800 participants and 90 speakers – I am delighted that the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Congress has developed so well since we first organized it in 2014. 2023, at the eighth edition, the quality of presentations and discussions was high as usual. But perhaps even more importantly, the positive spirit is as palpable as it was the first time.
The fact that people are coming together to tackle the challenges of our time is what makes the congress so special. An inspiration for all those who might want to bury their heads in the sand in the face of the multiple crises of our time. That doesn’t have to be the case, because there are solutions. The positive approach of Cradle to Cradle sees people as beneficial beings, and that is the be-all and end-all. As C2C thought leader Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart said at the congress: “If you see people as an opportunity, that’s how they behave. If you see people as a burden, that’s how they behave.”
SCIENCE AND PRACTICE IN CLOSE EXCHANGE
This basic idea of C2C – to leave a positive footprint instead of a smaller one, i.e. instead of focusing on reduction and sacrifice – can be applied to all industries and society as a whole. That is why the congress was diverse and high-caliber and covered a wide range of topics: Renowned scientists such as mobility researcher Prof. Dr. Andreas Knie came into conversation with a number of practitioners who are implementing C2C in their companies.
I moderated a highly interesting panel discussion on a holistic circular economy in agriculture. It was so exciting that one hour was far too short to debate all the challenges and possible solutions in this segment alone.
FOOD SAFETY THROUGH CLEVER USE OF LEFTOVERS
It was about building up more fertile soil or encouraging farmers to grow important crops with a smart pricing policy. We also talked about the recovery of phosphorus as an important nutrient or how other valuable products can be made from production waste. ReFood’s approach was very interesting: founder Tim Gräsing has developed a patent on how a liquid flour can be produced from spent grains, i.e. leftover barley from beer brewing. “Up to 50 percent of conventional flours can be replaced by this liquid flour,” says Gräsing. The food industry has already shown interest.
In general, the congress once again showed how much creativity and start-up spirit there is in young people. This was demonstrated by the inspiring keynote speeches from start-ups at the end of the congress. Dr. Anne Lamp, co-founder and Managing Director of “traceless materials”, and Martin Kyburz, founder and CEO of Kyburz Switzerland, presented their companies.
START-UPS THAT SHOW THE WAY FORWARD
With “traceless materials”, Anne Lamp has invented a material made from food production waste that can replace conventional plastics such as PP and PE whenever a product is very likely to end up in the biosphere. The material is completely biodegradable, as the microorganisms in the soil can recognize and decompose the natural proteins. In her keynote speech, she pleaded above all for the courage to implement things. She also had doubts and heard from many directions that her start-up idea was too risky. “But considering the need for transformation that we have, I said to myself: the stupidest thing I can do is not try,” said Lamp.
Martin Kyburz’s company is based in the mobility sector – an industry that still has a lot of potential when it comes to the circular economy. His electric vehicles, which are used by Swiss Post and others, were developed with C2C in mind. He even found a solution for the recyclability of the batteries used. The problem with conventional recycling is that the batteries are shredded. Not all raw materials can be recovered from the resulting black mass. Kyburz does things differently: “We take the battery apart exactly as it is assembled. That’s the whole secret.” As a result, he recovers around 91 percent of the raw materials used.
As someone who has been involved in the development of the Cradle to Cradle concept from the very beginning, I am delighted with solutions like this. I am delighted by the convictions of young people and their ability to implement their ideas, but also to present them and thus motivate others to do the same. I am delighted that established companies are recognizing the signs of the times. I am pleased that science and practice can work so well hand in hand. There is no reason to bury our heads in the sand.