The Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes once famously said, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”
When we look at our entire way of life (at least in the Western World) in terms of our production and consumption habits, we still behave as linear beings.
Through the systematic decimation of our environment, could a linear economy also be the “shortest distance” to our demise?
Linear Economy With NO End in Sight
We wrote a blog post about this called “Chuck it. F*ck it. Why an eco-friendly world isn’t linear.”
But to simplify our linear consumption habits as a society in a nutshell:
We take raw materials from nature.
We make them into something.
We can consume “that something.”
Then we are left with mostly waste, usually that ends up in a landfill.
In some cases, our society does a good job keeping a product in circulation for 10+ years. A good example might be high quality flooring, cabinets, or showers/bathtubs. And occasionally, some products and/or raw materials have a high recycling rate. But it’s become increasingly rare in our interconnected, globalized world.
Globalization and Planned Obsolescence is Making the Problem Worse!
Sadly, however, globalization has in many ways made this problem worse since combining ridiculously cheap labor combined with increasingly efficient logistics and lower shipping costs have made many big companies realize it’s far cheaper to constantly make new things of lower quality than products that truly last.
In fact, this occurs today largely in the form of products that are PURPOSEFULLY PLANNED AND DESIGNED to fail, break, fall apart, slow down, etc.
This is known as planned obsolescence. Defined as a practice "in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time."
This was brought to public attention recently when Apple was slammed with a major lawsuit and a public relations crisis when it was revealed that it intentionally slowed down older iphone models.
However, if you think this practice only happens with fancy expensive electronics, you would be mistaken.
It is at the LOWER end of product price point that this strategy is employed most frequently.
The Fashion Industry, and Especially Fast Fashion, is Amongst the Worst Polluters on the Planet
In fact, it is quite common today in the fashion industry, with the rise of fast fashion brands such as H&M, Gap, Zara, Forever21, etc. – all of whom focus on low to mid price points.
These companies use cheap materials and cheap production methods to pump out clothes that are produced as rapidly as possible (hence “fast” fashion) in order to meet today’s fashion trends.
In the long run, these clothes will fall apart quickly due to intentional poor design and low quality of materials.
Who pays the most?
Stephanie Osmanski from GreenMatters.com explains,
“Fast fashion significantly contributes to greenhouse emissions and since they seldom take advantage of sustainable textiles, these kinds of clothes often consist of synthetic chemicals and materials, microplastics, and non-sustainable dyes.
The reality is fast fashion uses cheap materials — that’s why the clothes are so cheap! Five-dollar tees and BOGO sales: Great for the wallet, yes, but these materials do not break down, which exacerbates fast fashion’s negative impact on the environment.
After all, clothing waste that cannot break down accounts for 20% of our water pollution. For an inexpensive price in the short term, we all pay a worse price in the long run.”
That’s why we hope you “vote” for sustainability the only way you truly can, with your wallet!
But I digress.
What’s worse than something that only lasts a few months (or weeks)?
Single Use Plastic – NOT FANTASTIC!
Something that is intentionally designed for SINGLE-USE!
Welcome to the world of a single-use plastic!
Welcome to a world………..
.....where major corporations will spend tons of money taking petroleum out of the ground, often through highly complicated and expensive means today such as deep sea oil rigs or fracking
…….And then, use highly specialized and customized molds to create single-use plastic….
……And then, this is shipped across the WORLD and consumed and discarded in minutes (if not seconds)!
And likely, the goods will be transported in a container ship that emits more greenhouse gases than MILLIONS OF CARS.
Read that again. Millions. Of. Cars.
According to Mark Piesing at Inews.com,
“It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, the length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. The emissions from 15 of these mega-ships match those from all the cars in the world. And if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked between Germany and Japan as the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions.”
Your Amazon Prime Packages Are RIDIN’ DIRTY
Do you consider yourself eco-friendly and are also a big fan of Amazon Prime’s two day shipping?
Take a look at Amazon’s most recent initiatives to dominate international shipping logistics.
According to USA Today, Amazon has been become increasingly aggressive in the shipping industry, and are now approaching 5 MILLION CARTONS of consumer goods and over 5,300 shipping containers from China and the U.S. in 2018.
Additionally, its dominance allows it to cut out almost all middlemen in the entire logistic supply line.
“This makes them the only e-commerce company that is able to do the whole transaction from end-to-end. Amazon now has a closed ecosystem,” said Steve Ferreira, CEO of Ocean Audit, a company that utilizes data and machine learning to find ocean freight refunds for the Fortune 500.
It's a major advantage for Amazon and its founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, say experts.
“Nobody else has even come close to approaching this. There is no Walmart ocean freight,” said Michael Zakkour, executive vice president for global digital commerce with Tompkins International, a supply chain consulting company.
Why is this bad from an environmental perspective?
Assuming the same volume of goods, is one monopolistic company any more polluting than a dozen collectively?
Of course there are many negatives with monopolies. Overall, they generally hurt consumers, competitors, and the economy in general.
However, due to industry expertise and enormous economies of scale, they tend to be highly efficient.
