I wrote on the Brook Lyndhurst website last week with a summary of my speech to a conference on waste prevention.
I also received a transcript from the conference organisers that included the Q&A session following the presentation, and it turns out I answered a couple of questions like this:
Question: "My question is to talk about the whole concept of growth because it seems at most levels in society we seem to have aspired to have growth as the thing we all want, either in GDP or if you are a company you want to get bigger and at individual level to buy more stuff, own more stuff, bigger house, more cars, more clothes, more stuff. Now it seems to me that a growth driven economy is always just going to consume masses and masses of materials and therefore generate more waste. Is it feasible to continue with the concept of growth as a measure of success in society or do you have to break that first before you stop people thinking that maybe a Saturday going shopping is a sort of socially fun thing to do."
Fell: "I think this question goes all the way down. I think we actually need to ask: what is an economy for? Once we can answer that, then we can say whether we want it to be bigger or not, or whether we want it to go round in a circle or a triangle, or whether we want it to go round fast or slow. An economy, I think, should be conceptualised as a human social construct that’s rather got out of hand. I’m always struck by the way people refer to it, they use metaphors that are meteorological, there are always earthquakes or tidal waves or storms, and it’s a way of us distancing ourselves from responsibility for it. It’s us, we make it, and I think we need to be clear about what we want it to deliver. It's a design challenge: we want an economy that will give us these things, which means it needs to be like this. For example, if you ask people in surveys what they want, one of the things they consistently place near the top of the list is that they want time with friends and family. When was the last time you heard a politician suggest that the economy next year will enable you to spend more time with your friends and family?"
Question: "I’ve just got a question to ask the panel’s views about the use of iconic measures such as the ones that have been mentioned, we’ve heard a lot about carrier bag levies for example, so on the one hand they can have a very positive impact within a very narrow sector perhaps, but also they can divert a lot of attention in getting them through and dealing with those, and there’s perhaps a risk of consumers thinking that they’ve sort of done the job if they participate in that, but forgetting the bigger picture, so I just wondered whether the panel thinks they are a good or a bad idea?"
Fell: "At Brook Lyndhurst we did a big piece of research for Defra, 3 or 4 years ago, exploring this very question: are there catalytic behaviours that foster broader changes in attitudes and behaviours? And the answer is a resounding no, absolutely not. People categorise the world in ways that prevent the kind of read-across you're talking about, as I mentioned in my presentation. Encouraging people to switch off the lights or reduce their use of plastic bags might have some very short-term narrow impacts, but does not spread across. Most people get by with what I call 'ethical glow': they know that they are doing bad things, but they don't want to feel bad, they want to feel good, so they do just a few 'good' things to give themselves the glow of having done the right things... You buy one fair trade chocolate bar as you go round the shops and don’t worry about the rest of it.
The single most influential thing in your life is someone who you think is like you but who you think is a bit better. Someone you admire. We need people who are admired, not superstars, because I know I’m nothing like David Beckham and anything he does is irrelevant to my life. I'm influenced most by someone I know who I admire. If they start changing their behaviour, I will. And so if we're serious about this we don't need headline-grabbing moves that actually have narrow short-term effects; I think we need a much more distributed way of thinking about how we can bring this kind of change about."
And I think I largely agree with myself.