Self-Rejection and Innovation

You are a company, an individual and you would like to do it different. You don’t because of what others think, the possibility to get rejected. You do it then like others do it, or those who are well known “write like the New York Times”, copy the business model from “Tesla”. You get little to no liking, because you lack novetely and you feel frustrated, it lacks the reality you wished to feel, to follow.

The outcome is that what you would have liked to do, what you and how you would like to do it differently, has and had little chance to surface and it leads you to self-reject before you even try.

I believe this perception is how much innovation becomes #rejected before it even has the chance to surface or to come to word.

P.S. even the New York Times started somewhere to be New York Times. Why not be your own New York Times, Tesla, whatever it is that you admire?

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Why selling product sustainability seems fruitless

Sustainability has become a trend. It can be found in now almost every store. Yet, when it comes to purchasing products that are more sustainable, we find consumers who do not do so or they may with the same or similiar consumption cycle. Why is that?

  1. The ideal(s) of sustainability cannot be internalized.

Sustainability sets an ideal. The notion is that you can buy something and nobody has been harmed, neither the environment and the people producing it. Now you are not offered the product mainly, but you are offered the standard of sustainability or the “ideal” of it. Its’ a sustainable form of marketing, in which you are made to identify with this ideal. As a result, you will likely buy this product, because of what it intends to reflect and project onto you too.

However, the ideal sold is not necessarily an ideal that is true to yourself. For example, buying the sustainable value “peaceful production” does not create peace within you such as when wearing a jacket produced in peaceful conditions. Because of such mismatch, between what is ideal and what is wanted, felt or aimed at to replace with such purchase, dissatisfaction arises. To compensate such lack of satisfaciton you may keep on buying again. Or you may not buy it at all, because of this recognition.

“Waaa had I had a shitty day at work. So much conflict. Wow, look at that jacket. It’s produced so peacefully. This is what I want.. Grrrr that conflict still persist at work. This jacket is ugly. I actually don’t know why I bought it. I want a different one. I want a non sustainable one, because this is how I feel. Or I want none at all. I want that conflict resolved. Rrrrrh. ” [Internal conflict]

2. Sustainability is a trend and trends do not sustain internally.

It’s the end of the season, or it’s a new season and what you did wear last year is no longer in trend. Currently a lack of sustainability may no longer be in trend. “You need to buy sustainable to be in trend.” Unconciously you may think that you are no longer in trend. However, you cannot be in trend. You are. Yet a result you may go on to buy something new to be in trend. In the long term this does not play out, because of this lack of unconcious identification or “removal of identity” through changes in trends. It creates dissatisfaction with the self (your “true identity”) and likely increases consumption. This applies to trend-changes in sustainable product categories too.

“Damn, I bought this vegan jacket, because its made from banana fiber and not vintage furr, but I don’t really like it and pretend I do for a bit but I do really miss my furr coat. I feel bad though for liking my fur coat. But this is not doing it. I am gonna keep on buying different vegan jackets, to give me the same feeling that my furr coat gave me, but I unconciously know it won’t happen, because my furr coat was unique to me. Shit, I feel so bad for liking something thats not trend based anymore. Will I be accepted if I am outtrended? I am worried I won’t ”

3. Some consumers may wish to want it sustainable.

“Lastly”, there is plenty of market research out, which asks whether consumers would like to pay a higher price for sustainable products. Most respondents will point out yes, but when it comes to the actual purchasing most might not. Such phenomena can be referred to as wishful thinking” Yes, it sounds nice to buy a house and if I had the money, I would also pay for it, but actually I want to use my money for different things I deem as important. For example, more finger food during the week, some other joys or anything. A 20 Euro price increase doesn’t seem much but it seems much in comparison to the joy I get from 5 cappucchino this month with my best friend in comparison to a better produced shoe.”

“Dang, you pay 60 Euros for THIS? I’d pay 5 Euros for this. But ya, I guess you value something differently then I do. ”

4. Are we fundamentally screwed?

Yes, and no. I feel that sustainable products have a greater chance, if they find a particular use case. If they are not promoted for the “value” only, but for example particular features. When I did a social-practice based research on bamboo vs timber, bamboo boards didn’t sell well when marketed as sustainable, but when marketed for what they were “similiar to hardwood, suitable for x and y use case and hey, they also to help restore some degraded mines.” I feel that most product marketing tends to disregard the latter, or switches it around. It likely doesn’t sell well. A better way to go about it might be “Hey this product is cat hair resistent, you may use this material to keep you save from toddler coloring, or you may keep on using that fur for that use case because its great for multiple wash. Polyester won’t do here or there.”

More to it? Let me know in the comments.

References

Van Vugt, M., & Schaller, M. (2008). Evolutionary approaches to group dynamics: An introduction. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice12(1), 1.

Theories on psychoanalaysis (Object-relation, idealization, fantasy, wishfulthinking, internal object)

Why sustainability fails?

Deep sustainability focuses on a basic need centred approach; that is for example to consume what we need and in doing so living within the means of our environment; so that ideally humans can interact with and within the natural system without harm. That is an ideal, almost as ideal as Garden Eden. Garden Eden represents the perfect state of being; everything is there that is desired, at a continuous quantity and the interaction be that between Adam and Eve or Adam and Eve and various other species is harmonic; a symbol of ultimate perfection and homeostasis.

