by Katrin Scholz-Barth, President, SustainableQATAR

Ramadan Kareem from SustainableQATAR!

Our May Blog and weekly challenges fully embrace the spirit of the Holy Month and focus on (household) fasting in every sense; reflecting on what’s possible if we come together and start a conversation with our neighbors, inspire and connect with each other to change the world and make it a better place.

We wish to address entertaining in our homes and how we can host family and friends while also prioritizing our personal health, physically and emotionally, and in doing so, contributing to a healthy environment around us.

As consumers we have power. We choose what we buy, where we buy, and from whom we buy. We reward the people and companies we trust through our purchases. More and more people are realizing this purchasing power, and are exercising it by demanding product safety information to remove toxic ingredients and materials from our food, drinks, cosmetics, clothes, and cleaning products.

This reflects a growing consumer awareness and change in perspective and thinking. Something really fantastic is about to happen. As a society we seem to be near a tipping point where real change can happen quickly – transitioning from a linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economic model to a circular model of ‘take-make-take-make new-take-make new again-etc.’ Closing the loop means making things like furniture, clothes, carpets, and footballs from renewable sources – like energy, composted food waste, and recycled fibers and rubber tires. To learn more, watch the newly released documentary Closing the Loop.

A great number of people care about the environment and recycling. That’s great. If you are among them, congratulations. And why is this not enough? Is this even the right place to start? Or can we do better by avoiding waste generation in the first place and challenge ourselves to a zero waste home?

We buy things because growth is good, we are told. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) counts the flow of money and goods through an economy. The perception is that more is better, especially during an economic crisis. We are encouraged to acquire goods and services in ever-increasing amounts to help grow the economy. The problem is the conventional way of making things in the take-make-dispose model or traditional linear manufacturing because of limited resources. The Story of Stuff told by Annie Leonard shares important insights into the true costs of a linear model.

Consumerism has turned into an obsession of acquiring unwanted and unnecessary things – it ‘has become the organizing principle of … life. This is not the same thing as capitalism. … It is a social disease.’ states Amitai Etzioni, Professor of International Relations, The George Washington University.

Consumption, on the other hand, is satisfying basic human needs, like food, shelter, safety, and perhaps a little extra creature comfort, some things to enjoy life, and is very different from consumerism.

A nation’s development is praised if GDP is going up, business success is measured in growth, and personal wealth is all about accumulating things.

Is growth for the sake of growth always a good thing? Growth is good until a doctor tells us that something uncontrollable is growing in our body! Then we wake up. Why me? Why now? What have I done? Will I survive?

GDP counts the flow of goods and assets of an economy, but not the liabilities. It is as if a business only looks at one side of the balance sheet, ignoring the environmental impact of its industry on air, water, and the wellbeing of its people. Taking everything into account could mean that genuine growth and increase in wellbeing may be zero or falling, as in the case of China, which prompted a new focus on a green GDP, accounting for health and environmental consequences.

“The Goal is not to have the longest train, but to arrive at the station first, using the least fuel.”

Tom Murphy quoted by Warren Buffett in Warren Buffett: How a rowboat beat an ocean liner

The discussion is often limited to consumerism versus environmentalism. Lifestyle versus Sacrifice. Economic Growth versus Environmental Protection.

It need not be a conflict if we “just” get it right. When we reframe the issue and look at how nature makes, recycles, renews, and reinvents things, we can learn how experimenting for over 3.8 Billion years, nature has become efficient in optimizing what works and fossilizing what doesn’t.

One way of exercising our purchasing power is to resist the marketing trick, the design and size of packaging, and look beyond the marketing promises delivered by catchy phrases. When we ask ‘Do I really need it? What are the ingredients? What is this made of? Is it good for me? Does it come from a renewable source?’ we take action and have an impact on our collective health and wellbeing. That is real power.

“The soul of a great nation is expressed in the life of its humblest people, its humility, its courage, its deep heritage from the past and its vast promise for the future.”

Nitin Nohria, Dean at Harvard Business School, quoting The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

May’s CLOSE THE LOOP Challenges

Challenge #10 – Say No To Packaging

Challenge #11 – Feed Others, Not the Landfill

Challenge #12 – Beyond Recycling

Challenge #13 – Innovation