What Makes Me Mad…
… OK, lots of things make me mad, like the Daily Express, wheel bender cycle stands and and people putting ‘off’ milk back in the fridge, but what really gets me exasperated in the sustainability field is useless advice, mindlessly pumped out to the masses. Here’s a classic I saw on Twitter the other day:
If you reduce the amount of bottled water you consume by 2 litres a day, you’ll save around 10kg of CO2 each year.
Right, let’s take a closer look at this:
1. How many people consume more than two litres of bottled water a day? A quick Google shows that the average Brit consumes 34 litres of bottled water a year – less than 0.1 litres per day. The Italians seem to top the list with 200 litres per person per year, just over half a litre a day.
2. 10kg of carbon a year. Back on Google, I get a variety of estimates of the average UK citizen’s carbon footprint and if I average those, it seems to come in around 10 tonnes per annum. Now I reckon it is much higher, because few of these footprint measures include overseas emissions ’embedded’ in the products we import and consume, but let’s go with 10 tonnes. I don’t even have to get the calculator out to see that this saving is 0.1% of our annual carbon footprint.
3. If you combine the two factors together – if the average person in the UK cut out all their bottled water consumption, they would save 0.005% of their carbon footprint. Hardly worth typing the tip, was it?
So the advice is effectively “stop doing something you’re not doing, and you’ll make a negligible difference”. Great.
Coincidentally, 0.1% is about the proportion of our carbon footprint taken up with that other eco-pantomime villain, the disposable plastic bag. These two things are drummed into us – bottled water bad, plastic bag bad – that one daren’t be seen with either, even though they are relatively insignificant from a carbon point of view. I’m not immune to these memes myself – I recently found myself at a Green Festival choosing a bottle of flavoured water rather than plain water as I didn’t want to be seen with the latter, even though the former is almost certainly more carbon intensive.
So why the big rant? Because we get limited chances to communicate the green message and it kills me when that bandwidth is filled with such utter rot. If you want to green your lifestyle, you need to insulate your house, adjust your diet and change your travel patterns. Fairly straightforward, but usually avoided in favour of pointless tips.
And similarly with business, you must deal with the big ticket issues. Measure your footprint – no matter how crudely – and identify the hotspots. For many products, these hotspots occur in materials extraction and production and energy required in the use phase. So get on with tackling these rather than worrying too much whether your paper invoices should be electronic or vice versa.
There. Said it. Feel better now.