An expert’s perspective in standardisation  – by Martin Baxter, Executive Director of Policy at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)

My role at IEMA puts me in a fortunate position – I have a passion for the environment and I’m able to contribute to making positive environmental change.  By working through standards bodies, such as BSI British Standards (BSI) or the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), – helping to establish common standards, tools or methods that will reduce the environmental impacts associated with products, or in the ways that companies operate – your contribution and the difference you can make can be magnified many times.

As the UK head of delegation for the suite of standards in the ISO 14000 environmental management systems (EMS) series and a member of the ISO working group revising the ISO 14001 EMS standard,  my work in standards centres around environmental auditing, labels and declarations, performance evaluation, life-cycle assessment and GHG management.

With more than 250,000 organisations in 155 countries around the world being ISO 14001 certified, it’s on a scale that’s difficult to match and provides a great opportunity to catalyse environmental improvement.

However, to be truly effective, it’s not just about knowing the subject area – it’s about maximising your impact from the time you commit.

Understanding the Process

The standards making process comes with its own language and terminology.  It’s important to understand these so that you can channel your inputs at the right time to best effect.  Box 1 below sets out ISO’s key principles for developing standards.

Box 1 – Key Principles in Standards Development
1. ISO standards respond to a need in the market: ISO does not decide when to develop a new standard. Instead, ISO responds to a request from industry or other stakeholders such as consumer groups. Typically, an industry sector or group communicates the need for a standard to its national member who then contacts ISO.
2. ISO standards are based on global expert opinion: ISO standards are developed by groups of experts from all over the world, that are part of larger groups called technical committees. These experts negotiate all aspects of the standard, including its scope, key definitions and content.
3. ISO standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process: The technical committees are made up of experts from the relevant industry, but also from consumer associations, academia, NGOs and government.
4. ISO standards are based on consensus: Developing ISO standards is a consensus-based approach and comments from stakeholders are taken into account.

 

National and international standards are developed through a ‘consensus’ building process and no one member of the standards committee has a veto.

Developing consensus is not without its challenges.  English is used as the working language – for drafting text, commenting on various drafts, and in meetings.  As there’s no translation or interpretation available, English-speaking country representatives need to work hard to support international colleagues – editing their amendments to text, acting as a ‘thesaurus’, giving them adequate time to think about the meaning etc.  This is an important part of building trust.

The standards making process has a number of different stages – progressing from the proposal, preparatory and committee stages to the enquiry and approval stages and finally to publication.  The most intensive period is in the reparatory stage – this is where the text of the standard is prepared and as an expert, where you have the opportunity to make the biggest impact.  The consultative processes are also important as these give the broader community of users time to comment on drafts so that, when it comes to balloting for approval there is widespread support.

Agreeing a standard shouldn’t be the end of the process, it’s what happens in practice that is the test of whether your hard work makes a difference.  So use your networks and all available communication channels, it’s in everyone’s interest.

 

 

 

By Clare Rowley

The community campaign team trial their determination by sourcing all of their food from local retailers for the whole of the Olympic season.

The Recycle for your Community campaign office in East London Recycle for your Community is in the midst of Olympic fever. We’re excited about the events in our local boroughs, so we decided to do something to mark the occasion.  As we aren’t Olympic athletes, we chose to set ourselves a slightly less physically-demanding challenge, involving something we can do and are passionate about: wasting less and living more.

Inspired by an intrepid member of sustainability charity The Otesha Project embarking on a month-long plastic fast plastic fast, our team of four at Recycle for your Community thought about some of the issues our residents in East London face: high levels of food and non-recyclable packaging being thrown away at home, alongside a wider loss of community cohesion.

An Olympian Challenge

We wanted to take on a challenge of Olympic proportions: no supermarkets or chain-stores for the duration of the games, just local independent stores and markets.

Why? If all goes to plan, we’re hoping to show that by changing a few habits, us consumers have choices in what food and drink we buy and can ‘vote with their feet’ to support local economies and communities.

Big chains do arguably have their place in a community, providing jobs and opportunities, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of everything else – i.e. ‘as well as’ not ‘instead of’. This challenge is about shopping locally for healthy and fresh produce and doing our bit to support and maintain our communities.

