Why “I’m not buying it” is a statement of power

We live in a circular system. When we throw something away, it comes right back at us. There is no “away.” Right now, thanks largely to the BBC and the one scientist that everyone listens to – David Attenborough – the world wants to do something about plastic. The focus is on cleaning up what’s already out there but also on eliminating the problem at source. How many environmental problems could be averted by pausing a moment before we buy or commission something? That’ll be long term thinking then? Yes and integration, consultation, involvement and prevention – all the elements of the Sustainability Principle enshrined in Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act.

On Thursday June the 7th, The Sustain Wales Summit will focus on the role of procurement in reducing and ultimately eliminating plastic waste.

The leader of Carmarthenshire Council will make an important announcement regarding the authority’s commitment to reducing plastic waste, we will hear from the Volvo Ocean Race about their high profile campaign, Wrap will reveal new research and Ecosurety will explain how market and B2B transactions can make a huge difference to the amount of plastic waste in circulation.

In 2017, the Welsh Government brought together a diverse range of stakeholders to develop the first Marine Litter Action Plan (MLAP) for Wales.

Organisations and stakeholders involved in the MLAP will come together in 2018 to officially form a ‘Clean Seas Wales Partnership’ with the aim of encouraging all sectors in Wales to take action on marine litter issues. The name and identity will be aligned with the global UN Clean Seas campaign where Wales can join the efforts of the many other countries who are taking action under the same banner.

The Marine Litter Action Plan for Wales is a comprehensive attempt to deal with the problem. One simple action that procurement managers and citizens can take to support this plan is to simply say “I’m not buying it.” The world is the way it is because enough of us accept what’s on offer. Any shop manager will tell you that if people don’t buy what you’re offering then you have to change. The power of procurement is largely dormant because none of us think in the long term. Concerned with short term needs, we avoid difficulty and buy the cheapest and most convenient option but just as there is no “away”, there is also no such thing as a free lunch. When we get something cheap and convenient, someone else is picking up the real cost, either down the road, on the other side of the world or in the generations of the future.

It is another fundamental truth of the sustainable development paradigm that people who are secure, empowered, respected and well-resourced are more able to make long term decisions and adopt behaviour that reduces environmental harm. Therefore, as well as looking at plastic waste, the Sustain Wales Summit will also hear about best practice in contract management that opens up new employment opportunities and extends well-being actions along the supply chain and into communities. The activities of Melin Homes for example ensure that “waste” becomes “surplus” for community use and that large contracts are broken up to give opportunities for smaller local companies to compete. The similarities between this sort of approach and the mechanisms at work in robust, diverse and thriving natural ecosystems are highly noteworthy. “Biomimicry” is not just an aspiration for manufacturers and engineers: procurement managers could learn a lot from observing natural systems.

Procurement that is consistent with the Sustainability Principle enshrined in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, will ensure that money and resources circulate more often, delivering greater benefit and enriching local economies, cultures, societies and ecosystems.

Rhodri Thomas is the Principal Sustainability Consultant at Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales. He has a BSc. (Hons.) in Environmental Biology, an MSc. in Environmental Management and a PGCE in Adult Education & Training. Previously, he has worked for Forum for the Future where he was a Senior Sustainability Advisor with public sector clients; for Environment Agency Wales where he supported the executive on public relations and managed the Pride In Our Communities anti-flytipping project in the south west; and The University of Glamorgan where he was a lecturer and researcher in life sciences and sustainable development. For thirteen years he worked freelance in the performing arts as an actor, writer and producer. He worked extensively on radio, theatre, film and TV.[:]

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