Sustainability is Easy!

If you believe some of the recent advertising about sustainable brands, this whole ‘sustainability’ thing has gotten out of hand. Living sustainably isn’t about having to radically change your lifestyle, it’s just about buying the right brands. Or at least buying a brand that subscribes to the right kind of ethical mark.

The message is clear: You don’t need to change patterns of behaviour or consumption, merely Follow the Frog!

That’s such a relief! Now I can just stop thinking about my impact on the world and follow what one particular certifier tells me to do and trust they have taken appropriate account of all the relevant sustainability factors.

… although I am beginning to regret spending all that time learning about what sustainability means and educating myself about the differences between Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance.

Now, I’m someone who likes a good coffee, and I’m not prepared to give it up as a habit just yet, so I quite like the Rainforest Alliance Certified mark. It means I can outsource some of the research that I might otherwise do to establish whether I feel comfortable buying particular coffees. In fact, I just checked and of the 16 packs of coffee I have sitting the cupboard (all of which are 227 gm – odd for a metric country), 5 of them are Rainforest Certified. The rest are Fair Trade. I happily choose to buy coffee that is certified by either of these two brands. There is much merit in both brands, although it is difficult to work out who wins in the battle of Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance. Fair Trade is more concerned with a fair price (higher guaranteed minimum) for farmers and increasing access to markets of small producers while the Rainforest Alliance is more concerned with the protection of rainforests and environmental concerns.

Both of those brands are important – very important – and they are each tackling the issues in relevant, if different, ways; so I reconcile myself to buying either of those marks without really paying attention to which one I prefer. (Actually I prefer a medium roast with a relatively high acid content and at least three flavour phases, but my coffee preference is really another story.)

But that’s a path that I have reached after evaluating the various merits of those two ‘brands’. Ideally, there would be a Fair Rainforest Trade Alliance brand that has all the strengths of both, but that’s probably wishful thinking.

The problem with just doing what a marketable brand tells you to do is that it doesn’t get us thinking about sustainability in the right way. It isn’t exactly accurate to say that Following the Frog solves all of the issues that flow from a comprehensive understanding of sustainability. In fact it encourages consumption without consideration of consequence. But consumption is one of the enemies of sustainability, at least in an environment where we only have the resources available to our One Planet.

Now I’m not saying that cutting back on coffee from 4 cups a day to 1 will solve the world’s sustainability issues. But asking difficult questions about overconsumption is an important part of assessing how we all affect big sustainability issues. Let me put that another way. Following the Frog won’t stop rainforests being cut down (at least not all of them) and they certainly won’t stop us from maintaining the separation between our consupmtion and the consequences of same, unless we look for ‘Frogs’ in all aspects of our lives. For example, I cannot for the life of me work out a ‘Frog’ equivalent of the potato crisps that I dearly like to consume. No matter how hard I look or many packs I eat I can’t seem to find a frog anywhere in the bottom of the packet!

It’s the sort of thing that Annie Leonard in her Story of Stuff and George Monbiot have been talking about for some time.

Of course most of us just can’t bear to think too much about our own consumption in a way that means we will radically change our behaviour, and so the frog is a very good start to thinking and living sustainably. It’s just a very bad finish to thinking and living sustainably.

And even the Story of Stuff falls into that trap when it begins to talk about the Story of Change. Making public policy makers take responsibility is an important step. But everything I have read tells me that we all need to commit to reducing the amount we consume. I don’t have a car, live in a small apartment, eat organic and local food frequently and am conscious of using things like energy savers and efficient electrical goods. But I still require about 2 1/2 planets (significantly lower than the national average) to maintain my lifestyle, in part because I travel quite a bit for work. Our planet simply can’t afford to have too many people like me!

The trouble with following the frog is that it’s too tempting to conclude that the frog can do all of our heavy lifting when it comes to sustainable living. Increasingly, we need to ask ourselves what we can do without in order to preserve our planet. Working out how to close the loop on things like our clothes (thanks Marks & Spencer for making it a bit easier with your Shwopping programme) and to remind ourselves of other innovate ways for us to consume less and for our consumption to have less impact (try Start for some additional ideas).

So yes, do Follow the Frog, and keep on finding other ways to be good to ourselves, the planet and future generations

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  1. […] but there is also a danger that we ‘follow the frog‘, and as a result complacently believe thatsustainability is easy; that new labels (and technologies) will save us from our own unsustainable […]

  2. CSR trends, says:

    […] is also a danger that we ‘follow the frog‘, and as a result complacently believe that sustainability is easy; that new labels (and technologies) will save us from our own unsustainable […]

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