Why I’m Not Calling for a Plastic Bag Tax
There’s another big call out for a plastic bag tax in England and Wales. I’m not against such a tax per se, but it is far from the top of my list of priorities. OK, single use plastic bags cause litter, but nearly as much as, say, crisp packets (if you have ever been on a litter pick you will know what I mean), and can harm marine life (ditto), but they’re said to represent 0.1% of the average person’s carbon footprint, so if we wanted to make a 50% cut in humanity’s carbon footprint, we’d need to find 500 such measures to do so.
“So what?”, you may ask, “this is an easy win, a symbolic gesture, something we can do.” Yes, but, have we not had enough symbolic gestures, enough pilot projects, enough green grandstanding when we really need to be delivering improvements at scale? This is no time to be lowering our sights down to something even the Daily Mail can support – we’ve got to raise them, challenge ourselves and make a real difference.
The same thing can happen at the organisational level – people pursuing “safe” incremental improvements at the expense of more ambition. The third “secret” in my first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business, was “take some huge leaps and lots of small steps.” If you focus just on the latter, you’ll soon come up against diminishing returns – you need the huge leaps to propel you you towards sustainability. My second book, The Green Executive, called for organisations to set themselves stretch targets, to escape “the tyranny of the present”, change the mindset and make those ambitious changes.
So yes, let’s have a plastic bag tax, but don’t see it as a significant achievement and don’t waste much time and effort on it – and for goodness sake don’t rest on your laurels – but understand it would be a tiny incremental improvement and we need to be looking for those huge leaps.