Posted by kari.petroschmidt
“THE EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIAL GROWTH IMPERATIVE”
I wrote about the difference between ‘sustainability’ and ‘thriving’ in a previous blog post. Now, this transition to thriving involves an additional challenge to what Stefan Collini writes has now become a self-evident and indisputable truth in our society; economic growth. Collini writes,
“Since perhaps the 1970s, certainly the 1980s, official discourse has become increasingly colonised by an economistic idiom, which is derived not strictly from economic theory proper, but rather from the language of management schools, business consultants and financial journalism… society has been subject to a deliberate campaign, initiated in free-market think tanks in the 1960s and 1970s and pushed strongly by business leaders and right-wing commentators ever since, to elevate the status of business and commerce and to make ‘contributing to economic growth’ the overriding goal of a whole swathe of social, cultural and intellectual activities which had previously been understood and valued in other terms.”
You can’t have infinite growth with finite resources. That’s pretty basic. Some would argue technology can fill this gap, allowing us to make more of the resources we do have, but the extent of this is limited. So what does that mean for us, in reality, on a day to day basis? It means being satisfied with what we have. It means that things aren’t what give you your identity. We don’t need to have infinitely more and in fact, why would we want to?
Okay, in our consumerist culture, this question seems ludicrous. Things are fun! Who doesn’t want more things? That is, until you start to consider the history that lies behind this ostensibly self-evident ‘truth’. Planned obsolescence was a development of the 20th century where consumer goods were deliberately designed to either fail unnecessarily, or to go out of fashion. As Sophie Pokliewski-Koziell writes, “The 1950s was the era when consumerism was born in the US and it was born from the problem of over-production and the need to keep the economy going… The American public were slowly being re-educated away from their forebears’ nose for quality and durability…” The fact of this explains how the insurance industry has risen in prominence around the world in the last century; “you buy a product and, expecting it to break in the near future are happy to pay the manufacturer instalments of money towards its repair!”
Like Annie Leonard, she quotes Victor Lebow, “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfactions, in consumption.” This psychological manipulation of the average consumer intentional and yet this approach to our existence doesn’t actually lead to long-term satisfaction, “in spiritual terms [it results in] dissatisfaction, envy and unhappiness”. There’s always a better dress to buy, a shinier car to acquire, renovations on the house, ad infinitum. Pokliewski-Koziell also argues that it contributes to a throw-away mentality that relates, not only to the things we buy, but to the relationships we have with others, both personally and on a global scale. The resulting waste of our consumerist culture is not only logically unbearable but extremely detrimental for the environment, especially in terms of e-waste, electronics being one of “the most powerful examples of accelerating planned obsolescence.”
Robert Wringham talks about living a bohemian lifestyle and how this can actually improve your quality of living. In fact, it empowers you, as it lessens your dependency on cash money and thus the mind-numbing/degrading things we usually have to do to get it. Simply put, “the less money you spend, the less hours you have to work.”
But this is bigger than the personal. This is about big change. Ray Anderson states, quoting Paul Hawkins’ book The Ecology of Commerce states, “Big business is one, the major culprit in causing the decline of the biosphere and two, the only thing that is large enough and pervasive enough and powerful enough to really lead human kind out of this mess.”
Anderson wanted Interface “to set an example, to transform the way we make carpet… to transform our technologies so they diminished environmental impact, rather than multiplied it.” They got net greenhouse gas emissions down 82%, “over the same span of time [12 years] sales have increased by two thirds and profits have doubled… translates into a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity, relative to sales.
This is the magnitude of the reduction the entire global technosphere must realise by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. “We have diverted 184 million pounds of used carpet from landfills… we’ve set 2020 for reaching our target, zero. We call this Mission Zero. We’ve found Mission Zero to be incredibly good for business. A better business model, a better way to bigger profits.”
“Costs are down, reflecting some 400 million dollars of avoided costs in pursuit of zero waste… dispels a myth, this false choice between the environment and the economy. Our products are the best they’ve ever been, inspired by design for sustainability, an unexpected well-spring of innovation. Our people are galvanized around the shared higher purpose. You cannot beat it for attracting the best people and bringing them together. And the goodwill of the market place is astonishing. No amount of advertising, no clever marketing campaign could have produced or created as much goodwill.”
Talks about “more happiness with less stuff…that would reframe civilization itself. And our whole system of economics, if not for our species, perhaps for the one that succeeds us, the sustainable species, ethically, ecologically and happily in balance with nature and all her natural systems for a thousand generations or ten thousand generations… into the indefinite future.”
At most risk… tomorrow’s child. “We are each and every one a part of the web of life, the continuum of humanity but in a larger sense the web of life itself and we have a choice to make during our brief, brief visit to this beautiful, blue and green living planet… to hurt it or to help it.”
Two examples of sustainability, and even thriving, that we’ve seen in Audacious in the last year are the ideas of Rimu Boddy and Arjun Haszard. The former has aimed to design a computer program which fishermen and women can use to electronically enter the data they are legally required to submit to Council. FN Networks not only lowers paper use and the number of fish which are caught unnecessarily and later have to be thrown away due to over-supply, but it makes the fishing operations themselves more efficient and cost-effective.
Arjun Hazsard’s product is another prime example. Quick Brown Fox, his boutique coffee liqueur, is organic and the environmentally conscious decisions he makes are, according to his blog, “for my own selfish benefit.” It costs 82% less for him to clean his bottles rather than buying new ones and there’s an incentive for people to return the bottles as they receive $2 off any item at Strictly Coffee (in this way he also connects people to this institution, thus supporting a business which has greatly assisted him in the creation of QBF). The majority of his ingredients are organic and, although relatively more expensive and time-consuming to produce, this is what creates the distinctive flavour of QBF. It’s a move away from the mass-produced consumerism we’re so used to and that’s Quick Brown Fox’s selling point. So too, Arjun is a craftsman and being so close to the process of making, tasting and developing his own liqueur is, for him, success in itself. Dropping off his waste coffee grind to the Red Barn nursery also means they receive a fantastic, free fertilizer which Arjun doesn’t have to pay to dispose of. Finally, the tapioca starch he uses to stick on his labels is easier to use, produces less waste and is less expensive then using traditional stick on labels. As he states in his blog, “Making decisions which are solely beneficial for the environment is a recipe for failure. It is a trade-off between environmentalism and economic return. They don’t need to be mutually exclusive, they should be inherent.”
The truth is, today you can’t avoid the environmental factor. Even if you don’t necessarily do what you should do, you’re always thinking about it. But why should that have to be a drag? Why can’t we reconceptualise ‘thriving’ as something we love to do because it connects us to nature and our community and in fact has the potential to make our endeavours even more profitable?
 From Business Plan to Escape Plan in The Idler