How do supermarkets and chain-stores affect us?

-       The rise in supermarkets and chain stores have directly correlated with a decline of local, independent shops 1 – previously important community hubs

-       You’re more likely to do a big shop and buy in bulk from a supermarket – ok for some generic things, but how much fruit and veg, meat and bakery products do you throw away, that were such a ‘great deal’ at the time? A lot, according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign 2

-       Supermarkets and chains buy in bulk from far and wide, meaning less fresh, local and seasonal produce and more packaging on everything (for transporting food long distances)

 

A big shift

Like the majority of people, we admit that we rely on supermarkets for the weekly shop or just a quick sandwich for lunch, so it’s going to be a complete change of habit for us at Recycle for your Community HQ.

Will it be harder to make more frequent local trips than one big shop in our out-of-town superstores? Can four people working full-time and living in different parts of East and Central London successfully survive without popping to their nearest superstore? Will we get our gold medals?

We’re excited to see what’s out there…

Watch this space and follow us on Twitter @RecycleFYC to see how we get on!

 

Clare Rowley, Sarah Mills, Julia Roebuck and Siddiq Khan

 

 

Technical stuff:

1 Guy C M, (1996), “Corporate strategies in food retailing and their local impacts: a case study of Cardiff” Environment and Planning A 28(9) 1575 – 1602 http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a281575

Cliff Guy, Graham Clarke, Heather Eyre, (2004) “Food retail change and the growth of food deserts: a case study of Cardiff”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 32 Iss: 2, pp.72 – 88 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=857455&show=abstract

2 Love Food Hate Waste campaign http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com/content/facts-about-food-waste-0

 

In common with around 91% of the UK adult population, I own a mobile phone. In fact, I own several; but more on that later. My phone is an unglamorous affair; I’ve had it for about two years and aside from the occasional uncooperative fit that is the wont of modern mobiles, it does more or less what I want it to.

A short while ago I received a call from my mobile network provider to inform me that I was entitled to a free upgrade. Would I like to choose from a selection of shiny new phones, at no cost? I replied that I was happy with my phone, and that it still worked, so thanks but no thanks; and that I would come and find them when my phone had stopped working or been dropped in a pint glass.

Undeterred, the cheery network representative offered another cherry: having looked at my current monthly spend, he had deduced that I could save money by switching to a new contract, with more free minutes and a smaller monthly charge. Again, I replied that I was perfectly happy with my current outlay and terms, so no thanks.

At this point, breeziness turned to incredulity, and I was asked why I did not want either a free phone or to save money; to which responded: if I am happy to use an old phone and to spend more money with you, why is that a problem for you?

I am enough of a technophile not to be immune to the lure of a new phone, especially given the rampant progress made by smartphones in the last couple of years. On the other hand, I already have one spare phone languishing unused; why consign a perfectly working piece of kit to the drawer simply because a newer one is available?

As long ago as the 1930s, the copywriter Earnest Elmo Calkins wrote that advertising – or consumption engineering as he termed it – “must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use”. In other words, advertising creates an artificial need for products; encouraging the procurement of newer versions of items we already own.

The culture of the free mobile phone upgrade is symptomatic of the trend for economic “incentives” to consume more. Epitomised by the classic supermarket “3 for 2” or “buy one, get one free” offers, marketing is geared towards increasing throughput: an obsession with more.

Of course, an economic “incentive” will never be as such. For the mobile network provider, the carrot of a new phone or a cheaper monthly tariff begets the stick of an 18 or 24-month minimum contract. As is usually the case, the webcomic xkcd sums it up nicely:

Part of the problem stems from the obsession with newness. In the same way that the fashion industry churns out regular, seasonal collections, instantly rendering last season’s must-haves old hat (depending on how suggestible you are), the electronics industry works to a schedule of planned obsolescence, each new model containing indispensable – yet curiously, until recently unheard of – features. Those with the “old” model are left to contemplate a choice between an upgrade or, in technological terms, second-class citizenship.

