Why We Need Sustainable Production and Consumption Right Now

If there’s one thing that we all know, it’s that our planets resources are limited. Sure, a lot of our resources are considered renewable, but those resources can only renew so fast. According to the United Nations (UN), if our current population growth rate stays the same and we don’t change how we consume resources, we’re going to need 3 Earths worth of resources to sustain the 9.6 billion people on this planet in 2050! This is a frightening statistic, and frankly, it should scare you. While we’ve been busy expanding, producing, and consuming, we’ve chosen to neglect the very place that has made that possible – the environment. Not only have we been ravaging forests, rivers, and the soil like they’ll always been there, but we’ve left a path of destruction, pollution, and overall negligence in their place. This practice is devastating not only to our planet, but to the human and non-human animals that call it home.

So what? We know that this is happening across the globe, but what can we do about it? How do we solve this problem? Where do we start?

These are all questions that many people, including us at Produce Mate, are asking themselves every day. Addressing this issue is not only essential to guarantee the possibility of future generations surviving, but also to addressing climate change and other social issues as well. Luckily for us, the United Nations created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that outline a framework for many issues, sustainable production and consumption being one of them.

While it may not be a starting point, the UN offers us several targets to work towards for this goal within the next decade. Some of these include creating a better management of chemicals and their end of life disposal, managing and using our natural resources more efficiently, reducing waste that is created through food, production, and improper disposal, and improving education surrounding the issue. All of these provide us with a goal to reach for, all we have to do is get started.

Before getting started there is one thing that we have to understand as we address this issue. We CANNOT do this alone or separately. This means that we also cannot pin the responsibility of the problem on one party or another. We don’t have the time to wait and argue such things, our world is on fire and we have to do something about it. This has to be a unified effort from all countries and at all levels of society. There is a wonderful power in large numbers. A unified front against climate change, irresponsible consumption and production, and social issues offers us the ability to create solutions we could’ve never thought of alone.

Working Together

Luckily, the first step to creating meaningful change is exactly what I just described. Working together and creating collaborative work is the best way we can start to address this issue. When working in teams, we have the opportunity to innovate, discuss, and build things that bring in a large array of perspectives and create more exhaustive solutions. The best part of all of this is that in order to work in teams, you have to understand your team members. When you understand those that you are working with, even if they come from a very different background, you can begin to see the effects you would have otherwise missed.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Most of us are aware of the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but the true extent of it has been lost in the mass marketing of the phrase. When we say that phrase, we should also be aware that that’s the order we should do it in as well. Reduction of our consumption and waste is the most important and most impactful of all three. If we can reduce how much we’re using in the first place, then the problem of over consumption already begins to diminish. This reduction also refers to the reduction of natural resources that we harvest.

Reusing is the next most useful thing that you can do. Finding another use for those old t-shirts, plastic bags, and glass jars, you can help to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and give those products a longer life! Repurposing items has become super popular in mainstream media, which means you can find a new purpose for almost any everyday item. Reusing also serves a larger purpose at the industry level as well. Right now, businesses often view the byproducts of their production as wastes. But what if we found a way to make those wastes useful. Several businesses have found ways to turn wastes into a resource, not only adding value to the supply chain, but also reducing waste as well. A simple example of this is breweries selling their spent grains from the brewing process to cattle farmers as feed. This not only adds value to the brewery, but the farmers often get the spent grains for cheaper than other feed, offering a benefit to both groups. There is so much opportunity for production where we use the “wastes” as an input for another business, thereby reducing our waste.

Recycling is the final part of this trifecta and often the aspect that is pushed the most. There is so much potential for recycling, but the sad truth is that only around 8.4% of waste actually gets recycled in the US. This can be for a number of reasons from poor infrastructure to poor education on the matter. When our previous big solution of recycling falls short, what do we do? Well in Indonesia, the city of Surabaya introduced a program where citizens could bring in 5 plastic bottles for a free bus pass. This fantastic program is great because it not only encourages people to recycle, but it also adds value to the lives of people in multiple ways. Not only are they getting free transportation, but they’re also helping to improve the environment and the oceans that they depend on for livelihood. This is just one of the many innovations that can lead us to a brighter tomorrow.

