Is 'sustainability' viable for merchants?

on 24 January, 2011

Guest blogger Lorcan Anglin, director of the Green Energy Centre asks: do merchants supply products to help society become more sustainable and do merchants supply truly 'sustainable' products, such as timber or woodfibre insulation or sheepswool or just 'greenwash'?

1 Do merchants supply products to help society (through its buildings) to become more sustainable?

2 Do merchants supply 'sustainable' products, such as timber or woodfibre insulation or sheepswool etc?

In my view there is a major difference between these choices for merchants in terms of controlling their own future and upon which they should base their strategies.

In case 1, merchants supply products to improve sustainability of the buildings. A recent Energy Savings Trust report on 'Sustainable Refurbishment' contained 37 pages on energy, two pages on water and three pages on recycling. Energy, water and recyclables are all accurately quantifiable so it is the result of the application of the product which provides sustainability, not the product itself.

Merchants have a lot to provide in this regard and by developing a strategy based upon this approach will control their own destiny.

In case 2, the suppliers control the process to make the product sustainable and currently there is no actual comparison mechanism for establishing sustainability. Merchants, like everyone else, are prone to 'Greenwash' – a contraction of 'green whitewash' – which is the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing.

More worryingly, merchants are at the whim of the suppliers many of whom erroneously see the cutting out of merchants from the supply chain as a means of making it more sustainable, for example building off-site.

Case 2 is essentially based upon unquantifiable sustainable processes to which merchants bring little.

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