This is a conversation held before the annual announcement of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Today, we know that two Americans, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, were elected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the aforementioned award. The first, with proven work in the economy linked to the environment, the second, having formulated the theory of endogenous growth, decisive to integrate technological innovation in long-term macroeconomic analysis.
An ad that wears like glove the words exchanged in this dialogue with Pedro Norton de Matos. A ten-year-old reformer who has rethought his life and, inspired by the model of a Californian festival linked to sustainability, in its various forms, he inaugurated a new format in Portugal, GreenFest, which celebrates in 2018 the 11th edition.
A conversation with Pedro Norton de Matos, mentor and entrepreneur of this great celebration of sustainability is synonymous with spreading the field of approach to the areas surrounding this festival that, from 11 to 14 October, calls the Estoril Congress Center, dozens of private and public initiatives committed to a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly, inherently more humane.
A conversation that not forgetting the obvious relationship between the interviewee and the festival he organizes, does not address issues such as waste in our societies, rampant consumption and viable alternatives such as zero waste and circular economy. "We thought, mistakenly, that the trees grow to the sky," Pedro Norton de Matos tells us. And explains why in this interview.
GreenFest has leapfrogged its tenth anniversary. In 2018 it reaches its 11th edition. Pedro, as mentor and implementer of this great celebration of sustainability, how and when to click it?
It is in 2007, during a visit to the United States, to California, where there is a strong sensitivity and awareness for sustainability. There was a festival similar to what we have in Portugal today. I thought at the time to bring it to Portugal, adapting it to our reality and giving it another environment, by also involving the business world.
I, an economist of training and practice, just come out of the business world, I saw the subject of sustainability as an unavoidable approach. Looking back over ten years, I see at the time the need to meet the theme of corporate social responsibility and the concern to link the economic, financial, environmental and social.
In other words, a decade ago you realized what has already become evident, you have to actually compromise the business fabric with sustainability …
Yes, that was the inspirational line, a model that, I realized, had public support. On the other hand, I felt that if we added the involvement of large and small companies, it could have a very representative and transversal event. In addition, the importance of local authorities, civil society and schools. Sustainability is an intergenerational commitment. We received an inheritance and left a legacy. In the background, all this synthesizes the GreenFest, a very plural forum, a space for discussion, of good practices.
Pedro, all this dynamic of private and public in favor of a more sustainable world, can not be good intentions if we do not change the current economic model, that is, continuous growth. Do you agree?
The acceleration of so-called economic development translates into an uncontrolled consumer society and waste in the Western world. This has to embarrass us. Moreover, at a time when circular economy is being discussed as a goal to be attained, that is, zero waste. In the background, what nature teaches us.
The acceleration of so-called economic development translates into an uncontrolled consumer society and waste in the Western world. This has to embarrass us. Moreover, at a time when we are talking about circular economy
Look, we waste about a third of the drinking water in Portuguese cities. We waste food in our homes. We are a society of energy waste, given the way we have built homes in the last few decades. And, we waste human capital. Many people are underutilized in different areas. For example, in its aspect of active citizenship, in communities, as agents of transformation. Also as consumers and the role they hold whenever they acquire a good or service. In the professional field, too. There are many people who are just present in their jobs, do not have a dynamic.
Having said this, it is understood that they have chosen the theme of the present edition of GreenFest as "Sustainability 4.0". Do you want to comment?
Yes, there is of course a reason. This is because, 4.0 refers us to the economy, to digital technology. We say yes to technology as a facilitator. It is, per se, has both sides of the coin. If it is used for human prosperity, fantastic. Now, if it is used with perversity, no thanks. The message that we want to pass on this GreenFest is that we have, with ingenuity and art, to change the model of development.
He just mentioned the business world. Do you recognize effective involvement in the issues we are addressing here?
I would say there is a great way to go. But, being fair and having the experience of ten years of event, I can make a comparison. Evolution is noteworthy. I notice an evolution in the business world. I cite two business associations, UCSD – Business Council at UC San Diego and GRACE, a think tank and support for corporate citizenship. Each of these entities has more than 100 members. Clearly, I realize that there is an entire evangelization and leadership in organizations that seek to incorporate sustainability into their business model and to include their employees, suppliers, and other partners in these values.
There are good examples of companies that are doing it because there is also a market to do so. The new generations are increasingly sensitive to these issues that we have addressed. The brands are not autistic, if they perceive that the consumer prefers, this or that product and service, that incorporate values of sustainability, they adopt them. See, for example, in the area of the distribution, in the big surfaces it is noticed the difference. In ten years there is a huge growth in the number of shelves with healthy products.
