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Beyond sustainability

AN “INSPIRATIONAL” conference on sustainable development in Shetland on Wednesday said in future waste would have to be used for more than incineration to create heat for homes.

The Shetland Sustainability Conference, at Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre, was part of a two-day visit to the isles by around 50 delegates from the 22 members participating in the Cradle to Cradle Islands project.

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Part-funded by European money, the project aims to turn a number of islands into ‘innovation centres’.

The conference, attended by around 80 people, heard from a number of speakers, including Dr Ir Han Brezet from the University of Delft, Soren Hermansen from the Danish island of Samso, Shetland Islands Council’s development chief Neil Grant, Daniel Aklil of Unst’s Pure Energy Centre, and Northmavine powerdown officer Colin Dickie.

The cradle to cradle concept was developed 20 years ago by Dr Michael Braungart, a professor of chemistry at the universities of Luneburg, in Germany, and Rotterdam, in Holland.

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It goes beyond the standard approach to sustainability, instead aiming to entirely eliminate the impact of humans on the natural environment.

Katja Hansen, of Hamburg’s EAPA institute, said the approach was “very positive” as it aimed to re-incorporate all waste materials into new production without losing their value.

She said recycling as it is carried out today was actually “downcycling”, as the materials gained in the process could only be used to make inferior products.

Instead, for example, electronic equipment should be manufactured in such a way that products could be dismantled and the original raw materials re-used to create new improved versions.

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Shetland’s waste to energy plant was a poor use of valuable materials and did not fit into the cradle to cradle concept, she said.

The islands project is just a first step to developing blueprints on which to build future projects, the ultimate aim being to go “beyond sustainability” and optimise development.

“This is really about good quality and innovation, which in turn benefits the environment. It is different to just reducing the environmental footprint.

“There is no other solution. We are going to run out of resources unless we adopt the cradle to cradle principles for everything we do,” Ms Hansen said.

Meanwhile Søren Hermansen, a driving force behind converting the small Danish island of Samsø into an energy efficient community, told delegates of the benefits islanders had gained from the transition.

The project had been supported by the Danish government to help the island survive by creating jobs, boosting the economy and becoming energy independent.

Mr Hermansen urged the audience to “start with yourself” rather than waiting for big incentives that might never come. “Think and act local,” he said.

Islanders had come to accept the 20 or so wind turbines because they owned them directly. Some were owned by the local council to power their premises, but one or two of the larger turbines were owned by co-operatives of 450 people who all had a small stake, he said.

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After the conference organiser Elizabeth Johnson of Pure Energy Centre said the event had been inspirational.

And while Shetland had a long way to go before it met the cradle to cradle ideal, she felt the islands were making a start.

“I know that the waste to heat incinerator doesn’t fit into the concept, but it is the best we can do at the moment on our way to move towards cradle to cradle.

“The knowledge and learning from each other will be ongoing beyond the project. Hopefully, we will be able to do the same as some of the other islands, such as Samsø, and get some sustainable businesses going.”

She added the conference had been organised as an add-on to the group’s regular meetings to allow islanders to participate in the debate.

The event had been by invitation only because of the restraints of space at the college.

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