4th edition of the go!ODS Awards

Manuel Maqueda and Patricia Gabaldón

The UN Global Compact Spain and the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised, on 22 February 2024, the 4th go!SDG Awards Ceremony, Innovative initiatives that brought us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the global development agenda.

The event will take place according to the following programme:

  • Welcome
  • Dialogue in which they took part:
    Manuel MaquedaProfessor of Special Programs in Applied Circular Economy and Regenerative Economics, Harvard University. CEO of SUPER
    Patricia GabaldónAcademic Director and Professor of Economics, IE University
  • Presentation of the go!ODS Awards:
  • go!ODS 2024 Awards Ceremony

The following institutions are the driving forces behind go!ODS, together with the UN Global Compact Spain and the Rafael del Pino Foundation:

Accenture | AMETIC | Asociación Española de Fundaciones | Atresmedia | European Commission | Cotec | El hueco | Endesa | Esade | Ferrovial | Fundación La Caixa | Fundación Repsol | Grupo Coca Cola | Iberdrola | IE Business School | Ilunion ONCE | Impact Hub | Indra | Ineco | itdUPM | Prisa | SIC4Change | Telefónica | UNICEF Spain | UNICEF España

The go!ODS Awards aim to raise awareness of the alignment of the business and entrepreneurial ecosystem with the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda, the global roadmap that specifies the goals of the international community in the period 2016-2030 to build a better world. In addition to strengthening innovation aimed at achieving the SDGs, the go!SDG Awards seek to inspire the Spanish private sector in their achievement, encouraging cross-sector collaboration and dialogue. To this end, there are 18 categories: one for each of the 17 SDGs, plus a special distinction for the best initiative, which will be named "Good among the go!SDGs".


On the occasion of the 4th edition of the go!ODS Awards, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised, on 22 February 2024, the dialogue "Nature and Human Progress: It's not what we think, but how we think", with the participation of Manuel Maqueda, Professor of Special Programs in Applied Circular Economy and Regenerative Economics at Harvard University and CEO of SUPER, and Patricia Gabaldón, Academic Director and Professor of Economics at IE University.

Patricia Gabaldón: To make progress in sustainability, not only do we have to do new things and think new things, but we all have to do and think differently. How differently?

Manuel Maqueda: Very different, totally different. Sometimes, I wonder if, in history, the people who were living in the Renaissance, were aware that there were going to be these changes in the way of thinking of humanity. I often wonder if we are aware of the magnitude of the changes and their exponential speed at the moment we are living. They are so far-reaching that the usual ways of thinking, evolutionary. Evolutionary because, deep down, we think and do things as we have evolved. We are primates, hominids, who love to improve the efficiency of tools, making them better and better. We are at a point where the efficiency of the previous system no longer serves us because we have a complete world. Nature no longer exists, the human world no longer exists, there is an interaction of the two that implies new ways of thinking and doing everything. It's not a question of electric cars, or social panels. It's how, how we see reality, how we do everything, how we weigh everything.

I am a lecturer in the area of continuing education, with people of all ages. That allows me to look under the bonnet a bit. What is needed is not new apps in the brain, like the circular economy app. People come to my courses to learn. They think they are going to download a piece of content and put it in their head. But what you have is a new concept, it's hacking the operating system.

Patricia Gabaldón: How?

Manuel Maqueda: Sustainability is not a challenge of efficiency, it is a challenge of innovation. That is the first thing we have to learn, which is a creative challenge. It is to create and invent new things. Then we have to move from very short-term thinking to long-term thinking. And then perhaps the biggest challenge is the systemic integration of everything. Anything we do has many repercussions. We can no longer be operating in one department of our company, or one sector of the economy or society, in isolation. It's an era of radical collaboration. All of that is going to redefine how we relate to each other and how we govern ourselves.

Patricia Gabaldón: So where are the terms circular economy, regenerative economy, sustainability, how do we integrate them? How do we integrate these ecosystems or are they different ecosystems?