It's a whole way of learning we're doing, right?
My generation was not educated for sustainability. We thought, wrongly, that the trees grow to the sky. This does not happen in nature and can not happen in the economy. Success is very much associated with growth. And here, I would like to return to the subject of waste, in the areas I have mentioned. With the gains from not wasting, added to the waste zero, which should not be a utopia, we will be a much more efficient society in the management of its resources.
The brands are not autistic, if they perceive that the consumer prefers, this or that product and service, that incorporate values of sustainability, they adopt them.
Notice, we are not inventing anything, the Holy Grail of zero waste was practiced by our grandparents. With far fewer resources they practiced a circular economy. So, we, with endless means and resources, can not do it?
As we have seen we have to change paradigm. The current economy is not reconcilable with a healthy planet and the development model, in broad terms, does not seem to look at this issue.
All professions will have their vulnerabilities. I talked about the economists, I could have mentioned the medical area. In our Western culture, physicians have moved away from the promise of Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who tells us: "that medicine be your food, that food be your medicine." A large number of physicians perceive little nutrition and in fact we are what we eat.
As an economist, I realize that growth creates enormous subversions. We are continually producing to throw away. We have a perverse system, it is easier to repair than to buy new.
For example, Portugal produced more garbage in 2017 than in 2016. This despite all the campaigns to reverse these numbers. Now, let's get the analysis closer and look at the per capita waste production statistics. We found that in Ponte de Lima, per inhabitant, half of the garbage is produced by comparison to Lisbon. So which is the most developed city? If for us progress, it means more garbage, something here does not play.
So what should we do about sustainable development? With more means, resources and technology, we can aim for a future with less social asymmetries, less environmental impact. Here comes the side of hope. I believe that Man can lead us to discover ways to change the paradigm of the models we have used.
So, let's make the bridge between all that we just said and GreenFest in 2018.
Right. More and more we give voice and place to small projects that are disruptive and that give us alternatives to the current model. Often this innovation comes more from small businesses and that will change the model. Notice the world giants were born so small and today their influence is made on a global scale.
It is highly gratifying for me to seek out, discover and realize many initiatives to be born. I give you three examples: We will present at GreenFest urban furniture made from rice hull, salt and vegetable oil; Bijuteria produced with coffee grounds; a brand of shoes, from two Esposende designers, who using a compacting process creates footwear. The sole is produced with condensed plastic. The rest is jute and cork and pineapple bark fibers.
All GreenFest issues are scheduled at a time when school activity is operating. We have more than three thousand five hundred students from the cycle and the secondary confirmed. This is just about organized visits.
They will have the presence of an Australian activist, Leyla Acaroglu. In your program we are presented as a "cultural provocateur." What can we expect?
I was very impressed with Leyla's work. She is an international activist who is very involved in rethinking the drawing. On the drawing board we can change a lot, for example, the raw materials that are used later. Leyla chose Portugal, namely the region of Tomar, to develop initiatives. It has a space where it makes conferences and retreats.
Pedro just mentioned intergenerational dialogue. In that sense, is the children's public cherished at GreenFest?
It is for us one of the most important audiences. All GreenFest issues are scheduled at a time when school activity is operating. We have more than three thousand five hundred students from the cycle and the secondary confirmed. This is just about organized visits. We promote the meeting between the youngest public and the institutional partner, company or institution with contents for these age groups.
During the event there is a special affection for the food area. Basically, recognizing that the choices we make, here too, have a real impact on the planet. Want to talk to us about this approach at GreenFest?
I was just talking about the is what we eat and I give you an example, the feeding is very important for the energy consumed by our brain. An organ that weighs 3 to 4% of body weight, consumes about 25% of our energy. It is easy here to bridge the intellectual component that will be what differentiates us in the animal kingdom.
We have scheduled several showcookings scheduled, with the presence of chefs and nutritionists. All without radicalism. We do not force anyone to be vegan, or vegetarian, or macrobiotic. Alternatives to nutrition. We have the support of World Wildlife Fund which will bring us viable food proposals to fish that are on the verge of extinction. For example, mackerel, today a delicatessen in French restaurants.
In short, there are four days of intense program.
Without doubt and with different formats, to meet different audiences. In addition to the entire exhibition area, we will have theater, conferences, head talks, workshops. For example, in 60 minutes, we have eight experts addressing a specific topic. For example we will talk about insects as a source of protein in the future. For us it remains a cultural obstacle. At the rate that we are extinguishing natural resources, we have an alternative food source here.
This in an informal setting, with a layout thought and embodied with natural, recycled materials. Environment to talk about serious issues in an informal format.