文章 Articles

Our detox decade

The world’s hangover from years of excess will be long and messy, writes John Elkington. But good work is already being done, like a global campaign to wean clothing brands off toxins.

Article image

Recent events in the global economy – and in my working life – have had me mulling over hangovers, addictions, detoxification processes and recovery periods. They include the Eurozone meltdown, the predictable but disappointing results of the UN climate-change summit in Durban, and a visit to a gigantic monastery in Bavaria, Germany.

Let’s start with inebriation and addiction. Anyone who has experienced a hangover knows that the human body needs time to flush out toxins like alcohol. And those who have suffered from the ravages of alcoholism know what the health effects can be, with full recovery taking a disproportionate amount of time. The same is true with debt and other forms of economic excess, as parts of the world are now discovering. 

Then there’s an even more profound form of addiction and indebtedness, which we are beginning to wake up to, in relation to our dependence on unsustainable levels of natural-resource consumption. If we are to achieve anything like sustainability, the global economy now needs a detox decade – or two.

But history shows that such periods can be messy, painful and dangerous. Huge energies can be released in the process, which can be channeled into genuine progress, or in potentially destructive directions such as protectionism, xenophobia and militarism.

The scale of our resource addiction was brought home to me when I was in a Bavarian monastery at the end of last month, taking part in a stakeholder process organised by the German sportswear company PUMA. They took a lead recently by publishing their 2010 environmental profit & loss statement. This calculated that the cost their operations had imposed on the natural environment last year through their greenhouse-gas emissions and water consumption was 94.4 million euros (US$125 million).

Such experiments in accounting and reporting are a tiny step towards the giant leap that mankind must now take towards sustainability. But small steps can be significant in several dimensions: think of the 12-step programmes that organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous take addicts through on their way to recovery. Given the link between natural-resource constraints and the outbreak of the Pacific side of World War II, it’s also worth reflecting on how we can radically shrink our resource appetites over time as the world heads towards a forecast population of over 9 billion. It’s interesting that the original 12-step programme dates back to 1939, when the world was teetering on the brink of all-out war.

But what would a planetary-scale resource decoupling process actually look like? Some clues can be found in current 12-step programmes. Among key ingredients of success are an admission that the individual cannot control his or her addiction or compulsion; a facilitated process where past errors are identified and addressed; a commitment to operate to a new and very different code of behaviour; and, critically, a willingness to help others suffering from the same addictions or compulsions.

As we begin to wean ourselves off the environment-intensive dependencies of the last century, a process catalysed by the developing global economic crisis, we expect to see what we have called a Phoenix Economy rising from the ashes. Those who are likely to best in the new order will be those with a high “future quotient”, combining an ability to sense where the future is headed and the adaptability required to succeed in very different market conditions.

So where in the world do you see evidence today of where all of this might take us tomorrow? One obvious example is the Greenpeace Detox campaign, designed to drive a range of toxic materials out of global supply chains. Exploiting the sensitivity – and competiveness – of sportswear brands, Greenpeace is campaigning to “stop industry poisoning waterways around the world with hazardous, persistent and hormone-disrupting chemicals.” Launched in July, the Detox campaign has spotlighted links between textile manufacturing facilities causing toxic water pollution in China and many of the world's top clothing brands.

To declare an interest, I was part of the facilitation team drawn from the organisations SustainAbility, Forum for the Future and Volans that helped a number of major brands – and the companies behind them – to work out how to respond to the Greenpeace campaign. Among those involved, listed alphabetically, were Adidas, the retailers C&A and H&M, Nike and Puma. And the end-result is something that would have been almost unimaginable a year or two ago.

The brands – together with Li Ning from China – have combined forces to launch a joint roadmap designed to push towards the target of “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals” by 2020. To get a sense of where this is likely to take the brands, see Nike’s explanation of the steps they have taken so far and some of the steps they plan next, or for PUMA’s view see here.

Achieving the roadmap will be a major challenge for the brands, not least because they often do not control the manufacturing plants that make their products. More problematic still will be the fact that so many of these facilities are in China, which tends to be sensitive to external pressures on health or environmental issues. And although 2020 may seem a long way away today, pushing towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in less than a decade is likely to prove a tough mission.

The roadmap includes specific commitments and timelines, including conducting pilot projects at major, vertically integrated and materials suppliers between 2011 and 2013 to better understand scope of use and discharge of hazardous chemicals. 

The brands also plan to verify that nine classes of hazardous or persistent chemicals are not currently used in their supply chains – and, to this end, aim to build an inventory of all chemicals used in apparel manufacturing by the end of 2012. Other steps include disclosing the results of all pilots and studies undertaken as part of this commitment, and reporting regularly and publicly on progress, quarterly in 2012 and annually from 2013 to 2020. Given the potential impact of this initiative, many people in business will be monitoring developments very carefully.

