Don’t be fooled by the chatter about sustainability – if you look at the way we actually do business, the waste piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it
I was happily cycling to work the other day when I unwittingly cut across the path of a portly businessman in his Porsche Cayenne, who angrily shouted that I had pulled out in front of him, and hurtfully implied that I shouldn’t be on the road at all. I’m inadvertently saving the planet here, and this guy is guzzling up petrol and churning out fumes as he sits alone in his cathedral-like sports utility vehicle shouting the odds at innocent passers-by … where’s the justice in this world? It got me thinking about cultural perceptions of sustainability and recycling in this country.
I have recently moved into the jurisdiction of Southwark council who, I was pleased to learn, carry out doorstep collections of paper, plastic and glass. I requested that on their next visit they leave me an additional set of recycling containers. The council posted me a replacement recyling bag in a large brown paper envelope. The irony did not escape me as I removed the plastic recycling bag and filled it with the paper envelope it arrived in.
I recently purchased a new toaster direct from the Dualit website. After a few days, it arrived in a box about one metre long and half a metre wide. Inside this was a small, empty square box, another smaller empty rectangular box and finally the box that actually contained the toaster. Of course, the toaster they sent me was the wrong one so I had to wrap the thing up in bubblewrap and send it back. Eventually they sent me another huge box, the two small empty boxes and the box with the toaster I originally wanted.
Have you noticed packaging in your local supermarket has also gone a bit mad? You can actually buy apples individually wrapped in clingfilm displayed on their own small plastic tray. Why would you want just one apple? And why does it need its own tray, let alone the clingfilm? In the beauty/skincare aisles you will notice that almost every item has its own little plastic pouch. Some are zippable. Why does a moisturiser (with self-tanning tint) need its own zippable plastic carrying case? And what will happen to the iridescent plastic tube it comes in, when it is finished with?
And why, when you purchase all this shopping with your credit card, do you get a paper card receipt as well as a normal receipt? Does anyone file those, or use them for anything at all? You only have to shred the damn thing so that someone doesn’t steal your identity. I put mine in my recycling bag now (after shredding, of course).
Can someone tell me what happened to the paperless office? Whoever came up with it has given up trying to carry it through
Ikea recently announced that it was going to begin charging for the use of their plastic bags. Our more sustainably advanced European neighbours have been doing this for years, but I ask you, why do we still have plastic bags at all? They are the most ridiculously stupid things in the world, they take 100 years to decompose and all of us have about 20 stuffed into another plastic bag under our kitchen sinks.
With all these things, we need massive cultural shift to make this necessary change happen. I’m sure there’s a plastic bag factory somewhere that will go out of business, but surely that has to be offset against an end to the vast swathes of Countryside being filled up.
And finally, can someone tell me what happened to the paperless office? Whoever came up with it has obviously given up trying to convince us to carry it through. An architect’s office is particularly guilty. Not only do we print out a lot of drawings, but we need to keep hard copies of everything for 12 years. Can you imagine the number of letters, emails, faxes and drawings that are circulated during a project?
And when it comes to emails, not only do we communicate through this media more than we ever did through any other, but once we start replying to emails relating to the same issue, we end up printing the original email and at the bottom, the previous replies, resulting in an exponentially expanding paper trail that continues until the particular issue is closed out. The whole situation further exacerbated by the email signatures and incredibly long disclaimers that reside under everyone’s correspondence. Think about it, all those consultants and contractors keeping their own paper records, archived into cardboard boxes, and transported into hideous storage facilities all over the land. Why do we do this? Is it our insurers who tell us to? Doesn’t an email count if it’s digitally stored rather than printed?
So, stop printing your emails, stop buying apples in clingfilm and don’t use moisturisers in metallic iridescent tubes, especially the fake tanning ones (you can always tell).
Tarek Merlin is an architect at Alsop and Partners and one of the 10 young professionals on Building’s graduate advisory board