At the risk of being struck by a celestial bolt of lightning, I reckon Jesus got it wrong with his widely quoted beatitude (Matthew 5:3–12) Blessed are the meek – for they will inherit the Earth. Because if we continue to hold our tongues in the face of climate change, the greatest threat to humankind, there will be no earthly reward to inherit.
I’ve never been lucky enough to inherit anything. No seaside bach, country pile, remote farm, no family silver or stash of cash. In fact, my father left me with some debt (cheers Dad!).
My husband is in the same boat, although he did inherit a massive dining-room table that has crossed so many oceans its carbon footprint outstrips the credits created by the massive oak tree it came from.
The “German table” as our family call it, started life in Germany and travelled with my husband’s grandmother to South Africa. It was part of her inheritance and was put to great use in the boarding house she ran in downtown Johannesburg in the early 1900’s.
Some ninety years later it was bundled up again, more oceans sailed, and it is now firmly ensconced on our family farm in the Kaipara District. It dominates the house and is the heart and soul of the family. So many meals, lively discussions, enthusiastic debates, and some wine.
In recent years it’s become more of a battle ground around climate change discussions. The children accuse us of not doing enough to change our habits and they have shown us the path to make better choices for the farm and the planet. We don’t align on everything; we disagree on Boomers, and I don’t share their sense of panic.
But where we are 100% aligned is communicators should be doing more to use our voice on the topic to motivate genuine change and policy change right now.
And in my humble blog to acknowledge Earth Day 2022, here is some of my voice on a very dense topic.
Conspicuous consumerism is out of control. We have been conditioned to believe that our wellbeing and happiness depends on the goods that we buy. Our obsession with buying manufactured stuff is accelerating climate change and we have no chance of decreasing CO emissions by a minimum of 8% a year to be carbon neutral by 2050.
And big business, the big super brands must lead the change. Our clients must be part of the solution to limiting consumption. This means disruption and change to their business models and yes, they will feel some pain in the process, but it also presents an opportunity.
Imagine if a whiteware and appliance manufacturer made the bold promise to repair rather than replace?
Nowadays it is almost impossible to repair a household appliance, forcing the consumer to add to the mountains of manufactured waste. Ever tried to buy a kettle that can be fixed?
My Cockney mate, Steve, is a regular around the German table. He grew up on a council flat in Bermondsey in South London and is old enough to remember the great pea soup smog of the1950s.
He is also old enough to remember his family had one kettle, one iron, one vacuum cleaner (a Hoover) one fridge, one set of saucepans (made in Sheffield) and these household items lasted a lifetime. They were used and repaired until the bitter end. Shoes were given a new lease of life at the cobblers, milk bottles were recycled every day and the Rag-and-Bone man collected the scraps when a garment was beyond repair.
They did not own a car, they never threw out food, they bought what they needed and they ate what they bought.
So why do we accept planned obsolescence? Today we line up to replace our smart phones, cars, household appliances, seasonal wardrobes, and new look décor.
Consumers need to take back power to demand repair rather than replace, and we need to make do with less.
Imagine if we put pressure on the brands we support with our dollars and insist they streamline their offer. Do we really need multiple variants of the same product? The choice in the health and beauty aisle in a supermarket is overwhelming. Thousands of SKU’s (stock keeping units) and all packed in plastic. Why aren’t we demanding more refillable models? Why aren’t all brands offering them and why aren’t retailers insisting on them?
And we can start with our own wardrobes. In the last 15 years clothing production has doubled and the length of time we wear the clothes we buy has plummeted by 40%. We are buying more and spending less, and fast fashion is now ultra-fast fashion.
Big brand high street retailers pump out thousands of new styles each season. The global fashion app Shein boasts more the 300,000 styles – and very little is above $20.
The solution is not in switching to sustainable fabrics – that is simply greenwashing. The solution is in reducing consumption, how much clothing is enough to live well on?
A recent report on the fashion industry tells us there are things we can do right now like new fashion business models, rental services, buying second hand, swap shops or borrowing clothes.
The same report urges us to expand the slow fashion movement by focusing on quality over quantity, choosing classic styles and be prepared to repair and repurpose to extend the lifespan of a loved garment.
It reminds us to recognise the cultural value in clothing and acknowledge indigenous designers who’s styles, patterns and fabric designs have not altered over thousands of years.
I have a bright red pure wool coat that is 36 years old. I bring it out every winter. It is well loved and a little threadbare in places, but it never fails to brighten a room or draw an admiring comment. I love telling people how old it is and I will hand it on to my daughter for intergenerational wear.
Earth Day 2022 is a time to focus accelerating solutions to combat our greatest threat, climate change. New York City is celebrating with a Car Free Earth Day.
I’m going to use the day to think harder about how we can encourage clients to design products or their business model to have zero emissions; to lead the change and challenge their model to stay culturally and commercially relevant, and ecologically realistic.
I want my colleagues at Pead to come up with ideas to replace extravagant send outs.
I want to think more about disruption ahead. The ones who do not adapt will die. And it doesn’t need to be the end of the business model. There are genuine market share gains for the first movers and innovators.
I want us to think harder about how to shorten the supply chain and move to low carbon supply chains. Right now, most of what we buy is made in China, which is building new coal plants to keep its factories pumping. Yes, I know China has ambitious commitments to reduce its emissions, but right now the country has 23 of the largest greenhouse gas cities in the world.
And what about clients who can’t and won’t adapt. If our principles are important, we should decline their business. Saying no to a cigarette company on the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s would have been inconceivable. Who would have had the courage to turn away those glamorous big, branded events and their budgets? And now?
There are tough calls to make. Decisions like putting a cap on inbound tourism, limiting business and leisure flights and committing to the sweeping, systemic changes that every household, business and sector must go through.
Our politicians are not brave enough to lead a measured drawdown – so business must lead the way to less.
It’s time for the meek to start making some noise if we want an Earth to inherit.