CHAPTER 09: Dressed in a Bottle, Eating Under a Tree, with a   Laptop in My Hand!

Chapter nine envisions a transition towards a better world. A new generation of sustainable enterprises is needed to make the green markets and zero carbon economies work. Then, is it about design and innovation for consumption and production systems? Such a transition world is full of traps and pitfalls. A green economy is not about a sustainable world order. It is a transition or a temporary alternative to buy us some extra time on earth. It may prolong our existence on earth, but cannot assure a better world for the future generations.

(from pg 141) ..... "My father, born and nurtured in a village called Balapitiya, migrated to the city to become a successful civil servant in the public administration. He died dreaming of getting back to his village and succeeded in doing so only during the last years of his life where he served the people of his birth place. ..................................... (from pg 142) ......I am suffering the opposite destiny of my father. I was born in Rio de Janeiro, which is the commercial capital of Brazil, when my father was posted on a diplomatic mission. At the age of eleven months I returned with my family to live in the city of Colombo and its suburbs in Sri Lanka. I am a city man, always admiring the village life and dreaming to get there, but trapped in the city comforts. Like many city people, I too want to escape into the wild; but I am trapped rather conveniently. Perhaps I am somewhat different because I am out here to change the world and the others are there to enjoy the race and excitement it provides. ..."

(from pg 143) ..... "Any opinion different to the existing system or the norm, is branded as radical or extreme. Living in the middle path or simple lifestyle away from materialism too is an extreme approach according to the people living within the system. So to talk about the values of living closer to nature or campaigning for sustainable lifestyles would make me a radical in the society. The USA President Barack Obama is also branded as a radical because he is black and wants to change the system of bias governance in a still white dominant country. The former South African President Nelson Mandela was a radical because he disagreed that black people should be servants of the white imperialists. Mahatma Gandhi from India was a radical because he professed and practiced non-violence and civil disobedience. Sustainability is radical because it does not comply well with the existing world order of inequity, exploitation, suppression, consumerism, accumulation and greed." .....

Pg 143-146 …. “To make sustainability non-radical, the facilitators of the system have toned down the rhetoric and simplified it to more manageable compromises. One such compromise is to redesign structures and other utilities that are low resource consuming and greening the surrounding, while creating a demand for ecologically produced goods and services. My recent adventures with Scandinavian designers, European and more sophisticated Asian innovators, multilateral agency bureaucrats, and the green market exploring business executives have all shown me how they have accepted the compromise on sustainability through sustainable enterprise solutions. While we are delaying the ultimate commitment, a sustainable enterprise approach may be a complementary pathway towards a liveable world. Even for this approach to succeed, the future enterprises will have to sacrifice their wasteful and exploitative habits and embrace a ‘Triple-Bottom-Line (TBL) business ethic; an ethic that integrates environmental, economic and social considerations at all times of business.

We are very aptly warned by the celebrated concept of ‘Cradle to Cradle’, and by its authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, that being less bad is not good. But the book itself appears to have been used as an alternative path for a transition world, and has been adopted by the business sectors to redesign for less ecological impact than to change the unbalanced system of production and consumption. The concept which rejects the idea of waste, and proposes that waste is food, is used by the western industrial and lifestyle designers to promote a new generation of eco-business. They are using these concepts to prolong the consumerist lifestyle, which they call efficient consumption. By continuing to re-brand efficiency, these designers are promoting larger than required volumes of production for over-consumption by their societies. Just like Gandhian khâdî is used by the Indian corporate executives to dress themselves for an Indian way of business exploitation, ‘cradle to cradle’ too seems to be prostituted by the shrewd industrialists to promote a cleaner and greener production for the prolonging of an over-consumption world order.  

Mahatma Gandhi may not be fully in agreement with the concept of ‘cradle to cradle’ when he prescribes simple lifestyles that in the first place reject large scale production, with or without waste. The foundation of Gandhi’s philosophy and the spinning wheel for khâdî is about minimalism, and it goes against mass production for merely greening the consumerist lifestyles.”

Pg 146 –148 ... “Left to find myself that path towards a better world, my adventures have also taken me to interact with European designers and Asian innovators for a transition world. One such meeting with a Taiwanese eco-businessman took place in the Milan design streets, where we planned a sustainable design event. Calling himself and such people ‘Green Robin Hoods’, this tradesman is convinced that the future market is full of opportunities for green products and services. Hence, he travels all over the world searching for innovative technologies to promote in the Greater China Region and to find markets for his green products. One such innovation currently gaining popularity is ‘RPET’ garments or cloths made out of textile from ‘recycled polyethylene terephthalate’ bottles. In a modern day world, where even water is bottled and sold, these mountains of waste plastic are now being transformed into quality textile. Not yet well known and accepted by consumers, this could become a very eco-fashionable approach to the environmentally conscious consumer mostly in the western part of the world.

This self claimed Green Robin Hood, recently sent me a range of sample textiles to be tested out by the Sri Lankan garment industry experts and designers. The quality of the textile has been inspected and admired by my garment industry friends in Sri Lanka, who believe that this could have a revolutionary market in the future. While Sri Lanka currently does not possess the technological capacity to produce the rpet yarn, Taiwan as a leader in this innovative industry wishes us to join as partners, as they know that Sri Lanka has one of the best garment industry capabilities and infrastructure. If the project can prove to be a worthwhile alternative in the transition world, and bottles can be recycled at home, I will be dressed in a hundred percent rpet fleece material jacket at the next climate change conference.

But, then what about the organic and fair trade cotton garments that I am supposed wear in this transition world? My dialogues with Swedish designers brought me to meet such an organic and fair trade cotton brand produced in Sri Lanka. The Swedish owner of this new ethical-wear brand met her profitable fate while spending her internship scholarship in Sri Lanka. Her fate was influenced by the ill-fate of a neighboring garment factory worker who had lost her job. The young Swedish intern and the jobless Sri Lankan garment worker entered into a new cottage industry. Today the Swedish entrepreneur imports organic cotton textile procured from India, sews T-shirts in Sri Lanka, obtains organic and fair trade certification from Europe, and sells at US$ 50-100 apiece to exclusive buyers across the world. For that price I can buy myself a wardrobe in Sri Lanka. So, organic and fair trade cotton shirts are not yet affordable in my transition lifestyle. But, I am now contemplating a cheaper certification process which has eluded us through modernization, and that is to test the power and trust of word-of-mouth branding.”

(from pg 150) ..... "The transition world too is full of traps and pitfalls. A green economy is not about a sustainable world order. It is a transition or a temporary alternative to buy us some extra time on earth. It may prolong my existence on earth, but cannot assure a safe life for my daughter or for the children she may produce. ......"