Bhutan says yes to bioplastics, biofuels and happiness

Posted on 06 December 2010 by admin

Gunter Pauli, author of "The Blue Economy"

Gunter Pauli *

THIMPHU, Dec 6, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – A decade ago HM Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the Queen of Bhutan visited the ZERI pavilion at the World Expo in Hannover, the largest bamboo building in modern times, constructed with a German building permit.

The Pavilion demonstrated new emerging business models, proven to work in Colombia, Brazil, Namibia, and Sweden. As the driving force behind these innovative development models, Her Majesty thought I should come to Bhutan.

I came and was enchanted with the country, its people. I was impressed with the visionary approach of HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King who not only brought democracy to his Himalayan Kingdom, but who stated early in his reign that happiness is more important than growth.

That vision is now known to the world as Gross National Happiness (GNH). There is no doubt, a nation that enshrines forest protection into the constitution, and establishes every citizen’s right to traditional medicine, embraces a different type of development.

On top of that, the government banned the sale of cigarettes and the use of plastic bags. However, the pressure to grow is high, unemployment poses a new challenge, and access to satellite television and internet entices many to emulate a consumption model desiring junk food that recently has been subjected to a special tax.

After crossing the country from West to East, four extended visits enriched by dialogues with government, private sector, and civil society, I submitted a portfolio of possible initiatives “to grow and be happy”.

Based on my experience in creating initiatives that respond to people’s needs, with what they have, I designed businesses that go beyond cutting costs, and rather generate more value, especially for remote rural communities.

And one of the core values is happiness. A portfolio of 6 top projects emerged, each based on a benchmark somewhere in the world, inspired by pioneers who have demonstrated a sense for competitiveness while having the capacity to reach out to the unreached.

These opportunities offer a platform for entrepreneurship, job generation and investments, provided the government creates the policies to make this happen.

Working sessions with the Prime Minister and his colleagues lead to the formulation of government resolutions to set the stage for implementing this GNH portfolio backed up by an independent GNH Fund.

The Prime Minister’s goal that Bhutan will revert to 100% organic farming, forever. As a first step to achieve that goal, he wishes to decree that all food served in restaurants and hotels must be certified organic.

This guarantees higher income to farmers. The second policy option may even do better: turn Bhutan into the first country committed to bioplastics. An inspirational encounter between HM the Queen with Dr. Catia Bastioli, the founder of Novamont (Italy), who is already converting agro-waste of 600 Italian farmers into bioplastics, set the stage for a promising collaborative effort.

Bhutan said no to plastic bags. Now it says yes to bioplastics made from left-overs which after use, are composted and returned to soil.

The rise of petroleum imports is hurting the Bhutanese balance of payments. The Prime Minister already declared that the country will be carbon negative. Now he is prepared to commit to eliminate all use of fossil fuel.

He is inspired by the pioneering work of Las Gaviotas, Colombia. Las Gaviotas taps pine trees, and generates all the fuel it needs. Bhutan has a 72% forest cover. We can imagine an army of “happy tappers”, generating fuel from the trees.

The capital city of Thimphu, and emerging urban centers are struggling with an increasing flow of black water, a danger to public health and costly to treat. The Prime Minister is ready to turn Bhutan into the first country committed to eliminate septic tanks, sewage and water treatment.

Instead, Bhutan wishes to opt for the Swedish technology proven to work in homes, schools, apartment blocks and city quarters by the architect Anders Nyquist in Sundsvall. This “dry” approach, that does not smell at all, eliminates viruses at source, recycles water on site, regenerates nutrients and is cheap.

Each policy decision proposed is backed by technologies, competitive business models, investment opportunities, … based on the Blue Economy, a development model that does not require anyone to pay more to be sustainable.

Everyone in the government read my book with the same title, now I realize the power of publishing! These policy decision made on December 7, 2010 inspired me to create the GNH fund with local partners. Over 100 personalities signing a letter of support go beyond the clapping hands and tapping shoulders.

We are delighted to advance on an investment rather an aid strategy and expect the fund will be operational by Spring 2011. Imagine if the big neighboring countries would opt for the same strategy.

* Gunter Pauli author of “The Blue Economy” and entrepreneur. (COPYRIGHT IPS)

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