Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stuff and Nonsense?

Looks nice in the brochure :o)

[Written in April 2011 - more on that later] We recently took delivery of a beautiful new solid oak bedroom suite.  It filled us both with joy and a little guilt.  Joy because we have been looking for new bedroom furniture for over five years and this is the first complete set that we have both liked;  Guilt because it was made in Vietnam and bought and shipped via the UK.

Let me say I’m not against Vietnam.  I’m very pleased to be able to put money into this relatively poor country and given the obvious quality of the workmanship they deserve every penny.  No, it’s the carbon cost of sourcing from the other side of the world that worries me.  Oak is a very heavy wood so surely the carbon cost of its transportation is very high?  Of course it was not shipped to us by air; it came by container by sea. The carbon cost of shipping a container is actually relatively low and our furniture no doubt shared a container with several other commisions by the same company.
Unfortunately that container ship went to Liverpool and our furniture went into temporary storage before being shipped to us by road on a regular removals van.  This removals van had a stop in Boulogne before coming to us but was going on to Italy before returning back to the UK.  The last part of the journey had, no doubt, a much higher carbon footprint than the journey from Vietnam to the UK.

This may be a good point to bring in two other [not so] topical news items, namely the earthquake in Japan and the trade deficit in the UK.  There are warnings that there may be goods shortages due the Japan earthquake and resulting lack of Japanese widgets being produced for all kinds of goods and equipment.  Japan is a very strong exporter and has cornered the market for several commodities, clearly to such an extent that they dominate in those markets.  Taking these suppliers out of the supply chain is obviously having a detrimental effect on the manufacture of many types of goods.  Is this good for the world economy? No.  At the same time the UK, which seems to be struggling to be effective in producing goods for export is instead importing (like me) goods from around the globe. Our appetite for Sony PlayStations and TVs, Samsung mobile phones etc, etc is never ending and we have very few competitive products that the Japanese and Koreans want in return.

I’m not calling for protectionism, that is a bad thing, or blind patriotism – I never bought a British Leyland car because I never considered them to be competitive in quality versus the Japanese or even the French offerings.  What we need to do is find our competitive spirit and (re)start to produce goods that people both locally and globally will want to buy.

Talking of “stuff”, I’m writing this blog on the train to Frankfurt.  Sitting opposite me is a mother and daughter with three huge cases of luggage.  I have to wonder why they need to travel with over 60kg of stuff in tow.  In my lifetime there has been an explosion of “stuff”.  At the same time we are all (current recession included) much better off than we were a generation ago and our appetite for stuff just keeps growing.

My wife, Kate, and I are starting to wonder just how much stuff we really need.  Perhaps it is time that we simplify our lives and live more sustainably, going back to sourcing things locally where possible. That means taking a long look at what it is that people actually need and making it here in Europe.  Buying fewer, more expensive but higher quality, longer lasting items might actually be good for us and also good for the planet

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