The changing face of sustainability – from Swampy to Wal-mart

Mike Duke Swampy

In his latest blog, Marcus Timson, Director of FM Brooks and co-founder of the EcoPrint Europe Live 2012 event, writes about the changing face of sustainability...

"One of the problems that some people seem to have with sustainability is its image.  For many people, the image of sustainability is that of an anarchic, righteous, self-satisfied, virtuous individual who recycles, eats pulses, campaigned for nuclear disarmament in the 1980’s and wears odd clothes.  While this image - or indeed stereotype - still exists, is making way for a modern, local, global, trend-aware and visionary individual who wants to conduct their life and business in a different way. Of course, it is difficult to shake of the image of the past, but in my opinion, sustainability has definitely moved mainstream and is becoming more and more business- focused.

And that is good because for sustainability to succeed, it has to be commercially successful.  No business is sustainable if it doesn’t make money.  No business can grow unless there is something of value that is being created and sold for a healthy profit.  And no business can generate social and environmental value without money and a commitment to innovation. A strong sustainable business has to be innovative throughout its processes, its personnel development and its product ranges in order to thrive in the long term.

But let’s get back to the image of sustainability.   In the UK in the 1990s, we had a character called Swampy (out of interest - where is he now?)   Anyhow, he was pilloried by the UK media and the political institution as an example of an irresponsible, but educated youth who had nothing better to do than cause a nuisance of himself.  Regardless, he raised the profile of the pro-active eco-warrior by protesting against road building in certain parts of the UK.

I am not doubting his good intentions or accusing him of anything other than good-natured and committed protesting.  However, he went some way to generate the stereotype that many people still have of environmentalism and sustainability: the generic view that - to be sustainable - you must be part of a small minority of misfits, with whom the mainstream cannot identify.

The current lead eco-warrior, as far as I am concerned, is Mike Duke, the CEO of Wal-mart.  The single biggest retailer and commercial employer on the planet, Wal-mart is making great strides in sustainability. It asks its enormous supply chain to align with Wal-Mart’s goals for carbon reduction. This is a real force for change and the brands, productions, employees, suppliers and customers of Wal-mart are all gaining some green credentials from this strategic and significant change. The collective impact of change on a massive scale reaches out and can make a big difference.

So over the past 20 years, the face of sustainability has completely changed.  For those who don’t understand or don’t want to understand sustainability then fine, continue doing what you have always done.  However, the world is changing and soon enough bad print won’t be tolerated by the mainstream.

ASDA, which is owned by Wal-mart, recently reported that its customers consider that green is actually the ‘new normal’. To them, it isn’t such a big deal or nor does it represent a big change.  So people are changing and have changed; businesses are changing and have changed; ergo so must print. Whether you are a wide format printer, offset, litho, flexo, label, screen or digital, narrow, whatever, and however you describe yourself, change will occur.  The EcoPrint Show will help any print company make sense of this change, align with the new face of sustainability and profit in the process."

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