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Change is no longer just a greenwash

  • Date: Monday 14th October 2019
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Sustainability is front-of-mind for most of us these days.

We’re accustomed to taking our own bags for life to the grocers and we know we face paying 10p for a replacement if we don’t.

Splitting up household cardboard, glass and plastics is now second nature, with total waste generated by Scottish households down by 2 per cent to 2.41 million tonnes and less being sent to landfill.

And there’s more change on the horizon with the Scottish Government’s ‘deposit return scheme’ plans which will see us paying a 20p refundable deposit on bottles and cans.

The number of brands jumping on the green bandwagon is on the up.  Once upon a time the cynics among us would call it ‘greenwashing’ as it was often more for show than for any significant environmental impact.

But there’s been a real shift in consumer demand and brands know they need to put their money where their mouth is by implementing real business changes rather than stunt gimmicks.

Consumers are wising up to big brand tactics and are savvy enough to see through stunts, and more people that ever want to see manufacturers taking responsibility for reducing the amount of plastic waste.

Sustainable behavioural change is well underway, no doubt helped by shocking footage of the impact of our waste on the planet’s fragile eco-system on the likes of Blue Planet II, which captured the imagination of 10.3 million viewers.

Furthermore, the Greg Wallace fronted Inside the Factory showed the staggering amount of plastics that manufacturers use, particularly in packaging.

So it’s great to see many brands are now lining up to commit to tackling the issue of reducing plastic waste with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Evian all promising to overhaul packaging and Diageo and Costa phasing out the use of plastic straws.

They are realising that their customers want them to do the right thing and are even willing to pay more money for eco-friendly packaging according to a recent poll by YouGov.   

Last week, Tennent’s announced plans to invest £14million on eco-friendly initiatives. Plans include dropping single-use plastic packaging, creating a new waste water plant and signing the UK Plastics Pact alongside the likes of Coca-Cola and Unilever.

Plastic rings which package the brand’s beer cans will be binned in favour of cardboard by the end of this year. The firm also pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2025 and will to start work on a carbon capture facility at its Wellpark site in Glasgow.

Another Scottish favourite, Border Biscuits, earlier this year announced that it would remove 90 per cent of plastic from its packaging, which will save 537 tonnes of CO2 from the manufacturing process annually.

And it’s not just in waste where Scotland is leading the way with sustainability. People are making changes that go far beyond their retail habits. They are making other lifestyle changes and including turning to sustainable travel options.

I was pleased to hear Glasgow has become one of the flagship cycling locations in the UK, with a brand new fleet of e-bikes launched only last week.

In total, 630 bikes were introduced to the city in 2014, with over 1.4 million km clocked up by cyclists in the last five years.

Sixty-three electric bikes have now been introduced alongside twenty-one electric charging stations, funded by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government eBike Grant Fund. Rides will be charges on a pay-as-you-go basis at £2 per 20 minutes or £30 per day – a much cheaper and conscientious way to explore all that the city has offer.

It just goes to show – if enough people demand it then change will happen.

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Kicking up a storm is the latest trend and the recent ‘Storm Area 51’ campaign is the perfect example.

It was over-hyped and alien believers didn’t actually ‘storm’ the secretive Area 51 base in Nevada as planned. But they did have a bit of party complete with tin foil hats and conehead costumes by the looks of it.

The trend has now come closer to home with plans to storm a facility in Cumbernauld looking for another secret…but not an extraterrestrial one.

Campaigners want to get their hands on the Irn Bru factory’s original recipe as they’re not fans of the new lower sugar option.

I will sceptically say I can’t see AG Barr giving in. Participants might get a close encounter with the factory but I reckon that’s as near as they’ll get to the highly guarded recipe.

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Scotland is notorious for its obesity problem, so I imagine the powers that be will be watching with interest at proposals being mooted in England to tackle the issue.

England’s outgoing chief medical officer proposed a raft of measures – including a ban on eating and drinking on urban public transport “except fresh water, breastfeeding and medical conditions”.

Is this going too far? Quite possibly.  Frankly this type of restriction doesn’t get to the root of the problem or promote positive lifestyle changes – plus it’s a bit ‘nanny state’. Let parents decide what their kids eat and where.

It might, however, have the unintended benefit of helping commuters who can’t stand sitting next to fellow travellers munching their way through smelly takeaways.

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Self-service checkouts are more popular than ever with retailers, allowing them to squeeze in more tills without having to recruit extra checkout assistants.

I canvassed some views and those I spoke to either loved or loathed the DIY checkouts.

Some find them more hassle than they’re worth, with delays for “unexpected items in bagging area” or the need to call for help every few minutes because items aren’t recognised or need approval.

But others like the fact they reduce queues, enjoy packing their shopping bag without feeling rushed, and even like the fact they don’t have to interact with a shop assistant if they’re not in the mood for chit chat.

But it seems this lack of human contact is not without its problems. It can apparently increase the chance of customers being dishonest.

However boffins at Abertay University have come up with a solution – putting realistic, human-like faces on the tills. They reckon we respond to faces and eye contact making us less likely to cheat.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen theories of this nature.  More than a decade ago I remember reading about an ‘honesty box’ experiment – researchers put a picture of watching eyes next to the box and this TRIPLED the amount of cash put it.

It’s a shame it’s necessary to come up with measures like this, but fascinating that such a simple step can have such a significant impact on people’s behaviour.

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