This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

 November 1997    

How to improve industrial efficiency, and save the planet too
IIn principle, you might think "greens" and business people to be at one another's throats. A blind pursuit of profit, say environmentalists, encourages companies to waste natural resources and foul the planet. Likewise, few things annoy the average capitalist more than rampant tree-huggers and their ludicrous turtle-protecting, business-destroying rules.

Or so it seemed. Now a new love affair is growing between some firms and one particular part of the green movement: the UNU's Zero Emissions Research Initiative (UNU/ZERI). For the past three years, UNU/ZERI has been bringing hundreds of business leaders and environmental scientists together to learn about what could be described as an eco-industrial marriage made in heaven.

UNU/ZERI is promoting waste-free manufacturing. It does this by mimicking nature's recycling processes. There is no waste in the natural world because waste from one species becomes useful raw material for another. When industries are clustered, the waste from one can become the input for the next. UNU/ZERI represents a new standard for industry, where industries maximize the use of available materials, eliminating all emissions into air, water and soil. DuPont Corporation's chairman, Edgar Woolard, considers zero emissions to be the logical continuation of the zero-defects and zero-inventory challenges that industries are pursuing in their Total Quality Management and just-in-time efforts.

The UNU/ZERI concept has become so popular with greens and business people that politicians are now eager to get involved too.

"UNU/ZERI is powerful," exclaimed Namibia's president, Sam Nujoma, to the participants attending UNU/ZERI's Third World Congress, adding "it addresses the world's massive demands for more clean water, air, food, shelter and sustainable energy."

This year's congress, held from 31 July to 2 August in Jakarta, was titled "Symbiosis between Global Environment and Industry Growth." It was opened by Indonesian president Soeharto. Its most important outcome was a declaration produced by the participants. This document, called the Jakarta Declaration, outlines 10 zero-emissions-related goals that the participants want to accomplish in the future and describes how they should go about reaching them. Such things as working towards increasing the productivity of natural resources and having scientists worldwide share their new zero-emissions innovations were agreed to. The declaration was signed by the heads of state from three countries: Fiji, Indonesia and Namibia.

"The Jakarta Declaration embodies our resolute and unequivocal commitment to the UNU/ZERI initiative and to ensuring its ultimate success," said Ratu Sir K.K.T. Mara, Fiji's president.

There were nine other especially interesting commitments and information exchanges made during the congress:

  • Dr. Motoyuki Suzuki, Director General of the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, outlined a four-year US$10 million Japanese Government-funded research agenda for 52 of Japan's university professors.
  • Dr. Sam Nujoma told the audience that his government has committed one million Namibian dollars (US$272,500) towards implementing zero emissions in his country and also offered to host next year's congress in Namibia.
  • Anders Wijkman, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that his organization will support the launch of a new scientific journal dedicated to zero emissions.
  • Japan's Ebara Corporation and Radian International announced a partnership to work together on various zero-emissions projects in Asia.
  • The governor of West Java discussed a decree that he signed ordering the design and construction of a Zero Emissions Industrial Park for his province's emerging textile industry.
  • Astra and Gunung Sewu, major Indonesian palm oil and pineapple producers, committed to implementing zero-emissions applications at their facilities.
  • Dr. Keto Mshigeni, chairman of the Third World Academy of Sciences' Agricultural Committee, discussed how UNU/ZERI has helped convert water hyacinths into a valuable foundation for growing mushrooms in Africa.
  • A delegation of 45 Japanese business executives and representatives from several of the country's prefectural governments discussed the benefits they have reaped from engaging the zero-emissions concept.

More than just commitments and projects were discussed at the congress. Recognition for innovation and hard work was given too. Dr. Paulo Lugari, founder and director of the Environmental Research Centre "Las Gaviotas" in Vichada, Colombia, was selected as this year's recipient of the UNU's Unique Leadership Award. This award is given annually to someone who has made a unique contribution towards zero emissions. An international selection committee chose Dr. Lugari for his leadership in combining a reforestation project in his country with zero emissions industries. The award is a bronze sculpture representing the zero-emissions concept.

The congress was a big media event. It was featured on several television networks: the Singapore-based Asia Business News produced a 30-minute programme on it; Japan's NHK devoted 10 minutes to the event during its evening news cast; and various programmes about it were aired in Namibia.
Building tomorrow's Asian universities Contents New Director for UNU/IIST Appointed