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Sustainable Solutions for Modern Economies
By Rainer Höfer
The Royal Society of ChemistryCopyright © 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry
All rights reserved.
History of the Sustainability Concept – Renaissance of Renewable Resources
Cognis GmbH, Rheinpromenade 1, D-40789 Monheim, Germany
"One World One Dream"
Slogan of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
"One World One Dream" fully reflects the essence and the universal values of the Olympic spirit – Unity, Friendship, Progress, Harmony, Participation and Dream. It expresses the common wishes of people all over the world, inspired by the Olympic ideals, to strive for a bright future for Mankind. In spite of the differences in colors, languages and races, we share the charm and joy of the Olympic Games, and together we seek the ideal of Mankind for peace. We belong to the same world and we share the same aspirations and dreams." (The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.)
"In the middle of the 20th century, we saw our planet from space for the first time. ... From space, we see a small and fragile ball dominated not by human activity and edifice but by a pattern of clouds, oceans, greenery, and soils. Humanity's inability to fit its activities into that pattern is changing planetary systems, fundamentally. Many such changes are accompanied by life-threatening hazards. This new reality, from which there is no escape, must be recognized – and managed." (Brundtland-Report "Our Common Future" – Introduction: From one Earth to one world.)
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level." (Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.)
1.1 From Evolution to Apocalypses
The twentieth century has seen a phenomenal growth of the global economy, a continuous improvement of the standard of living in industrialized countries and the transformation of "underdeveloped" or "Third World" nations into emerging economies. Since the Iron Curtain disappeared at the beginning of the 1990s mankind has become aware that the Earth is not "endless", that there are no longer insuperable borders setting limits to migration, that there is no unknown territory left to be discovered, conquered, cultivated or exploited. The motto of the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 was aimed at expressing this awareness and the common wishes of people all over the world to strive for a bright future of mankind. Anticipating the development towards a global community, Hans Küng developed programmatically the idea of a Global Ethic, a fundamental consensus on binding values, irrevocable standards and personal attitudes common to all religions emanating into the Global Ethic project and the "Declaration towards a Global Ethic", which was endorsed by the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1993.
Globalization, global growth of economies and increases in living standards, though, have had their price: exploitation of natural resources to their limits and an ever-increasing contamination of the environment.
History of mankind to a large extent means history of the relations between human beings and nature. Evolution of the human species in prehistoric times was driven by nature, by genetic selection and by geological and climatic changes. In biblical times mankind received the divine message to "replenish the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). This has been read not only by Jews but also by Christians and Muslims and by the western hemisphere, at least, as man's charter, granting him the right to 'have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth' (Genesis 1:26). However, "heaven and earth, ... and every thing that creepeth upon the earth" has been made by God and "after his kind: and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:1–1:25), a clear statement that the entire Creation is divine, although creation care (Bewahrung der Schöpfung in German) does not directly appear as a divine commandment. Nature virtually exists as a resource. It is man's relationship with God, however, that really matters.
Nature in early times was largely regarded as uncontrollable and threatening. Early man feared the night and the wilderness. Natural phenomena, like floods, thunderstorms, famine and plagues of locusts, were perceived as the wrath of God. Outside the Abrahamic religions, Nature was regarded as God or Gods, arguably because of such threats. The theorem of a direct link between the biblical subordination of nature to man and devastation of the environment by mankind. Though, is doubtful. Indeed, the outcry "spectant victores ruinam naturae ..." (English: triumphant they contemplate their victory over Nature ...) goes back to the Roman officer and encyclopedist Plinius the Elder (AD 23–79). Collapses of ancient civilizations, such as the Maya, Easter Island and Anasazi, generally happened outside the Hebrew–Christian sphere and it was the Greek philosopher Plato, living around 400 BC, who gave us the oldest description of a natural disaster, the deforestation of Attika. Although the antique Greek culture and later the Roman Empire before converging in Christianity apparently had a close relation to Nature, venerated river gods, Nereids and Naiads, they are claimed to be at the origin of one of the first ecological disasters, the complete deforestation of all areas around the Mediterranean Sea and the resulting erosion, loss of humus soil and formation of karsts landscape in the plains followed by climatic changes which last until our modern times. Cedar trees, which once flourished throughout the Levant, the Mountains of southern Lebanon and Syria, much heralded in the times of antiquity for their beauty and fragrance, were nearly extinct when the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean Sea between 1200 and 900 BC. Cedar trees simply were too good a raw material for shipbuilding and construction.
