Reflections by Gunter Pauli, author of The Blue Economy on June 23, 2015 on the occasion of the 3rd graduation of the seniors from the Green School in Bali (Indonesia)
As I stand here in this student-made hall I remember the day 20 years ago I came for the first time to Bali at the invitation of Linda Garland. It is thanks to her that I fell in love with bamboo. Thank you Linda! John, Cynthia and Elora Hardy have taken my love for bamboo to a new level. This - the Green School and the Green Village - is not just about bamboo anymore, it is about a new paradigm, that embraces first and foremost education, living and sustainability. And I thank you for that.
However, driving through the rice paddy fields between the Green School and Ubud these days, I notice that part of the fields are taken over by genetically modified corn. I saw diapers floating in the irrigation channels, and was shocked to see concrete roads pulled straight to the once pristine horizons of Ubud. We knew the coast would be invaded by hotels, but we always believed that Ubud and the highlands would preserve their culture, tradition and integrity of its ecosystems.
It is against this background that I would like to share five core principles that I suggest would guide life after graduation from the Green School here in Bali. These principles cover happiness and joy, the end of a double moral, the challenge to create what did not exist, to stop distinguishing between good and bad, and finally the importance of life long learning.
1. Happiness and Joy at the Center of Your Development
In his remarkable book "Dawn over the Kalahari", Lasse Berg describes how humans became humane. When the future human decided to run on two instead of four legs, he took a risk. Indeed, running on two legs is slower and less stable than four, but the upside is that now hands are free to carry more food to the refuge. Now when risks are taken and anxiety rises, the warm welcome at home from family celebrating the arrival of food offers a unique emotional experience.
The study of the skulls of the "early Lucy's" confirm that the first development of the human brain in use and size is triggered by emotions. This provoked the subsequent growth of the motoric and sensory lobe. So it were our emotions and the experiences of risk, love, affection, appreciation that made humans humane, and develop more intelligence and agility with our extremities. And then it seems our brain growth from the size of one fist into two fists stopped. What happened?
It seems that after these enthralling experiences of risk and love, community and resilience, humans started redirecting their attention to their egos. New experiences emerged like jealousy and envy, aggression and anger, stress and bitterness, which colored society with a clear desire by a few to control power and subjugate others. That may very well have stopped both our amazing emotional development as a humane society and the growth of our brain.
If you want your life after school to be one that has a chance again to evolve with compassion and mindfulness, where we balance the sense of survival with a clear passion for life, joy and community, then we will have to embrace these original discoveries again of risk and love, for those dearest to us, those around us, including the social and the ecosystem webs of life.
2. Ethics at the Center of your Life full of Reflection and Actions
Life is not a machine. Rather is it a network of living organisms where we are more connected to bacteria than to plushy bears. Life is about connectedness, relationship, patterns of behavior, time and place-based context. That context is made out of the ecosystems that provide us free services like the creation of soil, the filtering of drinking water, and the buffering of natural disasters; as well as social systems that build up non- commercial capital like culture and tradition, and resilience during adverse times we, and our communities will always face the day we expected it the least.
I expect you as graduates to embrace ethical behavior at the center of your life. I especially hope that you will stop the double moral that my generation, your parents have displayed for too long. While we all agree that stealing is stealing, and stealing less is still stealing, we have different standards when we deal with the environment. How is it possible that we are happy to do less damage to the environment? Companies polluting less receive environmental awards! Stealing is stealing and polluting is polluting. No one should ever deserve recognition for doing less bad. Bad is bad.
However it is not only a matter of being content when someone pollutes less. Our double moral in society also permits individuals and companies to refuse to do more good. And that is bad as well. I expect you to be blunt and clear that this will not be tolerated any more. Permit me to share the reality of a major coffee company that produces millions of tons of coffee waste, extracting the active ingredient from beans to produce instant coffee. The company burns that waste, rightfully claiming to save energy and reducing carbon emissions. But, the company fails to highlight that the waste of the coffee could have produced millions of tons of mushrooms, and the waste after harvesting the mushrooms is great chicken feed, creating even more protein while generating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Are you on Earth to do less bad, and do you have the right to refuse to do more good? I trust you will accept the mission in our lives is to do more good.
