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Natural capitalism is coming

Forget about waste reduction. As Amory Lovins put it so succinctly in his lecture at the Royal Society of Arts, we need to eliminate any concept of waste from our social and economic system. Doing so will not only end the human war against the planet, but also cure the disillusion in Western civil society which is the cause of crime and violence.

According to Mayer Hillman (Policy Studies Institute), there isn't time. But Lovins is more optimistic. He is looking to the international business community - recently identified by the un as harbouring the worst offenders - as possibly the only sector of society with the necessary economic and technical know-how and leverage to achieve the transformation of human beings' relationship with the planet. 'Commerce has to be in the vanguard of making a productive system', he says.

Lovins is confident that will happen because those companies which do not embrace what he terms as 'natural capitalism' simply will not survive. The global generation of an annual 500 billion tonnes of waste - or 'unsaleable production', as it has been redefined in California - makes no economic sense. Saving fuel costs less than buying fuel, and Lovins believes that oil will become uncompetitive at low prices before it becomes unavailable at high prices.

In order to 'close the loops of material flows', he stresses the importance of built-in durability, scrap recovery and repair and reuse. But the fundamental change will be a shift in the global economy away from production of goods and towards provision of services. Leading companies, like Carrier (producer of air-conditioning units) in the us are increasingly leasing rather than selling their products. In this scenario it makes sense to manufacture longer-lasting units which can ultimately be recycled. The trend towards taxation of waste rather than work is simultaneously discouraging production which generates toxic waste emissions.

Lovins highlights design's impact on three crucial areas of energy waste. The car, which after a century of development still only converts 1 per cent of fuel into energy, is due for replacement by the Hypercar, which works as a mobile fuel cell designed to be plugged into the nearest building when stationary. Details of its arrival in the uk are on the Internet. Then there is the redesign of pumping systems - the biggest use of motors, which in turn use three-fifths of all electricity generated - with short, straight, highly insulated pipes laid out before the equipment, rather than vice-versa. And finally, the typical suburban housing development, designed on the 'dead worm' layout around the car, demands radical rethinking on energy consumption.

Lovins regards 'natural capitalism' as the second big intellectual shift, after the fall of communism, of this century. It heralds a new economic order where gdp is no gauge of economic success.

For more information: www.naturalcapitalism.com

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