Greening or Green Washing Gucci!

Gucci's Green Range

My initial reaction to the launch of the Gucci ‘zero-deforestation’ handbag collection was a combination of disbelief and suppressed excitement. Excitement… if I saved enough I could possibly buy myself an awesome bag that is sustainably produced. Disbelief… nothing is ever as green as it seems, intentionally or unintentionally.

One of the biggest “issues” in my life is trying to balance my love for pretty-blingy-fashiony- baubles and my need to be sustainable and minimize my impact on nature…. This is not an easy issue to overcome… however, I try to not fall for the pretty things that the world throws my way by buying long-lasting classic items of clothing that are sustainably and equitably produced etc. Unfortunately, as we already know labels and greening campaigns etc are often nothing more than green wash and marketing campaigns that have little sustainable substance and tend to complicate matters.
So I set out to determine whether I could buy a bag from Gucci’s Green range without negatively impacting my ecocred.

On the plus side the range;
•Is made from zero deforestation-certified Amazon natural calf-skin leather hand-and originating in Brazil
•Is crafted with craftsmanship respecting important environmental issues such as traceability and anti-deforestation.
•Involves Gucci pledging to donate 50,000 euros to the National Wildlife Federation, an organization that works to promote sustainable, ecologically-sourced Brazilian leather.
•Only organic cotton is used in the construction of the bag inners.

On the negative side:
•There is no (know) independent non-fashion industry related audit or traceability process to prove that the leather is in fact Zero deforestation-certified. Each handbag comes with a “passport” that provides the history of the product’s supply chain going back to the ranch that produced the leather. There is no evidence to suggest that the passport is audited by a reputable organization etc
•We know that organic cotton is not necessarily good for the environment due to production processes, and agricultural practices including child labour, large water footprints and mono-culture etc (See previous ecocred articles on organic cotton and Victoria’s (not very angelic) Secret and the Levis article.)

So where does that leave me and my attraction to shiny-fashiony baubles?

Well… I like the idea and concept and applaud the effort. I would however like to see a more integrated and holistic approach to the marketing of the range of bags that discloses the fact that certain aspects of the bag may not be as sustainably produced as initially thought, such as the supposedly organic cotton. My reasoning behind this is that by being honest about the challenges that we face in creating totally green and sustainable products we are in fact increasing the knowledge of consumers and also making people realize that is it not a simple thing to produce 100% sustainable and equitable products. A product having some sustainably sourced and produced components does not comprise a sustainable product, if other unsustainably sourced components form part of the same product. Such knowledge could help consumers move to more sustainable consumption patterns and also better understand the complexities and challenges related to enabling a transformation to sustainable production and a sustainable economy.
Maybe, Gucci need to disclose the not so 100% greenness of the bag and use the opportunity to show how they intend to and hopefully eventually get to the point when they can truly say that they have a range of bags that is truly green. This would in my humble opinion be a more honest and credible and sustainable way of marketing the Gucci Green range.

So in conclusion, yes I would like a Gucci bag, though, I think I need to wait and save up for the bag as well as to see if the bag is in fact as green as all the hype!

References and additional reading
Ecocred Victorias Secret Article
Monga Bay
Luxury insider
Gucci Green Carpet challenge
Ecocred Levis article

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Earth Hour 2013: Try And Make Your Earth Hour Action Really Sustainable ….

It’s been a year since Earth Hour 2012 and I really hope that whatever it was that you did for Earth Hour last year has made a meaningful difference to the Earth and to your Ecocred.

My view on Earth Hour hasn’t changed in the last year, click here for my 2012 post on the subject.

There have been quite a few similar blog and news articles with similar thoughts on the Earth Hour debate. This is positive and I guess points to the fact that people are beginning to understand that we should be making sustainable and longterm Earth Saving commitments and not commitments that comprise primarily of greenwash, feel good, short term actions. So …. if you do decide to do something for Earth Hour try and commit to making your Earth Hour action something long term sustainable and not greenwash! That in my opinion would be the best thing to do to make Earth Hour really make a difference!

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Seafood: Fraud, Mis-labeling and Laundering.