I lived through this experience myself. When I took the leadership of a small Belgian detergent company we produced soap from palm oil. We manufactured in an ecological factory made from wood with a grass roof, a series of cleaning products using biodegradable and renewable ingredients. Still, we were not sustainable. How could I clean up the rivers in Europe, while destroying the rainforest in Kalimantan, and the habitat of the orangutan? We have to be clear that a sustainable life requires us to be unconditional about the ethics at the core and I expect you to lead the way where your parents failed.
3. Your task - Create what did not Exist - do what your parents cannot imagine
As graduates from Green School, I ask you not to follow the rules of the game but I am not asking you to break the rules of the game either. I wish you take it upon yourselves to create new rules for others to follow. The rules in the economy today do not reach out to everyone at least 40% of the world population has to survive on less than $3.5 a day, and 90% of Africans work on informal jobs. We are destroying the environment and we are taking social systems apart. We do not have a clear understanding of how life works and therefore we need to have a fresh look at reality.
Ask your parents: how did the apple get up in the tree? Or ask: how did the water get up in the coconut? Now may I submit that when you only know what comes down, and have no idea how it got up defying the law of gravity, what do you know? How can you ever design a sustainable society? Time has come to go beyond the economic system your parents and grandparents designed and participated in. It is one that focuses on cutting costs at all cost. You will change that by creating more value from what is locally available. We have to put a stop to this madness of always producing more of the same, where cheaper is better while we leave no more money to circulate in the local economy. How can we ever have the jobs for the next generation when we do not know what we have and how to respond with it to the basic needs of all. Once we decide to pursue this avenue in life, then you will be able to create what did not exist.
One of these new initiatives we have recently embraced is the making of stone paper. Imagine the waste piled up at mining sites, millions of tons that pollute the air with dust particles, and pollute soil and water. We take those crushed rocks, blend them with plastics and produce paper without a drop of water. This paper is recyclable forever. All graduates today at the Green School receive a copy of a stone paper note book as a small token to remember that you can and should create what your parents cannot even imagine. Stone paper not only undoes the errors of the past, it creates products that will save millions of trees and eliminates costly consumption of drinking water. We need to go beyond what we consider possible, and do the impossible.
4. Be guided by the fact that there is no good or bad
Our Christian logic has created a framework where we quickly separate the good from the bad. I suggest that you, Graduates of Green School of Bali, accept that everyone can always do better. Even when you are the best, you can do much better. And let us strive not only to always do better, but also to do faster and more. However if we want to do more we cannot use the tools that limit us. Let me share with you the work my daughter Chido is doing in Africa. When she sits together with workers on coffee farms in Zimbabwe who survive on less than a dollar a day, and she explains to them that the waste of the farm can be used to grow mushrooms, the women listen, get exited, get up, sing and dance, and they do it!
What does a modern day venture require? You first have to write a business plan, set- up excel spreadsheets, undertake a technology audit, build a pilot project, study the market, write reports, discuss it in a commission, set up to monitor progress, look for funding, and in the end - seldom anything gets done. We need a new generation that gets things done because we cannot simply waste time, we need to focus on implementation with passion and commitment, always striving to do better.
5. Embrace Lifelong Learning
Of course you will now graduate and remember your teachers. You will look for mentors who will guide you as I have benefited from so many mentors throughout the years. As professor at several universities I always maintained that the best moment to learn from my students is during the exams. No, I do not like to listen to the answers to exam questions I already know. I have started to turn the tables and suggest that the students ask me questions. The one who can ask me something I have no answer to gets the maximum of the points. Every year, I learn something new from my students.
The greatest that can happen to a professor in this quest for lifelong learning, is to learn from students. Now the professor is a master of his subject but thanks to the impulses from and interests of the students, the master can become a grand master, and the students may become masters. Now since a professor has many students, he can - provided he has the humility and the curiosity - become a grand master and perhaps motivate his students to be masters. Now once you reach the level of grand master then there is a unique window of opportunity in life to turn to this wisdom into immortality. Lifelong learning is not just about you learning throughout life, it is about building up a community, a social network that will always acquire new insights and always innovate, while at the same time build culture and social capital.
At this point I would like to conclude remembering the wise words of one of my mentors, Mr. Shoichiro Honda, who created the Honda Motor Company. He once said: "Some dream to escape reality, others dream to create a new reality."
Graduates : go, dream and create that new reality.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.