Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It seems we need a total change of paradigm.
So many of us are making so much effort to navigate the current material world, every day, because it's too polluting, too socially unfair, too wasteful.

Consumption needs to change for sure. But production needs to change too.

Very roughly (and condensed by yours truly from wikipedia), there have been three successive industrial revolutions already:
- from the 1750s, with steam power, ship transport, textile, steel
- from the 1820s, with electricity, oil, the reciprocating engine, automobiles, railroad transport - global production doubled its pace
- from the 1970s, with the internet, microprocessors, computers - delocalization became possible, plants moved out of industrialized countries, the financial & communications sector flourished, social inequalities rose.

I believe we now need Industrial Revolution #4 (IR4): the generalization of environmentally and socially viable low-tech solutions, made as locally as possible, in the context of necessarily frugal consumption.

1. minimum material - i.e. do not over-engineer, use the minimum amount of material that will do the job safely > saves material

2. least harmful material - choose the material with the least embodied energy, the most renewable source, the least risk on health > protects the environment and its inhabitants

3. least processed material - use materials as raw and mono-material as you can find them, avoid using or creating composites > makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier; lowers costs.

4. most local labor force - employ the qualified people nearest to you, or train the people nearest to you > supports local economy, reduces carbon footprint, reinforces & creates communities

5. no harming of labor force - do not kill, abuse, or exploit people; offer compensation sufficient to make a decent living, make the job safe in terms of materials, processes, and schedules; ensure a caring, supportive environment > honors basic human rights and relationships

6. equitable distribution of revenue - strive to create horizontal partnerships instead of vertical ones, give back cooperatively the profit created cooperatively > expresses respect for all types of work, makes everybody engaged in the enterprise

7. function, safety, sustainability, over aesthetics - do not let aesthetics / fashion / future media coverage have an influence on your design process strong enough to make you weaken your commitment to making good objects > prevents going back to the situation we are trying to get away from.

8. full biodegradability OR full reusability of parts - do not think of objects are individual finished goods, but as a temporary assembly of ressources, belonging to a vast material cycle > allows for composting; otherwise makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier

9. maximum repairability - planned-obsolescence is forbidden. > reduces labor and material waste, maximizes return on investment into product, creates repair service jobs

10. no harming of animals - do not kill nor abuse living things; avoid animal material if you can, otherwise make sure what you take from them does not prevent their best livelyhood > respects all forms of life

Naturally not ALL things can be made following these principles, but if we try to at least transform all the ones we can, we might end up in better shape.

Wishing you IR4 new years to come.


  1. This is brilliant. Cradle to Cradle called for a new industrial revolution, although re-reading it recently I found that their particular vision did not mesh with my conception of sustainable industry anymore. For instance, their insistence on new plastics was particularly off-putting. The ideas of technical nutrients and phasing out planned obsolescence are exciting, though.

  2. You're reminding me that this is a book I should probably read...Now it will be much easier for me - was pushing it back until I had my own ideas clear, so as not to be too influenced. But now is a good time, feeling like I have tried enough things / thought about the issues long enough myself to fully engage with it.

  3. Fantastic and so blindingly obvious to all but those who need (?) to make a fortune out of goods with a built in expiry date. I need to reread Cradle to Cradle too.

  4. speaking of expiry dates... a friend just told me about the light bulb that has been glowing for 114 years - and we can watch it live:

  5. I was going to mention Cradle to Cradle too. One thing I really like about it is the paradigmatic change of expecting, not to be less bad for environment and people, but to be actively good for them. In your list, for example, the wording of point 2 would be;
    the best material, promotes health, regenerates environment, etc. This also applies to process. For example, the book mentioned a real textile made using Cradle to Cradle principles- the water coming out of the factory after the manufacturing process was actually cleaner than going into the factory.

  6. Hello Anonymous!
    Thank you for this very interesting point. I need to think about this more, as I had never taken that approach - I guess that my subconscious starting point is that most human activity is creating an imbalance in resources, therefore we can only try to be "less bad". Also, I probably am still considering that the natural world is too richly complex for us to know for sure that an intervention (such as cleaning, or putting seeds into the fiber of paper packaging for example) could have only positive consequences (what does "clean" mean? how am I changing the balance of native plants, etc). Definitely your example of the river is launching me on a new thinking path, and - yes!! I need to finally borrow this book from the library :)

  7. me again, will sign zuperserena from now on. Do read it! I´d love to know what you think about it. I´ve been reading your blog today and I really like it.

  8. I am so glad you like it, Zuperserena! Welcome :)