There is an undeniable satisfaction to be had from possessions. A 2011 Defra report into the marketability of second-hand bulky products found that those interviewed reported a pleasure in buying things that are “new and shiny”. Yet there is just as much material satisfaction to be had from old possessions – items that have given loyal service over a period of time – as new ones. (Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than amongst electric guitarists, who will happily pay more money for a new guitar that is artificially aged than for a brand-new one.)

Amongst the possessions that I derive the most pleasure from are my bike, which I had to take a running jump to get on as a 13-year old in 1996; my digital watch, which was a present for my 10th birthday; and the mobile phone (them again) that I use as my work mobile, which is ten years old this year. All of these things have had periods of disuse, but have been pressed into service when their replacements gave out. The upshot: not only reduced consumption and expenditure, but also decluttered garages and drawers. At Waste Watch, when we talk about wasting less, we mean wasting less of anything: in this case not just materials, energy and money, but also potential.

There have been other benefits too. Having an old bike has meant I have learnt a lot about bike maintenance: both because the bike has needed it, and due to a lack of fear of breaking anything. The mindset of looking to use existing possessions (partly – I’m not going to lie here – driven by chronic skintness) has also seen me read books I hadn’t got round to reading, listen properly to albums I had never got into, and finally find a decent recipe for kale.

This appears to be a burgeoning trend: the current economic climate, as well as concerns over the climate itself, has led to a number of recent initiatives prioritising skills, sharing, repair and reuse. Networks such as ecomodo let you lend and borrow objects, skills or spaces; the London Re-use Network finds new homes for unwanted appliances and furniture; and even businesses such as micycle let members use tools and space to wash and tinker with their bikes for free.

In the grand scheme of things, using a comically old mobile phone or repairing an old bike is unlikely to either avert climate change or end global inequality. And you will get the odd funny look. But 428 million mobile phones were sold worldwide in the first quarter of 2011 alone; anything that can be done to stem the constant demand for new possessions, and rebel against the continuous stream of advertising telling us that “new equals good”, can only be a good thing. Placing a value, rather than a stigma, on items that are used and repaired to the end of their lifespans will bring not only environmental but social and long-term economic benefits.

Sadly, by the time I had made this point the chap from the mobile network had long since hung up.

For me it has meant that I have been making clothes last, fixing what’s broken, buying used clothing when possible, buying from retailers whose values are in line with my own, and whose policies are acceptable and transparent.

Most importantly I have reduced my purchases, instead of heading off down the high street for my fix of retail therapy. I have been making my first port of call my own wardrobe! Over the years I have acquired a considerable amount of clothes. It is a treasure shrove of outfits dating back over twenty years. Yes I am bit of a hoarder! Over the last few months I have been rediscovering my clothes.  Hidden gems that due to the tight confines of my wardrobe lay forgotten.

What I cannot find lurking in the back of my wardrobe I seek to borrow from friends and family. Unfortunately, I may have setback the sharing movement as I managed to lose one of my sister’s favourite cardigans, the less said about that the better. So I have been a bit too shame faced to ask to borrow anyone else’s things. I have thankfully discovered that there are a number of commercial websites to assist people like me who are completely rubbish:
Bag Borrow & StealFashionhireFromBagsToRichesRenttherunway,

Girl Meets Dress

Being the hoarder I am has meant that I have struggled with the concept of swapping and swishing my way to a sustainable new wardrobe. I keep saying that I am going to go to a swishing event and I have packed a bag full of clothes to swish. Did I say I had a bag full of clothes? Actually, it was full, now not so much. Every time I pass the bag I retrieve another item of clothing that I am just not ready to give up.  However, if you are able to stop yourself from unpacking your swishing bag here’s a couple avenues you can go down: Swishing SwapstyleClothing Exchange99 DressesBig Wardrobe

I have also been making clothes.  I have dusted off my sewing machine and I am currently making a summer dress. However, I will probably not finish making the dress until the summer of 2015! Regardless, the fact will remain the same, I will have made it and that gives me great pleasure. Even if the seams are not straight and you can see the pulls in the material where I have had to unpick the stitching and sew it all over again.

I actually haven’t been doing much shopping lately but when I do shop, I have been shopping consciously, actively thinking about my purchases, rather than sleepwalking into consumerism. I have been buying less, unfortunately it has not been reflected in my bank balance as shopping more sustainably comes at a price and it is not cheap! However, whenever I baulk at the price of a single pair of knickers costing £12 when a pack of five would cost me the same price! I am reassured by the fact the ecological and social impact of my consumerism is much reduced. Here’s a couple of my favourite websites for getting your fashion fix in a more ethical way:

http://whomadeyourpants.co.uk/

http://www.fashion-conscience.com/

http://www.peopletree.co.uk/

http://www.ascensiononline.com/

I have also been inspired by  http://thatcharitystyle.com/ I have been going into more charity shops to buy second hand clothes or should I say have become a vintage clothing convert!

However, sustainable shopping always makes me question whether consumerism can ever be sustainable – can you shop sustainably or is it an oxymoron? I was recently reading an article about Patagonia is an outdoor clothing company that has been leading the way on sustainability for more than 30 years. Their recent advertising campaign basically asked customers to not buy their products!  “we are greener, better than the others”….. however still to not buy it would be the most sustainable……..”

So maybe the question should not be what is sustainable shopping but is it possible to truly shop sustainably?

 

You may know that the UN’s Rio+20 conference is happening this week. But you may not know that the IAP  (a collaboration between 105 of the world’s leading science academies) have just released a statement ahead of it.

The paper calls upon policy makers to take ‘decisive action’ on population and consumption. It states (with scientific evidence) that both are growing; and without a decline in both we will cause irrecoverable damage to local and global environments and ecosystems. So far, so obvious.

Recommendations on how to deal with what they call ‘two of the most important challenges facing humanity’ is focused largely on ways to limit population growth – better education for young women; better access to family planning programmes; and more consideration given to consumption and population in all government policy making.

Discussion around consumption is related to recommendations that policy makers are better prepared for the consumption demands caused by urbanisation and migration. They also recommend stepping up the process of transferring to sustainable consumption – in this regard; it mostly talks about ‘alternative’ ways of consuming, rather than ways to reduce consume overall.

It is significant progress that the often taboo subjects of consumption and population are being explicitly put on the table at a major international conference. These emerging understandings signify a possibly fruitful opportunity; can those at Rio +20 afford continue to leave it unexplored?

Although they do talk about well-being, the statement is slanted towards the material wellbeing of the poorest and increasing their quality of life (sustainably). Disappointingly, they do not challenge the paradigm that consumption and wellbeing are forever positively related*. They do not make any nod to research suggesting that there is a high price to materialism for the wellbeing of those living in wealthier countries.

An opportunity for Rio+20

Without an exploration of the true relationships between our material aspirations and our wellbeing, progress towards sustainability will continue to be unhelpfully framed as a ‘reigning in’ of our behaviour. Or, involve doing what George Bush Snr memorably said he was unwilling to do in Rio 20 years ago –negotiate on the American way of life. Whether or not people and politicians truly believe that consumption and wellbeing are inextricably linked, a major stumbling block remains. Overcoming fears around de-coupling material consumption from economic growth is a huge challenge. Serious debate of the material wealth = happiness assumption is central to this, it will be interesting to see if it happens at all in Rio. IAP’s statement has not created this nudge; I suspect that – politically – it is a step too far right now, hence the conservatism of their statement.

Fortunately though the door is left open by their final recommendation:

 

To use existing knowledge more effectively and to prioritise research in the natural and social sciences that will provide innovative solutions to the challenges of sustainability.

 

Action-research in the social sciences demonstrating that we can Waste Less and Live More is perhaps one of these priority solutions. At Waste Watch, we will continue to do it, sing and shout about it and collaborate with others who see a positive future.

Guardian Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/14/rio-earth-summit-population-consumption

IAP statement: http://www.interacademies.net/File.aspx?id=19193

*Consumption and wellbeing are related up to a point – we need clothes, food, shelter and a certain degree of mobility. But after our basic needs have been met, there is no guarantee that continuing increases in our consumption will lead to equal increases in our wellbeing.

