The architect and entrepreneur Thomas Rau made the case for a Declaration of Material Rights at the opening of the Dutch Trade Mission, focusing on the Circular Economy, at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on April 13th 2016. Rau claims that if we want to make the shift to circular principles we have to make it a fundamental charter of the UN, just like the Declaration of Human Rights. “If we want to protect Nature, then material should be protected from the abuse of ownership,” explained Rau.

“If we had realised that nature was a bank, we would already have saved it!” said Rau, emphasising that Nature actually is a “bank”. Instead of misleading ourselves by  all kinds of extensions to existing business models, we must agree on the fundamental principles of our existence. By doing this we will recognise Nature’s rights.

“First of all, we are all guests here”, said Rau, pointing to the first, black-and-white photograph of our planet taken from space, which changed humankind’s perspective of the Earth. The Earth is a closed system; resources are limited, while our sources remain unlimited, giving us countless opportunities to deploy them wisely.

Every human being is temporary, but the consequences we are responsible for are permanent. We should therefore consider the future we want to create together. The future is not a given, it is an achievement.

Waste is material without identity. What recycling companies do is actually give identity back to the materials that became waste. Could we do better by using the principles of the Circular Economy and omitting the recycling stage? Yes, actually, because “circularity facilitates the permanent consequences of temporary living beings,” explained Rau, thereby reminding us of the 14th article of the German Constitution – Eigentum verpflichtet. Sein Gebrauch soll zugleich dem Wolle der Allgemeinheit dienen. – Ownership obliges. Its use should also serve the public good.

He proposes the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Material Rights. Only by obliging us to respect the possession of material can we truly protect Nature – and successfully shift from the concept of possession to the concept of stewardship.

Thomas Rau is a German architect who has been living and working in The Netherlands for the past 20 years. For more information about the Universal Declaration of Material Rights, watch his documentary here. To learn about his vision of the Circular Economy, watch his TEDx talk here.

More pictures from his speech at The Netherlands Hotspot Trade Mission: