ZERI stands for Zero Emissions Research Initiatives, a concept developed at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan in July 1994 by Mr Gunter Pauli, through the interest and support of Professor Dr. Heitor Gurgulino de Souza the then Rector of the United Nations University. The concept was first applied and promoted in Africa by Professor Keto Mshigeni who was then Pro Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research at the University of Namibia.

Following the efforts of Professor Peter H Katjavivi, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Namibia, and dedicated work of Professor Mshigeni, His Excellency Dr Sam Nujoma, President of the Republic of Namibia and Chancellor of the University of Namibia (UNAM), on October 29, 1996, signed in Tokyo, an Agreement of Cooperation with the United Nations University (UNU), an autonomous organ of the General Assembly of the United Nations, regarding the establishment of a UNU/UNESCO Chair on the concept and practice of Zero Emissions in Africa. The UNU/UNESCO ZERI Africa Chair was given to Professor Mshigeni which was hosted by the University of Namibia

The University of Namibia offers a fertile ground in promoting and advancing ZERI innovations. Being a Young University, ZERI provides an opportunity to take a fresh approach in resolving problems. With relatively limited approach, many countries in Africa cannot afford to see any of the biomass and related usable materials being discarded as waste. These materials can be used for value addition or for generation of new products, thus responding to various human needs for cleaner water, for more and better quality food, better health, new renewable energy sources, new jobs, a cleaner environment, and poverty reduction. Among the first projects in which the ZERI Concepts were applied are the ZERI Sorghum Brewery Project, where brewery waste is used, for piggery and mushroom cultivation, Fish Farming, Biogas Production, Seaweed Farming, Poultry and Utilization of various medicinal products.

ZERI Philosophy

The Concept behind ZERI is to look at the wide spectrum of materials which we often conceive as waste, and turn them around to become new value-added products. These include agricultural residues, which are often left discarded, but which can be put to new uses. Also included are industrial wastes such as spent grain or spent water from brewery industries, all of which are considered to have no value, but are innovatively used and processed to generate new products, realize more profits and generate new jobs. Such resources which are seen as wastes but ZERI utilizes as valuable inputs are within the reach of anyone, even the poorest, allowing the initiative to be ideally suited for poverty reduction. In general, ZERI looks at the economic use of earth's biodiversity, and at natural resources which are generally regarded as useless, or as waste, and even in some circumstances as obnoxious, such as the water hyacinth, and generate products of value.

In ZERI approach, there is no liquid waste, no gaseous waste, no solid waste. All inputs are used in production. When waste occurs, it is used to create value by other industries. The central word is value-addition. If the recovery of the material is a mere downcyling, elimination, or re-use without offering additional value to the buyer, then it is not part of the zero emission chain. The objective of Zero Emission methodology is to find ways to minimize the input, and to achieve a maximum level of output by achieving a total throughput. As long as on industry has not achieved a total throughput, and continues to discharge components of input as waste, it is not operating at its maximum potential, and has room to continue to improve its overall productivity.

The ZERI approach as developed by the United Nations University has worked out a methodology which facilitates the envisioning of solutions to complex processes through five destict steps as follows:
1. Total Throughput Models, using the Input-Output table.
2. Creative search for value added use for all Outputs, using the Output- Input Models.
3. Industrial Cluster Modeling.
4. Identification of Break Through Technologies.
5. Industrial Policy Design

In the first step an Input-Output table is made to show the input materials and the exact outputs. Using best possible practices, an attempt is made to reduce waste and utilize inputs efficiently 150 14000 prescribe some aspect of good practice that can be employed.

In step two, an Output-Input table is developed where all the outputs not forming part of the final product are listed. From this a creative search for value-addition on the non-used components is made. When all outputs have found a way to be used as an input for other industries, then the industry under examination has attained a zero emission target.

In each new use, the first step and the second step above should be undertaken. This necessitates step three of the methodology whereby the use of materials in examined by considering clusters of industries where by all share responsibility, and not just by one industry.

In considering clusters of industries where the Output of one industry is analysed to find its potential as input to another industry, step 4 may be necessary to identify a break through technology. The Final step in the methodology is to summarise the approach, the findings and the proposals into a document that can be submitted to government.

ZERI Potential

The world population stands roughly at 6 billion people, with an additional 80-90 million people joining the human race each year. This population explosion is placing additional stress to a system that even today is unable to provide the very basic services. Scientists and agronomists achieved the Green Revoluation which considerably assisted to cope with food production needed by the growing world population. This was possible through extensive irrigation, application of fertilizers, pesticides, hybriding and the selection of high performance seeds. World grain harvest, for example, increased from 631 million tons to 1, 780 million tons over the period of 40 years between 1950 and 1990; and the world beef production almost tripled from 24 to 62 million tons. Scientists, however, agree that we cannot expect a further threefold increase in productivity of land to meet with the growing demand. Most of the available technologies are outdated and cannot be improved further to provide any significant increase in productivity. As a matter of fact, the basic conditions that made the Green revolution possible are the same factors inhibiting increased production. Excessive irrigation has led to depletion of water resources. Use of fertilizers has reached a level beyond which no additional production can be expected, and in some instances fertilizers has left the soil poorer. Use of genetic engineered seeds and their selection is not expected to increase yield by more than 25%. All these factors imply that something else must be done urgently if world production is to sustain the population explosion.

In order to have any chance of meeting the explosion in demand that we face, there is need for a new philosophy in how we view natural resources. The world cannot continue to produce, consume and discard as wasteful as is done today. The challenge of feeding the world is not only a challenge of production, but of efficiency also. It is now essential to ensure that an input into a process achieves maximum utilization, with no waste. Broadly, this is a challenge of consumption. Sustainable development has been defined as producing and consuming in such a way that one does not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
To achieve this a second Green revolution is needed, where there is an entire shift of thinking in the way things are done. Every waste in one production is utilized as an input in another process, requiring to approach the production process as systems comprised of clusters of industries. If we were to think in terms of systems, then we would take a very different view on manufacturing, forestry, plantations and agriculture. Instead of considering an input to produce one item, several other items would be produced and the raw material would be fully utilised without waste. We would be able to flood the market with materials urgently needed to respond to the needs of society in terms of food, shelter, and health-care, and we would also be able to do this in a sustainable manner. We would achieve the second Green Revolution. This is the idea behind ZERI.

ZERI for Poverty Alleviation

Government, policies, business and production must respond to the needs of people for water, food, healthcare, shelter energy and jobs. Traditionally, these have been provided using high technologies, often requiring an investment of capital beyond the reach of many. The results is that those cut from the mainstream of these operations can hardly engage in any meaningful economic activities. The Concept of ZERI is to find economic use for all the waste, as well as naturally occurring materials which are innovatively used to create products of value. Such resources which are seen as wastes are within the reach of anyone, even the poorest, allowing the initiative to be ideally suited for poverty reduction. Using ZERI Concepts, for example, farmers in Zanzibar Tanzania, including women with a basic literacy level, have engaged in the production of seaweed, whose export earnings top all sectors. Maggots from houseflies have been used as feed to produce high protein chicken through a process that can be used even by the poorest, mushroom farming techniques are being taught to ordinary farmers to reach a market whose world value is in excess of US$ 10 billion. Annually; and biogas generation from animal waste is being promoted to villages, augmenting expensive and unsustainable energy sources. These and many other ZERI projects bring the wealth of our world resources within the reach of many poor people.