One product, multiple benefits



Do more with less—makes sense when you\’re thinking green, doesn\’t it—especially when you let it expand your idea of what\’s possible.

A guiding principle in thinking green is to achieve multiple purposes with a single item. The item could be a product, a component, a service, or maybe even an idea. Systems that incorporate this principle are generally much more sustainable, need fewer components, and are therefore also more economical.

Does that sound like a bunch of abstractions that\’s a bit too complicated to puzzle out? Let\’s look at some specific examples.

Purus pavers: Old soda bottles solve water runoff problems

Green builders are discovering eco-friendly substitutes for the traditional asphalt paving area. Asphalt prevents water from seeping into the ground and diverts it—usually into sewers, but sometimes into places where it causes harmful erosion.

By contrast, a paving system that allows the water to drain back into the ground right there and yet insulates vehicles from the problems of parking or driving directly on the ground can maintain the water table, reduce concentrations of toxic contaminants, eliminate the erosion problem, and even allow for plantings that grow close to the ground—thus adding oxygen and reducing CO2 emissions, which in turn help preserve the earth in the face of catastrophic climate change.

These pavers created a latticework of support above an open area, so the water can freely drain, right where the rain falls.

I\’ve seen concrete pavers like this, and they\’re very cool. A company called Purus decided to take things up a notch, and make the pavers out of recycled polyethylene from old soda bottles. This adds several more benefits: longer lasting landfills, avoiding toxic fumes from incineration of plastic (which should NEVER be burned), reuse of materials, among others.
Ocean Arks International: Waste Becomes Raw Material in a Closed Loop.

Instead of the typical open system where an industrial process creates waste that is released into the environment, enviro-pioneer John Todd keeps asking how we can close the loop by using that waste as an input for something else. After all, that\’s what happens in nature: humans and other animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, while plants breathe in that carbon dioxide and breathe oxygen back out. A dead tree becomes habitat for nesting birds, and when the birds die, their nutrients are absorbed back into the soil where plants can use them.

The company Todd founded, Ocean Arks International , takes this single simple idea in amazing directions. For instance, an integrated system of businesses and activities called The Intervale <>, in Burlington, Vermont, uses brewery waste to grow mushrooms, mushroom waste to feed fish, fish waste to grow hydroponic vegetables, and so on.

Expanding the principle again, Todd and his colleagues design and build restorative ecosystems that reduce carbon, digest human-caused waste, and revivify dead or dying bodies of water. (Read more about John Todd\’s work at

Organic and Biodynamic farming: Benefiting all stakeholders

The last example is one that most of us are familiar with: organic farming, and its more tightly regulated cousin, Demeter Certified Biodynamic agriculture .

You already know that organic foods not only eliminate harmful chemicals but also typically produce tastier foods. But you might not know that organic agriculture can sequester 7000 pounds of carbon per acre…that agriculture can raise a significant portion of our energy needs through oilseed crops like sunflowers (yes, I\’m aware there are issues in using cropland for energy)…that a good organic diet of grasses and flax can significantly reduce the (very troubling greenhouse gas) methane emissions from cow burps…and that a cow fed an organic diet will be far more profitable for farmers, because she is likely to live up to three times as long and have many more lactation cycles, and will even yield 20 percent more beef. (These statistics are taken from my report on the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco last year: ).
And You?
These are just three of thousands of examples. How can you incorporate holistic, systemic thinking to create multiple benefits with one innovation?

Shel Horowitz, [email protected], shows you how to “reach green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU.” He writes the monthly Green And Profitable column and is the primary author of the award-winning book Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons).