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Industry in harmony with the Earth’s ecosystems

Good topic for a conference – and a good location, Guangzhou, China’s third city, a short riverboat-ride from Hong Kong. An international conference jointly hosted by the Chinese government, city administration, and UN Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO. What’s more, it came up with some results.

By Marilyn Mehlmann

I have to admit to some prior skepsis. The main theme was establishing an international Green Industry Platform. ‘Green industry’ and ‘Green economy’ seem to have become catchwords for actions that could in the worst case be described as ‘greenwashing’. But no: the several hundred people who came to Guangzhou had higher ambitions. In particular, the Chinese government has a phrase about developing a ‘circular economy’ in its current five-year plan; and is placing a lot of emphasis on a concept new to me,  ‘eco-civilization’.

Of the larger delegations, Zimbabwe and Bahrain were particularly active, and impressive in their commitment to learning and introducing new thinking and technology. Though I’m not sure what the participants made of the radical, provocative and inspiring talk by Günter Pauli, coming as it did at the very end of the conference.

My own contribution was shortly before Günter’s; I’d been asked to focus on empowerment and communications, and to summarize some impressions from the conference. One obvious observation was that 74% of the speakers were men… an observation that led to an initiative to start a network of ‘Women in Green Industry’ (can’t we just call it Women in Green??), hopefully to redress the balance at the next international event.

And otherwise: as in my presentation to the World Resources Forum in September, I emphasized that industrial history is not made by ‘giving people what they want’, but by people – like Günter – with the ability to dream the unthinkable, to come up with products and services that are both sustainable and irresistibly attractive. Where are the BIG dreams?

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