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January 12th, 2021

Von der Leyen's "new European Bauhaus movement" already exists in Cradle to Cradle

topic: Sustainable Development
by: Nora Sophie Griefahn, Tim Janßen
org: Cradle to Cradle

2020 is over. The Corona pandemic will continue to put a strain on the world, but right now, at the beginning of a new year, we are looking ahead, into the future - and see great potential and opportunity in the European Green Deal. In a recent guest contribution, the current President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, described how she intends to bring it to life - and we have closely examined her statements. 

"We have to rethink and replan," Mrs. von der Leyen demands. "Our economy must become more circular." And even though we are very happy to hear that, at the C2C NGO we believe that the economy must not only become more circular, but completely circular. Nevertheless, Ms. von der Leyen and the EU are headed in the right direction. Climate protection must be addressed in combination with the use and circulation of resources as well as all other environmental issues.

More than climate neutrality

"This requires more than just cutting back on emissions," von der Leyen went on to write. If that is a call for positively defined goals instead of climate neutrality, for more good technologies instead of fewer bad ones, then we agree. However, the fact that Ms. von der Leyen repeatedly mentions "climate neutrality" is irritating. We know that humans will never be ecologically invisible. But then we came across the strongest statement: "The Green Deal must also be a new cultural project for Europe!"

We all know that exclamation marks are to be used sparingly. In her contribution there is only this one, and she used it in her most important sentence: a new cultural project, which coincidentally is what Cradle to Cradle already is. 

For years, with much dedication and brainpower, we and the C2C community have been creating exactly what Ms. von der Leyen wants to establish; we are already a "creative and interdisciplinary movement." We "are committed to the theme of sustainability but set different priorities." 

We are also a "creative experimental laboratory and docking point" for a number of industries. Our Berlin C2C LAB is already what Ms. von der Leyen calls a "space for collaborative design and creativity, where architects, artists, students, scientists, engineers and designers work together". And we are already managing to "combine sustainability with clever design."

Continuing in the text, the focus on the construction industry is appropriate: the world's population is growing, and so are cities and the buildings' energy requirements. But to be built according to Cradle to Cradle’s criteria, a building must produce more energy than its occupants consume. Its façade must bind CO2 and fine particles. Its interior must be healthy. Its construction and its components cannot contribute to the 60 percent that the construction industry accounts for of the world's total waste generation. 

So, what does President von der Leyen’s new European Bauhaus look like? Well, it is “architecture that adopts shapes and construction principles inspired by nature, that takes interactions in ecosystems into account from the very beginning, that includes sustainability and recyclability form the start.” Well said, we believe; and we know that exactly this can be transferred with Cradle to Cradle from architecture to any design, to any product and any service.

An economy in which everything circulates

In this way, we would create an economic system across all sectors in which everything would circulate in endless loops and be healthy for humans and the environment. Production processes would then be transparent and fair, and diversity would be a given. In the correct political framework, C2C generates significant competitive advantages - this framework needs to be created! Because only when the environmental damage of a product is taken into account, does the price display the real cost of the product. This is the case for electricity and fuels, for steel and concrete, for textiles, plastics and food. When economy, ecology and social aspects are intertwined, we will have created a modern and future-oriented market economy. 

Unfortunately, Ms. von der Leyen’s powerful words and the current political course of the European Union do not go hand-in-hand. The last agricultural reform, for example, is the exact opposite of von der Leyen’s newest vision and our demands. Instead of promoting fairness and diversity, the reform supports a monopoly of the market, monocultures, and quantity over quality. It does not allow for the buildup of a carbon cycle in agriculture, which would play a crucial role in both the reduction of C02 in  Earth’s atmosphere and the use of our soils as carbon sinks. 

What’s stopping the EU from putting von der Leyen’s vision and C2C innovation into practice?

Many other areas of the EU are equally not yet acquainted with the vision of a new European Bauhaus. Brussels, at the heart of the European Union, unfortunately does not have a comprehensive understanding of sustainability  yet – and we are becoming increasingly impatient.

Why is it all taking so long? Which barriers are standing in the way of an all-encompassing establishment of C2C in the EU? Are the large European corporations afraid of future-oriented and truly sustainable innovation? Why are they holding onto the status quo for dear life? Or do EU politicians maybe lack confidence, bravery and faith in their own abilities as lawmakers? 

All of this is doubly frustrating because we know that a change of direction in politics and the economy is not only necessary - it is possible! The technologies have been available for quite a while - they just need to be put to use. 

There are, of course, pioneers who have initiated change, but we need so much more. There are building materials that are both healthy and recyclable, and therefore so valuable, that buildings can become material banks. There are textiles whose microparticles are compostable and can circulate in the biological cycle once they are washed out of clothing in the washing machine and inevitably make their way into the groundwater. There are even synthetic materials that are completely biologically degradable! When will these innovations finally become the standard? 

Roll up your sleeves with us and let’s get to work!

After reading Ms. von der Leyen‘s contribution, we are left with some questions. If we utilised digital processes intelligently, we could examine and publish supply chains and find out which products are really made of healthy and recyclable materials, and how they were produced. This information can improve product- and production standards. It can also make the quality of ingredients and substances as well as the value chains more transparent. Why is this not anchored in EU guidelines? When will Ursula von der Leyen’s vision become reality, and how? 

These questions are urgent. So instead of frowning, sighing and giving up, we prefer to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The European Bauhaus won’t be built overnight. For it to become stable, we need to put in the work - which is what we at Cradle to Cradle will continue doing in 2021. 

Who’s with us?

Nora Sophie Griefahn and Tim Janßen are Managing Directors at Cradle to Cradle.

Image by World Economic Forum.

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