Do you know what seafood you are eating?
http://www.ecowatch.org

Many of us eat seafood, because we like the taste, for religious or cultural reasons, and or for health related reasons; high in omega fatty acids, healthier than red meat etc. I particularly enjoy good seafood paella, a platter of sashimi or a plate of fish and chips. However, in order to ensure that the seafood that I eat is sustainable and healthy, I always try to ensure that the fish I eat is local and caught or farmed in a sustainable and ethical manner. In this way I also try to minimize the chance that the fish I eat is not full of pollutants and heavy metals.

I am often “that” person who while at a meal or while out shopping quizzes the wait staff or manager about the origin of the fish on offer. Sometimes the discussion is informative and helpful but very often I get blank looks and end up having to explain the importance of eating local, ethical and sustainable, to someone who is generally looking at me like I am a crazy person and thinking to themselves that I should just “get on with it and make a decision!”

Fortunately, in the last few years the various stakeholders within the biodiversity and seafood sector have tried to educate the public about sustainable seafood consumption and how to choose seafood that is healthy without becoming a contributor to fishery collapse and loss of biodiversity.

These education measures have taken the form of outreach programs, licensing and quota systems, DNA testing, cell phone apps, pocket guides, websites aimed at preventing  the consumption of seafood that is unsafe for consumption or the consumption of species that are  on their way to becoming extinct or endangered. This has made my dining and seafood shopping experience a bit easier and calmer.

However, I recently came across an article that mentioned seafood fraud and seafood laundering, that sent me into a bit of a panic. I had never actually though of seafood fraud and seafood laundering ever having anything to do with each other let alone having anything to do with me.

“Regardless of the reason, seafood fraud is illegal and can have serious consequences for fish, fishermen, fishmongers, and fish-eaters.” (www.fishwatch.gov).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/oshadavidson/2011/05/26/dna-tests-show-fraud-in-seafood-labeling-is-widespread/

Popular fish and their frauds (from “Bait and Switch,” Oceana). Correct answers are : 1. Fish on the left is Nile perch. 2. Right is mako shark. 3. Right is rockfish. 4. Left is farmed Atlantic salmon.

Seafood laundering occurs when seafood and seafood products are laundered through a third-party to avoid duties and licenses and increase catches and profits. Such laundered seafood enters the market illegally and results in mislabeled seafood, seafood fraud, and ecosystem collapse and resource depletion. Seafood fraud also occurs when farmed, important or endangered seafood is labeled as sustainably sourced and or wild seafood. Seafood fraud can happen at each step of the supply chain – the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging phase. Seafood fraud occurs “for a variety of reasons, from simple misunderstandings or lack of information to blatantly deceiving consumers in order to increase profits, or even worse, laundering illegally harvested seafood (http://oceana.org).

Seafood fraud not only causes the collapse of fisheries which would in turn affect our dietary choices and make dining out or grocery shopping  that much more stressful, but, seafood fraud also has significant impacts such as;

  • Impacts on natural systems: The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the fact that consumers may be misled about the nature and status of fish stocks and the condition of the marine environment due to mis-labeling, which maintains the appearance of a steady supply of popular fish species despite severe overfishing. This result in the general public is being unaware that the species that they are consuming is being rapidly depleted or threatened.

The oceans provide food, medicine, energy and serve as a recreational resource, but they are not as once commonly believed, an inexhaustible resource. (http://oceana.org)

  • Undermining of conservation efforts as a result of mis-labeling. Mis-labeling of seafood makes it difficult for consumers to make eco-friendly choices despite the will to do so.
  • Negative health impacts: Consumers may end up consuming seafood that contains high levels of contaminants and toxins such as mercury. This could be hazardous to the health and wellbeing of women trying to conceive, pregnant woman, nursing mothers and young children.
  • Negative impacts the livelihoods of communities that depend on the seafood harvesting and processing industry.
  • The creation of a market for illegal fishing by making it easy to launder illegally      caught seafood products through legitimate markets. This results in the      undermining of conservation efforts to prevent overfishing and accidental      capture of at-risk species and hurts honest fishermen. (www.oceana.org)

Despite the fact that you may be trying to consume only sustainably caught and healthy seafood (two points for trying) that is not full of toxins and or about to go extinct there is quite a high possibility that you have consumed illegal and fraudulent seafood.