In sustainability these idealized views and to some extend fantasies represented in Garden Even are increasingly reflected. The ideal is that carbon and other natural cycles circle perfectly. Meanwhile human and other species live at a constant state of harmony together. If a fish was eaten, the natural balance would as easily be restored, because there is always a surplus of it. Furthermore, there is no conflict, because conflict would impede such harmony. This concept does not only apply to our local communities, but it also applies to our global society, where we all live in peace together, cooperate and everyone is keen on protecting social and environmental well-being. We thrive as global society within our means. Like Garden Eden, this ideal appeals.

This ideal appeals so much, that through the support of regulations and business models for sustainability it must be achieved. It little does so though, because it would require that the very human nature of ego and thereby notions of greed and desire for more would have to be diminished. Greed would have to be diminished because it is through greed that inequalities such as more and less access to resources or their exploitation, likely continue and it is desire for more, that basic needs; producing and consuming what one possibly needs, little exist. Yet, the latter is almost the premise for such idealized homeostatic state of a sustainable society.

Homeostasis does not exist as a constant state of being, because there are constant factors that influence such state. Often times, we think it does, and that is how we live and possibly create for it. Thinking “it” can be maintained and aimed for like love in relationships for example. It cannot. It cannot because loss, including destruction is part of life and the natural world as part of it.

Of course, there is not all bad, and there are for example business models that aim at creating a more sustainable future. But so often, they idealize too. For example the premise is that products will be produced better and although their price will increase the assumption is that people voluntarily pay for it. This assumption has a classist notion to sustainabiliy, because many people still live below the financial poverty line and even if they did not such as many people on a “normal” or “high” income , they might have many different financial priorities so that most sustainable products are not financially feasible or interesting for them, even if they wanted to.

Sometimes people may not simply care either. That is not because they don’t want to, but because they struggle with their own means of survival or look at maintaining an individual livelihood. For example, using public transportation or the e-bike sounds fantastic, but in many cities, peri urban up to urban regions, the infrastructure does not exist, or lacks so that owning a car does not only appeal, but simply makes life easier. Think about a parent who saves 1.5h by using a car packed with groceries going from work to kindergarden or any other person who could spend that time differently. The same principle can apply for circular systems too, with the expectations that people care for their products always and are geniously interested to return build up furniture for a small discount to a store. Often a certain lifestyle or the effort put into it, might outweight financial benefits, so the ideal set is too high. So, how to design for covenience?

Of course one can go further, more systemic with the younger generation demanding idealisitc system change too, but then possibly finding it a bit odds when it comes to real action and behavior change, whilst more pleasure can be found in TikToks and other urban funs’. Meanwhile, the news and even policies for a “sustainable future” preach for such sustainable ideals, but looking outside of these ideals, one can find needs for continous self-actualization; i.e. building or having a paying career as a means of survival; often that comes through jobs and even if the job is not liked or pretended to be liked, it yet pursued because there are little means to pay for life otherwise. For example, if we were to honestly consult businesses on sustainability, we would in many cases have to say; Its best not to have the business or in the case of the individual “not to pursue this career.” It gives little room to be, so that sustainability, or the idealist homeostatic lifestyle that can be found in the Myth of “Garden Eden” instead sounds too ideal to be real.

A sustainable society, would require more interaction in real life, but the interest shifts towards digital interaction. At the same time we see levels of loneliness increasing; digital disconnect.

As a consequene of such “societal lock-in”, one can likely feel the opposite of sustainability too; increases in consumption or various forms of addictions or other forms of mental ill, to cope with such “lock-in”. And at the same time possible growing disparities between personal demands on sustainable behavior and the inability or disinterest to live up to it, because of socio-economic conditions; or because the ideals are simply set too high. This can be found on a personal and even company, supply-chains and any other industry level.

The question that hereby remains could be how to set objectives or sorts of standards for something that is sustainable, but not setting sustainability, including CO2 neutrality as the idealized globalized standards for everything and everyone. Supposingly, sustainabiltiy even idealizes for everything to stay for ever “to sustain”, while in nature not all sustains. However, we treat most notions on sustainability like that too.

Resources

Inspiration from Psychoanalytical Theory focusing on fantasy and ideals and further literature on business model short-commings as well as conversations with people of different socio-economic backgrounds.

I don’t want to bake more cookies- Rethinking life towards and after retirement

Some of my acquintances retire and I hear them talking about the things they will do or not after their jobs end, or already do or don’t. Some are happy and some seem dissatsified. “How is your retirement? ” I ask someone and he’d reply that well the notion is most elderlies go on hikes, I did too once, but now I want to go on about my day and life. I actually miss working because it gave me a sort of purpose. Not that I liked it, but hm oh well. I’ll find something to do.”

This and further conversations, made me think about what life I want to live, if when I set a seemingly “psychic end” to work life already, or center my thoughts on life after retirement, for which I don’t know how it will be like anyways, if the life I live is pursued because of generiousity to myself, or because of my imagined after-worklife retirement. If for the latter, does this result in me working too much, a job I possibly dislike or follow because of its financial incentives? I write so, because so often I hear” I can’t wait for retirement, finally to do the things I enjoy.” I feel it should be “I am looking forward to life itself “.

Retiremenet often seems to be perceived as the end of life phase. A start of a new life, which in retrospect is a continuity of life as whole. If someone has experiernced furstration before, they will continue to experience it after.

Yet in the retirement phase, I feel that increasing levels of loneliness or dissatisfactions suddenly originate too. In one way not doing anymore what one possibly did not like, let’s say the factory work and therefore prone to experience an increasing emptiness “How to fill such lack of work now with what type of meaning?” And in other ways not being able to continue to do what one has previously liked “industrial design,” for example because one is now the retired.

