An online sustainable materials database and networking platform working towards creating a new era in industry with a Zero emission mission
We have reached a point in time where profit fueled, business as usual approaches to economic growth and human development are no longer acceptable, sustainable, or secure. Our material resources are dwindling, and our most valuable resources and natural eco-systems are becoming irreversibly damaged. Every passing year seems to bring with it more chilling evidence of the real side effects of rising temperatures and Climate Change; greatly enhanced by our activity.
On the plus side, however, as Paul Gilding (renowned Australian activist and entrepreneur) says, ‘we humans love a good crisis’, and the current climate crisis is the mother of them all. While there are several ways to address some of the problems climate change brings with it, two widely acknowledged and accepted solutions are indeed mass re-forestation and a global freeze on greenhouse gas emissions. Mary Robinson, the former president of my country, and a woman I feel needs no introduction here, often quotes Martin Luther King in her speeches on climate change and climate justice as she attempts to impress upon us ‘the fierce urgency of now’ relating to this matter. She also puts forward the idea that what we need is an entire movement of people to get us to a safe world (BRS Conference, San Francisco, 2013). I am proposing a new form of industrial revolution or indeed movement of people, who can connect and collaborate with each other across a range of industries in an attempt to bring about lasting constructive change, and several steps closer to emission Zero.
Base Zero is first and foremost an interactive international database for alternative materials, resources, processes, technologies, and idea exchange between various stakeholders and industries. It is a veritable mix between a database, on-line store, investment center, think tank, and social network; envisaged within a very strong socially responsible, and environmentally conscious, forward thinking framework.
What actions do you propose?
As an industrial designer I am very aware of the negative connotations associated with the birth of my profession. To counteract this I have always designed with sustainability, functionality, and necessity as my primary objectives. What I have found most shocking in recent years, given our current circumstance, is the lack of any real shift in industry towards more sustainable/alternative materials and manufacturing processes. Despite the growing number of international reports, treaties, and plans drafted in the attempt to work towards effective climate change mitigation, annual global GHG emissions grew on average by 1.0 gigatonne carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) (2.2%) per year from 2000 to 2010, compared to 0.4 GtCO2eq (1.3%) per year from 1970 to 2000 (IPCC Climate Change Mitigation report, 2014). GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010. As illustrated in the chart below, the industrial sector is responsible for over 30% of these emissions; yet we are not seeing any real or significant shifts in industry or policy creation to modify this trend.
Where is the bridge between where we now stand and the Promised Land?
Governments have been slow to introduce and implement effective carbon taxation systems. Win-win initiatives such as the cap and trade systems have failed miserably. A real change in how we think and conduct ourselves is inevitable; as is a certain element of effort and sacrifice. Our comfort zone no longer exists.
Big business and industry leaders have the power to collectively influence governments and regulating bodies; particularly in terms of policy creation and regulation. Designers, engineers, and architects also have the power and potential to influence our current situation and become fundamental catalysts of the next industrial revolution; not just in terms of innovative design practice, but also in material selection.
One of the most energy intensive stages in industrial practice, particularly in the manufacturing and construction sectors, is in the processing of raw materials. If all products, appliances, and buildings were designed to employ the use of radically sustainable and low embedded energy materials, in their construction, this would be a significant step in the right direction.
Making the Leap
Regardless of the sector in question – product development, manufacturing, construction, transportation, infrastructure, or fashion; the GHG footprint in the necessary raw materials, as well as the associated energy requirements are equally significant.
The table below gives an indicator of the range in CO2 footprint/embedded energy figures depending on the material in question. Organic materials such as wood, bamboo, bio-plastics, and up-and -coming carbon capture materials have a negative Carbon footprint as they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere locking it into their structure. Other widely used materials such as aluminium, steel, glass, PVC and concrete, require a significant amount of energy in their production – energy generation which in turn releases carbon/GHG’s into the atmosphere.
How can Base Zero assist industries in making the shift?
