Respect for the Environment
Fair Trade Principle No 10.
We are in the age of ever-increasing environmental awareness. Environmental awareness means to understand the fragile state of the environment and to understand how important it is to protect it. By being environmentally aware, we will find ways to be good stewards of the world’s finite resources and protect these for future generations.
According to Planet Earth Herald these are the 10 most pressing environmental problems:
2. Climate Change
3. Loss of biodiversity
4. Phosphorus and nitrogen cycles
5. Lack of access to clean water
6. Ocean acidification
8. Ozone layer depletion
All of these problems have been caused by us, humans, and only we can fix it. Some negative effects of our actions cannot be undone; such as extinction of certain species of flora and fauna due to deforestation or overfishing. Or even the hole in our Ozone layer caused by our use of chemical products containing CFCs. However, by being aware and taking action now, we can hopefully preserve the environment for our children.
The fair trade movement recognises the need to respect the environment. Although it is the 10th principle of fair trade, it doesn’t mean it is of least importance. Fair trade companies such as ours, take this obligation seriously. Not only do we have an Environmental Policy in place, we take practical action to ensure we are as green and eco-friendly as possible. Here are some steps you can take too:
1. Re-use all cartons, paper packaging & plastic packaging.
It takes lots of trees to produce paper and cardboard. It takes a lot of chemicals to produce plastic. Most types of plastic are not bio-degradable, meaning they are rarely consumed by bacteria and don’t decompose like most organic material. When we chuck plastic in our bins, it goes to landfill where it sits in the soil for years and years. It just doesn’t break down. Where plastic finds itself at the side of roads or the oceans, animals and fish eat them. The plastic sits in their gut or throat and stops them digesting foods. Eventually, the animals die. I have seen sickly thin cows at the side of the roads in Asia chewing on plastic bags. So by re-using our plastic bags, we stop them polluting the earth in landfill and we reduce the use of chemicals in the production of new ones.
Similarly, when we re-use cardboard and paper, we reduce the need for energy used in producing new ones, reduce the need to cut down new trees, reduce deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats and water catchment areas. If you run commercial premises, it will also cut down your waste collection charges. At our warehouse, we use all inbound carton, plastic and paper when packing outgoing parcels. Paper gets shredded in-house, to be used as padding in our parcels. Cartons are re-used as is and when running low, more cartons are donated to us from local businesses.
2. RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE
Whatever cannot be re-used, should be recycled in the appropriate manner. At home, we have various coloured bins supplied by our local authority. It’s amazing how many people in England find it “too much hassle” to recycle or believe that “it’s all going to the same place anyway”. You can check at a local recycling centre or call your Council to verify that it’s all being recycled appropriately. When people understand how important it is to look after the environment, they will find a way to overcome any hassle.
At our warehouse, we have recycling bins for this purpose. However, very little goes into the bins once we re-use most materials.
3. Conserve energy
The energy industry is a very polluting industry. According to Energy UK, most of the UK’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, in the form of natural gas (30% in 2015) and coal (23%). Natural gas and coal extraction, like most mining activities, is hugely polluting. Vast amounts of water and chemicals are used in the mining process. Further, using coal to produce electricity produces higher amounts of carbon emissions than any other form of electricity generation. Carbon emissions means the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The rising levels of greenhouse gases by human activity is the main cause of climate change and global warming. Climate change leads to rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions, altered habitats, water scarcity and health issues (http://www.environmentlaw.org.uk/).
So we should try to reduce our use of energy AND our reliance on fossil fuels.
At home and at the warehouse, we make sure all lights and electrical items are off when not in use. “Standby” mode is no good. They have to be switched off at the plug. Heating is regulated with the use of thermostats to ensure heating is on for a few hours in the day only when people will be around. There’s no need to heat an empty house. It’s vital to ensure our house/premises is insulated to prevent loss of heat: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, double-glazed windows etc.
Where possible, using renewable energy is the way forward: solar panels, wind-turbines, ground source pumps and so on. It’s a shame that the UK government has reduced the feed in tariff over the years (ie. the payment you get when generating your own energy and sending the surplus to the National Grid). Whilst the upfront costs of solar panels has dropped, the drop in feed in tariffs means it will take longer (up to 20 – 25 years) to repay the cost of the solar panels. We’ve looked into installing solar panels at home but since we don’t tend to stay in a house more than 5 years, it’s difficult to commit long-term to solar panels. I hope the government and us as a nation will see renewable energy as the way of the future and invest more in it.
4. Reduce use of chemicals in Products
As a business, we choose to make products that use more natural fibres and materials. Take our candles for example. We choose to make soy/beeswax candles. Despite it being harder and more expensive to make the candles, we choose to use natural waxes. Using paraffin (a petroleum based wax) would make life easier because it holds scent and form more easily than soy wax. But paraffin wax releases toxic fumes into your home, your lungs and the atmosphere.
Businesses make what consumers want. As consumers, we should be more aware of the materials and production processes behind the products we buy and bring to our homes. We should demand for more environmentally-sound products, and then businesses will follow. It’s a sad reality that it’s the poor in developing countries that bear the brunt of our Western consumerism. Countries like Bangladesh, China, India manufacture most of our products, which means they have all of the manufacturing waste of our products: chemical dyes washing into water sources, chemicals ingested into the worker’s bodies from inadequate protective clothing, waste materials going to landfill, higher use of energy in factories, higher pollution and higher greenhouse gas emissions into their atmospheres.
We can all take the small steps mentioned above to help the environment. I welcome any suggestions or examples of how you help the environment.
In my next blog post, I would like to show you how to assess your carbon footprint. In layman’s terms, you will see how your day-today activities translate into the greenhouse gases being released into the air and what you can do to offset it.
Founder, Little Trove