It made me think about notions to the end of life; whether a career or profession could be sustained that creates a particular meaning in the “retirmenet phase”, a form of continuity. And at the same time what form of activities could possibly be pursued so that one who experiences such a huge loss of work, even if it didn’t pleasure, can fill their time with a different form of meaning and pleasure that not necessarily relates to hiking and playing Bingo only.

Why does this worry me?

I began thinking about the retirment phases of my grandmother(s), and other elderlies in elderly homes or different forms of care; some that still lived through WW2 or the aftermaths. Some that simply lived. Some who complained at me that they didn’t want to be read out children stories or bake cookies all the time, but how much they still want to feel alive in other notions too; to design, to engineer, to teach. I guess they could, but yet they aren’t often offered the opportunity, even to fall in love again at 80 or to start a new business, if they wanted to.

Why can’t we be more engaging with the elderlies? someone could ask and the reply would be “dementia” or other symptoms of aging. But I’d say that between those moments of amnesia, there is some depth of joy that can be experienced, even if forgotten after. Though parts of it, the joy felt, the emotions, stored in the lower brain regions, they likely won’t be forgotten that easy.

Why does this matter, why does this relate to sustainability?

Just like babies, our brains still want to be stimulated. And possibly similiar to babies and brain growth; if such stimulation little exist, then brain is more likely to experience detoriation. And when we talk about detoriation of the brain, we can also talk about increases in somatic and other forms of illnesses. Furthermore, loneliness and lack of engagment turn into a major public health concern. In fact, it already is.

What can be done about it?

While these problems are known about, expenses for health care are quit high, leaving elderly care often at a minimum of care. To circumvent that the Netherlands has piloted a project in the city of Deventer in which students rooms are rented out for a discount in an elderly home in exchange for one hour volunteer work. Often students end up doing more hours for the community, then they actually have to. In another example, UK primary school merges generations by inviting elderly to work with them, a concept that originated in Japan.

And then of course there is you, us; how can we live as society, but also as individuals that the life lived is worth to be pursued as a whole and less as to be seperated stages?

What is Systemsthinking for Sustainability?

System-thinking for Sustainable Development

One of the greatest challenges of sustainable development are the various interpretations of the term and hence, versatile problems and solutions perceived and suggested by a mix of individuals, groups, entities and even regions. A question asked frequently is “how can I become more sustainable, if I don’t actually know what it is?”. This uncertainty and the need to act, often results in us finding and developing quick solutions, without being fully aware whether these solutions can be adopted and how efficient they are in the short and even long-term. We may also believe that our solution is most suitable for various sustainability problems, but it could fail as we are unaware about its acceptance and adaptation by a wider business and customer circle, regions and even family and friends.  

Hence, what could help us to find answers to those bizarre sustainability problems and how do we know whether those solutions could be a success in the future? What are we forgetting when thinking about sustainable solutions? In many cases, that is the systems-perspective.

A system

Just as with sustainability, there are various interpretations of a system. It is defined as “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole; a group of body organs that together perform one or more vital functions; a group of devices or artificial objects or an organization forming a network especially for distributing something or serving a common purpose”.[1]

Based on these definitions, we could say that it is something that is close to us, like our home or business environment, and something that is based on different interactions that are in our control, time and space bound. That also means that we are unable to control what we are not directly engaged with – outside our system – such as us being unable to change the climate as an individual right now. But we can contribute to the latter such as by biking to work and not taking the car or washing our clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40 degrees – simply expressed.

A lacking systems-perspective   

Now imagine you are the owner of a company, which you would like to become more sustainable. For you that implies to decrease your carbon footprint (environmental sustainability) from employee commute and to support your employee’s mental health (social sustainability) by promoting physical activity. You are generous and provide each employee with a voucher of 50 Euros to buy a bicycle instead of using their car to drive to work. Quickly you realize that everyone still drives their car. You lost money and your carbon footprint remains the same.

We need to define the system before developing solutions

When we look at innovations or ideas for sustainability, it is difficult to look for a quick fix, hereby to mitigate a company’s climate footprint and increasing the physical activity of its employees by cycling to work. Asking employees, why they would not want to bike to work, although you generously provided a voucher, you may hear different answers like “The road to work is hilly and exhausting, but for 50 Euros, I cannot buy an E-bike, which I definitely need because I never exercise”, or “in summer its too hot and we don’t even have a shower at work”, “it takes me far too long because I live in the country side” and “did you know that the roads in the country side are terrible and I’d likely be covered in dirt if it rains and I arrive at work?“ oops.. many and more aspects we forgot.

Thinking in multi-level perspective

So how can we make ourselves more aware about ideas and their success for sustainable development? One way is to think in multi-level perspective – a unique way to understand systems.

It helps to understand how an idea or innovation can contribute to a transition of a system to a more sustainable state through the interaction of specific processes in three different levels: the micro-level: niches, meso-level: regimes and macro-level: landscapes. The micro level consists of multiple innovations or new processes or ideas which are protected from the regime in niches. The regime consists of the configuration of actors, institutions, infrastructures and practices that maintain and stabilize the current system. Unlike niches, regimes are rather constant and do not change radically but incrementally, like most people use the car to go to work and not a bicycle, although the car itself might develop. The landscape-level includes long-term developments like demographics, politics or the climate and the existing infrastructure, and other aspects that are difficult to influence (Geels, 2005).

Merging multi-level perspective with system thinking

The multi-level perspective can help to understand and analyze the system in which our innovation, solution or idea can develop and turn into a success. Looking at our company as a system which we want to become more sustainable, we could try to find out what infrastructure is there to support my employees to bike to work (macro-level); how do the roads look like, are they paved and flat and if not, how likely is it that our employees will go to work? Will there be bicycle roads in the future?

