As we enter the New Year, and we all think about what 2023 will bring, our natural human instinct it to make 2023 better that 2022.
Small changes in individual actions, attitudes and behaviour all add up over time and are multiplied by the billions of souls on the planet into the advancement of civilisation. Saving our planet has got to be at the top of the list for all of us: from the well-off trying to address their consumption, to the 3rd world worried where they are going to get clean water. Although incremental change has served civilisation well, so does sudden accelerations – like the industrial revolution, or the dot com boom. The climate can’t wait any longer. It’s time for one of those events now.
The momentum has been building over the last decade in efforts to make our products more sustainable. Born of the post-war, mass-production era, when materials and energy where cheap and plentiful, the fundamentals of their design were driven by volume, value and change. Henry Ford introduced the volume and value, providing millions the opportunity to afford and own a car. Then, to Ford’s dismay, along came General Motors with planned obsolescence, using multiple brands, style, fashion and ‘accessories’ to persuade owners to regularly replace their cars. And so, consumerism was born.
We are now seeing the law of diminishing returns making it increasingly difficult to modify consumerism to reach our climate change goals in time. There is only so much that can be done to make the shipping of mineral water, shampoo or whiskey around the world sustainable. There is only so much you can do to manage and control single use packaging and prevent microplastics getting into our soil and oceans. And there is only so much you can do to modify supply chains and keep up with the latest fashion.
History does not provide the answer. Nobody wants to go back to hard soap and washboards. We can’t all live on bucolic regenerative farms – and few of us want to wear oft-mended clothes. Romantic visions of the past ignore the hard graft, mess and time consumed in mundane tasks. The reality is there are 8 billion of us and counting, we increasingly live in dense high-rise cities in tiny apartments, but have big aspirations. The way we shop is changing, our health and incomes are on the up and we are more connected, but more time poor.
A revolutionary alternative is required to consumerism. What this revolution is called, I don’t know, but all the components are there for it to take off. However, we are stuck in our old ways seeking ever diminishing returns. We need to upset this paradigm.
Going to the supermarket to by the same things over and over again is boring, time consuming and pointless. Much of that could move to home delivery and subscription models, preferably in concentrated form, so it’s less bulky and required less regularly, such as EC30.
Our agriculture needs to be reviewed in a grand and strategic way. We could rapidly increase efficient urban farms to provide fresh food locally without the carbon footprint – like salad produce brand Growing Underground. Going to a local food market will be just that, local, but in the middle of a city. Let’s scale-up lab grown meat for our burgers and fried chicken, and use biomass generators to provide sci-fi nutrition to fill the yawning gap between food supply and demand. We should spend a lot more money, a lot less often, on beautiful, tasty meat and veg from well-tended animals from regenerative farms.
We need to create value at every point in our supply chains. Why do sheep farmers burn all their fleeces when wool is a useful natural material that insulates and protects people, tree saplings and buildings? We also need to look to science to find alternative materials that are not so intensive on land use. If we can now bioengineer spider’s web DNA into strong, super soft, lightweight fabric, just think what else science and ingenuity can do to clothe us in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, we must redirect our energy away from the stop gap that recycling is. Recycling assumes we have to accept that single-use is inevitable – it is not. We need to find durable solutions to contain, deliver and protect our products. That will require a rethink of supply-chain, retail and recovery. A typical durable pack will outperform a recyclable single use pack on sustainability metrics on its third use, and they will be capable of hundreds of cycles.
Why can’t our cars, computers, mobiles and washing machines be repairable, refurbishable and upgradable – long-lasting in desirability and usefulness. They could be modular, customisable, leased rather than owned, truly ‘lifetime’ guaranteed with revenues coming from subscriptions and upgrades rather than sales.
Why doesn’t every concrete car park, pigsty, factory and office block have a solar panel roof generating ‘free’ energy. Why don’t the NIMBYs realise that wind farms in their back yard are beautiful and will kill a fraction of the birds that will die if we don’t stop global warming. Get a perspective of the scariness of nuclear power, compared with the dreadful consequences of 5 degrees of global warming. Then, if we all have plentiful, cheap, safe energy, more of us around the world can share in the homes, possessions, essentials and luxuries we desire because they won’t adversely affect the environment and they will help us prosper.
It’s all there ready and waiting – it just needs the people with the money, power and wherewithal to get a move on. Roll on 2023.