7 highly profitable ideas for a better environment

Image cc0: Christopher Dombres, Flickr

Environmental pollution, climate change, ecological sustainability… We can’t wake up without these terms hitting us over the head. When we are confronted with the extent of these issues strong emotions come up. Either we are dejected because we can’t take the bad news anymore (flight), or we feel like we need to respond and do something (fight). Either way, the emotions of people have always been the most important force to push society in a different direction. This is a starting point for making important changes. In this article I want you to think about how these changes might look like.

Fiscally advantageous regime and space for remote work

Let’s take the UK as an example. Increasing the numbers of employees working from home could save over 3 million tonnes of carbon pollution each year. This in addition to the economic benefits for both employees and employers of cutting costs by 3.5 billion euro a year.

Over 40 per cent of UK jobs are compatible with working from home

This is a quick win that would be so easy to implement and yet not a lot of major policies are in place. Traffic jams grow bigger everyday and everyone gets in line at 9 AM to go to an office they don’t like. Not only are we losing time and polluting the air but we are compromising our health. Office workers can work from home or shared remote locations at least half the time, saving time, precious resources and their health.

Employers could be taxed according to the percentage of office workers that are allowed to work remotely. Beyond this, we should continue to invest in accessible coworking spaces at strategic locations (train stations, city centers…)

Build things to last by worldwide taxation

Cheap electronics, clothes and other throwaway items are consumed on a daily basis. We should make all items more precious. More precious could economically be translated to products that are expensive to buy and cheaper to repair. Supranational levels like the EU could set up a Value Added taxation framework that encourages manufacturers to build more sustainable products.

For example, buying a cheap watch could be taxed at 50%. For me, cheap is measured by the lifetime of a product. This measure might easily be determined by taking the years of warranty the manufacturer is willing to ensure for the product. If a watch was built according to the principles of a sustainable, circular economy we should only tax it at 20%. With these principles in mind, repairing a watch should be taxed at 0%. I’m leaving out the complex details of a checks and balances system here, but you get the idea.

Find alternatives for disposable plastic

Plastic is a very durable material that mostly ends up in the trash after one time use. Moreover, it takes 250 ML oil and 3 liters of water to make a 1 liter plastic water bottle. Mostly it ends up in the trash cans, which means it ends up in landfills or worse, our oceans… The production of disposable lighters, straws and plastic water bottles should be discouraged.

It takes 250 ML oil and 3 liters of water to make a 1 liter plastic bottle of water.

If you don’t do it for the environment, do it for your health. PET bottles contain oestrogenic hormones, and release them slowly over time especially under the exposure of sunlight. BPA is one of the worst offenders, and we see a lot of products that are marketed as BPA-free. However, BPA is only one of the bad chemicals that is used to manufacture plastic.

Personally I stopped using plastic water bottles at home even if they are recycled where I live. Now I like to use glass bottles instead of plastic ones. I don’t know why, but mentally it feels as if my water has been upgraded in value since it comes from a heavy glass bottle. When I’m on the go, I got myself a refillable drink can.

Encourage slow travel

It has become cheaper to fly back and forth from the UK to Malaga than to take the train from Birmingham to Newcastle. Some friends experienced this first hand when they wanted to meet up last minute. Because the train tickets were 25% more expensive than airline tickets, they decided to meet up in Spain instead of Newcastle.

In the European Union, travel by train is taxed much more than travel by plane

Why are we taxing public transportation anyway? In the European Union, travel by train is taxed much more than travel by plane. Some examples of EU countries and VAT rates for train tickets:

  • In the Netherlands 9%
  • In Belgium 6%

Compare the above rates to intra- EU airline tickets :

  • EU-wide 0 %

Control population growth

The United Nations has calculated that by 2037 the world population will have grown to 9 billion people. This growth will put immense pressure on the environment as we will need to occupy more free land with buildings. In addition to that, agriculture has already been put on steroids to provide our growing needs for food (GMO’s, pesticides, insecticides…) This is absolutely unsustainable in the long run.

In a lot of political and cultural systems, people are encouraged to procreate. Instead we should be investing in the building blocks for the future of our youth. This means free education, free healthy food in schools and free public transportation for school trajectories. Moreover, it is important to recognize that people who choose to not have children are providing society a service.

Rethink the organisation of supermarkets

Supermarkets have been designed to encourage overconsumption. I cannot even count how many times I had to throw precious food away because I had to buy too much at once. Examples include garlic packed by multiple units or meat in predetermined quantities.

Each and every item should be purchasable by law in the smallest unit possible.

Since singles are a growing group in society, supermarkets should adapt. Buying smaller units should not result in a higher bill. By law, buying smaller quantities should be no more expensive per unit than buying less. We should always have the option of buying items in the lowest quantity possible.

Stop printing receipts by default

Ok this is a small drop in the Ocean, but at the end of the day it adds up. Why does every bank card terminal in the world still print tickets? I’m looking at the companies that make our electronic payment terminals… Please add an option to your terminal at the end of payment (‘Do you want to print a receipt’?). This will save money for consumers and precious time for business owners.

Supermarkets can use the e-mail address of the client to send the receipts electronically if the customers desires so. This information is already known for the majority of their clients since a lot of them use customer loyalty cards.

Call to action

We are not building innovative solutions fast enough because our mindset is stuck in the past (“profit mindset”). On a bigger scale re-regulation of systems seems appropriate. The present economic paradigm does not correctly address the needs of the state of the world.

A starting point might be to make micro changes in our own lives that tackle one point at a time. Limit the number of goods you possess, eliminate disposable plastics, question the way you travel, try to repair stuff…

These actions alone do not magically resolve the problem. However, in the long term we are changing our mindset by implementing changes. From this changed collective mindset new solutions will emerge for the bigger challenges.

What can you change in your business, country, life or daily choices that affect our environment. How is your community addressing these challenges?

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