Washing the Greenwash

Have you ever been guilted by an environmentalist friend for using a disposable coffee cup or for picking up plastic bags at the supermarket? Here’s where we find out whether that guilt is justified. Sustainability is a big thing – never more so than now. It’s a hotly debated topic with concerns for environmental impact, financial impact and effect on lifestyle among the top ones. People are sceptical of issues of sustainability – and rightfully so. It is perceived to threaten the wealth on which our society is based. Jiuntu seeks to take that fear and invert it to become something much more positive.

Washing the Greenwash

I believe there is a disconnect between what are perceived as achievable sustainability goals and what can actually be achieved. I believe that most people living an energy intensive ‘modern’ lifestyle think living more sustainably would require effort which is greatly disproportionate to the benefit, and excessive sacrifices in lifestyle. Jiuntu aims to disband those misconceptions.

Having worked in the renewable energy industry for a while now, whenever I bring up my interest in sustainability with friends I hear the same question come back again and again and its one were all familiar with – what can I do? I’m just one person and realistically one coffee cup per day is not going to make any difference in the long run. Of course it’s not. We’ve all heard the glass-half-full-ers say “yeah but if everyone did it…” blah blah blah. It’s time to be realistic, not idealistic. In reality not everyone is going to recycle nor drive a hybrid nor bring a reusable coffee cup to work.

But how can we incentivise those who wouldn’t usually choose a more “sustainable option” to do so, and how much of an impact would that make? In capitalist societies like ours people generally respond to financial incentives (how much is this going to save me). But we also respond to social incentives (well done for bringing your reusable coffee cup to work!) and emotional incentives (feeling good for having made the “right” choice).

What Jiuntu is interested in establishing is how right is the right choice? Is what we’re hearing in the media and from experts really that much better than the status quo? Let’s look at coffee cups as an example. Most disposable cups are made from unrecycled material which means trees are felled for the paper and oil products refined for the plastic that goes into getting you your mocchafrappachino. Those products require energy to both produce and transport to you. On the flip side, reusable coffee cups are usually made of recyclable plastic but are significantly more energy intensive to produce, package and transport. However, reusing them means a lower environmental footprint. Or does it?

Research has shown that the washing of reusable cups requires approximately half of the energy that goes in to making a disposable one (source). That’s significant when you consider the convenience factor of not having to remember bringing it with you. Drilling even deeper down we’ll need to factor in what’s known as product lifecycle assessment of the product. That means not only embodied energy in making it but also what happens at the end of the product’s life. For a disposable cup, most of which ends up in landfill, the cup has to be binned, trucked to the landfill (using fuel and releasing emissions) and then sits in the land fill slowly decomposing releasing more emissions. Whereas a reusable cup can be re-used and doesn’t need to be driven anywhere after being used once. So perhaps the moral of the cup story is: reusable is better, though not as innocuous as one might initially think! And, it goes without saying that they’re only effective if we actually use them.

But Jiuntu is not only about coffee cups. It’s about myth-busting sustainability issues to empower you, the individual, to make the more sustainable choice that you will actually do. Because a sustainable choice that one won’t stick to is just as unsustainable as not making a change. It’s about having maximum positive impact for minimum effort to build community sustainability through the actions of the individual. And what about the name, I hear you ask?

Jiuntu is a portmanteau of Jiu-jitsu and Ubuntu. The philosophy of Brazillian Jiu-jitsu is to action maximum impact through minimal effort which I believe is the best approach to implementing lasting and impactful sustainable change. The Ubuntu philosophy of the Southern African tribespeople has as its motto I am, because we are. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts and the community is stronger with empowered individuals. I believe that lasting change will come through combining these philosophies to empower the individual to make more sustainable choices.

Stay tuned for more Jiuntu!

Ego Eco

5 thoughts on “Washing the Greenwash

  1. Pingback: Grub – JIUNTU

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