Universal expositions, “key instruments for education for sustainable development”
Universal expositions, through their official theme, objectives and organization have reflected the questionings and vision of progress of societies.Machines and industry were the central focus of the first Universal Expositions, reflecting in this regard societies achieving full economic and industrial development. Expositions were at the time, an instrument of educating the masses and dialogue between countries. Furthermore they were instruments of the promotion of trade within the framework of an economic liberalism which was under construction with a vision of a liberating technology, both driving progress.
Starting in the 1970’s, in parallel with the rising of environmental concerns worldwide and a growing awareness of the limits of our development models, Universal Expositions started to take account of environmental issues, first in the choice of themes, and then in the organization itself. The theme of the Spokane Specialized Exposition in the United States in 1974  was “progress without pollution”.
Two years after the Rio Earth summit of 1992, the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions declared that Expositions are “key instruments for education for sustainable development”.
From Universal Expositions to “Cradle to cradle concept” to circular economy
For the first time in 2000, the Hanover Exposition whose main theme was “humankind, nature, technology” developed a focus on sustainability and applied this thinking to the organization of the Expo. The city of Hanover asked all the participating countries to take into account the “Hanover principles”, a set of statements in construction and design that allow a better integration within the environment of the pavilions. Formulated in 1992 by William McDonough, an American architect and designer, and Michael Braungart, a German chemist these principles were applied by many cities and companies after that.
Ten year later, both men published the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”, in which production techniques are waste free. In cradle to cradle production all material inputs and outputs are seen either as technical or biological nutrients.
Cradle to cradle promoted the concept of “circular economy”, which refers to “to an industrial economy that is restorative by intention; aims to rely on renewable energy; minimizes, tracks, and hopefully eliminates the use of toxic chemicals; and eradicates waste through careful design” (source : Ellen Macarthur Foundation).
The principles are:
- Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
- Recognize interdependence.
- Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
- Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.
- Create safe objects of long-term value.
- Eliminate the concept of waste.
- Rely on natural energy flows.
- Understand the limitations of design.
- Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge.
Since the Universal Expositions of Hanover, the chosen themes for universal and specialized Expos are particularly linked to issues of the non-sustainability of our economic and social development models.
- 2005 Specialized Expo of Aichi in Japan on “Nature’s wisdom”
- 2008 Specialized Expo of Zaragoza in Spain on “Water and sustainable development”
- 2010 Universal Expo of Shanghai in China on “Better city- Better life”
 Interesting article on Spokane specialized exposition and environmental issues awareness : http://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Pacific%20Northwest%20History/Lessons/Lesson%2026/26.html