We're replacing 'green consumerism' with 'conscious humanism'

Do you scroll mindlessly? Or do you scroll mindfully? I like to think that I do the latter and I’m grateful for social media in the respect that it provides a platform for knowledge, opinion and information sharing.

Yesterday morning, an article popped up on my LinkedIn feed, shared by one of the beacons of sustainability, Ed Gillespie, Co Founder of Futerra - the change agency. We have an aspiration that one day they’ll be doing our marketing for us…

The article, written by Jacinta Bowler, a ‘writer and fact checker' at Science Alert goes down the route of "Green consumerism is part of the problem." The problem being - climate change. On the whole, I agree with Jacinta's basic of message of ‘buy less’. But the article got my brain ticking.

As a purpose led startup designing and developing circular and sustainable products, we're essentially going to contribute to the Circular Economy and so called ‘green consumerism’. And if we're going to prevent 'waste' and use good materials, we actually do have to rethink, redesign and sell good quality products that work within a Circular Economy. Therefore, we need 'green consumerism' (which is a contradiction of terms in my humble opinion). From now on, we're calling it, 'conscious humanism'.

The article starts with the first step of buying less stuff. Which is very true. Buying stuff we don't need is actually really bizarre when you think about it. Logically, yes, it’s easy to say that all we need to do in order to reduce or prevent waste is to buy less stuff. But of course, humans are not logical creatures. We are emotional and buying stuff is emotional. Buying stuff allows us to identify with others, with groups, with communities and to feel a part of something. Then there's also the 'Diderot Effect' which has been around since the 18th Century where buying one thing causes a chain reaction because you need to upgrade associated items, e.g. the dress, the shoes, the bag, the jewellery.

So is the reality of ‘buying less stuff’ a very different kettle of plastic ingested fish? Is the first step really that we need to change the human psyche?

If we need to change human nature in order to make people buy less - we need humans to identify with something far greater than the consumerist religion. And we need to change the set up we live in.

What is that new set up?

Back to Jacinta's article,

“Experts call for the creation of a circular economy. This is a system where everything we make and use can be reused, repaired, remade, and recycled. No products are 'new' so much as remade from other products. This would heavily reduce waste, and use significantly less resources to produce these 'new' products.”

‘No products are new so much as remade from other products’. This is a tad misleadling. I get that people might think of the Circular Economy as only using waste to make stuff but that’s not true and we need to get out of that mindset.

There needs to be new products in a Circular Economy. We need new products that are designed FOR a circular economy. It's called circular design. Products that are designed for reuse, repair, remanufacture and recyclability. This isn’t the case with products that are made within the current linear economic model. Everything we use today needs to be redesigned for circularity, ergo, new products need to be designed and made from better materials that can be kept in an infinite closed loop cycle. Many of the materials that are used in products are not safe or sustainable and extracting them from current products is often impossible. So we would not or could not reuse them, even if we wanted to.

What would new products in a new society look like?

Mud Jeans, and Fairphone are just two examples of new products that have been designed and made for circularity.

"Businesses — even those pushing more 'sustainable' products — have no incentive to sell less, and therefore are always inherently part of the problem."

I struggle with this. The whole essence of being a truly sustainable brand and producer is to make things that last. To make quality products that can be reused, repaired or remanufactured. The Circular Economy. In doing so, a circular business creates other revenue streams by repairing, remanufacturing and lastly, recycling. The recycled materials are either used again (saving on the virgin materials that were bought at the start) or, selling on to another business to utilise the recycled material if they can’t be used again by the business.

Businesses that are truly sustainable, who are committed to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, don’t need to make billion pound/dollar profits to pay dividends to faceless humans. Most corporate profits stay at the top of the chain and go to Board members and stakeholders, which is the real incentive to sell more. Therefore, truly sustainable and purpose driven conscious business don’t need to push sales of shit products that don’t last because the money a truly sustainable business makes is respected and used for a purpose that goes beyond lining the pockets of fat cat bank accounts.

The top 1% of people living on this planet we all inhabit owns 50% of the wealth. That money, those billions, could be getting used to advance a Circular Economy faster. Reinvesting in business to design safe and good quality products and to pay people well so that no one has to or would want to buy cheap crap that doesn't last. If all businesses were Circular and sustainable and everyone was paid well and had a decent standard of living, we might then only be buying quality products that last. And perhaps, maybe even, people would feel better about themselves and therefore wouldn't feel the need to shop themselves out of depression or anxiety or buy more stuff to make themselves feel better about the fucked up system that we currently live in.

As a startup, yes we are product based. But we are committed to designing and producing alternatives to plastic shower curtains and glass shower screens, using hemp fabric (hemp crops sequester carbon - get a load of that for a climate change solution!), biomaterials, recycled or by creating new fabrics from waste materials. Shower curtains today are generally made from fossil fuels and are not designed for their purpose. They go mouldy, they leak, they're always there!

Shower screens also go mouldy, leak and end up looking grubby and rubbish. But without these products our bathrooms would get soaking. Just let the floor get wet? Ok you mop that up on a daily basis. And then we need to design good mops that won't end up in landfill. What about wet rooms? Well yes, but given that almost half of householders in the UK prefer a shower over bath set up, curtains and screens aren’t going anywhere. So why would we not want to find a sustainable alternative that lasts that contributes positively to the equilibrium of the planet?

So yes, let's buy less of the bad stuff but why not buy a little of the good stuff that is helping to reduce waste, reduce carbon emissions and is from businesses that are doing good things for people and planet. It's time for Conscious Humanism to replace any kind of consumerism.

Jaxx, Founder Undisturbed.

CO2 Emissions information for the geeks…

Shower screens

A standard 4mm glass shower panel would typically weigh 12-15kg for the same 1500x1000mm coverage of one Undisturbed shower product, and produce 12.25-15.32kgCO2e in production alone. This weight would be further represented in an increased transport burden, more materials in protective packaging, silicate-materials for waterproofing seals, etc. At end of use, all shower screens will end up in landfill or will be downcycled.

Tempered glass is also energy and water intensive. Based on the market research conducted by Zero Waste Scotland and the Undisturbed team, 60% of respondents have a shower screen. If 60% of UK homes has a shower screen, that’s 217,000 tCO2e during production alone.

Unless toughened glass can be incorporated into the technical cycle of a circular economy, we must question the use of this material in bathrooms.

Shower curtains

The shower curtain market is dominated by cheap virgin plastic (polyester, nylon, PEVA). 37% of respondents of our market research have a plastic shower curtain. Using this sample, if 37% of the 24M UK homes has a shower curtain, that’s 8M shower curtains going to landfill every 12-18 months (average time shower curtain is used before it is thrown out). That’s 16 million metres of plastic fabric from the UK alone.

In terms of CO2e – polyester production is responsible for 9.52kg of CO2 emissions per kg. A typical polyster shower curtain weighs between 350 – 800g. So we will use an average 500g weight. This would be 4.76kg of CO2e. 8 million homes in the UK with shower curtains (which doesn’t even include the hotels and B&B’s), and equates to 38,000 tCO2e.

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