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I’ve noticed a concerning trend in the Globe and Mail in the past week. Rather than praising consumers for curtailing their wasteful ways, articles have been coming out highlighting the impact of such behaviour on businesses. This has happened both respect to an article entitled, “Tide rising against bottled water” (April 23) and “Hit print, please, paper maker says” (April 27).

Water Bottle

Photo provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The first article on bottled water talks about how industry must face not only recessionary pressures, but a grassroots movement of critics. As a result of such factors, sales for example at Nestlé Waters have fallen more than five percent annually over the past two years. The second provides room for CEO John Williams of the paper giant, Domtar, to say, “‛There is an appropriate use for paper. You should feel comfortable to use it appropriately and you shouldn’t be feeling there is some environmental negative when you use it.’”

On the one hand, some may say these articles are justified in that they appear in the Business section of the paper, which naturally wishes to give voice to matters and concerns relating to the corporate world. However, on the other hand, one is forced to question the logic of a world where consumption is held up as a problem, as thought it was a moral duty, a necessary activity to grease the wheels of industry so-to-speak.

With respect to the usage of water bottles, this is extremely concerning given that according to the Container Recycling Institute, almost eight out of ten single-serving recycling containers end up in a landfill or an incinerator. Even if the bottles are recycled, there is the issue of fuel consumption for bottle shipment and the resulting air pollution that occurs as a result. While drinking water may be beneficial for human health (a matter though that is also up for debate, given the potential for contaminants), in the broader scope of protecting environmental health which ensures a healthy environment for all, bottled water falls seriously behind.

In terms of the matter of paper consumption, while I have much to learn about the issue, something fundamentally seems amiss when we must continually harvest wood pulp from forests despite having so much paper for recycling collected already. What is more, according to a spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada who is quoted in the article on paper, Domtar and others are opening up what should be protected forests, threatening the habitat of some species.

For both issues, it seems that we should rather embrace the turning tide towards increased environmental responsibility. For business, this can be an opportunity as opposed to a detriment.

If people are concerned about the purity of municipal drinking water, perhaps cafés could start selling filtered municipal water, which customers could get by bringing in their reusable cups. If they forget to bring their cups, these cafés could “lend” out reusable water bottles for a fee that could be recompensed upon their return.

As for paper usage, pulp and paper companies should start producing more products made of recycled paper. In addition, electronics manufacturers should recognize the turning tide to make more products like the iPad available, which reduce the need for printing.

After all, with there having been much environmental hype, should we not finally start walking the walk? And recognize that no, we should not presume that we have a moral obligation to consume? Rather, as I’m sure that many people would agree, we have a responsibility to reduce the ecological “footprint” that we leave while traversing this planet. Although the growing pains to achieving this may be difficult at first, they are necessary if we are to achieve the greater goal of living in harmony with the Earth.

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