The perception that Earth is a fragile body and easily thrown out of balance by the hand of man may have surfaced for the first time after the Trinity nuclear test on July 16, 1945, when Robert Oppenheimer quoted the Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita (English: "Song of God") text I am become Death, the shatterer of Worlds.
1.2 Our Common Future
In 1972, the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment marked the first great international meeting on how human activities were harming the environment and putting humans at risk. In the same year, the Club of Rome's report Limits to Growth was published, which, together with the first oil crisis in 1973, had an enormous impact on public opinion worldwide and started a political debate and thinking process. Based on a mathematical simulation technique known as systems dynamics and with input factors such as population growth, food production and fertilizer demand, energy consumption, availability of non-renewable raw materials, the report predicted that, within a time span of less than 100 years, with no major change in physical, economic or social relationships, society will run out of the non-renewable resources on which the industrial base depends. The economic system will consume successively larger amounts of depletable resources until they are completely used up. The characteristic behaviour of the system is overrun and collapse.
In autumn 1983 the General Assembly of the United Nations asked the Secretary General to appoint a World Commission on Environment and Development. The idea was to forecast, on a global scale, how man-made activities would affect the environment of the Earth encompassing the industrial as well as the social and economic aspects. The Secretary General of the UN entrusted the chair of this committee to Mrs Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was then Prime Minister of Norway. Work on the report was completed in March 1987 and it was published later that year under the title Our Common Future. Working on that subject, the commission faced a double problem: on the one hand it was obviously human activities that were behind the deterioration of the environment, especially in developed nations. On the other hand, it was inconceivable for the UN to create difficulties for developing nations, for people who had no access to decent living conditions but who, by catching up en masse, would significantly add to the deleterious effects of pollution and degradation of the environment. One of the ways in which the Brundtland commission sought to overcome this dilemma consisted in the creation of the 'sustainable development' concept. This concept was meant to provide a long-term balance between the environment, the economy and the social well-being of humanity – i.e: whereas in prehistoric times of evolution the human race was driven by nature, sinnce biblical times humans wer filling and subduing the Earth, now, at the doorstep of the third millennium, the concept of balance was born – the conclusion was drawn that the nature and action of humans between themselves and towards nature need to be in balance.
In fact, the term and the concept of sustainability (Nachhaltigkeit in German) dates back to the eighteenth century. Historically, depletion of natural resources (Raubbau in German) is not new and hit renewable resources first. Scarcity of wood was the concern of feudal Europe and led to the introduction of sustainability principles in forest management. It was in order to preserve wood supplies for the important silver mines in the Erzgebirge, the economic backbone of the Kingdom of Saxony and its famous capital Dresden, when Hannß Carl von Carlowitz (Oberberghauptmann and Chief Executive of the Royal Saxon Mining Department) in 1713 for the first time clearly formulated the concept that forestry had to be "sustainable", which meant that logging and reforestation had to be in balance. Similar concepts arose in France (La grande réformation des forêts, Colbert) and in Japan. The home of von Carlowitz, a Renaissance-style townhouse built in 1542, can still be visited at the Obermarkt, the market square of the Saxony mining burg of Freiberg (Figure 1.1). The principles of sustainability since then have emanated into the worlds of finance (see Chapter 3), education and administration.
Our Common Future was the third in a series of important UN initiatives; the first being the Brandt Commission's North-South: A Program for Survival and Common Crisis – North-South Co-operation for World Recovery, which spelt out the extent of the mutual interests between north and south and appealed for a program to avert disaster for the poorest countries, the need for a longer-term reorganization of the global economic system and methods to deal with worsening economic conditions and the lack of global cooperation. The Brandt reports were followed by the Palme Commission's work on security and disarmament, Common Security. Appearing on the public scene at the end of the cold war, Our Common Future cannot be separated from these earlier UN initiatives. Coinciding with the upcoming public awareness of the environment, the World Commission on Environment and Development emphasized the fact that sustainable development should be employed to safeguard the Earth's resources thereby improving social well-being and creating a better quality of life for future generations, in other words:
"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Brundtland, 1987).
