Howard Saunders   Jul 08, 2019   Uncategorized   0 Comment

I’m so sick of the daily drip, drip, drip. The endless environmental nagging is too much now. Let’s deal with this head on: Nothing is sustainable. Sorry if that upsets you, but it’s true. Some things, some actions can be made more sustainable, of course. And that is a very worthy aim, but the idea that anything involved in the world of making stuff: producing food, manufacturing products, buildings and infrastructure can ever be sustainable is pompous nonsense. And yet, find me an annual report in the FTSE 100 that hasn’t added the S word to its corporate, virtue signalling lexicon.

Two more things while I’m in full rant mode. 1. The planet is old and wise. We might live a minute by minute existence, measuring this and that on a daily basis, but Gaia doesn’t think like that. You might feel smug when recycling your yoghurt pots but she looks at the long term, big picture and knows, for example, that all your ugly building development is hugely damaging to her planet. Let’s briefly consider plans for just one poxy new office block. It will require thousands of tonnes of highly damaging concrete and bricks fired in huge, high carbon emitting, energy quaffing kilns. Then there’s the immense tonnage of gypsum plaster, acres of desperately damaging gas-fired glass, heat-treated structural steel, engineered wooden floors, hundreds of computer terminals, miles of copper wiring and, of course, beautiful granite vandalised in giant chunks from a mountainside in Brazil or India, only to be craned onto diesel glugging cargo ships before grinding and polishing… just so the reception looks posh. Then we have to fill the place with thousands of tubular steel chairs and tables covered in plastic with plastic moulded wheels and plastic handles. Look, the list goes on and on. And this is before it declares itself a sustainable building because its loos flush with rainwater. For god’s sake, how supine must you be to believe this stuff?

Oh and 2. Mother Earth does not keep annual accounts. At the beginning of the year she doesn’t expect us to do a little better than the previous year. Planets, and the Earth is no exception, just keep spinning…until they don’t. Your carbon footprint is not a blackboard that gets wiped clean every December 31st. Your pollution output keeps compounding. Just because you drove your gas guzzler a little less this year, compared to last, means you drove more in total, I’m afraid. The planet is not stupid like most of us clearly are.

The enthusiasm for banning ‘single use’ plastics is equally infantile. You may use your Sainsbury’s carrier bag a thousand times before finally fashioning it into a handy effigy of George Michael, but it’s still one extra piece of plastic to ship to Chinese landfill. The environment won’t credit you for not using the 999 imaginary bags you could have used.

A few years ago I spoke at a retail conference along with a gentle soul from Prince Charles’ very own Duchy Originals. In Eton-esque tones he explained how in the interest of sustainability they’d thinned the carton to reduce the amount of paper they use, as well as the freight costs. When it came to questions, and even though I was up next, I felt it my duty to ask what I still consider the killer question: “Admirable though all your efforts clearly are Sir, wouldn’t it have been better for the planet if you’d simply stopped producing biscuits entirely?” My point, if I need to hammer it home, is that asking the public to do less, or consume less, is so judgemental. Do we really need biscuits, holidays or marble reception halls? Ultimately, someone has to be the arbiter of all this. Nagging us to stop flying to Barcelona, whilst rich companies receive accolades for reducing the thickness of their biscuit packs, is rude to the point of bloody insulting.

So, it’s time to get real. It’s pretty obvious that no amount of reusing plastic bags, thinning cardboard and rationing holidays can possibly dent the mighty issue we all face. We cannot keep piddling about at the edges if, as we are told, we have barely twelve years to avoid environmental calamity. And if things are as serious as we are to believe, then we must stop expecting the poor, befuddled consumer to turn things around. No, we need brave, decisive action from those indecisive, bespectacled bureaucrats we put in power. Bold action from the top is what we want, not the endless, daily nagging we’re currently forced to endure. Forget the Green New Deal, here’s my three point, London-centric, starter plan:

1. No more office building. None. There are hundreds of acres of office space available in London and we can’t possibly need any more dildo shaped signature buildings on our historic skyline. They gesture on the horizon like the rude middle-fingers they are, a daily reminder that rinsing yoghurt pots is for the little people. Apart from anything, an almighty push for remote working is long, long overdue. The technology has been around for decades but we’re too stuck in our ways to use it properly. Think of the travel emissions that alone would save!

2. We must drastically reduce food imports. Transportation of produce is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases. Currently, something like 50% of UK food is imported. Let’s get that down to 10% in ten years. It would encourage more home grown production, create jobs and, perhaps more importantly, reboot the byzantine nonsense that sees us both import and export milk and beef, for example. 

3. Let’s ban paperwork. All of it. There’s simply no need for ‘hard copies’ any more, and most of it looks embarrassingly out of place in this digital age. The sight of literally thousands of discarded Metro newspapers on the Underground every day, when we all have a smartphone is immoral. (Plus it’s a dreadful rag, anyway) If governments, big business and local authorities led the way by removing the need for all paperwork, what an amazing example they would set. Trickle down would be fast, impressive and quickly spread to other areas of the economy including the mighty swamp that is product packaging. 

I’m sure there are a million more sweeping changes that can set us in the right direction, but these are my three decisive moves that would swiftly improve the environment without putting the blame on ordinary consumers. That’s the change I’m begging for. So, until the powers-that-be implement some proper economy-shifting decisions, I swear I’ll never stuff that wrinkly old Sainsbury’s bag in my anorak pocket ever again.

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail rants

About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

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