A FOUNDATION CORNERSTONE LAID IN ATLANTA.
Extract from the series ‘Letters From 2030’
January 12th 2030
His reflections had been deep, but his resolve in those quite early hours before dawn had been, as always, passionate and resolute to raise the voice of change. To reach out to those still clinging to hope in their isolated locations of humanity and inspire their hearts that one day they may achieve a balance with Earth and a future for others. They had asked how his enduring passion and the fire that burned within him to awaken man back in the first decade of the 21st century had been ignited. He would today answer their question.
He moved across the room to the transmission panel and turned it on………
You have asked me how the Foundation was born to question the illogical sleepwalk of our world in the first decade of this century. It was a long journey that I still remember well.
Now in 2030 I can look back clearly to 2007, and on the ten years before to when we had started our business in 1997, during which time we had often struggled with why it was taking so long for the logic of what we were doing and saying; and the importance of our message to finally get through. I’m sure back then that the Union of Concerned Scientists also looked back on the fifteen years since 1992 when they told us we had “one to a few decades” to reverse our course with similar frustration.
It was the same for us as with those scientists; the importance of their words was falling on deaf ears. As Sir Richard Burton had put it when narrating War of the Worlds, “It seemed amazing to me, that with all that was going on around them, people just went about their daily lives as if nothing was happening.”
Many times being the first to develop systems, techniques, and processes to recover and recycle post-consumer polypropylene from landfill loss had seemed all too hard. The humble plastic garden plant pot, with 100 million being dumped in our state’s landfill each year, when we started was not of any real significance to those in government that could have made a difference in those early years. As with the scientists, they were not listening. “Plastic doesn’t, as with other wastes, break down in landfill or leach into ground water,” they told me. “There was no environmental damage from dumping plastic,” they asserted. So we struggled on, trying to make them understand it wasn’t just a bit of plastic, it was all that was consumed in the process, extracting the oil, manufacturing the virgin resin from fossil resources, consuming water and vast amounts of coal-fired energy, so that the non-renewable resources could be used just once for plastic pots and ice cream containers before being dumped forever in a landfill. “Dump it and all consumed resources are lost.” They were not thinking through the consequences of our business as usual actions. Recovering and then reprocessing plastic for use, in order to replace virgin resources making exactly the same products, saved even more virgin resources, and mitigated the need to manufacture more virgin product when recovered and recycled materials could be used instead. This was resource recovery. We told them that as a country, we didn’t need to find new water resources, new oil reserves, produce more coal-fired energy, if we simply stopped throwing what we had consumed into the bin. It wasn’t rocket science. To us, it was a no-brainer. How could they sustain their message that dumping plastic had no adverse environmental impact?
So we struggled on. I can still look back with a sense of pride that my family, my wife, daughters, and others that saw the vision we had, were stubborn enough for long enough to finally make a difference. We committed many hundreds of thousands of dollars over those early years of research and development. We had also committed much blood, sweat, and tears to come to where we were in 2007. “I remember our first meeting in 2000, when you outlined what you thought was possible and thought it was a stretch even for an optimist,” said Peter Bury, director of Industry Development for the Plastic and Chemical Industry Association (PACIA). In 2005 we were awarded the PACIA National Environment Award and in 2006 were finalists for the PACIA Sustainability Award for Plastics.
Like those concerned scientists in those early years, we kept knocking on closed doors and speaking into deaf ears.
In 2002-03 we would initiate and embark on a six-month demonstration project. This would accurately qualify our reprocessing energy consumption for converting the recovered materials into quality replacement feedstock and compare our process to the energy used to produce the virgin resin. The demonstrated findings showed that each tonne of production we saved going to landfill, being reused to replace the need for virgin resin in product manufacture, was equal to saving the energy used by the average home for over five years. In the recycling process we had developed, we were saving from each tonne, over 10 tonnes of embodied water, 1,500 litres of oil and over 97,600 megajoules of embodied energy.
The landmark study outcome led to a Special Commendation Award for Energy Efficiency in the state’s environment awards in 2004. At the same awards evening, our family company also received the honour of recognition as winner of the Waste Minimisation Award, as the winner of the Behavioural Change Award, and selected as the Overall Environment Award Winners for 2004. We were starting to have our voice heard.
We would go on in 2005 to be recognized as Finalists for the Prime Minister’s Award for Environmentalist of the Year, be invited by the governor to a reception for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, be nominated by the state government and selected in the nation’s premier science awards as one of three national finalists in the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Leadership in Business Innovation, and in 2006 we would take our first holiday in thirty-one years of marriage to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, where we would receive from the U.S. Society of Plastics Engineers the Global Environment Award for Plastic Recycling for 2006. Our voice was being heard just like the voices of the Union of Concerned Scientists were finally starting to be heard. Our overnight success had taken a decade, while theirs had taken a decade and a half.
In Atlanta on February 28th, 2006, I was privileged to spend several hours with Ray C. Anderson, a visionary and self-confessed previous plunderer of our planet’s finite resources. Ray was the founder and chairman of Interface Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial floor coverings. Ray, like me, had seen that it was his responsibility to be part of the solution to the problems we face. Over those hours together while we sat and talked, we inspired each other with hope and a vision for a safer world. To an extent it was he that became partly responsible for my book, as it was he that first suggested it. That morning in his book Mid-Course Correction the Interface Model, Ray signed “To Bob Williamson comrade-in-arms for the good of earth with respect.” Along with his words at that meeting, his book has been a constant companion and a source of some hope to me. As he had done a change in direction, “a mid-course correction” could be achieved. I committed that morning to adding my voice to his at every opportunity, to change the ways we look at our past practices and foster how a change for a more sustainable outcome might come about. For the future of his children, mine and yours.
We visited another great man in Atlanta that day, and although we were too late to talk with him, his words and wisdom echoed loudly to us from the past. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 speaking in Los Angeles on the matter of the war in Vietnam had this to say: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at flood: it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”
Later that year I would establish the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation with the vision to “Broaden the understanding of choices made that impact or increase depletion of finite resources resulting in environmental and ecosystem damage.”
The Foundation stone was laid in Atlanta that sunny February morning.
All of you that receive this hologramletter must know and believe your cornerstone has been laid along side this foundation for change; and we can still build upon that.
Until then….Stay safe – stay indoors. Much hope to you all.
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