Another question that could be asked is how the “regime looks like” (meso-level)? What practices do my employees follow and why do they use the car or public transportation? And then I can ask myself what support they would need to use the bicycle: Would they use an e-bike more often? What do they need for that e-bike? Could they charge it at the office? And, if all of those factors come into play, how could the “bicycle” (micro-level) replace the “established” driving by car to work behavior?

Broad scope of sustainable development and system thinking

By identifying the system that we can have an influence on, we are able to develop and up-scale ideas efficiently. There are of course always landscape developments, that may change certain aspects like Covid-19 encouraged digital communications and remote work. Thereby promoting a huge decrease in emissions related to work travels, but these remain difficult to predict. However, we can be aware of such trends and what people and the economy need and hence, develop an idea most suitable to the development.

And you?

How about you? Have you made experiences with system-thinking or can you think of a system that you would like to share with us? I would be happy to hear from you.


Marketing for sustainability?

Sustainability should aim at enabling but also providing invdividuals and groups of individuals a lifestyle of their choosing, without causing damage to the environment such as the ecological ecosystem, people with who the environment is shared with and individuals themselves. To enable that, marketing for sustainabiltiy should educate consumers about products and lifestyles so that consumers are enabled to make concious purchasing and lifestyle choices. A good example is the sales of cigaret packages that often include marketing for the negative aspects of smoking such as its risk of cancer. Another good example is the use of health education as part of marketing, i.e. using an uber or other forms of car sharing as a means to circumvent drunk driving if other forms of public transportation aren’t available, helping thereby to avoid incidences from drunk driving. While there is a clear health benefit there are also business and environmental benefits that come from shared mobility.

In these forms of marketing, there is no sugarcoating. It is honest. This differs to growing strategies in marketing for sustainability, which can tend to market “sustainability” such as sustainable lifestyles and products, although the intention often still remains the sales of a product or service. Hereby sustainability becomes an ideal that is sold as part of a marketing strategy. The risk is that marketing for sustainability can continue to facilitate consumption or more specific growth behavior, while in sustainability, growth or the sales of a product or lifestyle (see push marketing) can work contradictive.

This can be seen in products with a renewable resource base; if the extraction and processing contradicts the resources’ needed regrowth time. However, these products might not be kept longer, because they were pushed onto the consumer and possibly not intrinsically needed. This might differ to other forms of marketing such as in pull marketing for sustainability, where consumers make more concious choices in terms of a purchase so that the product or service chosen is kept longer by aliging more with what the consumer needs and wants. Of course this might not be exclusive and there can be overlaps.

How does marketing for sustainabiltiy work these days?

Before marketing was sustainable, marketing sold certain imaginary that likely were not sustainable, think about the topless muscleman, infront of a BBQ of brand x with his guy friends and the woman in the background taking care of the children. Now in marketing for sustainability we may no longer see the muscle guy, but the well dressed husband or a lesbian couple, with a vegan steak in front of the now a newer and more efficient BBQ of brand x. One may now buy not only that lifestyle, so close to a sustainability ideal, but most of all one buys a new BBQ. Marketing did it again. It sold.

Because it is marketed as sustainable, does not mean it is (in the long-term). Source

What is more likely marketing for sustainability?

Marketing for sustainability should be as simple as that it is honest and deviate from selling sustainability ideals sourrounding the product or by idealizing the product for being sustainable. It is nearly as knowing a partner who one choses to marry or a partnership one engages with for an investment, because one knows them. For example, a tourist agency could sell a sustainble sailing turn across the atlantic ocean with vegan food, FSC certified timber and a romantic ride into the sun. However, it also has to sell the reality that being the risk of sea sickness, the storms on the sea, the team-work needed, 24 hours readiness and most of all the lack of romantization such trip might bring along. If it does so, it will find that consumers sustain the sail turn, but will also return as consumers again because marketing was honest, and the reality sold matched what was expected. Honesty hereby makes marketing sustainable – the product being sustainable tourism- long term profitable.

Curious about the many ideals sold here? Klick here.

For physical products that could look as much like “here is the product we are selling, but it also falls short on long-term battery life. We are being actually honest that you can’t expect this from this product, but we are looking into developing a new model that enables you to keep the product and be able to easily replace the battery so that you don’t depend on new product purchases. This will also be part of a new business service offering, so that you don’t have to deal with long returns and actually safe money over time, with benefits for us to save on production resources too. The product is actually useful for these purposes…. and we don’t recommend if … because you likely won’t end up using it. If you still want to try it out, we can rent it out too as part of our new service offering. ”

It could also be as simple as selling a lack of ideals or filling a niche or problem: Here you can use the GPS tracker for your pet in the city so that your pet can go outdoors, you don’t get mad during home office, while you don’t have to worry, whether it gets locked up in a garage without finding it. This type of marketing might even work better then selling such GPS in idealized sustainable scenarios with a wild tracker pet father or couple, conquering wild river beds and sustainable forests with their pets, because most people work during the week, so selling a product what it is for in the context, make it sustain and the consumers too. It may even increase the reach including sales, while improving coustomer loyalty.

Of course selling purely sustainable values is great too, particular if it does not prohibit behaviors by purchasing products and lifestyles that are for instance socially and ecologically friendly prodcued such as re-use bottles or bags bags as a means to avoid the use of continues plastics. But to sell to sell and then use sustainability as a selling point.. hmm hmm.

More thoughts ? Message me anytime.

References

Koelen, M. A., & Van den Ban, A. W. (2004). Health education and health promotion. Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Training courses on the unconciousness mind, ideals and fantasy.

