Gunter Pauli’s whirlwind visit to Townsville.
‘So we’re needing next to what I call the ‘think tank’ the ‘do tank’. We need to have people who have an obsession with implementation; and unfortunately, I leave out the people in between who only talk.’
Prescient words, indeed.
A few Fridays ago, Townsville played host to global thought leader, author and serial entrepreneur, Gunter Pauli. And he made it clear to local entrepreneurs, educators and others that there’s no time to waste on mere talk.
The Huffington Post has called Gunter Pauli ‘The Steve Jobs of Sustainability’, and his Latin American friends have dubbed him ‘The Che Guevara of Sustainability’. These are lofty titles indeed, and Pauli didn’t disappoint. In a helter-skelter visit, Pauli challenged local businesses to think creatively, work with nature and find new solutions that will pass the test of time.
“I want to be judged by my children,” Pauli intones. (By the way, he is father of seven children; the same number as the languages in which he is fluent).
Blue Economy – a third way
But Pauli is no conventional ‘environmentalist’. He eschews the dichotomy ‘pro versus anti’ development and through his thinking around what he calls the Blue Economy, is striving to stake out new ground. As a result, he is able to talk profit with purpose; to bring captains of industry into the tent while at the same time showing how profitability can be achieved by lessening the social and environmental costs of human economic activity.
While he is relentlessly optimistic, he is struck by how Australia has become so divided along conventional lines – “For and against with passionate people on both sides,” is how he put it. However, Pauli is also clear: it is ‘time to shift the debate to BE BETTER than any other proposal that is on the table, or any practices that is the standard on the market’.
Back to basics
Here, he is talking about how we approach the most basic of human societal needs – water, energy and food. He is perplexed that on the question of water, Australia seems obsessed with cutting costs while increasing rates of consumption whereas the real challenge is to shift to a new plateau that ‘works with nature’. He wonders why it is that on the question of powering our future, the country has “not embraced the real sustainable technologies that are cheaper than coal” since these technologies have already been implemented elsewhere in the world.
Pauli has been involved in a range of bio-energy initiatives, including the transformation of thistles, a pest on the Island of Sardinia in southern Italy, into a bio-fuels energy industry. He implores us to look to these technologies and practices, and move to adopt similar approaches that convert waste into energy here in Australia. North Queensland is replete with the so-called bio-mass that is needed for a bio-fuels industry, and has the potential to reap the benefits of implementing proven technologies.
Remember, ‘we need the people with an obsession with implementation’…
Obsession with implementation
In 24 hours in North Queensland, Gunter was tireless in educating people and exchanging ideas. We packed in lunch with local educators and business owners, an afternoon collective social learning workshop and an evening public lecture and networking.
In these various engagements, his extensive global case studies served to illustrate what was already being achieved, how an ‘obsession with implementation’ was taking root all over the globe, and showed the classic Australian ‘doubting Thomas’ that new thinking was not only necessary but also practical.
At lunch with local business owners, entrepreneurs and educators, Gunter talked enthusiastically about how waste from cruise liners could be transformed into energy, and cycled back to the ships. He opined about the opportunity to generate cash flows through engagement of tourists in conservation activities, and illustrated the point by drawing on experiences of coral transplanting.
Opportunities to turn rock into paper were explored, as were a host of projects that could go towards the development of an urban agriculture that also contribute to mitigating urban consumerist waste. Indeed, if there was a single take-out from Gunter Pauli, it is that there’s no such thing as ‘waste’. In nature, ‘waste’ is transformed into something useful, and that’s how we much be when we deal with so-called ‘waste’.
As he travelled around Australia to various public engagements, crisscrossing the nation from South Australia, along the east coast to Townsville and then to Perth, the extent to which Australia’s urbanization could not be missed.
En route to Abu Dhabi, Gunter writes me and observes:
“Australia is hugely urbanized but it is not adjusting its food, water and housing to this new reality. I was amazed that with all the debates and discussions on green housing there is so little real sustainable housing: buildings are cold in the winter and hot in the summer with concrete slabs and traditional bricks and huge window covers…’
This might sound like a lament, but he was quick to emphasise that ‘there is dramatic room for improvement…’
In Townsville, the Waterfront Priority Development Area has already received some ‘blue treatment’. Cairns-based blue economy practitioner Stewart Christie has prepared a sustainability framework for the PDA on a commission from the Townsville City Council. In his June report, Christie observes, “TCC will need to act and think differently to fully realize the opportunities and benefits that lie within its grasp”.
Hopefully, Gunter’s visit will help in this process of thinking and acting differently.