I spent the day yesterday at the Forum des 100 in Lausanne, Switzerland. I produced the conference and was moderating the whole day, so this will be only a summary. The Forum des 100 is an annual one-day gathering of top businessmen, politicians, scientists, artists and media people from Western Switzerland. It was launched by the newsmagazine L'Hebdo, which publishes the same day its annual list of "100 personalities" from the French-speaking part of Switzerland (that's where the name of the event comes from).
This was the third Forum (see this previous post for a summary of last year's discussions), it took place on the campus of the University of Lausanne, attended by 650 people, and was devoted to two topics. During the morning we tackled what's currently the top preoccupation of the Swiss, according to every survey: climate change and sustainability. The afternoon focused on Swiss foreign and domestic policy, with the participation of the Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey. The first issue is likely to shape the campaign for the October parliamentary election, which has just started; the second is being carefully ignored by most politicians so far as too controversial. The conference was held in French. (If you read French, there is a blow-by-blow account on the conference's blog).
After a brief introduction by the president of the University of Lausanne Dominique Arlettaz, and by the editor of L'Hebdo, Alain Jeannet, Marie-Hélène Miauton, a leading pollster, unveiled and commented the results of an exclusive survey, whose details were published in the day's issue of the magazine. What worries the Swiss most? Last year, the uncertainties on the job market were top of the list; this year, 38% say climate change well ahead of any other concern (security, jobs, etc). A majority believes that the State (federal and local) doesn't do enough. The level of information seems good: a majority stated (correctly) that carbon emission in Switzerland are equally produced by transportation and by heating, which is not the case in countries such as China or the US. Only 11% said that they don't pay attention to the geographic origin of the food they buy and the distance it has travelled to reach the stores. Among the possible measures, free public transport, a 50% cut in the price of train tickets, and the introduction of two car-free Sundays per year are "yes", urban charges on cars (as in London) and the doubling of gasoline prices are "no". Despite concerns about carbon emissions, 56% of the population is against the construction of new nuclear plants.
Alexander Zehnder is the President of the Council of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (which has two campuses, in Zurich and Lausanne). He is also an advocate of a drastic limitations of energy consumption. He considers energy as the overall measure of sustainability ("we could have 20 billion people on Earth if we had enough energy; but we don't"). Everybody should have an "energy budget", and all through the year -- taking into account all energy sources, the production of goods and all activities -- a person should ideally consume only 2000 Watts (the equivalent of twenty 100-Watts lightbulbs that are on 24/7). Today, like most Europeans, a Swiss consumes on average 6500 W (about 3000 from fossil fuels, 2000 from renewables, mostly hydroelectric, and the rest imported from abroad) -- Americans use some 12000 per head. So Zehnder is proposing to cut consumption here by three (in Switzerland, that would mean to reestablish the consumption levels of the mid-1960s) to reach a level that the planet can sustain. And, he said, we could get to this "2000-Watts society" (PDF), a concept he and others in Switzerland have been voicing since 1998, without necessarily lowering our quality of life significantly: more efficient cars, better building processes and heating systems, new materials, systematic recycling, new technologies "Of course we won't get there in one year, but 2050 could be a good target horizon" he says.
He detailed the example of the new Chriesbach building of the Swiss federal institute for aquatic sciences (EAWAG in its German acronym), which is pictured at right, hosts 150 employees and matches the criteria of the 2000-Watts society. Zehnder said that the building did cost 5% more than usual, but uses four times less energy for heating for example -- the heath produced by lightbulbs, computers and people is enough.
He ended by quoting a Chinese colleague who told him recently: "sustainability is intergenerational justice". I asked him how much he consumes personally: about 3500 Watts, he answered, despite all the traveling for his job (he doesn't have a car though, and travels mostly by train).
Suren Erkman took the stage next. He is one of my favorite scientists, and an entrepreneur, and I already blogged his speech at LIFT last February. Suren is one of the scientists who are pushing the concept of "industrial ecology": the idea of an integrated model of economic activity. He calls it "science and practice of sustainability", defined through three elements: a broad and rigorous conceptual framework to approach the long-term evolution of the industrial and economic system and how it interacts with the biosphere; it's coupled with an operational strategy, so it's a conceptual framework for action; it's a collective and cooperative strategy for large-scale transformation. Suren explained how the biosphere should be the model for the economic system -- a "cradle-to-cradle" or "circular economy" model (Suren is just back from China and he told me a few days ago that the Chinese government is introducing the world's first "circular economy" law).
