Let’s start with something positive. After decades of using sustainability and the protection of natural resources for nothing more than green-washing, a mere marketing trick to distract the consumers view from own larger or smaller misdemeanors, a new generation of business leaders are now taking this seriously. They have understood that it is more an obligation than a choice, and are now implementing new ways to foster the planet.
But how can you do this in an economic system that lives from a never-ending stream of new goods and services? Isn’t this system the problem itself, focusing on growth and productivity? As long as we don’t accept going back into a cave and start hunting and gathering again, which will be absolutely impossible too, simply because of the sheer size of our worlds population, we will have to accept the fact that we consume resources and create waste. The only thing we can do is to reduce the consumption, by changes in our behavior and the use of new technologies, and to reduce the waste by additionally recalling old cultural technologies like repairing, reusing and recycling.
And accept the fact, that the less consumption approach is a little bit of a rich kids ideology too. Because, besides us living in highly developed societies, the vast majority of the earths population can’t consume less, because they have nothing. Not enough of the basic necessities like drinkable water and food.
A massive challenge for any industry that basically produces landfill. Precisely for every company operating in the non-food FMCG sector. Banning plastics from packaging or reducing the share of packaging in a product can only be the humble beginning, when the product itself is the waste. I know, hearing this is hard to bear. But you can’t talk about sustainability in your industry as long as you constantly deny such a simple fact.
If we are serious about sustainability, we will have to rethink production itself. From how we treat and pay the workers, to how and where we produce to avoid energy consuming shipments and to reusing much more recycled materials when producing our goods. By rethinking ways of reducing business travels, or questioning the fact that companies need flashy office buildings, when people can easily work from home.
What I seek to emphasize with this is to create awareness that sustainable behavior isn’t a simple one trick pony. It’s a very complicated web of smaller or larger steps, which all are interconnected and influencing the others. Just picking out one isn’t much more than a red herring, intentionally or unintentionally.
Thank god we have our savior, the worldwide web. We can work from home, reduce our business travels, we can buy, sell and play without leaving our happy place. We can study, communicate, test and rate products and get all the information in the world with just one click. As long as we do it online we have the good feeling of being sustainable and not challenging the earths resources.
Spoiler alert! The internet is an energy consuming behemoth. All this cat content, all these duck faces and food pictures suck energy. Energy that has to be produced somewhere in a more or less environmentally friendly way. So if you think your online gaming and your environmental online activism saves the planet, no, it doesn’t. You are a part of the problem, not the solution.
Numbers vary, but the energy demand of only the data centers running the web (excluding consumption at home or in company environments) is between 160 and 180 billion kilowatt hours per year. Causing between 2 and 4 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and growing. Experts estimate these emissions will reach 8 percent by 2030… and in a worst case scenario 23 percent.
What do I want to say? We get nothing for free. We live in a closed system where we can’t create ex nihilo. Anything we do or don’t do has consequences. And we don’t have a second world up our sleeves. So we better start thinking!
First published April 30, 2021. 30. April 2021, Bugg Report, Australia