John Elkington is executive chairman at Volans and non-executive director at SustainAbility. He blogs at www.johnelkington.com and tweets at @volansjohn.

Homepage image by Hopkinsii

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default thumb avatar
blindspotter

全球范围内?

我喜欢全球范围内的资源戒瘾行动以及12步法的说法。第一步,承认我们的无力,四十年来的环保行动,似乎在任何阶段都没有真正保护到环境。我们仍然被困在无情的现实中,期待下一次行动将最终逆转现状。

当放在历史背景下来看,1972年的斯德哥尔摩世界环境会议设定了有害气体零排放的目标。宣言第六则说“有害物质等的放所和热量的释放已经达到了如此高的水平,这超出了环境的承载能力。必须停止这种情况,以确保不对生态系统造成严重的不可挽回的影响。”

讽刺的是,如果我们真有全球的行动与决心,保护环境的任务早就在世界的每一个角落每一个品牌身上实现了。如果我们肯承认我们的想法变来变去是因为我们无能为力,或许还有希望。

planet-scale?

I like the planet-scale resource decoupling ambition and the 12 step metaphor. The 1st step, admitting our powerlessness, seems to be the key since 40 years of intensive environmental protection efforts have not at any stage actually protected the environment. Yet we remain trapped in unrelenting certainty that the next initiative will be the one to finally turn things around.

To put it in historical context, zero discharge of hazardous chemicals was the goal set for the entire planet in 1972 at the world's first international environmental conference in Stockholm. Principle 6 of the Declaration says "The discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems."

Ironically if this planet-scale ambition had been preserved, the task of environmental protection could have been achieved for every brand in every corner of the world long ago. Perhaps it still can, if we can admit the powerlessness of change-as-usual.

Default thumb avatar
uandme

无需担忧

不管怎样,最终付出代价的不是我们,就是我们的后代。

No need to be worried

Anyway, the price will be eventually paid either by ourselves, or by our descendant.

Default thumb avatar
梭边鱼

误译

This calculated that the cost their operations had imposed on the natural environment last year through their greenhouse-gas emissions and water consumption was 94.4 million euros (US$125 million).

这句中,从句的主要结构应该是the cost was 94.4 million euros. 因此翻译成该公司去年水资源消费总额为9440万欧元是不对的。
正确的翻译应该是, 通过对公司过去一年的温室气体排放和水资源消耗进行考量后计算出公司运营对自然环境的影响为9440万欧元。

Translation Error

"This calculated that the cost their operations had imposed on the natural environment last year through their greenhouse-gas emissions and water consumption was 94.4 million euros (US$125 million)."

In the English sentence above, the key construction should be "the cost was 94.4 million euros", therefore the Chinese translation to "the company's water consumption last year totalled 94.4 million euros" is wrong.
The correct translation should carry the meaning that due to the company's green-house gas emissions and water consumption, it was calculated that its effect on the environment ran up costs of 94.4 million euros.

Default thumb avatar
梭边鱼

译文有些过

中文翻译文字流畅,但是,对照英文发现,译者过分地追求文字的流畅,甚至在一些地方不惜改变作者的原意,这种译法个人认为不可取。

Some translation errors

The Chinese translation reads well, but, checking the original English, it appears that the translator has focused too much on style, so much so that in some places, though nothing needed correcting, the original meaning has been altered. Personally I find this style of translation inadvisable.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

误译误译

另外,这一句中也出现明显误译。Other steps include disclosing the results of all pilots and studies undertaken as part of this commitment, and reporting regularly and publicly on progress, quarterly in 2012 and annually from 2013 to 2020.
正确的应该是,将在2012年进行季度公示,并在2013至2020年期间进行年度公示。
而不是:2012年和2013年分别对项目进展进行季度和年度公示。

More mistakes

In addition, there is an obvious error in the translated (Chinese) version of the following sentence:
"Other steps include disclosing the results of all pilots and studies undertaken as part of this commitment, and reporting regularly and publicly on progress, quarterly in 2012 and annually from 2013 to 2020."
The correct translation should infer that reports will be published quarterly in 2012, and then annually every year from 2013 to 2020 inclusive; whereas the Chinese translation suggests that various reports will be published both quarterly and annually in 2012 and in 2013.

Default thumb avatar
oliviab

来自中外对话的回复:关于翻译错误问题

非常感谢您的评论,您指出的翻译错误已经纠正过来。我们一直努力保证中外对话上翻译的质量,类似这样的错误几乎是很少出现的。对于及时指出这些错误的读者,我们致以真诚的感谢!

Reply from chinadialogue: translation errors

Thank you for the comments about the translation errors in this piece, which have now been fixed. We strive to have the highest quality translation on chinadialogue and problems like this are, thankfully, rare. We are grateful for the assistance of our sharp-eyed readers in pointing them out!