While similar in set-up to other materials databases such as ‘Matweb’, ‘Trada’, ‘Azom’, etc., ‘Base Zero’ introduces and compares alternative materials on an industry-by-industry basis, material by material. Each traditionally used standard material is compared with an available sustainable alternative in terms of standard material properties, strengths, stresses, capabilities, limitations, GHG footprint, and embedded energy. For example it may be possible for a manufacturer to use reinforced bamboo for an application instead of mild steel or aluminium; or recycled waste or bio-plastic instead of PVC or PET.
Once a material selection has been made, the database will provide a full list of suppliers, starting with those geographically closer to where the user is based (to cut down on travel emissions). This will also include production costs, rates, delivery times, and supplier contact details. For effective global communication and knowledge transfer, all e mails and queries sent through the site will have an in-built language translator; therefore making a query, or placing an order, should be relatively easy. All other published information on the system, including material/industry knowledge and specs will also be available in a wide range of languages – allowing for effective international knowledge transfer and exchange.
There are several advantages to this system, both for suppliers and buyers. On the supplier end - for the small-scale producer/supplier of sustainable materials who may be finding business difficult, this could quite literally put them on the map; providing easier access to potential global clients and creating more of a demand for their product. Larger suppliers/producers of these materials will also benefit from this increase in demand. Increased mass production and availability of these materials will in turn bring down their cost, making their use even more attractive for manufacturers.
From the buyers perspective it is a quick and easy method of seeing exactly what is on offer, where it can be sourced, how much it will cost, and exactly how much of a reduction they are gaining in their CO2/GHG footprint by making the change.
Aside from a growing list of materials, the site will also include separate sections for each major industry providing useful, up-to-date, and relevant information on how different industries can reduce their emission levels. For example the product manufacturing industry section will have a list of the most used materials, the most common alternative choices (as picked by other industry professionals), including information on alternative manufacturing processes, recent technological advancements which may be of interest, as well as an on-line forum where industry professionals can offer helpful tips and advice on emission reduction and environmental impact; while doing so in the most cost effective manner.
All stakeholders will have the facility to comment on their experience with a certain buyer, supplier, or material. For instance if a material turned out not to be as described, or fell short of certain advertised characteristics, this can be noted and shared. On the other hand if a user is very content with their experience, and intended to run with a specific material again, this can also be shared publicly. This will enable a good level of transparency, promote trust in users of the database, and assist in encouraging industries to engage with and learn from each other.
The entire system will be hosted, from the beginning, by AWS - Amazon Web Serviceshttp://media.amazonwebservices.com/architecturecenter/AWS_ac_ra_web_01.pdf
This is one of the world’s most reliable and secure web hosting facilities with FedrampCertification, therefore any sensitive information will remain secure.
International Think-tank – fostering further collaboration, innovation, and change
This system will drive an interest and demand not just in the production and supply side of sustainable materials, but also in the research and development of alternative materials and processes. While the primary function of Base Zero is to provide a platform for material selection and related knowledge exchange, switching to new and different materials also opens up a whole range of new possibilities in industry; in terms of material, and therefore product, function and capability. What can new materials/products, including the materials /bi-products they are constructed from do, which previous counter-parts could not? This pushes creativity and innovation beyond replacement for sustainability.
There are many great minds out there with fresh and feasible ideas, however not everyone has the business acumen, financial backing, experience, education, or confidence, to bring their ideas to fruition. Therefore Base Zero will also include a section where ideas and proposals for new materials, operating systems, and technologies, can be submitted and reviewed with the possibility of public or private funding and assistance; allowing for sponsorship by materials companies and manufacturers open to researching new and innovative ideas.
Paving the way for carbon/GHG taxation
At what stage do governments and policy makers become interested?
Businesses and organizations using Base Zero effectively will be able to calculate their emission reduction with more accuracy. While governments may be reluctant or unsure as to how they might begin to introduce a fair and effective system of taxing Carbon/GHGs, if businesses can report significant reductions year on year they might be encouraged at the very least to start implementing significant tax incentives or reliefs for companies who are making significant progress towards the zero emission mission. This could assist in paving the way for relevant global policy generation.