I thought I would be able to provide a tip on how to ensure that your seafood is legal, non-toxic and sustainable. However, I find myself stumped …..  Clearly, the seafood labeling and conservation initiatives are not fool-proof. I guess once again the message is the same; don’t blindly accept the packaging, advertising, greenwash and the hype and try to ensure that your individual consumption of seafood is in fact what it is labeled as being.

References and additional reading for the super keen;

Fishwatch

Seafood advice

Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings

State of World Fisheries

Fishwatch facts

Oceana

Fur, Fashion and Ecocred

www.cbc.ca

A significant increase in fur use within the fashion industry over the last two or so years indicates a departure from the anti-fur and animal rights sentiment and campaigns that characterized much of the green and ethical consumption discussions between the 60’s and 90s. I find this quite interesting given the increasing attention of the world on sustainability and green issues that has been brought about by a greater awareness of environmental degradation, equity, resource scarcity and climate change.

Fur use has a long history spanning from ancient use of fur to current fur use. A (very) brief history would be something like;

  • Necessity where our ancestors killed an animal for necessity i.e. for sustenance (meat) and used the rest of the animal in a sustainable manner such as using the inedible parts of the animal for clothing, tools etc
  • Status symbol: the association of fur and royalty (specifically ermine, mink)
  • This in turn resulted in fur being farmed (1800’s) and becoming a costly luxury item.
  • The development of cheaper options such as dyed and fake fur
  • Anti-fur campaignscommencing in -+ 1960’s (onwards), that resulted in reduced fur use. e.g.
    • PETA was established in 1976 and Lynx in 1980
    • Naomi Campbell and other super models in PETA campaigns
    • Lynx “it takes up 40 dumb animals to make this and only one to wear it” campaign

Fur sales have seen an increase of approximately 70% between 2000- 2010, and fur seems to be de riguer in most winter fashion collections and those in the fashion forward and trend setting scene. In many of instances the fur used is real and not fake, and there seems to be a growing acceptance of fur as a sustainable and natural choice. Considering the speed at which trends spread, especially in the fashion industry, this trend does not bode very well if you happen to be a creature with a beautiful and silky pelt.

In light of the above, given rise in sustainability, environment, green wash,ethical consumption and the fact that fur is a natural “resource” that is being positioned as a benign natural product by the fur industry, I thought it wise to look into the ecocred of fur. Is fur sustainable,green, ethical, equitable and good for us?

These are the issues that I think one should consider;

  • History shows that the fur trade has negative impacts on biodiversity and has resulted in species decline and biodiversity loss. As we know we need to maintain our biodiversity to ensure the provision of ecological services etc
  • Fur and leather are natural, recyclable and reusable.
  • The impact of fur farming includes pollution, waste, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity unethical treatment of animals and is hardly sustainable and or ethical, just like large-scale cattle or sheep farming.

“Compared with textiles, farmed fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions. In many cases fur scores markedly worse than textiles, with impacts a factor 2 to 28 higher, even when lower-bound values are taken for various links in the production chain. The exception is water depletion: on this impact cotton scores highest.” (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) “Both scientists and governments agree that after more than 100 generations, farmed fur animals are effectively domesticated. In a statement to the Dutch Government in 1999, the Danish Justice Ministry noted that “The farmed mink’s temperament, for instance, has changed from being a nervous, agitated animal fleeing to its nesting cage upon approach of human beings, to now often reacting curious and examining.” Not really sure I like where this train of thought is going…!?
  • A lot of us eat meat, (though hopefully you try to eat free range, local and organic etc to try to reduce the ecological footprint of your meat consumption and be more sustainable), so technically you are involved with the killing of animals as well as habitat loss and loss of biodiversity already. Does this make wearing fur more acceptable, sustainable or ethical?

