Not really having any idea what I was signing up for, on Tuesday I attended the Sustainable Futures breakfast salon at the Somerset House by Editorial Intelligence as part of the Inside/Out Festival. The morning included three brief introductions by a guest panel comprised of Jim Haywood, Sandy Black and Olivia Knight followed by casual questions and discussion.
As my recent thesis incorporated similar themes regarding sustainability, consumerism and the individual vs the collective’s relationship with energy – I’m quite critical on the topic. That being said, I found Haywood’s and Black’s perspectives rather trite. While obviously an extremely knowledgable sustainability consultant, Haywood presented a wealth of environmental statistics and projections that I believe alienate the individual from personal action due to the unintentional cross-over into environmental scare tactics. I’m personally against scare tactics for their growing overuse and potential desensitization to the topic, as well as their portrayal of this ‘larger than life’ problem in which it becomes too easy for an individual to view it as a global issue in which that can’t have an impact. Don’t get me wrong, climate change IS a very large global issue, I’m just being critical on how we inspire and instigate behaviour change and collective action. On the other hand, Haywood’s concluding analogy was strong and on point – wish he would’ve played it through his entire talk. He compared sustainability to climbing Mount Everest:
- Take the first step up the mountain, beginning with individual action
- Rope in the other climbers, to summit the mountain is a join initiative
- Scale the mountain, but be sure to enjoy the view and see that its worth it.
Professor Sandy Blank spoke from a fashion perspective, bringing a specific vantage point rooted in the dichotomy between fashion as an embedded cultural construct and its complex lifecycle problems. She highlighted the competing paradigms of aspirational (think Oscar gowns) verses FastCheapNow (think Primark), and how a growing shift toward the latter is resulting in shocking amounts of textiles waste. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember her mentioning all the other environmentally unfriendly practices embedded within the entire fashion supply chain (disclaimer: strict time restrictions on the talks), and felt she shifted a bit too strongly towards defending the positives of fashion – enabling self-confidence, social communication, etc. While these are valuable points, and myself as a fashion advocate believe in, I was left waiting for a disruptive solution. Maybe its me, missing the purpose of these talks, because they definitely lead to valuable discussions, but perhaps I keep naively awaiting an effortless answer…
…which was given by the third speaker, Olivia Knight. And it made my day. Knight is the founder of Patchwork Present, a website where friends and family can contribute to the one gift you really want, rather than buying you 25 you don’t want. She is the first to mention that collaborative gift giving isn’t a new idea, she just made it digital and easy. While I find Knight’s business innovative for disrupting an timeless tradition (gift-giving) by both modernizing and making universally accessible an existing solution (collaborative consumption), hearing her clearly articulated thoughts on consumption made me want to run up and give her a double high-five. She began with the tension between want and waste, highlighting our human nature to need or covet things. And we do need stuff, but “we don’t want to feel bad wanting.” Unfortunately though, we often consume what we don’t need and show our love for another by buying even more things we don’t need. Patchwork Present addresses the latter by facilitating collaborative consumption of the things, or thing, you really do want. Through this smarter consumerism, want is in turn celebrated, while I believe also taking an actionable step forward towards a more sustainable future.
Needless to say, I was impressed with Knight, and though perhaps critical on the morning as a whole, overall enjoyed the diverse perspectives and discussions.
A few ending thoughts/questions/notes:
- What is the role of the internet in consuming?
- “Too easy not to be green.”
- Behaviour change: stakeholder vs individual
- Take/make/wast approach results in a circular economy
- “Buy Less, Choose Well.”
- “Sustainability needs the entire supply chain AND engaged consumers.”
- Empower people so they don’t feel paralyzed
- Where do public company commitments originate from? Who? And are they conspicuous?
- Ask questions, be inquisitive
- Engage at all levels: sustainability is built in, not a bolt on