Social Innovation Works Better than Political Control

If you think you have a better, more environmentally benign and planet conserving way to do things, which is better? To struggle for control of the political field so you can pass laws, ban actions and call in the police or is it better to make the better way available and let it permeate social engineering until it becomes the only acceptable way to do things, and only then worry about banning the undesirable behavior. In other words, do the hard work of finding something better before lashing out at what you don’t like.

Here are some examples of how the ZW approach to social change is working successfully.

1. Eliminating cooking smoke in Peru

Click here to see the original article in Science. Sembrando is the name of a project of the Work and Family Institute of Peru. Sembrando recognized a serious problem in village and highland cottages. An average of 3.6 ton per year of wood and other solid fuel is burned every year in each cottage for heat and cooking. The smoke contributes to bronchopulmonary diseases, chronic lung disease,  reduced birth weight and reduced life span. Sembrando has developed cookstoves that reduce smoke and lead it outside, thus markedly improving the indoor atmosphere. They have served approximately half a million people in 2800 communities. Their success has inspired the Peruvian government to introduce half a million of the new design cookstoves nationwide. This change, plus others to provide cleaner water and family orchards, were put into effect for under $200 per family. The new designs will soon replace the old designs completely.

2. Clearing Malaria in Africa

This article from Science reports that the use of pyrethrin treated bed nets has been proven to markedly reduce malaria infections. Here is an excerpt:

The introduction of bed nets is already one of the pillars of Roll Back Malaria, an ambitious program to reduce malaria deaths worldwide by 50% from 2000 levels by 2010, spearheaded by the World Health Organization. At the moment, bed nets are just beginning to be introduced in many African countries, however, and opinions vary on how to speed their distribution. To a great extent, the market can take care of it, says Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Bed nets are increasingly popular in Africa, despite their $3 to $4 price tag. “Having 200 to 300 mosquitoes in your bedroom makes it go up on your priority list,” Greenwood says.

And commerce can distribute the nets into even the smallest villages, he adds—as it has done with Coca-Cola.

But that approach is of little use to the poorest 20% of the population who cannot afford a net—which is why some of the nets will have to be given out for free, says Lengeler.

One way to boost coverage further would be to remove taxes and tariffs that many countries now charge on textile imports, including bed nets. According to Lengeler, “That’s perhaps the single most important thing that needs to happen now.”

And while we are looking for examples, what could serve better than the mad tumble of one kind of computer or smartphone replacing its predecessor in the marketplace. No one banned the original IBM PC but you can’t find one today except in a museum. Commerce works like that, and the superiority of Zero Waste designs can be part of that kind of progress.

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