Can convenience be sustainable?

Convenience. We might not realize it, but it’s one of the fundamental values these days. Our lives; what we do, what we eat, what we buy, revolve around convenience.

The purpose of the industrial revolution already was to make people’s lives easier and further technological development only allowed us to do more with less effort. And so we often hear that we live like kings. I’m not saying that progress is bad, on the contrary-it is a natural development led by the growth of our knowledge and ever-advancing research. And it’s great that the innovations are made on the behalf of our comfort. Take the example of single-use packaging. People used to carry reusable bottles and paper bags to convenience stores and now this. Buy – eat or drink – throw away. Simple as that. When you go to do the groceries next time, you don’t need to take anything with you, because you will get everything in a brand new, disposable packaging again. Another good example: a supermarket, or rather a hypermarket. Who on earth has the time to go to the butcher’s, bakery, drug store and then to the florist? I’ll go to Tesco and buy everything there! So that I can continue my super busy life.


Time. That’s one of the key factors for the new inventions. People simply have less and less time for everyday things like grocery shopping, and therefore new concepts, that will reduce the time spent on this activity to the minimum, are emerging. Perfect examples are the brand new shopping formats such as Amazon Go or Wheelys 247. The principle of the first one, opened this year in Seattle, is following: you check in with your phone and then you simply put the goods into your basket. Your moves are being monitored by the app, which adds/removes the things you take/return to the rack into your virtual shopping bag. When leaving, the bill is automatically paid from the app, so you can simply walk out. No lines on the register. Actually, no register at all. Because who has the time to wait in a line, right.
Amazon_Go_in_Seattle,_December_2016The Swedish (located in Shanghai though) Wheelys takes it one step further, as their store is completely staffless and it is open (as you can tell from the name) 24/7. You can only enter with your phone which you also use for scanning of the products and of course, paying. Instead of store staff, there is a hologramic assistant, which gives you recommendations based on your shopping history. Because who actually needs store assistants, right.

As you probably understood, my writing is usually about responsibility and sustainability. And therefore I’m asking – isn’t all this comfort to the detriment of the environment? Take the industrialisation and the early inventions like the steam engine. Great for the mankind, but definitely not for our planet. Same goes for the afore-mentioned single-use packaging. Great for all consumers, but what about all the waste that is left behind? I don’t need to mention the dolphins and penguins with plastic bags on their head in order to remind you that the waste is all around us and it’s getting out of our control. After all, the Amazon Go is a real milestone in the shopping history, but the problem is that in order to be able to scan the goods you put in the basket, they have to be packaged in something with a code. Therefore, even the things that don’t need a wrapper, have one. So here we go again; progress on the detriment of the environment, tons of packaging, tons of waste. Two steps forward, one step behind…? Do really all the greatest inventions have to greatly affect our planet?


Maybe the innovators are afraid that if their invention is not going to be convenient enough, people won’t react well and the chances of success will be low. I guess they’re right to be worried. After all, it all comes down to our (non)consciousness, (non)indifference and (non)selfishness. I wonder how and when do we get to the point when we realize that this is not the way. That the existing consumption habits and lifestyle in general are not sustainable, resources-depleting and nature-destroying. Maybe it’s like natural catastrophes or illnesses-you never know what a real drought is like until it occurs in your country, same as you can’t imagine what cancer is like until your relative or friend gets sick. Only then you start to change your behaviour, so you turn off the water while brushing your teeth in the first case or start caring more about your health in the latter. So what do we need to see with our own eyes in order to start behaving responsibly? Tons of plastic bags and PET bottles? Those who live on the shore see it already. But how about us in landlocked countries far from the sea? What do we need to see? People like me, who don’t need to see anything to be responsible and considerate to our planet, are still only a few.

With this article, I would like to call on the companies with innovative concepts such as Amazon Go, to consider the environment when making the brand new conveniences. And I would like to call on people, too. Does it really take away too much of your comfort when you take a reusable bag to the store with you? When you take your own cup to Starbucks and ask them to make your latté into it? I don’t think so.

Actually, you might have a better, closer relation with the things you consume. And eventually, when people will demand sustainable concepts, the companies will have no other option than to offer them.

T.

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