Overdue for some eco-tourism? Environmental advocates and social innovators would be hard pressed to find a better excuse to travel to South America than the upcoming Rio+20 Earth Summit. Marking the anniversary of the first Earth Summit held there in 1992, the once-in-a-generation event is the latest in a series of United Nations conferences on sustainable development dating back to Stockholm in 1972.
The upcoming three-day conference will focus on building a low-carbon green economy and creating a global governance for sustainable development. Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the 12-year old girl who silenced the world for seven minutes at Earth Summit 1992, is among the international thought leaders expected to attend. Severn’s sobering call to action, immortalized in a 1992 video, is still a relevant rallying cry for this year’s Summit. In fact, given the leaps in technology, the issues she implored participants to address two decades ago may be much closer to workable solutions.
A Future in Plastics
Alongside the 115 heads of state already confirmed to attend will be companies and ecopreneurs whose work constitutes the engine behind the sustainability movement. Among them is Doug Woodring, founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance. As Woodring reports in his TEDx talk, “only 27 percent of plastic bottles are recycled, while 73 percent end up in the landfill – or the ocean.” Already, over ten percent of fish tested in our oceans contain pollutants from plastic in their tissue. Woodring sees the growing plastic waste stream as a resource worth capturing and channeling into products that enhance life, rather than degrade it.
To focus on the natural assets inherent within plastic waste, Woodring is hosting Plasticity Rio ’12 on June 21st alongside the Rio 2012 Earth Summit. Plasticity Rio '12 will explore the opportunities that can transform the way that plastic is designed, used and reused. “Plastic is one of the materials that links almost all of our companies and industries to the ocean and our environment,” said Woodring. “By focusing on the newest technologies and innovations in design, packaging, materials, recovery, recycling and re-use, we will be able to showcase where leaders are going in this space and how great improvements can be made in reduced environmental impact.”
Plasticity Rio ’12 is a global collaboration by Ocean Recovery Alliance (Hong Kong), Republic of Everyone (Australia), Applied Brilliance (America), and Metodo (Brazil). Attendees will come from wide-ranging sectors including textiles, retailers, manufacturers, service industries, recyclers, design and packaging industries, waste-to-fuel companies, and bio-plastic producers. Woodring explains, “We’re looking for companies to get involved as sponsors, endorsers, communication partners and as competitors in our contest Capturing Gold.”
Innovation through Collaboration
Launched on April 22nd, Capturing Gold is an international initiative to identify ideas for bringing in large volumes of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles and finding the most innovative, valuable ways to use that plastic “gold.” Already, the plastic waste stream has yielded new products from fleece to fuel.
To facilitate new ideas, Capturing Gold will use Tinkby, an online collaboration platform designed to help large groups of people think together. The system invites users to generate ideas, build on the ideas of others, and vote for the concepts most likely to have an impact in the real world. Audi is one company that has used the platform for ideation. For Capturing Gold, the open source tool will field ideas to address two big challenges:
1) How to capture large quantities of “gold” (PET plastic bottles) from our societies, on a long term, sustained basis, and
2) What to do with that material in cool, innovative ways.
“Creativity, innovation and ideas are critical to build a sustainable future,” said Matt Perry founding Partner of Republic of Everyone. “Capturing Gold will seek out the smartest, brightest thinking on the future of sustainable use and re-use of plastic. We looking for ideas that range from the simple and obvious to the wildly insane ‘you must be kidding, right?’ types of ideas.”
Capturing Gold's sponsors and collaborators include Google, the National Resources Defense Council, NatureWorks, Ecover, Covanta Energy (plastic to fuel), Plastics.com, Taiwan Plastics Industry Development Center, Earth Watch, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Contest judges include the head designer for Volvo, a top designer from the Nike Foundation, an the inventor of PET. (Click here to download the tentative agenda).
Contributors will be able to participate through June 20th and the winners will be announced in Rio on June 21st. Winning ideas will then be discussed in a half-day stakeholder workshop on 22nd June. Nadim Matta, president of the Rapid Results Institute and Managing Partner of Schaffer Consulting, will engage workshop participants in finding ways to experiment with some of the winning ideas within 100 days from leaving the UN RIO+20 Earth Summit.
Innovators who are low on funds for travel or intent on saving carbon emissions can view the Capturing Gold workshop - as well as other outcomes from Summit leaders, thinkers, and doers - via YouTube and other social media platforms. Whether you participate in person or virtually, those of us watching the Rio+20 Earth Summit can expect to see the results reverberate for generations to come.
A version of this article first appeared on Greenbiz.com.