Publications Der ökologische Rucksack - English

"Der ökologische Rucksack, Wirtschaft für eine Zukunft mit Zukunft" (Hirtzel Verlag)

"Germany continues to move away from its future". Thus begins the new book of Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, whom his friends call Bio since many a decade. He did not write this book as an obituary but rather to show how the decline could be turned around, how a rich and sustainble future could be gained through courage, innovation, faith and responsibility.

Sustainability has three dimensions, Schmidt-Bleek recalls: social, economic and ecological. Of course we do not foreknow our future - but we build it. And goals determine the way. In the past it was customary to pursue individual goals independently of each other. And some goals were not pursued at all. This is the fundamental reason for the current economic and ecological crisis. And yet, politicians seem to still believe they can lead the way to sustainability through the approaches of the past.

"For instance" Schmidt-Bleek explains, "it makes no sense to overhaul the current health, pension and labor market system without considering - simultaniously and with equal sincerety - the long term fiscal, social and ecological consequences. Economic growth without a manyfold increase in resource productivity is not possible. Social policies through continued taxation of income are unsocial and ultimately self-defeating. And the attempt to maintain the life-supporting services of the ecsophere by governmetal edict will suffer the same fate as did the planned economies of yesteryear."

Since 12 years now Schmidt-Bleek calls for a massive dematerialisation of the western production and consumption system. Yet it seems that in Germany and elsewhere the sense for avoiding waste in all forms is no longer "in", be that as regards money in the hands of governments or using natural resources by everybody. In technical areas, unlimited growth of e-business is as unquestioned as are more and faster cars as well as providing more living space loaded with technical conveniences. Little attention is being given to the fact that a single electronic bank transaction can cost as much in non-renewable natural resources as producing 4 aluminum cans, and consumers usually do not know that wrapping food with aluminum costs 200 times as much nature as using plastic foil. German electricity is 5 times more recource intensive than its Finish counterpart and twice more than the European average. This derives primarily from the fact that Germany generates much of its electricity by burning domestic lignite. At the same time, coal mining is subsidised to the tune of 40 000 Euro in Germany for every miner.

There are two mayor reasons why humanity has no choice but to save natural resources in a dramatic fashion: First, the natural resources of the earth do simply not suffice to allow current western life styles for 6 or 8 billion people. More than two planets would be needed for that. And secondly - and even more urgent - the economic and ecological consequences of the present level of global resource consumption are already very costly, with rising tendency. Consider for instance the costs of climatic changes and floods, dwindling fresh water supplies, diminishing fish stocks, loss of top soil and forested areas. Future economic growth apparently demands that mass be replaced by brainpower in all walks of life.

Schmidt-Bleek calls on politicians to dare engaging in timely reforms that can smoothen the way to a future with a future: Only once natural resources begin to reflect full cost pricing, only if labor costs (not salaries) in western countries will be decisively lower than today will there be a chance to reach sustainability with social justice. To achieve this, a considerable shift of taxes and overheads away from labor and in the direction of natural resources must be designed and executed. The good news is that there are few technical limits for achieving massive dematerialisation without loss of quality and fun. The present book is full of detailed examples.

To get to this future, intensive technical and social innovations are needed in areas such as health care, hygiene, mobility, security, housing and infrastructure. Once prices of natural resources begin to reflect the "ecological truth" (Weizsaecker), industry is bound to respond by designing "service delivery machines" needing less and less inputs of natural resources, from cradle to grave. Increasingly, protecting the ecosphere (preserving the life-sustaining environmental services) will become a competitive exercise on the market in the interest of maximising profits by producers and savings by consumers.

But still the misery continues: Industry saves costs by shedding labor, replacing people and their know-how with increasingly sophisticated and resource intensive machines. Stock markets respond to this development by increasing share values of enterprises. In most cases, cutting CO2 emissions or saving electricity and water has little effect on the perceived value of a company. Politicians and economic experts concentrate on calling for increased consumption in order to generate growth and jobs.

Goals can only be pursued with the help of indicators. The measure for ecological economic activities on the technical level is MIPS (Material Input Per unit Service), the quantity of nature that is invested for a defined unit of utility extracted from technical objects or systems. And in a service oriented society, the end-price for products should correspondingly be stated in COPS, the COsts Per unit Service - or extractable value. In this fashion, consumers could make more realistic choices. For example, it would seem more interesting to know the costs of cleaning 5 kg of cloths rather than the price of a washing machine.

The present book not only presents a good number of practical cases for dematerialisation, it also walks the reader through the calculations necessary to give assurance of achieving progress toward sustainability. Among the examples in Schmidt-Bleek’s new book the reader will find: Why T-shirts are ecologically not as good as their reputation; How to compute the cradle to grave resource consumption for the transportation service rendered by a rail road system; Why computers carry an unusually heavy ecological rucksack; Why the environment likes traditional cobblers; Why it makes a difference whether one dries hands by with hot air or with towels; Why in some cases one-way solutions can be environmentally preferable to recycling; How MIPS influences sport events in Finland; How to reduce the ecological rucksack when building homes; Why it can pay to offer a service rather than selling equipment; Why the packaging problem is sometimes less urgent than commonly assumed and yet must be solved; Why the one way camera is ecologically preferable; How to dematerialise a solar colector by carefully choosing its building materials; and why the lotus plant can show the way into a more sustainable future. The examples were provided by Bio’s friends from a number of European countries.

For his MIPS/Factor 10 concept, Schmidt-Bleek was awarded the "Takeda World Environment Award" in 2001 - considered by some to be the Japanese Nobel price for protecting the environment. As of that time, increasing the resource productivity tenfold has been adopted by the Japanese Cabinat as one of the strategic goals for Japans' economy of the future.