The amazing LAUNCH core team from NASA, USAID, State Department and NIKE is gathering in San Francisco to host a brainstorming session with thought leaders in the field of “sustainable waste” — creating less and creating more value from existing and future waste. We call this brainstorming session, LAUNCH: Big Think. Waste is a huge issue for long duration human spaceflight. Engineers at NASA are grappling with ways to creatively design closed loop systems that use waste as feedstock for additional needs. A simple example is using wasted package material to line module walls as radiation protection on orbit.
On the plane, I read the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. What a great summary of the state of waste for the past, present, and future. Even the book is printed on “technical nutrient” (synthetic paper) rather than wood pulp or cotton fiber.
The book promotes a vision of eco-effectiveness rather than eco-efficiency. The prevailing winds of eco-efficiency rely on a notion of doing less harm. Eco-effectiveness pushes a “do NO harm” approach to how we create products and services for the future.
The authors use the ant as a model for how humans could exist on this planet –
“all the ants on the planet, taken together, have a biomass greater than that of humans. Ants have been incredibly industrious for millions of years. Yet their productiveness nourishes the plants, animals, and soil. Human industry has been in full swing for little of a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn’t have a design problem. People do.” — Cradle to Cradle
For the LAUNCH: Waste forum in July, we’re sifting through the innovation space around waste — reuse, remake, recycle, upcycle, net-zero, closed loop, cradle-to-cradle, etc. to determine where we should focus our search for ten innovations. From the perspective of the Cradle to Cradle authors, we should aim to eliminate all waste products by ensuring discarded products become feedstock for new valued processes.
“To eliminate the concept of waste means to design things — products, packaging, and systems — from the very beginning on the understanding that waste does not exist.” — Cradle to Cradle
I’m intrigued by the conversations we’ll have tomorrow about the waste innovation space — and hopefully a better name than LAUNCH: Waste which, let’s face it, kinda’ stinks (pun intended.)
In the end, this is the kind of world I’d love to live in — one with trees and birds and flowing streams. Stay tuned.