Solar panels

Solar panels in Atacama Desert, Chile.

THE CONCEPT of green consumption first appeared in the 1960s and 70s as consumers began to seek out products manufactured in a manner that protected the natural environment. As the planet struggles to cope with the demands on its resources of water, land, flora and fauna, governments are increasingly challenged to implement goals for sustainable development.

“Going green” as it’s popularly termed, can encompass a number of adjustments from switching to energy-saving appliances and electronics; buying locally grown and organic foods bearing a recognised seal or certificate; using household cleaning products without harsh chemicals bearing the Green Seal; adopting the mindset of reducing, reusing and recycling; or driving a hybrid car.

While these are all worthy initiatives, there are issues that would need to be addressed by any enterprise that seeks to bring these offerings to market. Consumers often have negative associations with sustainable product options, viewing them as being of lower quality, less aesthetically pleasing, and more expensive. One measure that can be adopted to overcome such perceptions is to emphasise the product’s best attributes. For example, Tesla focuses on the innovative design and functional performance of its cars more than on their green credentials.

The current state of the world’s economy has put added pressure to bear on businesses operating in the green space. Where revenues have declined and layoffs or reduced working hours have impacted on disposable income, consumers are less likely to choose sustainable options. Innovative methods and even incentives are now required to even maintain previous earnings. Incentives may be as simple as an additional item in a delivered weekly food basket—a service which has become popular especially for those who do not want to venture out. In the UK, Coca-Cola has partnered with Merlin Entertainments to offer “reverse vending machines” from which consumers receive half-price entry tickets to theme parks when they recycle their plastic drink bottles.

In this time of social distancing and staying home if not required to be out, we have seen many sectors affected by dwindling sales. Many smaller businesses may never recover from the initial shut down period where even essential services were only allowed to serve the public within strict guidelines. Going into survival mode has meant a complete rethink of business operations. Pivoting is the new normal, where any stream of income would be most welcome.

Leaner and more efficient business operations present an opportunity for organisations to create their own sustainability schemes.

Some of the measures that can be adopted include energy audits to determine power consumption and to identify “energy vampires” such as unused outlets and outdated devices and equipment, using LED lights as well as motion sensor and automatic power-off timers.

Water audits are just as important as there may be undetected leaks and wastage. Going paperless and digital and adopting a print-as-necessary policy, can further reduce costs as well as save on paper costs and consumables.

Online meetings, as work from home which became more commonplace in lockdown situations, can also reduce the carbon footprint.

Cost reductions must be enhanced with earning opportunities. Green business ideas require a willingness to invest both time and effort, often having to wait a bit longer to see the results when compared to a more traditional type of operation. Some of the current trends that are gathering momentum currently are:

• Organic food production and more efficient means to get these goods to consumers, by way of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes at various prices

• Eco-friendly personal care and household cleaning products using locally available raw materials. These can be marketed through an online presence offering personal delivery or pick up options

• Upcycled furniture offers the chance to give new life to an old favourite that has outlived its usefulness to its present owner. Turning a woodworking hobby into a business opportunity can fill the gap left by reduced income, or give a small business a lifeline when orders for new items have dried up.

•Second-hand stores may be making a comeback as people declutter and there could be bargain buys to gather up merchandise, clean them up and offer them for resale at a small mark-up.

• Installation of solar panels is an opportunity that is often overlooked, but one that is gaining traction as alternative energy solutions are replacing the burning of fossil fuels.

•Acquisition of a green franchise is always an option if costs and opportunity make sense.

There are many opportunities that would require fiscal and other incentives from government and these would be discussed in another forum. As the world moves past this current crisis, there will be continuing challenges to address.

The greening of economies may not be top of mind for most, but the reset requires a sustainable approach; one that goes beyond papers and webinars. When lives and livelihoods are at stake, a mature approach that isn’t entirely driven by profit is needed in the short- to medium-term, even as we play the long game. Green consumerism is but one solution.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce thanks the Environment, Health & Safety Committee for this contribution.

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