“ The climate change impact of 1 kg of mink fur is five times higher than that of wool which was the highest-scoring textile” in a study on the textile industry and climate change impacts. (Bijleveld et al, 2011)

  • Even if you are vegetarian or vegan you are to some degree involved in habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, killing of living things etc unless you are able to grow your own food and verify that there has been no negative ethical or environmental impact arising from your source of food.
  • International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) also states that “the majority of wild species used by the fur trade are not taken specifically for their fur, but as part of wildlife management programmes. These are necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, population and disease control and the protection of public lands and private property. The international fur trade does not handle any endangered species and to this end supports the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • There is also a great deal of evidence of inhumane treatment of animals as part of the fur manufacturing process.

I haven’t covered all the impacts or aspects of fur and I could go on and on and on about the ethics and environmental impacts, some positive, most negative.

My aim is to highlight the fact that it is up to each of us to ensure that we recognize the real impacts of our fashion choices. Personally it’s about necessity, demand and not falling for the green wash that fur is green and sustainable within our current context.

I would rather not add to the demand for something that is not a necessity and also has a significant environmental impact, despite the fact that I love fashion and would love to wear something awesome, soft, warm and beautiful. If I have to keep warm I would prefer to do so with something that has the lowest impact and not something that adds unnecessarily to environmental degradation even if it’s is the height of fashion. If you have to up/ recycle an old, over 20 or 30 years) fur item but don’t add to the needless demand for fur.

Reference and additional readings for the super keen:

History of Fur: http://www.furgifts.com/?p=90

http://www.historytoday.com/carol-dyhouse/skin-deep-fall-fur

IfTF: The Socio-Economic Impact of International Fur Farming www.iftf.com

Marijn Bijleveld, Marisa Korteland, Maartje Sevenster The environmental impact of mink fur production. Delft, CE Delft, January 2011

http://www.oikeuttaelaimille.net/materiaali/esitteet/information%20about%20fur%20farming.pdf

World Bank, Development Delusion and Other Interesting Articles

Just read a great and informative article about the World Bank entitled “The World Banks Development Delusion”. The article briefly explores the history of the Bank and argues the need for change in the funding approach used by the World Bank, in its attempts to facilitate development and reduce poverty. The article made the following interesting points:

  • History shows that most of the countries that have come under the sway of the World Bank – and its sister institution, the IMF – have experienced declining development outcomes over the past 30 years or so.
  • Developing countries need much more control over decisions that affect them. Power in the World Bank is presently apportioned according to members’ shares, just like in a corporation. Major decisions require 85% of the vote, and the United States, which holds about 16% of the shares (and controls the presidency), wields de facto veto power. The same is true of the IMF. Developing countries together hold less than 50% of the vote, which is shocking given that the institution supposedly exists to promote their welfare. • Development aid should be delinked from corporate bonds. This would take Wall Street’s interests out of the equation, eliminate the pressure to siphon wealth from debtors, and allow the bank to evaluate its performance on the basis of poverty reduction outcomes instead of loan volume, as is the current practice. (http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/jasonhickel/2012/09/28/the-world-bank-and-the-development-delusion/)

The article also reminded me about the poem The Development Set. Yes, I know I always mention this but it’s only because it’s so true and I have yet to see any real evidence of development finance institutions trying to steer away from being tarred by the same brush that tarred “The Development Set”.

Should you wish to find out more on unsustainable aid, read the article on the World Bank and its development delusions and or read the poem The Development Set, check out the links below:

The need for Sustainable Aid

Aid, Development and the Development Set

The World Banks Development Delusion

Infrastructure Development and Funding

My Latest Green Fail….

…. another post about green that isn’t really green and how we all need to change our thinking and consumption patterns…and yes I am not perfect …..

My previous post on rare earth minerals got me thinking about the fact that transitioning towards a greener and more sustainable economy by focusing on technology, resource and innovation may not necessarily be the best option, especially when:

  • The new and innovative technologies end up increasing our dependence on resources, albeit, new or different ones.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in dependence or impact that is merely dressed up in different possibly green-washed and even organic new swag.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in an increase in unnecessary consumption often due to green wash and unsustainable trends.

Keep in mind that not all new and greener technologies are unsustainable. What is important is the manner in which we make the change to newer technologies, and the quantity and quality of the new technologies that we buy. Merely buying the newest and greenest technology will not make you greener and in fact may make you guilty of unsustainable and unethical consumption patterns.