Is there hope in the lack of it?

Someone asked me to reply to the following;

“Many people say we are driving towards extinction and horrible living conditions, basically the future will be really dark. Others say that everything will be fine. I don’t know if I can relax and enjoy the present moment with thinking that the future will be ok or if I need to fight more because the future will apparently be really bad.”

And here is my answer;

In sustainability we deal nearly every day with the worst case scenarios and how to prevent them. In doing so we tend to begin with the end in mind and often that is the worst; “the end of the world as a result of climate change”. This trickles down to the interconnections and reason for that to happen such as inqualities, growing gaps between the rich an poor, corruption, unsustainable production and consumption processes, homophobia, abuse of power, addictions, health disparities, greed, species destinction, terrorism, further illness and alike. A recipe for anxiety.

It is now not only climate change that is a threat to our own survival, but it is also the interconnections that, when we focus in extremes on them, become the reality of how this world is, or more specifically how we perceive it to be. Let me point out; it is not like that, it is not neither nor in extreme, it is in proportion. Yet, (please continue reading, the good part is comming soon), many of these challenges seem extremely difficult to solve though, because of how complex they are so that the proportion might feel overwhelming. Such an example is the current war going on between Russia and the Ukraine. There is no “stop” botton. And there also seems no stop bottom for corporations to pollute and exploit because they get to benefit from the perks of limited liability (see why that happens in the video below). It nearly feels like working towards a vacuum, a sort of helplessness in the messiness we fight in that field.

Now in sustainability we still work with the end in mind (the worst case scenario) and in some methods we imagine the best case scenario, in which we have saved the world and all problems this world is facing (see the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals). Yet even if we use the best case scenario in which we imagine the perfect world, we still break down the vision into things that don’t work out now and then how we need to change them get to the imagined perfect world. We may see again that all is quite wicked. It makes it seemingly perceive that we will likely run into a shitstorm; extinction. More anxiety.

Is there any hope globally?

In all the scenarios that we run through, in all the madness that indeed is real in proportion, there is yet also hope. That is in fact seeing that such things as the Sustainable Development Goals exist or that one or two typos become increasingly accepted (more biases being removed that against how things should be but no longer hold to true i.e. in innovation, being open for change and working with differences). Going back; although the SDGs may not be ideal, they give some sort of direction and thanks to the SDGs we see not only companies moving towards more sustainability in many different ways, but we also see more people being aware of it as a result of creative forms of education, being that funny TikTok movies to reach a broader mass, other forms of Entertainment Education, or simply because people care. We now also see that sustainability becomes a profitable business case, so that capitalism (one of course can critiques it) becomes also an opportunity for change.

There is also much efforts done by individuals as there is done by NGOs and even governments through the implementation of new laws and policy. One can now even see countries nearly competing in terms of which country or region is becoming more green or more sustainable. Why would they do that? Well it attracts investments. The more stable an economy, the more secure investments, or in some cases tourism and further employment opportunities (money is not too bad). In addition, the world is becoming more globalized, our perception is changing rapidly, so that we no longer live in our own thought bubbles, but also in ways in which things can change more rapidly, not our perception only, but opportunities of cooperation and in the fight for lets say climate justice (think about Greta Thunberg); She does a great job in bringing the issue at stake.

Is there more hope?

Many people don’t throw their trash on the floor, there are companies and individuals I know who are not driver for sustainability of the entire organizations, but their hearts are inside; While Twitter might not be known for promoting gender equality and feminism I know at least one employee who drives that type of thinking in her heart there and internal in the organization, so that in all that critqiues about Twitter there is also hope. And knowing her, I am sure she’s moving a lot.

K-Pop at the UN. That’s called fan loyality and awarness raising at high level.

And for the other topics; as much as there is war, there is also the lack of it (think about how many countries are not at war now) and while there is a lack of biodiversity there is also not a lack of it thanks to growing regulations on forest protection and because people like it (also thanks to instagram almost instagram nature tourism and romantic tags in forest/nature scenarios that are worth protecting nature for too.). Seemingly, there are many tech companies that invest into IT Tools for social innovation (I know at least one) and sustainability also becomes this cool thing to do, even in education it becomes increasingly implemented. In ways its nice, because it moves automatically (literally giving us a rest also thanks to different time zones and many people working in this field around the clock and thanks to social media running 24/7 in repetition). It also is becomming more fun and accessible i.e. being more able to shape our cities through tools or different ways in which the public can participate in legal decision making. This is kind of the way to go.

Will the future be okay or bad?

Coming back to the original comment; There is no certainty, because in certainty we know, and sustainabiltiy or the end goal of it seems quiet uncertain. There is direction and when we look at direction there is much hope too, and balance in how we look at things also.

References

Glick, R. A. (2003). Idealization and psychoanalytic learning. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly72(2), 377-401.

Swart, R. J., Raskin, P., & Robinson, J. (2004). The problem of the future: sustainability science and scenario analysis. Global environmental change14(2), 137-146.

Trussler, M., & Soroka, S. (2014). Consumer demand for cynical and negative news frames. The International Journal of Press/Politics19(3), 360-379.

Cover Picture: Local Artist Studio.

Where has all that meaning gone and how to get it back?

When we are children, we are yet too young to know what we want to do later in life. What passion will drive us. We make sense of this world, relate to our parents, maybe adopt one or another of their joys; their taste of music, their taste of styles, their taste of being. Our peers styles, what they like and don’t.