In order to achieve this, we need of course to understand how the system -- the "ecosphere" -- works, and to measure its inputs and outputs. Suren calls this the "economic metabolism". Some studies in this field have been done in Switzerland: every Swiss consumes directly or indirectly 114 kilos of materials (energy, goods and other resources) per day, not including water and air. Per day. (41.7 tons per person per year).
He talked about dematerialization as an example of right approach: the idea that an economy becomes more efficient in the usage of resources (he suggested that a good way to measure a country's competitiveness is to measure its output versus its resources consumption). The Swiss economy, he said, is on the track to dematerialization, although more could be done. To explain the idea of dematerialization in practical terms, he showed examples of companies that have found ways to compress the same quantity of goods (Coke, chocolate powder, construction materials) into a smaller size, which will reduce pollution from warehousing, packaging and transportation (I will come back to these examples in a future post).
He suggested the notion of eco-industrial networks, and detailed and example of a neighborhood energy planning in Geneva. And ended indicating what he sees as the jobs of the future: socio-industrial metabolism analyst; designer and animator of eco-industrial networks; industrial ecosystem manager; products and systems dematerialization specialist; territorial dietitians; functional optimizers.
Which provided a good transition for the next speaker, Cedric Coquelin, a post-grad student in environmental geosciences at the University of Lausanne, with whom I had a chat on stage discussing a few examples of sustainability in Switzerland, extracted from a recent issue of L'Hebdo which was produced in cooperation between a group of UNIL students, the team of NiceFuture and the Hebdo journalists (I did help coordinate the special report and wrote one of the main stories). With Coquelin we discussed wind energy, and one particular case where the wind turbines are producing more energy than expected; Webenergy.ch, a website that allows pupils and students to calculate the energy consumption of their families, aggregate these data with their classmates, and compare their class' consumption with that of other classes in Switzerland and abroad (awareness-raising through the kids); and Ekipeko, a group of young green activists in Lausanne who come to your home and do a "sustainability check" and energy consumption analysis (appliances, heating/cooling, fixtures etc), suggesting improvements -- and they do so for free.
Then Pierre Varenne, the head of the Michelin research center in Fribourg, Switzerland, spoke about developing a prototype of zero-emission fuel cell car called Hy-Light that's totally revolutionary (the engine is integrated in the wheels; the energy to produce the hydrogen and the oxygen for the fuel cell is of solar origin; etc). The prototype (picture left) was on display at the Forum and attendees could test-drive it -- and they lined up to do so. I test-drove the car recently and wrote about it (and about the whole Hy-Light project and technology) in this column.
A panel about "a national strategy for sustainability" gathered then the mayor of Lausanne (and leading green politician) Daniel Brélaz; the entrepreneur Paola Ghillani; Pierre-Alain Urech, CEO of Western Switzerland utility Romande Energie; Roger Nordmann, member of the federal parliament; and Alexander Zehnder (see above), moderated by L'Hebdo editors Philippe Le Bé and Michel Guillaume.
To close the morning session we had invited Nicolas Hulot, a television personality, explorer and star of environmentalism in France and the French-speaking part of Europe (pretty much the same kind of name recognition that Al Gore enjoys in the US). Hulot had drafted an "environmental pact" ("pacte écologique") at the beginning of the campaign that led to the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as French president earlier this month, asking all the candidates to sign it -- to engage themselves on the road to sustainability. He got them to sign it, and commit to the several objectives put forth, from sustainability to lowering of consumption, from the containment of cities' sprawl to a shift from road transportation to train, from more environmental-conscious fiscal policies to the protection of biodiversity, etc. As a first response, Sarkozy, in his acceptance speech, said that climate change and sustainability will be the top priority of his government, and has appointed a minister of sustainable development (which was Hulot's first request in the "pact") making him the government's number 2.
