Sustainability - Peeing Profusely in the Planet's Pocket
We have a lot of great sayings in Australia. Some require translation, for example “rattle your dags” which means “hurry up!” ’Dags’ are dried balls of wool and congealed poo that hang from a sheep’s bum and they silently rattle together when a sheep runs. Encouraging someone to ‘rattle their dags’ is to urge them to ‘get running’, or yes, ‘ to hurry up’; who knew? Others, like “Fair dinkum!” don’t seem to have any logic whatsoever.
“Peeing in your pocket” (often used with ‘iss’ instead of ‘ee’) is a colourful saying that on first hearing has most non-Aussies scratching their heads as to what the speaker means.
Google it and you’ll find explanations around a theme of someone trying to flatter you by telling you something that isn’t necessarily true, trying to curry favour with you to get an advantage, to win something. No one knows its origins but my interpretation is that peeing in someone’s pocket gives them, initially at least, a warm feeling, especially on a cold winter’s day (urgh!), but in the end, it isn’t a nice or remotely good thing to do and when they realise, they’re certain to be unhappy…at least a little!
These days I’m seeing the ‘S’ word - ‘Sustainable’ - over and over again and it’s making me feel like I’m having my pocket peed. It’s been about a long time but like the mention of a ‘yellow Porsche’, I’m seeing it everywhere now; at airports, on billboards, advertising, everywhere! Its use is designed to make me feel good, to feel warm, “I can buy this product and no one gets hurt” but in the context of the growing climate crisis, this strikes me as disingenuous at best and downright wicked at worst.
Sometimes lazy journalists report company announcements without any analysis or intelligence around whether what the company is proposing is remotely sustainable at all; what does ‘sustainable’ actually mean? This happened just last week when both the BBC and The Guardian reported that all of Zara’s clothes will be ‘sustainable’ by 2025. Hooray! That it came under the heading of ‘Fast Fashion’ clearly didn’t strike the editors as being in any way paradoxical. Yesterday, I saw the ‘S’ word again in reference to cocoa but the article equated being certified with being ‘sustainable’ and I’m not the only one who reckons there’s less than a grain of sense in that correlation. Rainforest Alliance/Utz certified cocoa that originates in felled National Park forests? Rainforest Alliance certified Indian tea from plantations where workers live in hovels? A Brazilian dam certified as safe just before collapsing and killing hundreds of people? All sustainable apparently. The list goes on.
We’re sweltering in Europe through the second heat wave of the summer. Our trajectory should be a concern. People are on the streets protesting for action from governments who make warm sounds but do very little as the permafrost melts at rates not predicted to happen until 2100 under already scary climate models. Methane bubbles up from the deep and yes, the Arctic is burning and is forecast to be sea-ice free way sooner than climate scientists, long silent for fear of scaring the pants off people, predicted. Said scientists are becoming more and more vocal as the crisis rushes towards us, some predicting certain societal collapse, likely catastrophe and possible human extinction. Terrific!
Amidst all that, mass consumption of clothes, chocolate and every other product and commodity goes up along with our CO2 emissions and our planetary impacts, yet companies continue to use the ‘S’ word to curry favour, to flatter and greenwash their image, to inspire ever more consumption, to make us feel good about buying, buying, buying, “Don’t worry about the temperature, and certainly don’t buy those other guys’ products, buy ours! They’re sustainable!”
I don’t doubt that many of these companies are trying to do good things but in the face of what’s coming, inspiring more consumption based on the lie that their product is ‘sustainable’ is just wrong.
It would be much more honest and open if companies said, “Look, we’re starting from a low base, but we’re moving forward to make things better. We’re trying to implement changes throughout our business and our supply chains and we’ll keep you posted on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and on the successes and failures we encounter along the way.” Keep the ‘S’ word out of it!
The stench of greenwashing will soon be rotten in consumers’ snozzes (Australian for ‘nose’) as they cook madly in the midday sun. Companies reporting more truthfully on their journey and avoiding any ‘S’ word image-flattering pocket peeing will grow greater trust amongst their customers. People feel the disconnect between company marketing and lazy journalists bleating about ‘sustainability’ and the reality of heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, extinctions and other climate related catastrophes.
Those folk who truly want to address the serious global crisis we’re facing need to speak the truth, bin the ’S’ word and stop peeing in pockets. And I’m not talking about Patagonia telling us to not buy their jacket and rollicking in the joy of massively increased sales. Responsible companies will stop making new things that soon end up in waste dumps and will instead ‘rattle their dags’ to accelerate their search for a different way of being in a climate changed world. The circular economy, for example, looms as one interesting approach that needs the strong focus of our best minds.
The big question for businesses and their wealthy owners is not about how much money they can make, but how much is enough and what needs to change for us all, collectively, to grapple with the serious trouble we’re in. Pushing more and more consumption and sales by professing to be ‘sustainable’ really is peeing in the planet’s pocket, and not just a bit, profusely.