And there is us; what we like, the styles we enjoy, the interests we form independent of others. Interests and styles we merge and sometimes one interest swaps over into another, creating confusion or for others „disorder“. To be part of the girls group, you need to wear pink and listen to hip hop.

As a child just forming a sense of this world, being excluded sucks. Eventually the child gives in. Changes it’s writing style, changes clothing, wanting to be part of the girls gang. Yet, it never really becomes part of it fully, because its full part is the individuality it gave up to be part.

As adults we long for that. For that individuality, we lost as a child, we gave up because it made us excluded or because we had to because it wasn’t liked or too odd to be understood (at home, in schools and any other setting). There were informal laws full of bias holding us back ; not being allowed to mix Goethe with Techno, not spending too much time on homework one enjoys not because of the enjoyment, but because of the perception of homework for instance that it shouldn’t take too much time, loving long hair as a boy but cutting it short and now having it short because of the bullies experienced as child but now feeling one can’t fully be themselves because of the image created to oneself and others [feeling locked-in], loving to game and to connect to others thereby, but being shamed for being an indoor vampire and than as adult realizing how much one missed and learned from gaming with people around the globe. Now we are adults with the images we had created to be accepted. Where is the meaning now we had lost?

In these moments, others might made us feel that these were slight annoyances, but they were the annoyances that might have ended something that gave meaning to our lives and it’s continuity; a skill-set, a passion a genuine interest, a feeling worth living for that could have carried on into our adult life as is now. Yet where has that gone? Where has that feeling of belonging gone? Where has that meaning gone to? What filled you with joy, not because it filled others with joy, but because it filled you with joy ?

What was it that you loved so much and gave up? What exactly about it ? And for what reason did you not persue it? Can you get it back now? How would that effect you? Would it scare you? Why would it? Can you try it out? What do you need to do so?

Why would this matter for sustainability?

People thrive, where and when they can be. At work, privately and both.

How does working part time relate to sustainability transformation?

Two years ago, before my current job, I had a job offer at a NGO in Indonesia. We negotiated the salary, which was around 1.200 USD. An acquaintance mentioned not to start with a low salary like that considering my education and work experience. Before he said that, I felt confident with 1.200 USD and after he said that I wondered whether my decision was right. I went back to management to talk about it and management asked me „What do you need more money for? With that money you can rent a small but nice apartment, eat enough food, have health insurance and after that there should still be enough for trips and fun. Locals also have fun with that amount.“

Now it’s been two years on a part time-Job(30/h) in Germany and I really enjoy it. Before 9 am and after 3pm I get to do what I want. I could have a side job, I can write, volunteer, I can practice playing music, I can play with my cat, I can google, watch YouTube, I can help a friend with after day care for their children, I can do nothing, I can play video games (for instance, Pokemon on my outdated Game Boy Colour 😉 ), I can spend time being.

This made me curious and I kept on having discussions on that topic more often with people. „How happy are you with your life and your work hours?“. Often we end up in arguments like „I want a large apartment, then I want a better car and it’s just nice to have more money. My job is so stressfull honestly, so it also compensates for that, like a nice vacation etc.“”Would you be okay with earning less money?” “Yes sure, I mean I could probably get a cheaper car” someone said then feeling insecure, whether not working full-time would fullfill their lives. What to fill time with?

And I get that, a lot and I wonder what would be needed for part-time to become a new norm. A norm in which we don’t run after an idealized version of happinnes (thinking that more hours worked, a better car and a house like symbolized in the American Dream are worth persuing), but a life-style of being instead. So that, when we talk about sustainability transition, the human focused center is thought of more often. Whether people can be more happy with less and viewing less as more? Whether people can spend more quality time, be that just laying on a couch, cooking, playing video games, anything they desire as human, and in retrospect can be more fulfilled at work and in their lives? Moving away from buying or other forms of overconsumption to compensate a lack of happiness or stress to being more, at the same time being the same or more productive at work.

What does that mean for sustainability? What questions should be asked?

  • What would be needed to make part time jobs the new norm? Do people want that? Why not? (How would they fill a potential lack experienced? How could that lack be filled so that it feels rewarding to ones subjective form of well-being)
  • How much money is needed to have enough to sustain and to engage in other interests? (Thinking about salary variances and people with different fundamental needs).
  • Can business models support a lifestyle with less money (renting of music instruments, cars, interior, etc) as oppose to people having them owned? (Enabling access to entertainment or well-being also for people with lower incomes, making sustainability more inclusive instead of exclusive)
  • How could such societal and economical transformation look like? (What does it mean for cities, companies and design-thinking, but also policy?)
  • How could the perception on working part time being shifted? (Part time not being for mothers or for people with specific reasons, but because people simply want to work part time, because people are diverse and because people have different interests)
  • What gains and losses would one have to agree to? (Not owning a car but agreeing to shared transportation or more rides on the bycicle and companies installing shower stations at work).
  • If less money buys less materialistic goods, how can time be used to provide the same or a similar type of quality meaning to oneself detached less from the notion of need for money (relationships, etc. what do people want today? what fullfills them?)

References

McGowan, T. (2012). The end of dissatisfaction?: Jacques Lacan and the emerging society of enjoyment. suny Press.

Oswald, L. (1996). The place and space of consumption in a material world.

Ruti, M. (2013). The call of character: Living a life worth living. Columbia University Press.

Warren, T. (2004). Working part‐time: achieving a successful ‘work‐life’balance? 1. The British journal of sociology55(1), 99-122.

More sustainable materials? The case of leather and its alternatives

By: Annjoest & Andrés Castro , collaborative work as part of the project more sustainable chemicals for the leather industry.

