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The sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming Earth’s living systems

Mankind is killing this planet with over-consumption: the seas are dying, we are seeing the worst storms since records began, the ice caps are melting and major cities will be flooded within decades. Yet consumption keeps accelerating. If you want your business and/or your family life to continue as it is today, new ways of doing business and living are needed.

Replacement technology is not enough

George Monbiot, the Guardian’s columnist and scourge of loose thinking, writes in the Guardian today that “We won’t save the Earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup.” He makes the point that replacing the plastic cups at coffee shops with corn starch would have huge implications: “how much land would be needed to grow it, or how much food production it would displace. They overlooked the damage this cultivation would inflict: growing corn (maize) is notorious for causing soil erosion, and often requires heavy doses of pesticides and fertilisers.” This is not where the long term solution lies, thinking that a better/more sustainable solution will be found. New thinking is needed.

He argues that: “The right question is, “How should we live?” 

But he feels that systemic thinking is an endangered species. He is right, of course, but it is difficult and goes against much of what we do automatically, e.g. most think that the solution to the plastic age is to develop a better way to re-recycle plastic, but this won’t solve the problem. David Katz, founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank, points out that the first action when a bath is overflowing is NOT to mop up the spillage, which is what plastic recycling represents. To tackle the plastic flood, what we must do is to TURN OFF THE TAP.

Systemic thinking needed in corporate treasury

Mankind needs key players to use their role, their influence to systematically think through new solutions, new business models that are needed to slow and stop the destruction of our planet. Corporate treasury has a vital role here.

What would be your ’turn off the tap’ actions required in corporate treasury to help change how we do business and save our planet?

CTMfile take: Everyone has responsibility here. As Monbiot points out, “Disposable coffee cups made from new materials are not just a non-solution: they are a perpetuation of the problem. Defending the planet means changing the world.”

This item appears in the following sections:
Best Practices & Benchmarking in Operations
Control & Compliance in Operations

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By MW on 6th Sep 2018:

Interesting (off-topic for CTMfile) post.

And a topic, that can be discussed for ages.
A few thoughts from my side, whether some of those are “new thinking” can be judged by other readers:
- Monbiot is right that replacing plastic with another environmentally harmful material is not a long-term solution
- Where I disagree is that it would not help at all. Until a real behavoural change happens, “less harmful” is a medium term step in the right direction. If corn starch is less harmful than plastic I do not know, but I am sure there are also other options (who knows, maybe bamboo based?)
- A definitely better step would already be to go from recyclable “one use” products to “use many times” products. This already requires a degree of behavoural change, as it requires not only providers but also consumers to change dramatically - and consciously. There are some examples where (to stay with the example) some coffe chains have started to offer reusable mugs (often still made from plastic, but at least with a theoretically better ecological footprint). However, this is also an example how such a strategy can faill or be just meagerly efficient: it does not help if customers take the “better” cup, are happy that those are easier to hold - and leave them at home / in the office the next day, get a new one and then after a few weeks toss the more stable cups without ever having re-used them.
- To get away from plastic (and other disposables), it might make sense to actually take a trip down memory lane. There was a time when people commonly had re-usable cups and dishes (often with heat containing functionality) which they used to bring food from home or to buy a lunch to take to work from take-aways. Those where usually made from tin. And yes, it also takes valuable resources to clean those after use, but I believe at least this has been proven for the major part of our planet, it is less harmful to clean re-usable food containers rather than using one-time-use products. Obviously, it might require a more modern approach than in the past to make the revival of re-usable food containers a success. This could be a deposit based system (works for beverage bottles in some countries like e.g. Germany) or a price incentive if people bring their own containers for take-away food (which will require a behavoural change by vendors and often even law changes as some hygene rules in some countries actually forbid vendors to use anything else than disposables)

All that said (and there would be much more), there is also one hard truth:
No matter how much we change our behaviour and become less wastefull as a species, there are already way to many people on this planet.
In the short and medium term we need to stop the growth of the human population, in the long term we need to find ways to actually reduce it back to a more sustainable level.
How this can be done, what ways need to be taken, is probably a very painful discussion as it might include unpopular and by many considered inhumane actions. China’s “one child” policy is (or actually was) a prominent example. Also, individual countries’ short term interests are often the opposite, for most growing their population or at minimum keeping it stable is what they are striving for, e.g. to keep their pension systems alive, keep their individual workforces large enough without letting “strangers” in, etc.
The thing is, if humanity does not get around to reducing the population in a controlled way, it might happen in a catastrophic way (and it already is happening in many places - a cynic would say: not enough). Wars for ressources (especially water) decimate populations, Epidemics caused by shortages in clean water, medicines or healthy food could do their part, etc.

I will stop here as I have already written a very long comment. But I believe it is clear that the topic is not easy from any perspective, be it philosophical, ecological, humanitarian, etc.

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