The environmental crisis is yet to be solved. We cannot imagine what it would take for us to turn things around. If a caring sentiment for nature is not enough, let’s look beyond commerce as the driver of environmental harm, and consider it the potential saviour of our climate emergency. I want to promote that idea that business has the power and responsibility to steer us in the right direction.
The modern world up to 2019 became accustomed to having any material, in any colour, delivered where we want it, whenever we want it. The old-world discipline imposed by necessity, by nature, and the climate were overwritten by the capabilities of our technological prowess. In our modern reality, we can scuba dive in the Nevada desert, we can ski on chilled enclosures within the Arabian Peninsula. We had become detached from necessity, and we enjoyed it.
Every manufacturer in the world is currently experiencing logistical volatility due to material scarcity and long lead times. Rather than succumbing to a crisis state of mind and continue searching in vain for the materials that are not available, this is an opportunity to rethink our use of materials.
Most of the materials we use for manufacturing and construction were invented by humans. If we lived in a world without plastics (as we did prior to 1907), nor metals, no wood, the world would be made of entirely different stuff. Our new reality drives us to reconsider our approach to design and manufacturing. With this new perspective, we can apply a new ethos whereby we choose or invent sustainable materials and processes to replace what we traditionally use. This is a time to return to necessity, the mother of invention.
Starting with our own garden, two-thirds of England’s forests were depleted between 1200 to 1859 to provide raw materials for shipbuilding. These forests were not replenished and have since not returned. The number of people relying on forests around the world for their livelihood is currently 1.6 billion. While we have come a long way in sustainable stewardship of these natural resources, this commerce is one more reason to support the viability of the earth’s forests as a long-term resource. We need not mention that forests are the second largest carbon storehouse after the oceans. By regenerating our forests for the sake of rebuilding a sustainable resource to serve commercial demands, we will also serve human needs and make the planet a better place.
Right now, there is 6.3 billion tons of waste plastic on earth, 269,000 of which is in our oceans. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year. Reusing this waste amounts to supplying 21 years of plastic consumption. As a species with have the intelligence and ingenuity to make recycling a priority and to do it efficiently. There was a time when sewage used to run through the streets of London and into the Thames. We can change our habits.
We know that generating renewable energy costs less that power stations burning gas and coal. Converting to renewables will create economic opportunity, make us energy independent and save the planet. Let every government and business on earth move towards a cleaner, sustainable and human future. Create the environment to leverage the international business community to do what it does best when there are challenges and opportunities.
The current crises should not cower us. Instead, it should impel us to adapt. We must be resilient and determined to succeed as a species. This will unite us all.