Source: LUM3N on pixabay

While leather traditionally has been perceived as a reliable and long-lasting material, it is increasingly associated with negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment, and the well-being of tannery workers and consumers. Because of that, there is a growing interest in alternative materials with a similar look or touch like leather, often advertised as “bio-based” leather alternatives and “purely synthetic” leathers. Bio-based materials can relate to materials that have a renewable resource base like pineapple, and synthetic materials can relate to materials made of fossil fuels mainly. Following, alternatives may be used for applications in which they can be less suitable, because the mechanical features differ, or because they are linked to better-perceived production processes. 

Therefore, this blog highlights some of the dimensions of sustainable production processes and the importance of mechanical properties when it comes to material choices. Its aim is to shed more critical light on the perception of materials’ impacts and to better enable consumers and producers to make more conscious material choices.

1. Shortcomings and opportunities of current sustainability assessments for leather and alternatives  

Due to leather’s linkage to animal farming, it is often associated as a material that contributes to large greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In contrast, consumers and producers may perceive that synthetic and “bio-based” alternatives, which are detached from these GHG emissions, have fewer emissions in their total production. However, to really understand product-related emissions, it is necessary to look into the entire product life-cycle, starting from the raw materials used, the production methods, and their end-of-life paths. To best assess how leather and alternatives compare, a holistic assessment should take into account all impacts of production phases from upstream to downstream activities. In this respect, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is commonly used1.

Although LCAs can provide an overall impression on the impacts of materials and production processes, their results need to be interpreted cautiously. Currently, most LCAs consider different life-cycle phases, which means that the impact of products is analyzed in production boundaries. This can give a specific impression of a products’ impact, but it does not fairly compare materials for which production standards and assessment systems vary. To do so means that standardized system boundaries for product groups should exist. For instance, in the textile industry, the Higg Index is commonly used as a benchmark for textile materials. It measures the impact of production such as on climate change, the environment, the impact of chemicals used, and the extent to which resources for production are depleted2.

To compare the impact of different production processes, it sets similar production boundaries. It currently scores leather high (i.e., rather negative) on its environmental footprint (159 compared, e.g., with 44 for polyester and 98 for cotton)3. However, such a score can give a narrowed impression, because the Index allocates the total emissions from animal farming to leather, which does not happen with other products or their materials. To better compare materials and products means that an equal assessment for production processes and their boundaries has to take place. In analogy to cotton and polyester, it could be argued that the assessment boundary for leather should begin at a slaughterhouse as opposed to the cattle farm. 

Assessment criteria also need to consider the total resources used in the production and the processing of materials. Synthetic materials are mainly based on fossil fuels with a greater linkage to carbon emissions, while “bio-based” alternatives have a renewable resource base that by nature stores carbon. However, these bio-based alternatives may use fossil fuel-based additives to achieve specific material features and therefore, increase their carbon emissions. This can also apply to leather if chemicals are used for processing and finishing (surfaces). It follows that assessments better have to consider all the materials in the processing used. Only then, the impact of production can be correctly measured and communicated.

(Eco-)toxicity considerations

Whether a product can be claimed as more sustainable or with certain advantages in environmental performance, should also depend on its materials’ toxicological impact. For leather, around 85% of hides are tanned using chrome III  which can oxidize to chrome VI and be problematic for human health in particular4. If the leather has been processed and the final product handled properly,  chrome VI may not occur.  To avoid that tanning alternatives such as vegetable tannin can be used but if used in excess and not safely handled can promote other environmental impacts such as eutrophication and resource depletion. That is if the demand for vegetable tannins is higher than their “regrowth time” and or when unsafe handling of vegetable tannins results in eco-toxicological impacts of production. 

When it comes to alternatives of leather, fossil fuel-based materials, and bio-based materials with fossil fuel additives, there is little knowledge about their toxicological impact. If we assume that these materials need additional substances (i.e PVC or TPU)  to obtain a certain look or properties they may also have such an impact. In a certain regard, they can be linked to problematic additives that have been spotted to be regulated in chemical legislation. For example, phthalates are used as softeners in PVC production, or flame retardants as TBBPA (tetrabromobisphenol A) used in certain thermoplastics. Those intentionally added additives are often used in plastic production and they certainly represent a concern for human health and environment safeness. 

Although this can also apply to leather when mixed with additives, high-quality leather have better natural occurring features and often does not need extensive use of additives that could be hazardous. This can also happen in certain bio-based materials alternatives. Therefore, it is important to get to know the natural properties of each material and avoid mixing them with other materials where possible. 

Sourcing challenges

Source: ilyessuti on pixabay

Besides the already mentioned impacts, there are also concerns about the sourcing of materials. Leather often raises concern in relation to animal welfare and deforestation processes that might be linked to livestock. Thereby the perception exists that livestock is raised for the “skin” only. Although there is an indirect impact on how animals are raised in relation to skin quality,  cattle are not raised for the hides only. Hides are considered as by-products, which represent around 8%-12% of the value of fed cattle (Gary & Swander, 2020), whereas around 3.5 % of byproducts are allocated to hides5.

As dairy and meat consumption is expected to rise, increasing availability of hides as by-products can even be expected. Although there are regions, where hide waste products are strictly regulated such as by having to enter other production and consumption systems (i.e. animal feed, fertilizer, and bulk pet food), other regions may lack such regulations. The latter might be one indication that industrial waste products such as hides more likely end up in landfills or are being incinerated. It could be assumed for as long as dairy consumption exists, the use of the hide is beneficial. This can also apply to other waste products, whereas their production and use impacts depend on how they are being processed to fulfill what type of product needs.