Waste Watch works to inspire and support people to waste less and live more. As part of this, we work to promote and support sharing and giving across agendas and sectors. We believe that through sharing we can reposition our relationship with ‘stuff’: from needing to buy, own and retain things for ourselves, to creating imaginative spaces and methods to access and share the things we all use. Through sharing we know we can bring local communities together, engage people in local action and enable people to live more sustainably.  For us sharing is a great way of wasting less and living more.

we work to promote and support sharing and giving across agendas and sectors

We are building collaborations with others to raise the profile and cultural acceptance of sharing as a viable model for achieving positive social, environmental and economic benefits across society. We are also looking at how we can support and promote sharing through our existing work. We’re thinking about how the communities we support could use models like Ecomodo or Streetbank to borrow things from one another while getting to know their neighbours. We are working out how the staff we work with in local councils and hospitals could share transport or bikes to help them get around, get together and reduce their carbon footprint. We are identifying how the schools we work with might be able to collaboratively purchase goods and services to enable them to reduce their costs and spend more on the things that matter. Internally, we’ve establishing a sharing circle; we have regular shared lunches; and we share our skills and knowledge through monthly ‘Brainfood’ sessions at lunchtime and in other ways, such as through the free Spanish classes our Education Team Leader gives every Tuesday evening to anyone who wants to take part.

We’re getting involved in National Sharing Day this week. The day is being organised by the People Who Share as part of A Good Week and the Festival of Transition and is a celebration of sharing! On Wednesday 20 June, we will busy promoting, supporting and celebrating sharing in all its forms. Our Education Officer Pamela Kane will be talking about sharing with nursery, reception and year one children in Belleville Primary School in Wandsworth; Tristan Titeux an Eco Furniture Designer will be sharing his knowledge and skills with us in a morning talk; our Sustainability Action Team Coordinator Becca Hall will be promoting bike sharing with staff at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust; and we will hosting a shared lunch for all for the twenty plus charities based in Development House in Old Street.

Find out more about our work at www.wastewatch.org.uk | www.twitter.com/waste_watch | www.wastewatch.org.uk/blog

 

 

To most people giving up the consumption of clothes might not sound like a challenge, but I love shiny new things. I am on a six months challenge to shop more sustainably, but I wonder if I have I set myself up to fail?

I have to say that some of my friends have been less than encouraging.  As one of my friends said to me at the weekend; “I can’t believe that you are actually writing a blog on shopping more sustainably!” Well that’s the whole point really: I am on a journey to learn how to shop sustainably and change the way I shop!

I feel as if I am going on the latest fad diet; the first few weeks you have some easy wins, you are motivated and you lose the weight quickly but eventually you fall back on your old eating habits.

However, as one of my colleagues said some diets do work, but it takes willingness to change and commitment. I see it as lifestyle change, not just a quick fix. Over the next few months I will embed the values that will support a lifestyle change of Becoming Green.

I am building on my bigger than self outlook which is also my mantra for cheeky so-and-sos who accost me, thrusting the latest issue of Stylist under my nose saying that “I have seen something that you would absolutely adore!” or just for good measure dragging me into the shoe shop Office to show me this seasons new shoes. I have to admit that I nearly succumbed.   It was like a scene from Lord of the Rings. I, in the role Gollum, bent crookedly over a pair of gorgeous shoes stroking whilst quietly mumbling to myself repeatedly “It’s mine… my own, my precious.”  It was not good and definitely highlights the high price of materialism!

With less than half an hour left of my lunch hour I rushed back to my desk to google Office’s sustainable credentials. Sweat poured down my neck as I waded through information about Office history, locations and products. With the clock ticking I admitted defeat and I decided to google local kickboxing classes instead.

It is amazing how the sound of my shin smacking against a punch bag could fill me with such joy and quell the desire to shop!

Since that incident I have been rather scared of going shopping in any form and I plan to keep my distance for the next couple of weeks as I build up my reserve of will power, gain a better knowledge of the sustainable shopping market and draw on my altruistic values.

Sustainable fashion is hard work and I wonder whether it’s an oxymoron? With many of the obstructions to consumption removed there’s a prevailing belief that everything needs to be owned. I heard an interesting quote recently “We need to make people realise it not an impossible step to want less and that it is possible to do more with less” Andy Hall – Innovation and Value Creation

I am rediscovering sharing. ‘Can I borrow’ is now regularly featured in my new sustainable vocabulary. The concept is as old as the hills. For example I remember when I was young that I would borrow my sister’s clothes; now I am not saying that it was a completely harmonious and that there were never any arguments as a result of unauthorised borrowing, but the concept is proving a lifesaver for someone who has recently rejoined the dating scene.

