One of the key words on the global agenda for 2017 (and necessarily beyond) is sustainability. After all, 2016 has just been declared the hottest year on record and human activity is to blame.
But with Donald Trump now being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, hopes of progress towards a more sustainable planet look increasingly fragile – in a bigly way, as he might say.
Hillary promised to build on Barack Obama’s inroads towards clean energy, climate change and the environment – but lover of heavy industry Trump wants to tear up his predecessor’s road map. Not only that, but reverse over the tracks and crush them into the mud.
He’s scoffed at wind and solar power and instead wants to open more coal mines and frack like there’s no tomorrow. He’s threatened to stomp on the Paris climate agreement in hobnailed boots, cut any US funding of UN climate initiatives and has dismissed global warming as being invented by the Chinese “in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
Not a huge surprise, I suppose, given the significant amount of funding and the number of people on his payroll being linked to the fossil fuel industry. It appears to be something of a fossil fuel billionaire’s club.
Meanwhile, the world’s obsession with technology sees us on a path of increasing consumption, with the internet glowing bright this week with reports about the iPhone 8, just a month after the release of the iPhone 7.
It’s clear that these are critical times for the planet but ultimately, there’s nothing little old us can do to help, right? Wrong.
Here in England, asking customers to pay 5p for a plastic carrier bag has seen their use drop by a whopping 85% since the ‘tax’ was introduced at the end of 2015. It equates to 6bn bags being taken out of circulation. In Germany, Lidl stops handing out one-use plastic bags this spring. Seems we didn’t like plastic bags anyway.
Meanwhile, France has become the first country to ban plastic crockery and cutlery unless it comes from biological sources and can be composted.
Perhaps we need an industry-created, government-enforced, plastic bottle deposit scheme. Research released at the end of last year by Cardiff University (http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/news/view/477727-english-shoppers-ditch-the-carrier-bag) showed there’s an increasing appetite towards the idea – after all, though 20m plastic bottles were recycled each day in the UK in 2015, 15m were not. As a consequence, some 8m tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year.
Not to mention what all that plastic we eat and drink from is doing to reduce male fertility.
The argument that somebody else, government alone, will clean things up for us just won’t cut it any longer. Sustainability in society demands a three-pronged approach – businesses and people (consumers, voters, employees and business leaders) convincing governments to create real change. It’s never just about one person, even if he is the leader of the free world.
We are more clued up than ever when it comes to sustainability and humanity’s affect on the environment, not least because of social media and the internet. And, while we can’t necessarily rely on the politicians any longer, we can push for firm action from the brands that we love to buy.
We’re naturally cynical about the motivations of big business when they do start pushing a sustainability agenda. But businesses do respond to consumer demand and they can create consumer demand too – it’s in their interest as this is how profits are made and shareholders are satisfied. Wherever that demand is driven from, sustainability needs to be championed in the same way as is happening with diversity.
Brands and businesses need to take leadership on sustainability, and to promote the cause of considerate consumption but they will need to be motivated by us, the consumers, whatever age we are or income we’re on.
There’s a risk here for the companies that make our favourite products in that lighter environmental regulation under the likes of Trump will open up markets to cheaper competition that refuses to play by responsible rules. But we need to make it clear that we value the brands that take sustainability more seriously and will continue to buy those that do.
We can see with our own eyes the impact we’ve had on the planet through not embracing sustainability – the great Pacific garbage patch being one of the most visible examples.
This three-pronged approach, business and consumers putting pressure on government, must be adopted – for ourselves and for the sake of the planet. Whatever Donald Trump says…
Follow Mike Cullis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Silluc