Ask anyone and get a different answer. To me, sustainability is the absence of waste. 

Well then, what is waste? 

Waste is anything that harmfully contaminates our air, water and soil –– a.k.a. Earth and all its inhabitants. Today, our products are made of materials and components that aren’t designed to be disassembled and reused. We conveniently “throw them away,” but there’s really no such thing as “away.” Instead, products end up sitting in landfills or oceans until the end of time. Think the plastic wrapper around your protein bar, your lip gloss container, your last season’s polyester/cotton/spandex shirt and basically everything else you buy. If you are “throwing it away,” then chances are “it” is waste and “not recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.” 

But don’t despair. In nature, there is no such thing as waste, only food for the next cycle. 

So, if there is no such thing as “away” and everything we’ve created stays on this planet, then why do we continue to design Frankenstein products made of harmful chemicals and material amalgams in a cycle that results in environmental pollution and waste? 

Our society still operates on a post-Industrial Revolution belief that nature needs to and can be controlled. In order to run a successful business, the old adage is: make products as efficiently and cheaply as possible at the highest volume to serve the most amount of people…. and don’t consider much else. It’s already challenging enough to be a business owner, especially in 2020 and adding on a layer to change an outdated system doesn’t make it any easier. 

But the consequences of running a business on an outdated and unintelligent, take-make-waste linear design system is evident:

  • By 2050, the ocean will have more plastic than fish by weight
  • 99% of large mammals are under human control
  • 40% of the world’s forests are lost due to human activity
  • And most recently: One virus can harm the entire global economy and supply chains 
Circular Economy vs Linear Economy vs Recycling Economy
Image Source: Circular Flanders

Changes to industry are beyond necessary; we shouldn’t see this as a burden, but everyone’s exciting opportunity. It’s time to take all the advances and innovations from the first Industrial Revolution and shift the way we design from a linear, take-make-waste system into a circular, restore-make-regenerate system. A design system modeled after nature. 

The Cradle to Cradle design framework spells it out clearly:

“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. […] It means products compost of materials that biodegrade and become food for biological cycles or technical materials that stay in closed loop technical cycles in which they continually cycle as valuable nutrients for industry” (104).

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

This is the “zero waste” future we believe in and are out to prove at NOUR ZERO. Don’t believe it’s possible? Check out our first product: a plant-based handbag for professionals who believe in a zero waste future to elevate the planet.