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I found Paavo’s lecture on his project to be very interesting and it was the theme of the intrinsic value held within natural spaces that resonated most with me. As a Canadian, I am privileged to live in a country where open and wild spaces are in abundance. Similar to Finland, the vast majority of the country is sparsely or completely uninhabited. Yet due to industry and “resource” extraction, natural areas are being exploited and forever changed.

Waiting for the start of lecture I happened to find an opinion post entitled “Antarctica: The planet’s imagination.” Coincidentally this article happened to be related to the lecture and looked to explain what it was about the protection of our wild and natural places that was so intrinsically valuable. Out of an inability to recreate the same meaning in my own words, and laziness, I will share large parts of the article by Lucy Bledsoe that I found particularly relevant:

“I went to Antarctica – the biggest, wildest, coldest, most intense wilderness of all – to find answers to that question, and also to the bigger question, why should wilderness exist at all?”

“At a time when people are desperate for oil for energy, water to drink and to nourish crops, minerals to make our mobile phones and computers, wood to build our houses, why would we leave vast tracts of land untouched, unused, just sitting there? It is a question I have deep feelings about but have difficulty articulating rational reasons why wilderness, including Antarctica, should be allowed to exist. When I read the reasons others give, articulate writers and scientists, I know they are right, and I can follow their arguments, but none of these answers are ones I can say to the guy sitting next to me on an airplane who just wants to drive his car and heat his house. Never mind the politicians who need not just simple and convincing answers, but ones that will sway them away from their corporate sponsors.”

“The answer has something to do with the value in being lost. Being lost is the antithesis of home. The relationship between the two is inextricable, a philosophical paradox. You cannot find home if you do not experience the unknown, and geographically, the unknown is wilderness.”

“Being lost is an extraordinary opportunity. Being lost is the heart of imagination. And imagination is the fodder of all creative endeavours, all new ideas.”

“Why do we need wilderness?  How can people justify putting it aside – these vast tracts of land that are not being used in any calculable way? We are seeing how the “emptiness” is necessary. How our knowledge of ourselves depends upon it. How places like Antarctica and the Arctic actually drive the entire planet’s climate.”

“The raw, uncontaminated continent speaks to something pure and vital in humanity. The apparent blankness might instead be called openness. We do not need to assign a purpose to every single square inch of the planet. We do need imagination, vast areas of space where ideas and creativity and solutions can foment. Antarctica represents the frontier of imagination, the gorgeous unknown.”

I found this articulation of the intrinsic value of nature to be particularly beautifully written and relevant.   Overall, a great argument for non-use. I do not have much to add but felt that this was something relevant and worth sharing.

The full article can be found:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/2013416123436877504.html

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Wednesday’s discussion on the changing nature of Sustainability Marketing and the increased importance of a wide variety of actors I was reminded very much of discussions I have had in some of my courses in political science regarding the influence the public and NGO’s can have on state action. These discussions often reflected many of the issues and complexities that our class has worked through in the ways to influence companies to create change.

One of the first issues that I found to exist in both context was the issue of disconnect between what an organization or government claims to do and what is really done. The issue of symbolic or marginal changes being made to appease without making real change is a real issue for those involved in creating real meaningful change. In the context of our course this issue often took on the term of Green Washing. In the political science context it was argued that an informed, democratic society could overcome this type of “political greenwashing.” From this conclusion it may be argued that an informed consumer who is willing to “vote” with his/her money should be able to affect real and lasting change.

The interconnectedness of society that the internet provides is another area that has implications for both politics and business. The diffusion of information to a wide audience at limited costs lead to the ability for society to mobilize and get behind issues. This has been represented as a clear avenue for change in both political and business senses. Related to this the fact that both governments and businesses have to be responsive to an ever growing number of different people and groups. The fact that millions of people seeking change in areas such as Egypt were able to connect with each other, share experiences and organize protests have massively changed the ways in which a state must interact with its citizenry. The true can be said about industry and business. Previously marginalized members of the process, such as a cocoa producer in the Congo or factory worker in China are increasingly given a voice through the internet.