Businesses Creating Change

While it may seem difficult to see the bright side of things when it feels like the world is crumbling beneath our feet, there are some businesses that offer hope. Interface is a carpet manufacturer that has taken massive strides to create change in their production and consumption. Within the last two decades, Interface has made massive changes to their supply chain that has resulted in the company selling only carbon neutral flooring. This means that throughout the entire process of harvesting materials, transportation, and manufacturing, that the tiles do not add any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Interface took it another step further and decided to make a carbon sequestering floor tile as well. Through the use of recycled and bio-based materials, they were able to create a floor tile that over the course of its lifetime, ends up taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than it puts into it. This is a massive stride in this industry as they have shown everyone else that it is possible to be super sustainable and to make a profit. The final things that’s amazing about the company is that they have done exactly what I mentioned about making a waste product into a resource. The company decided that seeing carbon as the enemy was not the way to sustainability, so they found a way to turn it into a resource that they can add into the floor tiles.

At Produce Mate, it is our goal to make our best effort to be as sustainable as we can. This means that we have created a baseline life cycle assessment (LCA) for out Produce Mate mats that looks at the environmental impact of our product. In the future, it is our goal to make our mats as environmentally friendly as possible, so that we can do our job to not only help reduce food waste, but to also create a product that is as ecofriendly as possible. Our mats and our company will only get better at what we do, and we hope to one day be leaders in the world of food waste so that we can guide others to a world of sustainable consumption and production especially within food waste!

We are now in the age of necessary change. Based on the article/video “How America can leave fossil fuels behind” created by Vox, we have missed our chance to slow climate change through small actions such as a carbon tax or slight change in operations. We now need to have a mobilization similar to that of WWII when all industry was shifted towards the war effort. This time, it’s a fight for our environment.  We can no longer idle by hoping that incremental changes will save us. It’s time for unprecedented action from our governments, corporations, and individuals. If there’s one thing that is true with this effort, it’s that we can’t do it alone. We all have a responsibility to the environment, and the time has come to live up to that responsibility.

Go out, learn, talk, share, and make the changes you want to see in the world. All it takes is one domino falling over to create a chain reaction! 

COVID-19 and Climate Change

For many of us, right now is a strange time to live in. A few weeks ago, we were working, going to school, or just overall carrying on with our lives as normal. As COVID-19 has taken the world by storm we are left dealing with an unprecedented pandemic. Strategies like social distancing are being used to help flatten the curve and prevent overwhelming hospitals. Right now, the world is trying to do as much as it can to solve this problem that affects us all.

Seeing all of this effort put towards solving a problem that affects everyone has made me realize one big thing: COVID-19 and climate change are not too different. Whether it relates to those in charge of making decisions, the scope, or simply the results we see from the action, these two problems have a lot in common.

We’ve seen in the last few months a number of examples of how we as humans are impacting the world. COVID-19 resulted in China’s greenhouse gasses dropping by 25%, the Venice Canals being clear again with wildlife returning, and Germany being able to reach their 2030 energy goals early. All of these show that our unprecedented reduction of pollution, albeit related to the virus, can have drastic changes on our environment.

There is one big difference between these two issues, however. COVID-19 is short-term issue, climate change is a long-term and much larger problem. We have companies pumping pollution into the environment like its nothing, destroying the Amazon Rainforest, and a number of climate refugees who have been displaced due to recent climate changes. All of these are occurring without much inclination of ceasing. The lack of efforts to solve these issues shows how many minds around the world operate on the “me me me” mindset. People don’t seem to care about climate change because, as of right now, they are not the ones who are affected by it. COVID-19 has incited action among people around the globe because it is an immediate threat to their health and livelihood. When people are not being directly affected by climate change, the lack of effort to fix it explains itself.

Leaders are saying that once the virus passes that society will go back to “business as usual” or the way things were before. The problem is, things can’t go back to how they were before. We’ve seen now that 1) we can reduce emissions in a reasonable amount of time and it will benefit the environment, 2) some of our essential workers and businesses are some of the worst paid, 3) living wages and health care for all have a much higher importance than politicians want us to think. Overall, we have the opportunity to change how see business, people, and the environment for the better. We are at a turning point in society where we need to take charge, demand change, and create a world that we can all live in more equally.