Values not regulation is our only hope.
As we settle into the 21st century, the world appears to be brimming with regulation but is light on values. If you don’t stand for something, you are liable to fall for anything. We need to be clearer on our values as regards the environment and we should support the introduction of the crime of ecocide. Let me explain.
‘Green tape’ refers to the increasing introduction of environmental legislation and related bureaucratic processes by governments. Not only are regulations subject to the whims of whoever is in power, but if we assess some of the most heavily regulated industries in the world, it is clear that regulation has not inhibited catastrophe. Regulation, legislation and oversight committees did not prevent the global financial crisis, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe or the current American opioid crisis. It is abundantly clear that increasing environmental regulations will not prevent the looming global environmental crisis. What may save our planet is a broad change in our values systems.
As businesses we must ensure that our industrial design is helping deliver changes in patterns of consumption, excess and waste. There is substantial scope at concept stage to design out environmental damage. Today, consumer goods carry an energy efficiency rating but not one for durability. Most of a products’ carbon emissions come from its manufacture and not its use. Whilst Mercedes gave up making cars designed to last for decades, others are re-inventing their then mantra: built to last. Companies like Samsung are engineering out obsolescence – not profitability – in their new SMART TV’s. Their screens, which will soon outgrow the walls of our increasingly smaller living spaces, are designed to last for many years. Software can be updated online and when the hardware is no longer the latest generation, they sell you a new plug-in module – not a whole new television. These are clever business values for the 21st century that make winners out of customers, the environment and shareholders.
As a society, more must be done to push governments to act decisively when an extreme lack of values arises. The late Polly Higgins, a British Barrister, passionate environmentalist and pioneer of earth law proposed the notion of Ecocide:
“Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”
She argued that Ecocide should be recognised as an international crime, triable at the International Criminal Court alongside Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes. Ecocide refers to deliberate, reckless or negligent large-scale destruction of the natural environment or the over consumption of non-renewable resources. Individuals, companies and politicians alike would not be able to hide behind veils of incorporation, or a defence of acting within their then mandate or law of the land at that time. This personal accountability, underscored in our legislature, would drive positive change in behaviour.
As consumers, we cannot shop the planet green – we must understand and transform our fundamentally broken and unsustainable consumption and waste cycle. Those companies still stuck in industrial revolution thinking are unlikely to be ‘regulated green’. Governments and individuals not pushed to be accountable for serious environmental failings are unlikely to budge. As citizens, consumers and shareholders we have the ability to enact meaningful change by becoming self-aware doers and activists – using less, demanding change and pushing for durable upgradable recyclable products. Don’t join the queues both at IKEA and the dump.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.