In the short run, it makes business sense.
In the long run, it has the potential to transform the way we design and make things.
Garbage–and how to eliminate it from our lives–is more interesting than you’d guess. I’ve kept an eye on the zero waste trend since writing a story called The End of Garbage for FORTUNE in 2007. More recently, I wrote about DuPont’s efforts to eliminate waste. Walmart did so well at reducing and recycling waste that it turned what had been a cost (landfill fees) into an asset (revenues from recycling.). Even Waste Management, the nation’s biggest trash hauler, is remaking its business to extract value from waste. [See my 2010 FORTUNE story, Waste Management Earns Its Name]
Why is zero waste a radical idea? Because, as I wrote in Fortune, it leads to a new way of thinking:
Getting to a wasteless world will require nothing less than a total makeover of the global economy, which thinkers such as entrepreneur Paul Hawken, consultant Amory Lovins, and architect William McDonough have called the Next Industrial Revolution.
They want industry to mimic biology, where one species’ excrement is another’s food. “We’re not talking here about eliminating waste,” McDonough explains. “We’re talking about eliminating the entire concept of waste.”
In two weeks, I’ll be in Costa Mesa, CA, at the first national business conference on zero waste, sponsored by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, a fledgling nonprofit set up to promote the idea of zero waste in the corporate world. The event begins on June 26, and I’ll be giving a talk (called “Zero waste: Exciting, radical and real!) on June 27. I’m also hoping to learn more about progress towards zero waste, as well as what obstacles stand in the way. Toyota Motor Sales, SuperValu/Albertsons, Ricoh Electronics, Inc and Sierra Nevada are among the companies sending speakers.
If your company has a story to tell about waste, let me know in the next week or so (by email, please), and I will consider working it into my talk or my coverage. And I hope to see some of you there.