I find it frustrating that the sustainability isn’t an integral part to how companies do business; some companies are half hearted in their attempts and it can be difficult to distinguish true commitment to that of green-washing. Reports like this confuse the hell out of me. However, there are number of emerging companies that are 100% committed and once I am strong enough I plan to investigate further.

An Australian friend Sally Hill tweeted us with this interesting piece by Greg Foyster on the ecological consequences of advertising. We highly recommend reading it but want to offer up a response to the question that inevitably follows the identification of a problem: ‘what is to be done about it?’

The article uses the recent phenomenon of the advertising industry advertising itself, as a launch pad to ask two deeper questions. They are usefully related. The first question focuses on the morality of the techniques used by advertisers – is it OK to manipulate human emotions to sell commodities and junk food? The second question asks whether the ad industry can continue to separate itself from any blame attached to the ecological consequences of consumerism? By asking both questions, in one article, it is bringing them together in a way that the Sustainability movement is beginning to do and drastically needs to get better at doing. By doing this, environmentalists can come together with allies in many other sectors to work towards a common goal.

It seems clear to us that consumerism is simultaneously having negative impacts on ecological and human wellbeing. It is a phenomenon that needs to be understood, questioned and, ultimately, reined in if a truly sustainable world is ever going to emerge. Through the ad industry, consumerism is driven by – in the main – the reinforcement of extrinsic values such as status, image and power. This process is followed up by the message that we are lacking in all three and need to do something about it if we want to be accepted by our peers and wider society (which, by the way, we should want to be!) Added to this, as Kasser and colleagues show, the ad industry downplays the value we attach to things like inner harmony, wisdom, helpfulness, equality and mature love. More accurately, it warps our understanding of how to respond to the holding of such ‘intrinsic’ values. For example, if it promotes ‘care for the environment’ to sell us a hybrid car, it also promotes the social status and image benefits that we will also gain by owning such a car. It therefore undermines the much needed reinforcement of intrinsic values, by also reinforcing extrinsic values.

Other examples are more subtle. Ads (not to mention product placement) tell us that junk food will make us intrinsically happy (full up) and popular. For example, we’re told that coca cola is cool and that our peers will think we’re cool if we drink it. ‘Better still’, they tell us, ‘buy a Coke for someone as a way to gain their friendship.’ All we wanted was some energy and some friends.

The examples are endless: mobile phones (to connect and be fashionable); apple laptops (to be wise and popular); and conspicuous donations to charity (to care for others and be popular). Take a look at the Common Cause work on valuesandframes.org to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of reinforcing intrinsic values.

***

Through our work here at Waste Watch we are exploring ways to tackle environmental problems (our traditional domain) by getting to the root of the problem. We’re discovering that our impacts cut across many other areas too. Consumerism and the associated over consumption of resources is close to the root of the problems we are working on, but we felt the need to ask what it is that underpins consumerism and work from there. It seems to be driven by the high prevalence of extrinsic values that are promoted and reinforced through advertising, celebrity culture and an ‘everyone for themselves’ culture. Increasingly, at Waste Watch, we are exploring what influences the values that people and society hold dearest. This is the level we believe that we (as a charity programme and we, as a sustainability movement) need to dig down to make a significant impact. Whether we like it or not, we, as Waste Watch, have an influence on the values of those we engage with. If we are to have an influence, we want that influence to be a positive one. Therefore in the design and delivery of our programmes we are following a core guiding principle; we are ‘working from values’.

As a bare minimum we try not to appeal to (and therefore reinforce) extrinsic values in any of our communications. We also consciously appeal to intrinsic values and are conspicuous in doing it. We do this with pride and are happy to say we care.

At a deeper level we are encouraging those we engage with to question extrinsic values and let go of unhealthy over-obsessions with status, image and power. We are complementing this by helping people to connect, be active, take notice, learn and give in genuinely fulfilling ways that are both socially and environmentally responsible. We have a shorthand for this: Live More, Waste Less.