2. What role do mechanical properties play in material choice?

What type of materials are used and processed plays an important role in the longevity of a product and therefore its “sustainability”. That is how long different materials can be used to fulfill specific demands on a product (e.g. aesthetics, safety, water protection). The less likely the range of product demands can be met over its lifespan, the shorter the lifespan of a product will be.  A consequence is that the same product is likely purchased more frequently and because of that the frequency of new production increases (i.e. fast fashion). Such a system pressures the environment because more materials and the energy to process them are needed.  It also means that more money is spent on the buying of new products over a person’s life. 

To avoid that products wear off more easily and that consumers repurchase them more often, the materials of which they are made are important. For products to last longer, they should be made with durable materials. That is where certain types of leather [e.g. genuine leather] are suitable. Because the leather has unique mechanical properties that allow it to age-long, other materials that are advertised as “vegan or synthetic alternatives” likely do not yet. Because these materials are different, they may not meet up to the specific features of leather over time. For instance, a couch made from a durable type of leather is less likely to wear off as opposed to a coach made from polyester. 

Such a difference can be less important for products that are kept shortly or are used less intensely, but gain importance if products are intended to be kept for multiple years and where product longevity or other unique features play an important role, e.g., besides furniture, also a wallet, jacket, shoes.

“There is a balancing act between the properties you actually want from your material. And in many, many cases, different materials will have different physical performances of leather, particularly where there are a lot of stressing and bending examples in footwear.“

Chemical Supplier

In the case of leather, it is made of a unique composition that is difficult to replace. It is made from hides, whereas hides consist largely of collagen – a structure-forming protein. During the processing of hides,  leather tanning proteins (fibrils and fibers) are intertwined and because of that give the leather its strength and structure. The upper hide layers have very thin and tight collagen fibers and because of that show higher mechanical stability (tensile and tear strength). As a result of leather’s origin in the collagen network, its tensile strength is noticeably higher compared to other materials (Meyer, Dietrich, Schulz & Mondschein, 2021)

Meyer, Dietrich, Mond & Mondschein, 2021

Although tensile strength is an important material criterion, not all products benefit from tensile strength. Therefore, bio-based alternatives can be suitable for products with unique demands.  (see Figure 1: Comparison of physical properties of leather and alternatives). On the other hand, leather has a range of mechanical features such as elasticity, water vapor permeability, abrasion resistance, and durability. Because many alternatives only have a small fraction of these features,  materials may be enhanced synthetically. A result is that these features may not last, which can decrease the value of a product over time. This can also be seen in lower-quality leather (i.e. split leather) which is often enhanced using synthetics. Therefore, the right choice of material is important to make it last and to use it in accordance with specific product needs. 

3. How can the most suitable material for consumption and production be chosen? 

In the light of sustainable development, the material choice depends on its use case and the system surrounding production and consumption processes. Regardless of the material used, production processes and the materials should be safe for humans and the environment and it should utilize as little as possible of total resources for production where possible. Holistic assessments such as LCAs should give a differentiated view on the impact of different materials.

From a mechanical point of view, different materials have different properties which makes them more or less beneficial for different use cases. This means the right material can depend on how long a product should be used and what expectations exist on it. Instead of competing for being “the best” material, materials might actually add value to each other in a product for which each material is most suitable;  a bio-based shoelace that wears off quickly with a leather shoe topping to last.  

Sources:

Footnotes:

1Kurian Joseph, N. Nithya,Material flows in the life cycle of leather,Journal of Cleaner Production,Volume 17, Issue 7,2009,Pages 676-682,ISSN 0959-6526,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2008.11.018

2Mertens, J. (2020, 31. July). Higgs Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) Methodology. Sustainable Apparel Coalition. https://howtohigg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Higg-MSI-Methodology-July-31-2020.pdf

3Davila, G. (2020, 2. November). SAC Responds to Leather Industry Concerns Over Higg MSI. Sustainable Apparel Coalition. https://apparelcoalition.org/sac-response-to-leather-industry-concerns/

4Hedberg, Y. S. (2020, 15. July). Chromium and leather: a review on the chemistry of relevance for allergic contact dermatitis to chromium – Journal of Leather Science and Engineering. SpringerOpen. https://JLSE.SpringerOpen.com/articles/10.1186/s42825-020-00027-y

5De Rosa-Giglio, Fontanella, Gonzalez-Quijano, Ioannidis, Nucci, Brugnoli. (2018). Product Environmental footprint Category Rules- Leather. On behalf of the Leather Pilot Technical Secretariat. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/smgp/pdf/PEFCR_leather.pdf

Further:

CO (2021). Retrieved from: Leather Production Sustainability | Eco-Friendly Leather Alternatives (commonobjective.co)

Gary, W. and Swanser, K. (2020). Quantifying the relationship between U.S. Cattle hide prices/value and U.S. Cattle Production. PhD Research Report. Leather and Hide Council of America Response to: Cross-Price Elasticity of Demand RFP

Meyer, M., Dietrich, S., Schulz, H., & Mondschein, A. (2021). Comparison of the technical performance of leather, artificial leather, and trendy alternatives. Coatings11(2), 226.

Suski, P., Speck, M., & Liedtke, C. (2021). Promoting sustainable consumption with LCA–A social practice based perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 283, 125234.

United Nations Industrial Development Organization. UNIDO (2012). Brugnoli, F. Life Cycle Assessment, Carbon Footprint in Leather Processing. Retrieved from: https://leatherpanel.org/sites/default/files/publications-attachments/lca_carbonfootprint_lpm2012.pdf