Between cancel culture and people that don’t believe in environmentalism, working on anything related to sustainability is really being stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, you have people that will skewer you for everything that you are NOT doing…. (our newest eco-warrior putting us in our place)
And on the other hand, there are people that fundamentally disagree with your values in believing that focusing on sustainability and the environment is a waste of time. You can’t really win and you are always pissing someone off.
Quickly putting aside “greenwashing” and people that care about the environment in general but not YOUR interpretation of it, I think there's a deeper underlying issue behind this all: The environment isn’t really accounted for at all within our current economic system. In capitalist western society, we typically have focused on things like revenue, profits, labor, raw materials, cost of goods sold, etc. Nowhere in here does ensuring we aren’t totally destroying the planet enter the equation.
Forever ago, people had some concept of how to look out for their communities' collective future. Native Americans practiced controlled burns, farmers would store seed and food for the winter, etc. Over the past couple centuries, this concept has taken new meaning, such as securing manufacturing capabilities and financial security to ensure our nation’s future status & comfort. The planet being an expendable resource never really occurred to us. It was an infinite resource waiting to be tapped.
Now, however, we have learned that Planet Earth is not a bottomless well. We are running out of silicon raw material that goes into creating all of our electronics. Oil can’t be how we power the planet forever. We must once again change how we manufacture and make pretty much everything. And we need to secure the future for our communities in a new way- a way that will leave a habitable planet behind for our future generations.
We have to re-learn. Just like how it took decades for us to figure out how to manufacture oil into literally tons of different viable building plastics and materials, we have to learn how to accommodate a 21st century demand for goods and services with new practices.
And like with anything else new and still under development, you don't get it right the first try. You make a minor improvement, try some new methods, see what sticks and what works. But part of this process is finding out what doesn’t work and making mistakes.
We tried this with algae. We wanted to use it in our outsoles. It seemed to work in all of the trials and practice, but when it came down to production, things went awry. We had to produce and throw out many extra pairs of outsoles due to defects and complications in the manufacturing process. In the attempt to reduce our overall consumption of non-biological materials, we actually did the opposite. This is precisely why sustainability gets a bad name.
Does this mean we were wrong? Should we have never tried in the first place? Absolutely not. To say that would be to overshadow all of our other efforts and everything we collectively learn. We make improvements, continue to iterate, and improve upon ourselves. Our next production run is much better and has 4x the biomass by weight of our first production run. But we couldn’t have gotten here without these learnings along the way.
Manufacturing greener goods and a more environmentally friendly economy is a learning process and it shouldn’t be demonized, but it’s so easy to do so. Especially when you have a vested interest in keeping the status quo the same.... (cough cough big oil and other industrialists). But that's a bigger bone to pick…
This change won’t happen overnight, but think about how much we can accomplish when we set our collective minds to something. In the 1950’s Space Race, we went from launching the first satellites to having humans walk on the moon in 15 years. This year, the world was hit by a novel new disease causing a global pandemic, and we have created a vaccine in less than one year. Our environmental crisis is daunting, but something we can all work towards improving our collective future.
Photo Cred: https://www.gep.com/blog/strategy/green-manufacturing-is-helping-companies-create-a-sustainable-future