Hulot: "The environmental crisis will hit first -- is hitting first -- the poorest of the world. What is happening in Darfur for example is an indirect consequence of climate change: in that Sahel region the rising temperatures have created a territorial competition for water. It's important to keep this global vision in mind: we can't think only about our country. ... We are at a paradoxical moment where never humanity has been so powerful and, at the same time, so vulnerable. We could get to the end of this century to discover that humanity has self-mutilated by destroying half of biodiversity, of the species".
But this crisis can also be a huge opportunity. "We didn't get to this fork in the road by chance. It was about time that we get to this questioning about the means and the purposes, about giving a new sense to progress, about using human genius properly. This questioning is both collective and individual. How can we go from the society of consumption, in which we -- me first -- have gone too far, to a society of moderation? If we don't, we will end up in a society of scarcity. ... We need to shift from the pessimism of intelligence to the optimism of will. ... We need to find a new way of growing, more selective, smarter. We need to shift from free trade to just trade. We need to shift from taxes on work to environmental taxes (all the while keeping fiscal pressure equal). ... It can't be just declared: we have to imagine it, to invent it, to design it, to implement it. ... The XX century left us a heritage of debt (environmental, demographic, economic, cultural). ... All keys to the future reside in diversity: the more we reduce diversity, the more we reduce our chances. ... The environmental pact was a tentative to bridge the ideological gap between left and right, between conservatives and liberals: there cannot be a protocol of the right and one of the left when it comes to assist patient Earth. ... I have the impression that in France, everyone has started moving".
During the Q&A, Hulot told about some of the absurdities of the current system, like when he went to meet a potato grower in France and noticed that he used irrigation while, in that region, potatoes could easily be grown using only rainwater. Yes, answered the farmer, but if I do so, the potatoes won't be as round and smooth, and although they will taste exactly the same consumers won't buy them; but, more importantly, if I irrigate I receive subsidies from the European Union....
We ended the morning with a small surprise: while our hostesses distributed the day's issue of L'Hebdo to the 650 attendees, we played a song composed specially by Pascal Auberson, a leading Swiss singer, based on the names of the "100 personalities" featured in the magazine. It's in French, you can listen to it here.
The afternoon was devoted to a "town hall" meeting with the Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey (picture). I was on stage moderating with Alain Jeannet, editor of L'Hebdo, and Chantal Tauxe, so let me just jot down one quote -- "Ladies and gentlemen: it's warmer and our glaciers are melting and we know why, and it's possible to do something about it and the economic cost of doing so is very contained" -- and summarize just one of the many topics that were touched upon. In 1291 the rural (alpine) communities of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden lay the foundation for Switzerland, and that happened on a small meadow called the Rütli (in German) or Grütli (in French or Italian) on Lake Lucerne. It's an important place in the history of Switzerland (other key events happened there) but it remains just a meadow, with an active farm, a small restaurant, and a very modest monument and a flag. In the last few years, during the traditional celebration of the Swiss national day -- August 1st -- the Swiss minister invited to speak has been booed and insulted by small groups of right-wing extremists. To the point that last year it came to some violence, and since the discussion has been ongoing about how to handle this issue. The result of much political hypocrisy and beancounting between Cantons and the Confederation to decide who's to pay the costs of security, is that it was "decided" some weeks ago that there would be no August 1st speech this year. To which Calmy-Rey, together with the president of the Swiss Parliament, Christine Egerszegi, said "no way, we will go there and celebrate the national day". She explained at the Forum des 100 why she took this position: "I go around the world telling people how wonderful our democracy is, and encouraging countries in transition to embrace freedom of speech and opinion, and here I am in a country where apparently there is one place where freedom of speech can no longer be guaranteed, where democratic expression is hindered by a small group of extremists" and by the political system's incapacity (or unwillingness) to deal with the situation."For months it was discussed as a question of who-will-pay-for-what, but it has now become a much graver question, of freedom of expression, of the values and principles that are at the very center of who we are. So I will go there on August 1st". Standing ovation.
Just a final word to thank the partners who made the Forum des 100 possible: Switcher, Tissot, Loterie Romande, BCV, UNIL, MIS-Trend, and the media/network partners RSR La Première, Kesako and Rezonance.