Base Zero’s Zero to Twenty rating system
Similar to energy ratings on appliances and buildings, this could also pave the way for a rating system on all products, on a sliding scale from Zero to Twenty. Twenty being the largest emitters, Zero GHG neutral, and a minus scale for products, materials, and structures which capture carbon. This would provide end users with exact information on how much/little they are contributing to GHG emissions when buying a material or product; putting a bit more responsibility back on the general public, while also initiating competition amongst industry players, encouraging businesses to aim towards a Zero rating.
This rating system will take into account factors such as the embedded energies and GHG footprint of each material, including life cycle assessment, and the recycling and biodegradable capabilities of each product or material. An added advantage to this 0-20 system comes into play when attempting to link this rating with global GHG taxation systems. Similar to how certain countries (such as India) offer a very low or zero rate of tax on products which are of an ethical/educational/or assistive nature, products or materials closest to this Zero rating will fall under a lower tax bracket; while products with a higher rating will be subject to a much higher rate of tax.
In terms of how exactly this rating system will be implemented, it could work by sector as follows:
Materials would be benchmarked against other materials with the highest embedded energies in their particular sector - for example Nylon has an embedded energy at approx. 250MJ per KG - if this was to be examined in the context of the apparel industry alone, it would be the '20' top rating material in this category. Polyester (at 125MJ/KG), would be somewhere in the middle with a '10' rating. More natural materials such as cotton and wool at 55/63MJ/KG would reside somewhere around '5', while hemp and flax fibers would be closer to '1'.
Defining the parameters of this system will take time, collaboration, and input from a wide range of stakeholders; particularly scientific, industrial, research initiatives, private and public funding bodies. Having met with and spoken to a number of experts in this field I have been told that the development and implementation of such a system is feasible, possible, and also necessary in moving forward.
In terms of developing and building the system, I have laid out details in relation to the design, architecture, implementation, cost, and time –frame of the project in the cost and time-frame sections of this proposal, further on.
I am working towards setting up a cluster of interested parties, from industry, academia, the start-up community, and influential individuals, in applying for funding to get the ball rolling on this.
Thank you for your time. All feedback, advice and assistance is very much appreciated.
Who will take these actions?
At the moment I am in the process of setting up a cluster of interested parties with the intention of apply for funding - social innovator funding, private impact investing (as well as tax-saving investment incentives for representatives in the private sector) - Beginning research on a small scale to include cooperation from representatives in an number of environmental research departments in local and national institutes of technologies and universities, material research bodies, and independent sustainable manufacturing networks.
I am also working towards linking in with various research groups, including governmental departments who have received funding for research in identifying significant areas/sectors in the national framework with regard to material consumption, economic importance, and potential for resource efficiency improvement, who are attempting to develop benchmarks and best practice solutions for these key sectors. There can be a double-fold benefit by doing this - learning from these pockets of research, innovation, and enterprise - and in turn (further down the line) acting as a tool to assist similar sectors in their sustainable/energy reducing/resource saving measures.
- A range of business, industry, and academic professionals and leaders - manufacturers, suppliers, and any other relevant industry stakeholders; including governmental bodies, and NGO's.
- Scientists and industry professionals who can assist in devising a strategy to establish a simple, easy to use, effective, Zero-Twenty rating system.
A sample of organizations contacted:
The B lab & B Corps - advisory and awarding bodies who interact with companies wishing to develop good, sustainable, social, environmental, and ethical business strategies.
The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, based in Trinity College, Dublin.
Representatives of the Environmental/Climate change Departments of governments/regions - the EPA, the E.U. commission, the U.N.
Where will these actions be taken?
Geographically this will be envisaged initially as an E.U./ U.S. collaboration through the EPA and the office of the European Commission, with future plans to expand and invite input and collaboration from other major manufacturing regions such as those in Asia – contacting organisations such as The State Environmental Protection Administration in China (SEPA), the Korean Environmental Agency, and the Japanese Environmental Management Association for Industry (JEMAI). The primary over-all intended objective being to work towards global input and collaboration as the system grows.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
While it will take a number of years to see the positive physical effects of using this system, when the system is fully operational, and a high level of user engagement has been achieved, there could be very significant on-going reductions in global industrial emissions.