“Small Chinese factories can now sell to American consumers with no one else than Amazon between them. That means that Amazon is accelerating globalization straight into the American households,” said data analyst Philip Blumenthal of Freightos, a logistics marketplace.
Key words….”accelerating globalization!”
Amazon’s push towards e-commerce global domination is largely perpetuating a linear economic model!
It’s the same old, same old way of doing dirty, polluting global business.
Forget About Just Jobs - Offshoring Pollution and Environmental Regulations!
Goods are being produced thousands and thousands of miles away, and in many cases, not because the raw materials aren’t available locally, but because the labor costs are dirt cheap.
And it’s not just the labor that’s cheaper. Lax environmental regulations, as well as lax employee and safety regulations, also decrease overall production costs.
Because more than likely, those factories and manufacturing plants are NOT up to the United States and Europe’s environmental standards.
We spoke in detail about multinational companies “legally” avoiding environmental regulations in a blog post called, “THE GLOBAL MARSHMALLOW TEST - CAN WE DELAY GRATIFICATION FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE WORLD?”
However, to summarize from our post and a publication quoted, the Conversation:
"Another way is for firms in rich countries to keep selling the “dirty” products but redesign their production networks. They will offshore production (and jobs) in the “dirty” segment of the value chain to poor countries. They will then import the “dirty” unfinished products from poor countries for further domestic processing in the clean segment of the value chain.”
The point here is very simple. Whether it’s Amazon or Walmart, Ford or Ferrari, Apple or Samsung – virtually all global companies are directly involved and perpetuate an unsustainable linear economic model.
And while there are certainly much worse offenders than others, and certainly some that make a conscious and considerate effort to lower or offset their carbon footprint, it’s largely a pointless, and in many cases unfair, effort to play the “blame game.”
That goes for the individual, too.
We All Have a Budget & Busy Lives– And It’s Almost Impossible Not to A Hungry, Hungry Hypocrite!
It’s tough NOT to be a hypocrite when you live in a society absolutely addicted to convenience and affordability.
Unless you live completely self sufficiently in the woods (which would make reading this blog post difficult unless you had someone transcribe it on a papyrus using a quill feather, or you know a sustainable sculptor), we are all culpable in some way.
And that’s ok. Our messy system got us here, together - didn’t it?
That’s why our eyes are in put in the front of our heads….to look forward.
I saw a great anonymous quote that I think summarizes our collective position quite accurately,
“The inventor of the engine used a horse every day of his life. He had to because that was what was available at the time while he figured out how to make it easier.
The inventor of the light bulb worked by candle light.
The inventor of steel had a house full of iron.
People building cleaner and more renewable energy NEED to drive cars, ride on planes, and heat their houses with gas, because that’s what’s available to them.
Participating in the world does not disqualify you from trying to improve it.”
What Can I Do To Personally Live More Sustainably and More Eco Friendly?
We DO individually all need to do more.
Much more than most people are doing, and there’s a lot of things we can all do that are inexpensive and cheap. Some ways of living sustainably, like walking/cycling and bringing reusable food and beverage containers will actually SAVE you money!
We have detailed this in a blog post HERE, but here is some of the lowest hanging fruit to live sustainably TODAY:
- Say Goodbye to single use plastic in your life. Living a life with minimal plastic pollution ISN’T expensive or difficult. Get single use plastic out of your life. No water bottles, coffee cups, plastic cutlery/plates etc. Leftovers go in a reusable container, and cooking at home is also generally more sustainable and will save you money!
- Lower carbon footprint transportation. We also can make efforts using mass transport, carpooling, walking/cycling as much as we can, and minimizing our airplane use whenever possible.
- Eat Less Meat! Or none if possible. The amount of water used in meat production is literately dozens of times more than in conventional fruits, vegetables and other crops. In same cases, like beef, it can be up to a thousand times more water! Additionally, beef, chicken, pork, and lamb create terrible emissions, such as methane, that have similar (actually, worse) effects on climate change! The goods news is technology is finally making this more feasible (and tasty!) with plant based burgers and other products that actually taste good!
- Try to make your home as eco-friendly as possible. If you can, get solar panels (and even the tax credits that come with them) and try to minimize electricity usage with things like LED bulbs, light timers, make sure your house is well insulated to minimize energy. Some other tips include using cold water when washing clothes, using rags instead of paper towels, line-drying outside whenever possible, composting, recycling, etc.
So of course, there are a lot more ways to live a more sustainable life, but those the best relatively inexpensive and minimally time consuming ones we’ve found.
But of course, change at the individual level isn’t enough. There aren’t enough people who REALLY care to create systemic change, at it’s safe to say there won’t be anytime soon.
More importantly, we are almost out of time.
We need structural change, change at the fundamental level of all global industries commerce.
We need to change the way businesses do business, at every level of production.
What would this look like?
So where can we find the solution?
You don’t need to read an environmental scientific textbook, or go to a TED talk!
Just look outside!
All of our answers and solutions already lie in nature.
The answers lie in holons, and self-organizing holarchic systems (SOHOs).
Never heard of a holon?
You’re not alone! Even though they are all around you!
Find out how to create a sustainable, circular, and cyclical economy with ZERO WASTE in part II.