A more sustainable world
Most of us are living well beyond our environmental means.
The situation in Wales may not be as bad as the USA (we would need roughly six Planet Earths to all live like Americans) but we are still taking more than our fair share of the world’s resources.
This was underlined by research work at Cardiff University’s Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) when it measured Cardiff’s ‘Ecological Footprint’.
The average Cardiff resident produces nearly 10kg of waste a week
The average Cardiff citizen uses almost three times their fair share of the resources — and more than 90% of the rest of the world’s population. It takes an area of land 125 times the size of the city to produce all the resources it consumes and absorb all the waste it creates. Nearly a third of the Cardiff diet is imported from abroad, 16% goes to waste, while every resident is responsible for 2.5 tonnes of CO2 going into the atmosphere through energy use.
Ecological Footprints are a useful tool in helping us to understand and communicate the fact that the way we currently live is not sustainable. They also help to understand how to improve things. The footprinting project demonstrated that different types of lifestyle have significantly different environmental impacts, and that simple changes to how we travel, what we eat and how we manage our homes can make a worthwhile difference.
Eco-footprinting is just one of many BRASS projects, which according to the Centre’s director, Professor Ken Peattie, are organised around three main themes. One considers the social and environmental impacts of business, including topics like land-contamination or work-life balance. Another considers how the way we produce and consume goods and how we structure our industries can become more sustainable. This includes such topics as FairTrade and organic agriculture. Finally there are projects that aim to change management thinking in business and elsewhere to create more responsible organisations. This includes topics such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) or social enterprises.
Waste accounts for nearly 15% of the city of Cardiff's ecological footprint
BRASS projects range from the practical — helping Mercedes-Benz to improve their engine remanufacturing systems — to the more theoretical — including books on topics like business ethics and corporate governance. The Centre has emphasised the need for sustainable thinking right along the length of a firm’s ‘supply chain’ — for example, the ‘farm to fork’ approach to food production. Other projects have included human rights in the mining industry, a survey for the electronic industry on the implications of the new European waste directives, international comparisons of legislation on ‘corporate killing’, and the role of business advice services in helping firms tackle key sustainability issues.
For Professor Peattie, one of the key challenges is communication. We all have a vague sense that sustainability is a good thing — we are less willing to actually do something about it. BRASS has hosted a major international conference on the Greening of Industry, and held the first International Ecological Footprint Conference in the UK.
On one level, sustainability is a simple concept. It means only consuming resources at a rate at which they can be replaced, so that the inputs and outputs of our systems remain in balance.
But Professor Peattie believes there is another, more social, sense - of enhancing and maintaining quality of life, of reducing disparities between the richest and poorest societies. He said: "We have to ask, what is the best quality of life we can hope for as a planet, how do we deliver it to as many people as possible, and how do we deliver it so that people in the future don’t pay the bill?"