Developing the technology behind the Zero-twenty rating system will also allow for industry stakeholders to be able to calculate a product’s carbon/GHG footprint with more ease and accuracy; including assisting businesses and manufacturers in calculating their over-all GHG footprint.
What are other key benefits?
- The 0-20 rating system will provide more transparency to end-users and industry stakeholders as to the exact energy required to produce specific products.
- Global industry-wide collaboration, communication, and innovation.
- Investment in Green-tech research, employment, and impact investment.
- Continual growth and adaptation to user/industry/environmental demands.
- Platform for future engagement with governments and policy makers to initiate an effective global tax on industrial GHG emissions.
- Operating as a simple, easy to use, well-designed tool to assist industry.
- Acting as an 'umbrella' system to unite the efforts and results of various other sustainable/environmental/emission-reducing initiatives, both large and small-scale, taking place right across the globe - such as programs, initiatives, and research, funded and supported by a multitude of departments in the EPA, the E.U. (Horizon 20/20), and the U.N. (United Nations Environment Programs).
What are the proposal’s costs?
The initial cost for a good quality brochure site is approx $10,000. This site will be used when presenting to potential investors, and when meeting with potential users/contributors of the site to generate constructive feedback/criticism in the construction, layout, input & output values, ease-of-use, as well as on-going, additional, interactive features of the live site.
The next step involves setting up an independent base development team who share the same vision and can work together effectively to build a working prototype database. This phase will take approx 6 months to complete and will cost approx $140,000; including web-hosting and leasing of server equipment from AWS (Amazon Web Systems)
The final stage of development working towards developing the technology or 'bones' of the actual system, is estimated to take a further 6-12 months and will cost approx $300,000. This covers industry and user research (as carried out by an in-house business analyst and contracted material experts).
To get the entire main body of the system designed, built, and operational (including salaries, server costs, and travel expenses) will cost approximately $500,000.
This cost estimate is only covering the basic initial cost of site development and is no doubt a gross under-estimation of the total and on-going cost associated with this venture. Aside from a strong and permanent development and maintenance crew this system will also require a strong team of researchers, development advisors, and industry liaison representatives who are willing to travel, as well as a comprehensive list of necessary part-time consultant fees.
To keep costs to a minimum the base Zero team will collaborate with/learn from existing/established research teams and environmental bodies, as well as working from existing bodies of completed industrial/academic research.
The system costs has been estimated at possibly over $1 million - while this may seem high this level of impact investment is possible.
Short Term – Phase 1 (approx. 6-12 months)
Research and development of the system’s requirements. Prototype 'brochure' database needs development to showcase the concept. Initial industry research currently underway. Avenues for funding and other necessary assistance identified. Beginning to approach and engage with key industry players.
Representatives from various industries are being contacted which will grow with funding and assistance.
Once a feasible working prototype has been designed, this can be used to generate further interest, awareness and investment capital for the initiative.
Medium Term – Phase 2 (6-12 months)
Having secured further investment more talent will be taken on to further the development of the system, working toward the architecture of the database and site - a domain expert, business analyst, and 2-3 full time junior developers will be hired to work on the back-end.
This phase will cost of approx. $250,000 - $300,000. There will be on-going efforts to meet with representatives from various industries, including materials research institutes, universities, government bodies, and NGO’s (as previously mentioned), to see how we can collaborate to get Base Zero working for various stakeholders as efficiently and effectively as possible.
When the entire system is fully-functional, companies, suppliers, and other stakeholders can begin to navigate, use, input information, and interact with the database.
Long Term – Phase 3 (48 months+)
Continual improvement and development of the system; including managing the various knowledge exchange forums.
Having been in operation for a number of years, users are familiar with Base Zero, have developed trust in the capabilities, ethos, and mission behind the venture, the accuracy of the content and the GHG calculations, and the positive benefits to having one main primary efficient, collaborative, international emission-reducing tool for material selection.
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