Through our work programmes we are trying to build the confidence and ability of people to align their actions with their intrinsic values.  The result, we hope, will be lower levels of material consumption as people discover that good life is not met through excessive material consumption.

By ‘working from values’ we do not necessarily talk about ‘the environment’ all of the time, indeed we recognise that we are not merely an environmental charity these days. Through focusing on the root causes of environmental problems we recognise that we can have positive impacts on the wellbeing of communities, schools and businesses as well the people who live, learn and work in them. We are working for the social changes that will bring environmental changes; the environment and society are inextricably linked.

Greg Foyster’s article resonated with us and aligns with our new work programme ‘Revaluing Childhood and Adolescence’. Having recognised the role of the ad industry in shaping and manipulating what we value we have started to engage with it head on. Head of Waste Watch, Tim Burns’ paper on Growing up in a commercial world was published recently and we are teaming up with the authors of ‘Think of me as evil?’ to campaign directly on these issues.

Look out for more events, publications, blog posts and work programmes in the future.

I started working for Waste Watch approximately six months ago and I have been thinking more and more about whether it is possible to reconcile my love of clothes, fashion and shopping, with working for an sustainability charity whose strap line is ‘live more waste less’?

Last week I went to a friend’s birthday drink and I got chatting to a former colleague that I had not seen in ages. We initially talked about her becoming a mother and how her life and values had changed since motherhood.  She asked about my new job. “I believe that you’re working for Waste Watch, an environmental charity, am I right?” She asked me about the work of Waste Watch, what we represent and our projects. As we chatted we got on to a conversation about whether employees should hold or adopt the values of the charity they work for. Can an employee of ASH, (Action on Smoking and Health) be a smoker?

When a new employee starts working for an organisation should they already share the same values of the organisation they are meant to represent, can they work to adopt them or do our values slowly change as a result of the organisational culture around us?

As we chatted I started to question my own values with that of Waste Watch. When I was interviewed for my post as Communications Manager, I was asked about my views on sustainability and the environment. I was very honest that I was interested in the environment and sustainability, which I am, but I was not an expert on the subject. I viewed myself as being ‘light green’ but definitely on a path to ‘Becoming Green’.

While working for Waste Watch I had gone from knowing “there’s a problem” to understanding what the problem is. But, knowing the facts and understanding them is not enough.  For years environmental campaigners have believed that if only people really knew the true nature or full scale of the problem, then they would be galvanised into action. Environmental campaigners have been successful in getting their message out there, but this approach has failed to galvanise people into meaningful action. There is mounting evidence that knowing the facts plays only a partial role in shaping people’s judgment.  The underlying values that people hold seem to play a bigger role in shaping people’s behaviour.

Each of us holds and is influenced by our values. Our values act as a guiding force, shaping our attitudes and behaviour. They are said to determine “our political persuasions; our willingness to participate in political actions; our career choices, our ecological footprints; the amount of resources we use; and our feelings of wellbeing”.

Clothes and fashion have always been a passion of mine. Clothes to me represent an expression of my individuality and I take a lot of pride in looking good.

My passion for clothes can be described as being derived from extrinsic values. Extrinsic values include conformity, image, social recognition, popularity, and preservation of one’s public image.  However, one of the greatest joys of shopping is the social interaction with friends. Wondering around the shops with friends discussing an item of clothing and where you would have the opportunity to wear.

Extrinsic values are associated with lower levels of concern about ‘bigger-than-self’ problems, and lower motivation to adopt behaviours in line with such concern.  Intrinsic values, on the other hand, are associated with concern about bigger-than-self problems, and with corresponding behaviours to help address them.

I never saw my passion for shopping as a problem. I did not have a stack of unopened packages stuffed into cupboards nor had it gotten me into debt. But that did not reflect the true cost of my consumption, that of the cost of making the product and getting it into my hand. I did not reflect on the cost of people in countries such as India, China and Brazil who pay with the loss of their natural resources, loss of clean water, or clean air.