Upon reflecting on the similarities between politics and business with regards to how change can occur, I am drawn to conclude on how similar these two fields can be. From this I am reminded of the definition of politics put forward by one of my professors: Politics is the study of associations; the ways in which we organize and interact. I recognize this is extremely broad and as someone who is pre-disposed to view things politically maybe a little self-serving. However having said this, I think it does benefit us to be able to take positive practices from one area and apply them elsewhere.

Monday’s lecture on business models raised many questions about ideologies and the current dominant ideologies that exist within business. I felt that the class discussion on the neoclassical business model took a relatively black and white approach to the whole issue that I’m not sure I agree with. Although I have no doubt that many aspects of the current neoclassical system have detrimental societal impacts. Such as the take-make-waste ideology and the fact that society; and often less affluent society, is left to deal with the externalities of mass production and consumption. Having said this I don’t think that a sustainable business model can not function within the current order.

 

This I think is due to the fact that although a neoclassical order in the business environment may reward take-make-waste businesses, they are not a necessity. As an ideology it is far more open to interpretation and flexibility. I think that this is evident in the fact that many organizations who make decisions that put forward sustainable business models and pursue other ends from their operations. It may be a slower process for these type of organizations to exist within the system but I would like to believe that they are becoming more prevalent. I would also like to think that even the “pretenders” such as the often cited H&M; while may not be sustainable in very many senses of the word, will help to move the current paradigm in a more sustainable direction. I think they serve this function due to the fact that the more organizations that claim to be sustainable, the more it will be expected and the norm. The more the environment expects sustainability, the more companies will have to adapt(hopefully in an honest and committed manner).

 

Overall, I don’t think that the system as it is matters nearly as much as the discussion in class made it out to. There is a wide variety of possibilities within the system and on top of this the system in also constantly in flux changing to reflect the changes within society.

When reflecting on the lecture on convenience the I was particularly interested in the contrast provided by the example of Altieri’s fashion line that is only available certain times of the year and in odd locations and the idea of convenience. However inconvenient this may make the buying of his clothes, customers still are interested and I believe that the arduous process may even make the clothing more desirable for some.

Drawing on some of my own experiences I think that in many cases there is a willingness of consumers to forgo convenience in consumption in order to gain an experience. A few years ago a bought a used record player. Between searching for repair parts and LPs I have spent a considerable amount of time and money. I can hardly argue that I did all of this to listen to music. I own speakers that connect wirelessly to my computer which has access to a pretty much limitless supply of music thanks to the internet. So if not simply to listen to music, then why? I would say for myself it was the experience and the fact that it was inconvenient that made it something worth doing. I feel like these experiences increase my enjoyment of the music beyond what the quality differences between vinyl and mp3 would justify. I feel the same about shopping at local markets. I have no doubt that the quality of locally grown food is superior to what you get at chain grocery stores but I think it is partially the fact that I had to spend the extra time and effort to purchase locally grown food that adds to my enjoyment of it.

I would say that others who shop at organic retailers, eco friendly stores or who search for certain products due to their sustainable attributes do so in part for the experience of searching or buying. It does not matter that it is not as readily available and I would say that some level of inconvenience may lead to a customers positive buying experience in relation to certain products. I understand that this does not apply to all products. No matter how eco-friendly laundry detergent may be, if it is not in front of me at the nearest supermarket, chances are I will never consider it. However I believe there is a place for inconvenient products among consumers where there is at least some level of dissonance with the current model of mass consumption.

I found Inka’s guest lecture on Globe Hope and their experiences to be very interesting. The point that I found to be most interesting was the importance of stories in their marketing and communicating with their customers. Connecting through stories seems central to its communications. It seems that Globe Hope’s communication strategy is becoming increasingly relevant in sustainability marketing and marketing of regular products in general. I think that this is due to the wide variety of consumer options making it so companies can only really differentiate themselves in less tangible ways.