It is very important that when we make our “green” choices we consider the entire impact and not merely the superficial impact that we would like to see?  Unfortunately, and much to my dismay I am guilty of this in many respects. So I thought as my good deed for the day…..I would share some of my green fails with the hope that I could prevent someone else from going down the same route.

My most recent “goody two-shoes green delusion fails” are;

  • Falling for a new high-tech gadget and upgrading my iPad to the latest version, that isn’t really that different from my previous one? From a functionality perspective I use the new one for exactly the same purpose as the previous one.  The question is did I really need the new one? and was the overall cost of the upgrade really worth it?

Green Pros:

  1. Less paper use and waste by reading eBooks, magazines and online news,
  2. Note taking, report editing and emails on the tablet = less printing of emails and reports and having an easily transportable and accessible library of documents that I need during the day.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use of resources and rare earth metals used to produce, package and transport my new tablet: think ecological footprint etc
  2. The iPad 3 has a higher carbon footprint that the iPad 2. (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-green-is-new-ipad-part-6-comparing.html#)
  3. Waste: landfill / recycling and disposal costs associated with the previous tablet. (though, I did try to offset this cost by up-cycling  the old tablet)

  • Green Retail Therapy: I recently bought a whole new batch of solar fairy lights and garden lights. The new solar fairy and garden lights were marketed as being greener than the previous generation of solar lights etc.  … so despite that fact that I already have a few pretty solar fairy lights twinkling away in my little garden and the fact that I don’t need more lights in my garden, I bought some more.

Green Pros:

  1. At least I didn’t buy conventional fairy lights that would increase my use of electricity generated from coal.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use and waste of resources that were used to produce, package and transport my new ”green” lighting.

Ultimately, these two examples are a large-scale green fail on my part that has sent my ecocred plummeting, despite the fact that I didn’t send the old iPad or fairy lights to a landfill.

I didn’t really need a new tablet to do exactly the same things that my previous tablet did. Neither did I need additional fairy lights., …even if they were solar-powered and therefore greener than conventional lights.

I was just a greedy little wannabe wanting to have the newest and shiniest gadgets. Gadgets, that are being marketed as green, that maybe a bit faster, prettier etc , yet barely have enough new features to outweigh the environmental and social costs of the new gadget or technology.

Not everything that is green is sustainable!

Additional reading to up your ecocred!

Five things you should know before buying apples iPad.

How green is the new iPad?

(Not so) Rare Earth Metals & Your Role in Sustainable Development


Despite their name, rare earth metals are are abundant in nature but are hazardous and costly to extract. Rare earth metals are a group of 17 metals that have moved from being a by- product of mining operations to an important component of many or most of the hi-tech products that are becoming/ have already become a key component of everyday life for most of us. As a society nearly all the technology that we use includes rare earth metals, including many of the green technologies (tablets, cell phones, solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars) that we hope will help us transition to a more sustainable society. This makes rare earth metals both a valuable input into, and a strategic for, sustainable economic development. This is especially true within the context of climate change, environmental degradation and an ever increasing need for more efficient resource use. It is therefore essential that these metals are used and extracted in the most sustainable way possible.

It is particularly important to consider rare earth metals within the renewable energy and green technology context. It is also essential to weigh up the pros and cons of transitioning to new technologies before simply adopting them. It is just as important for your ecocide that you know what the real impact of your renewable energy, paperless office, electric car etc really is as you do not want to be lulled in to a false sense of green-ness. For example:

  • Electric cars seen as a way to reduce carbon footprints and GHG emissions so necessary for climate change mitigation. However, an electric car might use nearly 10 times the amount of rare earth metals as opposed to a conventional car which uses a little more than one pound of rare earth materials.
  • A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 megawatts) typically contains 600 kilograms, or about 1,300 pounds, of rare earth metals. (http://dgrnewsservice.org/2012/04/09/bright-green-technologies-dependent-on-rare-earth-metals-that-may-soon-be-economically-unviable/)
  • Moving towards a paperless office may save trees and water but the technology needed to do so will require rare earth metals that will necessarily involve mining, pollution and environmental degradation.