When I told friends that I had gotten a job working for a sustainability charity, I received rather a mixed reaction. For one of my oldest friends, I believe it was her proudest moment of our friendship. It was confirmation that I had taken on board some of the things that she had expressed to me as I dragged her around the shops on a Saturday afternoon. However, my others friends could be divided into two groups. For example, Group A: it made them question their own environmental or should we say non environmental actions. They lived in fear of me judging them for using plastic carrier bags or for shopping at Primark. While Group B wondered how a person who loved to shop and buy clothes as much as I did was going to survive with working for an environmental charity?

The first step to changing something is becoming aware of the consequences of your actions. I have taken that first step now; I need to examine my values and become more conscious of my actions. So I have set myself a challenge for the next six months: I am going to shop for clothes consciously. I plan to replace my love of fast, disposable fashion with swishing and buying nothing that isn’t ethnically sourced or sustainable. As I set myself on this path it will be interesting to find out whether it is the act of buying clothes that had made me happy, or was it the time spent with friends socializing and discovering new ‘must have’ items chatting and sharing time.

I’ll be tweeting my progress @TraceyWhittingh and blogging each month about my experience of shopping more ethnically and sustainably.

I’ll need your help to keep me on the straight and narrow. Please send me your tips, and suggestions.

We ran a Revaluing Food for the Future course for community leaders - people who live in the community and actively wanted to make a difference. Each week, we allowed participants to envision ways that they could make a change and then give them tools and support to make it a reality.

Carla Jones, had an interest in how people interact with their local food landscape. She helped us to put on a free community Walk, Talk, Taste! event in Shepherds Bush, which offered residents a chance to explore the rich array of local food shops that they unknowingly had under their feet.

This is what Carla found out.

Our journey

The walk saw around thirty people set out onto the streets of Hammersmith to explore the local area. As I prepared seed beds for the new growing season over the long Easter weekend I had the chance to reflect on three things I took away with me.

Lesson 1: Build health on a plate

We played a game with string and jumbling up fun to figure out the recommended proportions of the main food groups.

Interactive pie chart game

Interactive pie chart game

The proportions for the pie chart were taken from government guidelines; a good place to start and a springboard for me to look deeper into understanding the importance of fresh and whole foods. This is so pertinent when you consider over 60% of adults in the UK are said to be obese.

Lesson 2: Local food history is rich. And the high street needs supporting

Over the last decades our economy and lives in the UK have undergone big transformations. This hasn’t missed our high streets – most notably in the massive decline of independent food retailers. For instance, there were 10,000 fishmongers on our streets in the 1950’s. In 2000 this had dropped to 2,000. A similar story for butchers and greengrocers which numbered about 45,000 each in the 1950’s, this had fallen to 10,000 each at the turn of the millennium.

Mapping the highstreet

We created transparent images allowing residents to see what the once thriving highstreet looked like.

We witnessed this locally on Goldhawk Road. Local residents are fervently campaigning to protect the street from complete redevelopment as its shops face decline.

Talking to a local business owner

Talking to a local business owner

Talking to a local butcher, John Stenton, we learnt about his commitment to sourcing local and organic meats over his almost 30 years of trading in Brackenbury. He represents the retailers with deep roots and strong support locally that won’t be budged so easily.

Lesson 3: Reconnecting with the origins of my food 

A typical, average, find-me-on-a-street-corner banana costs about 20p. The entire chain of production and trading that brings this fruit to my breakfast bowl was brought to life in a legendary game that morning. Designed by the Otesha Project, the Banana Chain Game prompted me to think about the inequalities built into our food system. The slap in the face for the characters representing the production side of the chain was evident on their expressions when they learnt that 1p of that value had to be shared between them representing the tiny proportion of value that accrues to producers.

Playing the Otesha UK Banana Chain Game

Playing the Otesha UK Banana Chain Game

Straight after, a volunteer from the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association told us about what could be done to reconnect people with food production and distribution chains that are much shorter. And easier to see from start to finish.

Before we’d had a chance to retrace our steps, the morning’s travels were over and we’d uncovered some of the social, environmental and health implications of the food we buy. Thinking about the games, smiles and chats we’d had with shopkeepers, we all drew maps to remember them by… We realised that we’d covered a lot of ground for one spring morning.

I hope that when I’m next out shopping I’ll refer back to these before I just let items drop into my basket.

Food map

Food map remembering the journey