To Consume or Not to Consume. Today’s big ethical dilemma unites us, even though we may view it as a dividing factor between the haves and have-nots.
‘Four P’ Profit
When we consider, that 150 years ago we consumed 26 times less than we do today it is hardly surprising that people now call for brands to demonstrate that they do care. Therefore I believe that a four P bottom line – People, Planet, Pleasure (the good life) and then Profit – will be the sustainable 21st century business model.
The word sustainability can seem a bit over-used, sometimes misused. The best definition I have come across is: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. Most people can agree with this principle and aim to lead more sustainable lives, but our ‘Always On’ society encourages a culture of constant consumption. What’s more, a growing and ‘Hyper-Connected’ middle-class across the globe aspires to more and better, wanting it right now. This creates a tough set of challenges – Disposable vs Sustainable, Fast vs Slow.
Micro and Macro
But it can be done. There’s the case of the Danish island Samsø and its Enery Academy, a micro community in Denmark that reinvented itself by producing enough renewable energy to sell 50% on the grid. On a macro level, Canada has proved that going green pays off. It has 40% of the worlds certified forests – meaning it has chosen third-party forest certification as a means of ensuring first-rate forest management and sustainability credentials.
Evolving from a production-focused mindset into a shared responsibility, engaging state, companies, communities and citizens is crucial. We must face up to a new consumption model and recognise that buying more is not a sustainable route to the future. I am uncomfortable when politicians state that it’s our ‘duty’ to go shopping to keep the economy going. Governments and organisations should stop acting as if consuming is our reason for existence.
However there are organisations carving a fresh approach. Patagonia positively encourages traceability, while the Good Guide App acts as a ‘radical transparent’ barometer to rate products on their ethical credentials. We can also applaud GE’s vision of a more balanced future. Their Ecomagination live art piece in collaboration with the National Gallery in London – demonstrates that sustainability can serve as an innovative vision as well as driving economic growth.
Planting Seeds of Hope
The answers to real sustainability lie all around us – often in surprising places. London’s Savile Row tailors trade, as they always have, on heritage, craftsmanship and a sustainable philosophy. And I admire hugely the example set by Ecologist & Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, who founded the Greenbelt Movement to redefine how Kenya’s rural areas are perceived. Now, with 40 million trees planted worldwide, she has shown us that big sustainable concepts can start small.
Wangari, once said: “By starting with the simple act of planting a tree, we give hope to ourselves and to future generations.” I think it’s time for us all to start planting seeds for a sustainable future.
* Samsø is world famous for being a CO2-neutral community >>
* Van Gogh, Ecomagination-Style
* Plant a billion new trees >>
* Planting the future >>
* Wangari Maathai, Nobel peace prize winner, dies at 71 >>
1. Norway’s Oldest Wooden House
2. FSC – Presentation 2011
3. Samsø video
4. Patagonia’s Tin Shed
5. Van Gogh, Ecomagination
6. Wangari Maathai >>
Talk: In Good Company at FSC Friday’s, September 2009