I am not saying new hi-tech solutions are unsustainable, what we need are solutions that have the least impact. It is therefore essential that we weigh up the costs and benefits of any new, greener technologies that we adopt as we make our way towards sustainability.

Rare Earth Element  Used in    
 Scandium  metal alloys for the aerospace industry
 Yttrium  phosphors, ceramics, metal alloys
 Lanthanum  batteries, catalysts for petroleum refining
 Cerium  catalysts, polishing, metal alloys
 Praseodymium  improved magnet corrosion resistance,   pigment
 Neodymium  high power magnets for laptops, lasers
 Promethium  beta radiation source
 Samarium  high temperature magnets, reactor control rods
 Europium  liquid crystal displays, fluorescent   lighting
 Gadolinium  magnetic resonance imaging contrast agent
 Terbium  phosphors for lighting and display
 Dysprosium  high power magnets, lasers
 Holmium  the highest power magnets known
 Erbium  lasers, glass colorant
 Thulium  ceramic magnetic materials under development
 Ytterbium  fibre optic technology, solar panels
 Lutetium  X-ray phosphors
Sources: (Nath, 2011)   (British Geological Survey, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2010)

At present the majority of the rare earth metals are mined and processed in China. China produces an estimated 97% of the rare earth metals that are used around the world (Nath, 2011). China is also associated with unsustainable mining and production practices making society’s reliance on unsustainably sourced Chinese rare earth metals somewhat “unsustainable”.

An example is;The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, where two-thirds of Chinas rare earths are mined and processed. Baotou is the largest Chinese source of rare earth minerals, the minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, north of Baotou then brought to Baotou for processing. The mining and processing operations in Baotu has resulted in soil, air and groundwater pollution which has in turn negatively impacted on the health and well-being of people living in the area.

“According to an article published by the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, “Every ton of rare earth produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms (18.7 lbs) of fluorine and 13 kilograms (28.7 lbs) of dust; and using concentrated sulfuric acid high temperature calcination techniques to produce approximately one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater plus about one ton of radioactive waste residue (containing water).” Furthermore, according to statistics conducted within Baotou, “all the rare earth enterprises in the Baotou region produce approximately ten million tons of all varieties of wastewater every year” and most of that waste water is “discharged without being effectively treated, which not only contaminates potable water for daily living, but also contaminates the surrounding water environment and irrigated farmlands.” (www.thecuttingedgenews.com, 2012 )

While rare earth minerals may be able to help us transition to a more sustainable society they are not the silver bullet to enabling the transition towards a low carbon, greener economy. It is therefore essential that mining and processing of the rare earths occurs in a sustainable manner as does the use of technologies containing rare earths. As a society we need to be more mindfull of how we use our technology and not blindly assume that we are doing the environment a favour by changing to a so called “greener technology”.

So the next time a new tablet, ipod, cellphone or whatever is released don’t just buy the new one for the sake of having the latest model, “Wasting rare earth minerals on gadgets is not going to get us any closer to being sustainable”, (says the blogger typing away on her latest hi-tech tablet/ gadget!)

Sources:

Baotou article

The cutting edge.

Dr Chandrika Nath 2011, Rare Earth Posst Note UK Parliament. 

Rare Earth Elements, June 2010, British Geological Survey

http://www.keepersoftheblueridge.com/environmental-impact.html

RIO+20:Renewing Commitment ?!?

Despite stating (in my previous post) that I wouldn’t spend too much/ or any time on Rio+20 I cant seem to prevent myself from having a little “vent”. For once, this doesn’t happen that often, I really wish that I was wrong. I had secretly hoped that I was wrong about my view that “Rio+20 is a waste of time and the money spent on Rio+20 would have probably had a better development impact if all efforts had been directed towards delivering tangible development outcomes!”

