The annual Top 100 shines a spotlight on not only recyclers but also people who helped shape the recycling industry we know today. Who are we talking about?
One of these innovators is Professor Michael Braungart, who is sometimes called the ‘godfather’ of the circular economy. Braungart wrote the essential book on the cradle-to-cradle concept in 2002 with his business partner (and architect) William McDonough.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him before his idea went ‘viral’. I remember his soft-spoked voice and the immense patience with which he answered as well as his humble attitude. He even thanked me for wanting to interview him and learning about the, back then, relatively new subject matter.
‘According to my theory, there is no more waste,’ Braungart explains. Since his bestseller came out in 2002, it has spread to all corners of the world. This milestone has made the German academic very proud, especially since he jokingly complains that he is a horrible marketeer. ‘I’m a scientist; I’m all about the facts and figures. I rely on the creativity of my friend Bill to get the story out.’
Braungart is quick to add that the circular economy is within reach for all of us, even small players and start-ups. ‘The cradle-to-cradle concept is not about scale. Anyone can get involved by turning recyclables into valuable building blocks. It’s essentially about upcycling. Not about being “green”,’ he notes with a grin. “Did you know this; the green pigment used to make beer cans is actually one of the most toxic pigments there is?’
Ultimately Braungart’s ideology resulted in the launch of the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Its Certified Products programme is rapidly becoming the world’s best recognised framework for assessing, optimising and verifying sustainable product design and manufacturing.
Real change, according to Braungart, comes when companies aren’t focussing on being ‘less bad’, but on doing things right from the very beginning. ‘That’s an initial mistake a lot of people make when trying to adopt my principle. The way I see it; Industrial or commercial progress towards sustainability is not based on efficiency. The word itself is misleading — because it’s the bare minimum.’
Other innovators who made the Top 100 this year include BBC TV and radio presenter Gabrielle Walker (#47); industry veteran and trader Ranjit Baxi (#49), who virtually single-handedly launched Global Recycling Day; as well as US journalist Adam Minter (#58), who wrote two books on scrap; sustainable supply chain expert Nancy Gillis (#66); and ‘waste crime fighter’ Sophie Walker (#67); and not least Carmen Ene (#75), the ceo of e-scrap consultancy platform 3stepIT.
Do you want to read the full 30+ page article?
Would you like to share any interesting developments or article ideas with us? Don't hesitate to contact us.