This way, the report became the catalyst for global thinking processes about the relationship between man and nature and about future prospects of mankind in the potentially conflicting contexts of ethics, state policies and social, ecological and economical interests. In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), more commonly known as the Rio Earth Summit, established a number of initiatives to promote the uptake of sustainable development worldwide:
1. The Convention on Biological Diversity with three main goals:
conservation of biodiversity;
sustainable use of its components; and
fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
The convention recognized for the first time in international law that the conservation of biological diversity is "a common concern of humankind" and is an integral part of the development process. The agreement covers all ecosystems, species and genetic resources. It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably. It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use.
2. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, reaffirming the Declaration of the UN Conference adopted at Stockholm, 1972.
3. A Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests.
4. The Agenda 21, a comprehensive and dynamic plan of action for the twenty-first century addressing the UNCED goals and initiatives and identifying means and resources for their implementation.
1.3 Sustainable Chemistry
Chemistry has laid the foundations for many essential materials that have shaped our modern world. Earlier than many other sectors of the economy, the chemical industry has faced an imbalance in the utilization of its products (excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson), malpractice when applied as weapons (Napalm, Agent Orange) and a series of critical safety issues during manufacturing (ICMESA, Seveso; UCC, Bhopal; Sandoz, Basel). Consequently a set of guiding principles for pollution prevention, employee health and safety, product stewardship, process safety and distribution codes originally developed since 1977 by the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association (CCPA) merged into Responsible Care, "the chemical industry's own, unique initiative". Under Responsible Care, the worldwide chemical industry is committed to continual improvement in all aspects of health, safety and environmental performance and to open communication about its activities and achievements. Broken down to the level of individual companies, Responsible Care became a mission statement for sustainable operations (Figure 1.2).
In February 2006, The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) launched the Responsible Care Global Charter and the Global Product Strategy (GPS), marking a renewal of the chemical industry's former commitment.
The Responsible Cares® initiative achieved a kind of normative enforcement, when Paul Anastas, then of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 1991 coined the phrase Green Chemistry and together with John C. Warnerand J. B. Zimmerman developed the 24 Principles Of Green Chemistry & Green Engineering (Figure 1.3). Green chemistry, also termed sustainable chemistry, is an umbrella concept that seeks to unite government, academic and industrial communities by placing more focus on environmental impacts at the earliest stage of innovation and invention. Paul Anastas and John Warner also provided the first definition of green chemistry: "Applying fundamental knowledge of chemical processes and products to achieve elegant solutions with the ultimate goal of hazard-free, waste-free, energy efficient synthesis of non-toxic products without sacrificing efficacy of function." This approach represents a significant departure from the traditional principles. Instead of trying to minimize exposure to chemicals, green chemistry emphasizes the design and creation of chemicals that are not hazardous to people or the environment, in other words a kind of molecular-level pollution prevention, applying the principle that it is better to consider waste prevention options during the design and development phase, rather than disposing or treating waste after a process or material has been developed.
Excerpted from Sustainable Solutions for Modern Economies by Rainer Höfer. Copyright © 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry. Excerpted by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
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Table of ContentsChapter 1: History of the Sustainability Concept - Renaissance of Renewable Resources; Chapter 2: Sustainability in Finance - Banking on the Planet; Chapter 3: Metrics for Sustainablilty; Chapter 4: Sustainable Logistics as a Part of Modern Economies; Chapter 5: Sustainable Solutions for Consumer Products; Chapter 6: Sustainable Solutions for Nutrition: A Consumer Expectation; Chapter 7: Biomass-based Green Energy Generation; Chapter 8: Green Fuels - Sustainable Solutions for Transportation; Chapter 9: Biomass for Green Chemistry; Chapter 10: Sustainable Solutions - Green Solvents for Chemistry; Chapter 11: Sustainable Solutions for Adhesives and Sealants; Chapter 12: White Biotechnology;
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"Clearly, sustainability is a significant topic throughout the book but as some of the above chapter titles indicate this is treated at a level that includes more than chemistry and technology." "The book is written by European experts from academia, industry and investment banking who are world leaders in research and technology regarding sustainability, alternative energies and renewable resources." "...and should be of value to the worldwide public interested in sustainability issues and strategies and to those interested in the practical means that are being used to reduce the environmental impact of chemical processes and products..."