Robert Mostyn – Former Chair of TiK
In June I wrote how important it is for us to take sustainability as a personal matter. In this article I am going to write about a system that I have been working on for over 13 years that enables individuals to assess, on a day-by-day basis, whether they are living sustainably or not. (The last phase of this project had EU funding and included Nottingham Trent University and Boots the chemists as well as several European organisations among the partners.)
Imagine going into a store like you do now – a supermarket, a restaurant, a department store or a newsagent. You make your purchase as usual but the only thing that’s different is you present your “myEcoCost” card when you pay. That is all you have to do to obtain an ecological cost for your purchase, no matter how large or small it is. This small but familiar gesture is all it will take to unlock a whole new way of looking at the world.
What will happen behind the scenes is a whole network of computers will have calculated an ecological cost – the ecoCost – of products as each business has contributed to the manufacture of that product. What distinguishes this method is that an ecoCost is not just calculated once for a product, it is calculated each time the product, or batch of the product, is made. This represents a breakthrough in ecological accounting!
N.B.: The ecoCost of a product is not expressed in monetary terms. It is expressed in physical terms – the mass of steel, acid, alkali, carbon dioxide and the myriad of other materials that contribute to a product’s physical existence. Even energy! Electricity which burns natural gas and produces CO2 can be converted into a physical ecoCost per kilowatt. If you already have a solar array, you will get “invisible” energy that is not incurred from your electricity supplier. In the future though, the ecoCost of the solar panels will be a capital item whose ecoCost will be spread over 15-20 years (not one big ecoCost hit in a single month).
How do we make sense of all this? The ecoCost of a product will be simplified to a number of “indicators”. Examples of indicators are the:
- material footprint (the total amount of materials involved in getting the product to you);
- carbon footprint (the total of all greenhouse gasses emitted in getting the product to you);
- water footprint (the total quantity of fresh water taken to get the product to you).
The ecoCost information for each product you buy, including your utilities such as water, gas and electricity, will be downloaded to your computer. From there the computer will add everything up and display the impact of your lifestyle from different angles (carbon, materials, water).
These new figures on their own are not enough though. Something needs to be added to make sense of all this. What also needs to be provided is a figure that represents a sustainable budget. Just as businesses prepare sales targets and budgets and they regularly compare their actual spend to the budget, you will be able to look at the actual ecoCost of your lifestyle and compare it to a sustainable budget. This way you will become aware of whether you are living sustainably or not – on a day-by-day basis!
This puts your footprint at your fingertips.
Remember the point I made previously that if everyone on earth led a typical British lifestyle, we would need 3 planets to sustain us? What can you do with your EcoCost knowledge? Will you use it to reduce the impact of your lifestyle from 3 planets down to 1? This system releases a new knowledge into life for humans on earth. It connects us as individuals to nature and planetary boundaries, removing the “I am separate from everything else” delusion. Our financial system has been very powerful in engaging human energy through industrial activity to produce warm homes, personal mobility devices (cars) and cheap food – very desirable outcomes if you live in those societies – without any account of the environment.
This solution introduces ecology into the economy.
Consider your commute to work. You look at your mobile phone and it says 23% of your daily budget has been spent. This is because the eco-Invoice for your gas usage this month is spread across each day of the month. You buy a coffee and croissant at the station café and swipe your ecoCost card. Within minutes your phone will display 27% of your daily spend. This is how sensitive the myEcoCost system will be. In the ambition towards sustainability, wouldn’t this be useful to know? You already know to reduce, re-use and recycle… but have you ever wondered by how much? myEcoCost tells you when enough is enough.
Justifying eco-investments in the home can be difficult to rationalise if you only have a financial framework to consider. The incentives to install solar cells to generate electricity were propped up with a feed-in-tariff which is a financial instrument. This feed-in-tariff is now over. There is no more financial inducement to install solar cells. But we have so much further to go! Will that be the end of micro-electricity generation? It shouldn’t be… but it’s difficult when we view the world through financial eyes only. We need a new metric! And myEcoCost will help provide that.
Following on from my previous article where I illustrated how millions of personal decisions (starting with our own) are more influential than political decisions, our planet will only become sustainable when there are billions of sustainable lifestyles.
This is a decision that no one else can make for you. You are the key. myEcoCost will allow you to make buying choices with the planet in mind. The technology is only at proof-of-concept stage. It will take a few more years of funding to develop the software to a state where it can be licensed to businesses.
Although you cannot utilise myEcoCost yet, one thing you can do is co-fund it. A public-subscription business model will become available, where you can contribute to its development on a monthly basis. You’ll have to lookup myecocost.org for further information.
Regardless of what the politicians or media are telling us… It all starts here… Now!