Manuel Maqueda: These are questions. In the world we live in now, the amount of information is enormous. When something increases exponentially, its value plummets. In this new world of abundance of all the solutions, because all the solutions are there, the question is what questions we ask. So sustainability is about finding a good answer to a question that is not so good. Sustainability is often about how we do less damage, how we reduce the footprint, in the long term. It's not an optimal question because it's like if you're trying to get your plane off the ground, you don't get off the ground and you're wondering how you can extend the runway. Those are not optimal questions. Circular economy is an answer to a much better question, which is how do we separate the economic value, which is everything that we humans like to do - eating, drinking, having fun, dressing ourselves - how do we separate that from two things, from resource extraction and waste generation. Because we have a finite framework to extract and to throw away. That is the question that the circular economy answers. But because there is entropy, there is wear and tear, because we cannot be in a perfect circularity, because things age, because we are in the second law of thermodynamics and the only thing in the universe that defeats this law is life, the next question is how can we have a circular economy in reciprocity with nature, that recognises ecosystem services, that permanently restores the biosphere. Because nature is subsidising everything, sustaining everything from climate, pollination, soil ecology. That ecosystem service has to be recognised and remunerated. So these are three evolutionary questions, which we are working on.

Patricia Gabaldón: You work a lot on microplastics and how plastics affect us on a human level, on a biological level, on our health, on plastic pollution. How do we make that innovation change plastic?

Manuel Maqueda: I got into all this because of plastic. I discovered the issue of plastic pollution when nobody was talking about it. There were no laws. Now there is a United Nations treaty. It all started when I travelled to an island where millions of seabirds were nesting and regurgitating plastic and feeding it to their chicks. Seeing that, it was like looking in the mirror, it was the act of seeing the first big pollution. It was the first big technology that we have used on that scale, plastic is the first hyper object. We have made such a cheap, powerful, wonderful technology, but how have we used it? Then a portal opened for me on how to learn circular economy, regenerative economy. Plastic is a reflection of our culture, of our economy. It is a very cheap, malleable material, but it has several problems. First, it is a material that the planet cannot digest. It does not biodegrade, but fragments into smaller and smaller pieces that are suspended in the air. A person ingests between three and five grams of plastic - the weight of a credit card - every week. In the United States, half a billion plastic water bottles are used every week, which, if you lined them up, would circle the globe five times. The scale is so huge and the impact is so great that it was a gateway to asking all these questions and remains a frontier of innovation. Microplastics cross the micro-brain barrier and produce Alzheimer's. They are frontiers for humans. These are frontiers for human beings. We don't know what we have done. We are just beginning to find out.

Patricia Gabaldón: How can we live without plastic? How do we reduce the impact of plastic?

Manuel Maqueda: You can't live without plastic, you have to learn to use technology. All technology has a bright side and a dark side. Robotics, they are already putting machine guns on robots. Every technology has a good side and a bad side. There are two things that a halfway intelligent civilisation should not do with plastic. Since it is a material that does not biodegrade, but fragments, you should not make objects that are designed to become waste, like packaging, containers. If you do that, you pollute every ecosystem on the planet, which is what has happened. The other thing is that plastic gets its wonderful properties from about ten thousand additives, and nobody says what they are, it's an intellectual property. But many of those additives are harmful to health. So the second thing we should not use it for is for objects that contain our food and drink. It's not about living with plastic, it's about understanding what it is.

Patricia Gabaldón: How do we use artificial intelligence in this aspect and how can it help in this transition to a circular economy?

Manuel Maqueda: We need it and, at the same time, it is a semantic and visual nuclear bomb. It is a very hard mirror in which we will see our own intelligence reflected. That is where the possibility of overcoming these evolutionary filters comes from. If you don't change the way you think, these are evolutionary filters, and if you don't pass them, then society stays there. To keep usage at the highest possible level, the circular economy requires that everything is designed to be separated into components that are interoperable, that can be repaired, and so on. Then you need a great symbiosis, for example, a great industrial symbiosis. In a big city like Madrid, artificial intelligence could tell you where waste is being generated, where things are breaking down, where preventive maintenance needs to be done, which people need to be trained in repairing what. It would be wonderful and, for regenerative economics, to understand that divergent coupling between human systems and biological systems. But because it's a technology, the question is what we're going to use it for.

Patricia Gabaldón: What is Spain's opportunity in this respect?

Manuel Maqueda: We are creative and adaptive. Félix de Azara, who discovered that species become extinct and change before Darwin did, identified that those who survive are not the strongest. So we should not think that the one that now seems to us the strongest and most muscular will survive, but the ones that know how to adapt. Those who know how to adapt their way of thinking and their way of doing things, bring awareness to the moment in which we find ourselves, which is the first step.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.