This kind of marketing would seem to fill a very important roll of identity creation that Angelina had mentioned was a major roll of consumption. The more relevant and meaningful the story that marketing or a product can tell the greater personal value an individual will place on that product. It also allows the consumer to get involved and use their imagination to place themselves somewhere within these stories. At Globe Hope you are not buying a bag but you are buying a piece of a sail from a boat that is now a bag. Inevitably the consumer will be drawn into the story of where that boat may have been, a storm that it sailed through, a white sand beach it took people to. Suddenly the bag is not just a bag but a memory and a story. That imagined adventure on the sea becomes part of your perception of the bag.

The involved story telling seems to me to be a very powerful tool and one of the biggest opportunities for sustainability marketing. After Angelina’s lectures on consumer behavior we know that consumers are not necessarily rational so if you can create a story which the consumer either places themselves in or at least partially creates themselves, their attachment to the product will be so much more real as it is now in some ways partially something of their creation. Seems that in a market with limitless similar products, it is the one that the consumer feels connected to that will be able to differentiate itself.

Following last week’s lecture on customer cost I was reminded of “The Story of Stuff” video and its assertion that the costs that we as consumers see is far from the societal costs. It would seem to me that there is somewhere that “costs” are grossly underestimated by both firms and consumers. In many ways I would argue it is the flawed system of attributing cost that leads to over-consumption and many of the resource and environmental issues that follow.

Efforts like governmental regulations, ISO regulations and certifications help to internalize some of the previously unrecognized societal costs. With regards to sustainability I don’t think we go far enough. At least in the sense that sustainability means that future generations will be able to maintain the current consumer society. I think that there exists too much complexity and within this an inherent inability to understand all the costs that current production or consumption causes. Unrecognized costs exist in both the present and in the long-run making it even harder to fully grasp the consequences and what may be a “sustainable cost” for something like a litre of gasoline. Such a cost would have to take into account associated costs of future scarcity, costs associated with climate change, environmental degradation, adverse health effects due to pollution and so on. I recognize that such a system of pricing is completely unreasonable due to the inability to fully recognize the consequences of any given action, especially in the long term. However, if it was possible to present value future costs and include them in the costs of products how might this lead to truly sustainable consumption?

Following the lecture on greenwashing I was unsure of one of the listed sins. The lesser of two evils seemed to be a bit too subjective to be used to judge companies communication. With this in mind I checked the Terra Choice website to see if they gave greater clarification on what exactly they defined this “sin” to be, and it was as follows:

 

“committed by claims that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Organic cigarettes might be an example of this category, as might be fuel efficient sport-utility vehicles.”

 

After looking at some of their examples I still think including it in their report is problematic. Personally I feel like it fails to address the problem of misleading the customer in the way that the others do. If the Hummer add says that the vehicle is eco-friendly, sure that’s a lie and should be seen as one. But for it to list it’s fuel economy and say that this model consumes less, is hardly lying to the consumers. I would tend to agree that SUVs are not green regardless of the fuel consumption however this hardly constitutes as greenwashing from my understanding. Also, labeling Hummer as Greenwashing becomes irrelevant if you look at the fact that it is unlikely that they were targeting the “eco-consumer” so Terra Choice and their followers will have little ability to change either their marketing communications or their overall sustainability. A Greenwashing label really only holds value to those companies that want to be green or at least want eco-consumers to buy their products.

 

I think Terra Choice has too much freedom to apply their own biases and ideals when it comes to this sin. Even though I would tend to agree with them and believe their opinion should be voiced. I think that this report is not the right place. From my reading the report is presented as a factually based report that tries to point out deliberately misleading or false advertising. From my opinion there was nothing misleading about Hummer’s ad in terms of them communicating that they are eco-conscious or anything like that. I think the best strategy to address these categories of products that are on the whole bad would be in a separate report. To address in a more holistic manner the failings of this product category and give consumers advice on other options would be more meaningful.