Sustainability requires restraint

April 19th, 2011 by Ed Gillespie

There I was, kicking back in my Edun “natural indigo” organic jeans (£163), sipping on an icy cold glass of Fleury vintage organic champagne (£56 a bottle), having taken my new Porsche 918 hybrid supercar (£524,000) for a spin, when I started pondering where my next holiday might be.

Would it be the languid lagoons of Cousine Island in the Seychelles, which boasts its own on-site ecologist? Or perhaps the Hacienda Tres Rios in Mexico with its philosophy of “intelligent and responsible use of our ecosystems and natural resources”?

Organic produce, hybrid cars, eco-tourism resorts, ethical fashion – what could be finer than living such a fantastic, indulgent “champagne environmentalist” existence?

But while the explosive growth in “eco-lifestyle” markets may seem good, in reality it is a perpetuation of the consumerist economic model that has largely got us into our current mess.

The green scene is littered with compromised, hypocritical celebrities.

Poor Prince Charles preaches and pontificates about harmony and simplicity, then ties himself in masochistic bondage knots of inconsistency by spending £100k on a bio-fuelled train tour to promote cycling.

Famous frequent fliers abound, from Coldplay’s Chris Martin – who opined about global warming in song then racked up a personal carbon footprint massively bigger than the average Brit – to Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler, who flew her entourage (including hairdresser) by private jet from New York to Washington so she could go to a party.

Most brilliantly, John Travolta encourages us all to “do our bit for climate change” while owning five private jets.

As with the pejorative “champagne socialists”, the message is very much “do as we say, not as we do’.

Like the highly discredited theory of “trickle-down” economics, there is a belief that this “eco-leadership” will somehow percolate into our collective consciousness and create demand for environmental goods and services at all levels of the economy.

But this is missing the point.

We fret about the environmental implications of global population growth in the belief that it is the fertility of our fellows in the developing world that is at the root of our resource problems.

But this is a buck-passing, mean-spirited attempt at alleviating our own consumptive guilt.

As studies have demonstrated, the richest 500 million people on the planet (about 7% of global population, and yes that includes all of us Brits) create 50% of global carbon emissions, while the poorest 50% create just 7%.

So when we ask ourselves the question: “how will we live?”, the answer is fairly obvious: more simply and more frugally.

Much of the nonsense written about green lifestyles is laughable, as if we can all carry on as we are, as long as we’re all buying organic, fair trade and ethical products.

The real answer is that less really is more, and while the champagne environmentalists can lecture on how fantastic their sustainable lifestyle is as they throw another log from daddy’s woodland into the stove or go wild foraging on the family estate, that’s not going to mean much for the 80% of people who live in cities.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s vital that we promote a sense of positive hope, that life can be better for all of us when lived more sustainably.

Its just that the “yes, you can have it all” mentality of some environmentalists is not just hypocritical, but potentially deceitful and distracting.

I think the real fizz and excitement in sustainability is to be found where lifestyles and business models are being radically transformed.

The Transition Network and the collaborative consumption movement.

The high-end eco-products and aspirational lifestyles that alter our footprints by incremental percentage changes lull us into false security about dealing with the problem of climate change.

The environmental lifestyle champagne has definitely gone flat.


Published on Sustainable Guernsey with permission from Ed Gillespie who is co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications.  His article appeared originally in The Guardian on 19 April 2011.

1 Response to “Sustainability requires restraint”

  1. tom

    Just found this website, very interesting and always good to see someone highlighting our celebrity green hypocrites!

    Ms Styler & Mr Sting particularly smug……….

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