 hectares of Chengming Island off the banks of Shanghai, and is intended to grow to a city of 500,000, relieving the pressure of 17 million inhabitants already gathered on the mainland. 50,000 are scheduled to move in by 2010. In addition, Dongtan is just the first of 6 projects which are intended to establish a model infrastructure for sustaianable growth.

Among the challenges facing this development: at the end of the island is one of the most important wetlands for birds migrating between New Zealand and Siberia. Additionally, the development will set a record for the longest combined road & rail bridge crossing 25 km of sea.

Head emphasized that the tools used in this case must be unique and innovative, because you cannot build a whole new type of city in this timeframe by trial and error. One tool is the interconnectivity of many issues: energy to treat waste water and energy for transportation are part of the same puzzle piece for energy. Also, local people active in work groups set the objectives for the development.

Objective number one: protect the wetland from damage. Measures to be taken include water recycling to reduce polution discharge to the sea, reducing noise and air pollution by unique transport infrastructure (which will also reduce air conditioning demands by promoting open windows), reducing light pollution by facing the city away from the wetlands, and leaving a buffer zone.

Other milestones Head hopes to achieve with the Dongtan development:

  • The city will run entirely on renewable energy. 65 - 75% of the energy needs will be generated from waste rice husks from rice mills along the river. Solar panels on buildings, wind generators and waste digestors to generate bio-gas for cooking will round out the energy picture.

  • Dongtan will rely on a network of lakes throughout the city, which will store water as part of the wastewater recycling system as well as increase property value and attractiveness. The city's infrastructure will separate drinking water from grey water.

  • Dongtan will test the hypothessis that you can build a city and still maintain the productivity of the land for foodstuffs. A test project is ongoing to test using nutrients supplied from the recycled water, and energy from renewable sources in a layered greenhouse which aims to produce the same amount of food on 9 hectares as is currently produced by chemical-intensive monoculture farming on 1000 hectares of the island today.

  • Transportation needs will be met by a walking and cycling grid, and public transport stops within 500m of all living and working spaces in addition to cars with new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cell, hopefully used in a cooperative ownership model. One of the greatest revalations of the project: how to deliver goods and services within a city? A consolidation center in the city will take delivery of all goods incoming, and distribution by green vehicles will proceed from there into the individual neighborhoods.

Muhammud Yunus, Nobel Prize Winner, Founder of Grameen Bank
Muhammud Yunus is a humble man. His story started with a simple investigation: what happens if you loan one person enough money to change their life? He learned that the money will be paid back, and the cycle can begin again. His testing continued: an institution could give loans across an entire city and the payback rate proved not to be an exception but a rule. One city led to two, then ten...the pattern continued.

This led Yunus to the core discoveries for which he was recognized by the Nobel Prize: micro-banking is like a mirror image of conventional banking. Everything is reversed. In conventional banking, the people come to the bank; at Grameen, the bank goes to the people. Yunus described with humor the reaction of traditional bankers to the reverse proportion of men and women taking loans (at a conventional bank in Bangladesh less than 1% of the borrowers are women while at the Grameen Bank, 72% are women). The bankers asked: how come you lend to so many women? Yunus replied, "why have you not asked before, how come the banks lend only to men?" They suggested that the name of the bank should be changed to "Grameen Women's Bank". He said, "logic then dictates that you should have to change the name of your bank to ' Men's Bank'. When you do this, then we will follow." They never asked again.

2/3 of the world's population is not qualified to take a loan at a standard bank. Who decides what qualifies and what does not qualify? The banks say the risk is too high if the person does not have collateral. But Grameen Bank proves them wrong: the repayment rate is 99%. 64% of Grameen borrowers have crossed over the poverty line. "The real issue is not whether the poor people are credit worthy or not. The real question is whether the banks are people worthy?"

Josephine Green, Head of Trends & Strategy, Philips Design

Pyramids and Pancakes. Again with a grain of humor, Green exposed the fallacies which we put behind us as we look to the trends of the future. We leave the hierarchies of Gods, Saints and Kings (at the bottom: women and children); we abandon the pyramid with Science at its peak (at the bottom: women and children); and we find ourselve in a "pancake world." The future is flat. New values increase empowerment, and demonstrate that there is not one truth but many truths. If you try to apply winners vs losers in a pancake world, instead of cooperation, you will not succeed.

The Web is both driver and example of this new societal structure. In the context of the internet, the user (consumer) is the producer, adding content themselves in the process of consumption. Green sees this content development model trending to a "deep customization" model in which companies do not supply more mass-produced goods to a society "drowning in stuff" but instead offer building blocks and products that will grow and change with the user. Socially-led companies will succeed by answering the question: how can I live elegantly, in engagement with the future and in a new relationship to time?

Incremental innovation will not be sufficient to meet the challenges ahead. Creativity will be demanded. Green gives as an example of creative new institutions the "walking school bus": Parents drive their kids to school to ensure they are not abducted or hurt on the trip. Society has a growing population of elderly people who have time to spare. The elderly people go house to house, pick up the kids and walk them to school. In the evenings, they show up at school and take them home. All benefit from the interaction and the exercise in the context of a safe, social environment with reduced emissions.

Via ::Trend Büro's Karma Capitalism Conference in Second Life

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