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Posted May 27, 2013
"Take only pictures, leave nothing but footprints" is
"Take only pictures, leave nothing but footprints" is an established code for the wilderness hiker. Now consider a new code that says,
leave only footprints and take only pictures and the trash you find in the woods. The old rule maintains the status quo, the second makes
things better. The difference is consistent with what the authors challenge us to do in "The Upcycle" - to go beyond minimizing harm to
having a positive impact, to not only be "less bad" but "more good."
The authors clearly want to be known as idea people and there are indeed many good ideas here. Some are concepts turned into
demonstrated success stories while many other ideas are presented as "what if" visions. Dream first, the authors advise, and worry about
practical details later.
Some positions the authors take will be disputed. For example, in contrast to an established ecological maxim which states that no
population of species can increase indefinitely (i.e. there is a limit to growth due to resource limits), the authors claim that "limits to growth"
is a false concept, and that the real problem is one of design.
Also likely to be challenged is the lack of metrics needed to provide clarity and substance for the goal of being "more good." "Less bad" is
a goal which lends itself to quantitative measurement (fewer accidents, less waste, etc.) and appropriate metrics for "less bad" drive
progress since what gets measured usually gets done.
Considerable time is taken to review their previous and highly successful book, "Cradle to Cradle." So much so, however, that it
sometimes sounds a bit like an advertisement. One also wonders, just what exactly is new here, given not only "Cradle to Cradle" but
other background such as the principles of green chemistry and green engineering, ecological maxims, team problem solving techniques,
the precautionary principle, and of course, the intent behind the concept of sustainable development and much progress toward it.
Still, there is value in restating things in a different way or context. While reading "The Upcycle" it is easy to generate your own ideas on
ways to improve products or even to manage your own property in a way that eliminates waste or that will make life better for the next
generation. It is that birth of ideas in the mind of the reader which makes the book worthwhile.
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