Fix The Planet
The Environmental Cost Of Ecommerce
What will your legacy be to this world?
When its time to go, what will you leave behind? A piano sonata? A painting in a cathedral? A cure for a deadly disease or a solution to some mathematical problem that that will one day propel us to the stars?
Unfortunately it is only a select few among us who will leave behind something that is truly worthwhile. For most average folk, here's what our legacy is more likely to be:
Your Lifetime Trash
A little over a ton of food packaging, synthetic clothing, household plastics, laptop computers and phones, plastic toys from when you were a kid, countless electrical appliances and hundreds of plastic bottles. Plus 3-4 cars. Maybe around 25% of this gets recycled. The rest of it goes into a landfill for the next one thousand years and a large percentage winds up in the ocean, choking fish and other marine wildlife.
And that's just the stuff you trashed.
Next is carbon emissions from concrete you poured while building your house (900kg of carbon for each ton of cement that you used, plus other factors). Then carbon emissions from all the transport you ever utilised (cars, planes, trains and buses). Then there are carbon emissions from all the public works undertaken by the government on your behalf - building roads and public buildings, hydro-electric projects, sending your armed forces to mess up other countries, etc, etc.
That is the cost of your presence on this planet. Can you even imagine leaving nothing behind? How do you turn the impact of your time on this planet down to zero?
Here's What We're Doing To The Planet
Germany: Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves vanished in 25 years (no bees, no cross-pollination, no crops...get it?).
India: One of the biggest dumpers of plastic waste into the ocean.
UK: No big wild animals left and experts at landfilling - just stick it under the carpet.
China: Record-breaker in industrial pollution and urban air pollution.
Russia/Soviet Union: Managed to dry out an entire sea (the Aral Sea), plus nuclear disaster zones and unchecked industrial pollution in Siberia.
USA: Environmentally-detrimental policy-making from the largest industrialised nation in the world.
And Here's Some More
A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn't Recycled!
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute (guess what happens to them)
An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year
Fish mistaking plastic debris in ocean for food
You cannot just read these facts and just go about your day. You have to do something.
Being able to afford exotic packaged food and possessing the latest electronic gadgets are not important. The most valuable things on earth are access to clean air, clean water, quality healthcare, chemical-free food and a stress-free lifestyle. Do you have access to chemical-free, organically-grown food? How clean is the air you are breathing? If you don't, then half of your time should be devoted to figuring out how to get these basics back.
With all our concrete cities and environmental re-engineering we have managed to destroy a lot of the things that keep us alive. When was the last time you saw a butterfly or drank water from a free-flowing stream?
The Environmental Impact Of Ecommerce
Some say ecommerce has cut down on the environmental impact of constructing physical retail stores - all those energy-hungry retail spaces are now pixels on a computer or phone screen. Also, you do not have to physically commute to a shopping center.
But that stuff still needs to be delivered to your home. And there's another run involved if you want to return your purchase. Some say that the convenience of ecommerce is just making us consume more. Whatever the savings are, ecommerce, just as any other commercial activity, has an environmental cost >
Each time you order something online, or even sell something online, a chain of environmentally unfriendly events is thrown into action:
The Ecommerce Process
1. A product is manufactured, releasing green house gases in the process.
2. It is packed in styrofoam, bubble-wrap and cardboard, all of which is immediately trashed.
3. It is transported by some greenhouse-gas-emitting vehicle like a ship or a plane and then a delivery truck.
4. The product is eventually trashed. Fantastic if it is a plastic item, in which case it will probably go and take residence at the nearest landfill for the next millenium, leaching toxic chemicals into the ground while it sits, slowly rotting away.
For those of us in the ecommerce business, this process helps a lot of us pay bills, pay mortgages on homes, send kids to school and keep the show running. For some, it means helicopters and lakeside villas. No matter where we are, we all need to figure out ways to optimise this process, at a personal level and at a business level.
Most businesses shy away from discussing the environment cause they believe profits can only be made on the back of environmental exploitation. This needs to change if we want to reverse any of the ecological shockers listed above.
Here's a few things we can do. Do send us your favorites too!
Eco-Action: Consumer Level
1. Wage war on plastic
Planet Earth CANNOT process plastic. Cut down drastically on plastic bottles - soft drinks, bottled water, cosmetics, cleaning fluids, automotive fluids. Contrary to what you hear, only a fraction of the plastic bottles you throw away get recycled (about 91% of plastic NEVER gets recycled). Most of these bottles wind up in landfills. In developing countries, they wind up on the streets, in rivers, in the ocean and sometimes they get burned on open fires, releasing harmful toxins into the air.
2. Buy fresh, buy local
Buy fresh food from local producers and prepare it yourself. While processed food can taste great, they may contain loads of chemicals and taste enhancers. Say no to anything in plastic packaging (unfortunately, that includes most processed food).
3. Natural v/s synthetic clothing
Synthetic clothing such as fleeces and jackets lose microfibers when washed. These go down the drain and into the water supply, where they wind up in the stomachs of fish and other animals. Switch to natural clothing. For weatherproof clothing, try and repair zippers and tears rather than buying something new. This stuff is also hard to recycle.
4. Grow a potato
Grow something in a flower pot on your balcony. A potato, a tomato, anything. It will show you how hard it is to grow anything at all. Use vegetable peels for composting.
5. Bring nature to your home
Bee-keeping is great but hard to practise in an urban environment. These fragile creatures, under constant attack from pesticides and air pollution, form a very important part of our food chain. Bees and many other insects cross-pollinate flowers, enabling a lot of plant reproduction and crop farming. Watching these little creatures go about their business is a great way to observe a truly remarkable example of environmental machinery at work.
6. Heard of video conferencing?
Got a business meeting? Use video chat. Avoid that plane flight. Do some A/B testing - measure how efficient each one really is.
7. Break out of the auto trap
Buying cars may be going out of fashion in some parts of the developed world, but in places like India and China a car is a status symbol and a proud member of the family. Most families nowadays have more than one. Just imagine the amount of energy that goes into producing a car and the amount of plastic and other trash it produces at its end. You drive to work so you can afford to buy another and then choke in its fumes all day. Its just stupid.
8. Avoid products with excessive packaging
Watch out for products that come with excessive packaging. Ever got super-tough, steel-tipped work boots delivered in bubble wrap? Time to mail a stinker to the ecommerce company.
9. Consume less
Just do it? Don't do it.
Eco-Action: Business Level
1. Have you calculated the carbon footprint of your business? Can you optimise it?
2. Are you manufacturing or selling any plastic? Can you switch to other materials? Can you change your business model and still turn a profit?
3. Do you know what happens to your products at the end of their lifecycle?
4. Can you cut down on the amount of packaging you use to ship your goods?
5. Do you pour any of your profits into preserving the environment or developing your workforce?
6. Do you do any of the above without being prodded by government regulation?
7. Do you encourage your consumers, your sellers and other businesses to get involved in preserving the environment (long-term profit!)?
We need to consume less and make profits while consuming less. Moreover, we need to educate one another about slowing down this roller coaster we're all riding. Just spread the word - you will be surprised at the number of people who don't even realise what is going on out there.
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