“Some 40,000 environmentalists and 10,000 government officials gathered with politicians from 190 nations for a meeting which the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was “too important to fail”. (S Nair in the Tribune India)

I had hoped that at the close of the summit I would hear the awesome news that despite all the divergent views etc the summit was a success and then a plan of action with appropriate funds and an implementation team had been agreed upon and that the world would finally be able to see some effective development actions being implemented. Instead I find waiting in my inbox a copy of “The Future We Want“. The outcome of the Rio+20 Summit. The text starts with the following;

” We, the heads of State and Government and high level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June 2012, with full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.” (The Future We Want, 2012)

My first though was (and still is) “is that it!”…  I do understand that the begining does not comprise the message of the entire document but unfortunately the opening statement pretty much sums up the entire document. Thousands of powerful people, government representatives, the development set, the green bling brigade etc all met up in Rio to renew committment! We have been committed to sustainable development, poverty eradication, access to energy and safe drinking water for all etc etc etc…. for at least 20 years or so?

Could we not have had the same outcome if the key people had met up on skype, or via a conference call etc to renew “our” committment!, recognise what needs to be done, reaffirm other commitments and acknowledge that we have a problem? 

 But, as I said it’s just a thought, and there is no point in crying over spilt milk or wasted funds or a (rather large) carbon and ecological footprint.

Click here to link to the full the full text of the “The Future We Want“.

RIO + 20: Worth The Effort ?

Rio+20 is upon us and I haven’t posted or put any real thought or effort into the Rio+20 excitement, despite the Rio + 20 summit being hailed as  a “wonderful, green and strategic” decision making moment for the world! Does this make me a bad “greenie” or put me in the box with people who don’t care about the planet or nature or the green economy or pandas….?

I can assure you that I am very concerned about the development path/ economic trajectory that we are on. This despite the assurances and re-assurance from multinationals, corporates and governments that;

  • sustainability and equity issues are being mainstreamed
  • business and government are working towards solutions for the pressing issues of sustainable and equitable development
  • We are in fact slowly transitioning to a greener economy

“Rome was not built-in a day” but how many more summits, conferences, COPs, protocols, accords agreements,laws etc do we need before we are able to see any real and tangible sustainable development?  The fact that these conferences and summits etc attract some of the worlds greatest development minds, authorities and governments that meet (over and over again) to try to sort out the various development challenges that we face should indicate that the processes that we use to address these development challenges may not be working? maybe it is time for something else?

This week, up to 100,000 people are streaming into Rio de Janeiro for the year’s biggest international event – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held on 13-22 June. (M Khor)

With this in mind lets look at the a few issues that should be but will in all likelihood not be fully or adequately addressed or resolved at Rio+20;

  • Fossil fuel subsidies: do we really need to subsidise one the key things that is responsible for a great many of our environmental problems?
  • Emissions targets: who gets which piece of the pie?
  • Tipping points and pollution and the degradation of natural resources and landscapes: It is a well-known fact that we have to stop and redress  the pollution and degradation.
  • Equity and access to natural resources: Define fair, access and resource?
  • Green Economy: what is the definition? is this the silver bullet/ solution? or do we need something else
  • Food and resource security and scarcity: overconsumption, in efficient production methods etc
  • Full informed participation of affected stakeholders: better community participation: is it only government and business that know what is good for the rest of us?

What I am basically saying is that assurances of governments, the champagne environmentalists, the green-bling-brigade, the development set etc I am still not convinced that we are achieving much development impact by hosting  summits, sitting around and arguing the format of draft agreements and accords.

While I will keep my fingers (and toes) crossed for some exciting decsions and actions resulting from RIO+20, I will not hold my breath or drop what I am doing to follow the developments of the summit. We need to see action and change, not more meetings about meetings etc ….

Some additional reading should you be interested in other views on Rio+20:

Can Rio Solve the Worlds problems?  

Human Impacts Institute Article on Rio+20

Rio+20 Text Out of touch with reality

World Bank: Rio+20

Before its news: Rio+20

Infrastructure vs Appropriate/ Effective/ Sustainable Infrastrucutre ?

The Three Gorges Dam in China

“There can be no prosperity without infrastructure, but infrastructure projects don’t necessarily benefit the poor. Past energy, water and transport strategies have neglected the poorest population groups, and taken a heavy toll on affected people and the environment. Will the new infrastructure strategies of the World Bank and the Group of 20 address the needs of the poor, or will they entrench the power of privileged groups?” (IRN, 2012)

Infrastructure is perceived as being a key driver behind economic growth, development and job creation. It is argued that the development of infrastructure projects, particularly large infrastructure projects and dams, will act as a catalyst to:

  • Open up areas that are not currently developed to development
  • Enable service provision to those who lack basic services
  • Create jobs
  • Facilitate economic development.

