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Are we really for “green”?

Percentage of internet users that are comfortable with buying second hand clothing. You can read the graphic like an optimist noticing that there are many, or as a pessimist, noting that there are only a few… Image credit: CapGemini, Circular economy for a sustainable future

Are we really for a green environment, sustainability, circular economy? Of course we are. We all love it,  but…

One thing is to agree on principle, quite a different matter is to apply those principle and bear the consequences… I guess that we need to recognise that the world we have, in terms of taste, habits, values, is the one reflecting our culture and desires. The reason why industry is producing goods is because we buy them!

Do we like the pollution in our cities and the depletion of resources? Sure we don’t. However, are we walking 20 minutes to get to a place or we rather take the car (possibly taking 20 minutes as well, considering the search for a parking and traffic…)?

These thoughts came to mind as I saw the survey by CapGemini on the willingness of people to buy second hand clothing as part of their research on consumer willingness to support Circular economy for a sustainable future.

The graphic shows that consumers in China and US seem to be the one most likely to buy second hand clothing (59% of internet users responding to the poll indicated they would). The percentage goes down with Italy showing a 37% willingness and Japan 30%.

The poll involved only Internet users but it is reasonable to assume that the result would hold if the poll is extended to all the population. Another point to be considered is that the percentage of those that will -indeed- buy second hand clothing versus declaring that they “might” can be lower.

All in all, I am an optimist, I would say that the result is positive, a good portion of people are in favour of reusing cloths, hence decrease the waste and use of resources (cotton and sheep are resources! Growing them -assuming you grow a sheep- requires land, water and energy).  If I look at my family I can recognise a similar (Italian) percentage but that is more related to the fact that the ones in the family that are in favour are also the ones that don’t really care about dressing up… anything would do.

At the end, sustainability is about culture. The whole business has been focussing efforts in the last 100+ years in creating a consumerism culture, stimulating the demand and, implicitly, pushing towards increasing waste -get rid of older/not newest stuff. Our business machinery is based on the assumption that people will keep consuming more and more to sustain a demand that matches an ever increasing offer.

It is good to talk about sustainability but that goes far beyond technology: it has to start deep inside ourselves and, if successful, it will result in a profound re-engineering of business. What I see happening today is a push towards better technology that would magically lead to a sustainable world without the need to change our behaviour. I don’t believe this can be he solution, technology can only go that far…

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.