With this in mind many governments, development finance institutions and business development agencies are backing the Group of 20, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) new strategies for infrastructure development. “In November 2011, the Group of 20, the World Bank proposed to focus public support on strategic regional infrastructure projects such as large dams and transport corridors, and to make them attractive for private investment through public guarantees and other incentives (International Rivers Network, 2012). The group argue that centralized infrastructure projects which include private participation in public sector projects will lower the costs of services and service provision particularly in rural areas.  In so doing the public sector will be able to meet its infrastructure and service provision mandates with private sector seen to be assisting in this basic service delivery while also ensuring that the private sector is able to ensure economic development and growth. In other words a win-win solution to the world’s (sustainable) development problems that makes both the public and private sector look good.

It is however interesting to note that despite many such “win-win” public private large-scale and mega infrastructure projects being implemented we are still quite far from either sustainable service delivery or sustainable development. This is primarily because in most instances it is the private sector that benefits to the detriment of the public sector and local communities that are associated and usually impacted by such large infrastructure projects.

The development landscape is littered with failed and costly infrastructure projects that have promised but not always delivered services, growth and (sustainable) development. This is reiterated by the MDG and other development targets which are consistently not being met despite funding being directed specifically at meeting the targets. Especially considering the fact that “Economic infrastructure – essentially, transport, energy, information and communications technology, water, sanitation and irrigation – is specifically identified in the MDGs”(UN Habitat 2011).

Some interesting points related to development projects not realizing the proposed development impact;

  • The World Bank Group (2011) has also stated that its bias towards “infrastructure investments that promote growth, with expected ‘trickle-down effects have yielded very little “trickle down”.
  • Evidence available indicates that the poor are often the last to benefit from increased access (from road infrastructure). In most countries, the rural poor tend to be overlooked because private operators are reluctant to serve low-income clients given that these markets are not financially viable on a freestanding basis. (World Bank Group, 2009)
  • Despite the issues surrounding the Bujagali Dam the Ugandan government began building the Bujagali dam on the River Nile in 2007. The project had previously been delayed for over ten years for many reasons, including exorbitant project costs and its predicted economic and environmental impacts. Impacts associated with the dam included the destruction of the Bujagali Falls on the Nile, livelihoods impacts to about 6,800 people. In addition the dam will affect the performance of other dams on the river Nile, and increase Uganda’s carbon footprint. (FOEI, 2009). The project is financed by the World Bank the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and it has been suggested that both the banks and the Ugandan government have overlooked and even ignored their own safeguard policies. (IRN, 2002).
  • Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and the benefits derived from them have been considerable. In too many cases, an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” (World Commission on Dams, 2000)
  • The President of the Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), said in a statement that “it had been proved that the project executing agencies lacked capacity to deliver in terms of time and cost and had failed in resettling hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to these projects”.

 So why the continued focus/ bias on large infrastructure projects? especially as there is more and more evidence that smaller contextualized infrastructure solutions are more sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate. It should also be noted that the need for infrastructure, development and service provision that is sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate is made even more pressing by the climate change, environmental degradation and economic crises that we are currently experiencing.

The above graphic clearly highlights and contrasts the development impact of a large infrastructure solution for energy provision against a cheaper smaller infrastructure solution for energy provision. It is evident that smaller context specific infrastructure provision is not only cheaper but more appropriate and less environmentally damaging.

References and further reading etc:

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Disaster

Friends of the Earth International

International Rivers Network

News of Africa Article

Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People

World Bank Group, Directions in Hydropower, 2009

World Bank Group, Transformation Through Infrastructure: World Bank Group Infrastructure Strategy Update, FY12-15, November 2011.

International Rivers, Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank, May 2012.

http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/IPN/ipnweb.nsf/(webnews)/0D7F7939F52C824985256BDB00687310 .