Reuse, recycle, REFUSE - making a bigger impact as conscious consumers

Reuse, recycle, REFUSE - making a bigger impact as conscious consumers 

GUESTS FOR CHANGE with Dr. Reiner Hengtsmann


Within the Guests for Change series, thought leaders, pioneers, visionaries, and game-changers are interviewed to give us more insight into the world of sustainability and circularity. We are honoured to continue our conversation with the former Global Director for Sustainability and Compliance at PUMA, former Senior Head of Global Sustainability at Hugo Boss, and a pioneering force in the textile industry, Dr. Reiner Hengtsmann.

As Reiner discussed in Part 1 of our interview, there is an unsatisfied need for more educated consumers - especially in developing countries due to prominent societal issues. However, despite this, he is optimistic and provides examples in Ethiopia and Pakistan where farmers have stood up and demanded the government make changes by turning to one of the most natural circular systems. This showcases the responsibility and power of the public to make the government frequently aware of the need for change.

“We have to support the government. We have to say, this is what we want. You have been elected by us to represent us.”

Image by Markus Spiske on Pexels

As Reiner says: “We have to support the government. We have to say, this is what we want. You have been elected by us to represent us.” To expand on this, he also believes that governments currently do not have enough systems and tools in place to support circular practices - and this needs to become a primary focus in the future. Some governments have made an effort to introduce policies such as the United Nations Sustainability Goals and Germany's Green Button initiative, but they are not doing enough and time is running out. He continues that we are really at that “one minute to twelve” point on the clock, and time continues to tick by. Without the correct tools in place, terms such as “circularity” and “sustainability” are just abstract concepts. We have to take them further than this, and make them actionable.

"Circularity is a concept. You have to have a system in place on how to deal with the past, on how to deal with where we are now, and especially on how to deal with the future."

Image via Unsplash

Reiner describes the current goals, roles and actions towards sustainability as a group of disjointed islands that are trying to connect. If we want to see real changes we need to start building bridges. This means seeing the world as an interconnected system, and not as individual countries - as climate change is not solely threatening one country. If pollution is released into one part of the atmosphere, it affects the entire atmosphere, not just the portion of it over one specific country. The earth, geographically speaking, is borderless. The earth encompasses all people - those living within more natural systems to people living in the systems of urban jungles. There must be a deep awareness that consumers dictate demand and, consequently, have an impact on supply chains and their surrounding populations globally. With this perspective, global consumers can start to make more sustainable choices in their daily lives.

According to the UN, “The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 percent of global carbon emissions.” With these frightening statistics in mind, as consumers Reiner insists that we need to be asking thousands of questions before we make any purchases, be it buying Christmas crackers or purchasing our first car. We have a responsibility as consumers to truly value and put a price on what we buy - a value that goes beyond the price tag and extends right into the supply chain, the impact on the environment, and what will happen to that garment once it’s thrown away - because it is only then that we start to think in a more circular way. “Reuse, recycle, and then I would say refuse, REFUSE unnecessary purchases ,” recommends Reiner. 

"Reuse, recycle, and then I would say refuse, REFUSE unnecessary purchases." 

Image by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash

"Circularity is not about the big things. Circularity starts at home."

In a perfect world, everything would be designed with a circular mindset. Along with that, items would be designed with high-quality materials so that they can be reused. However, as this is not the case yet, we need to take the responsibility to become more conscious of our spending habits. Continually considering if it is really necessary to buy something, where it comes from, and how it can be brought back into a circular system are vital starting points. Consumers indeed dictate demand, and this is why we need more educated consumers who are collectively practising more circular habits.

“Circularity is not about the big things. Circularity starts at home,” Reiner reminds us. It’s about taking the smaller steps, the steps that count. And he says that if we are going to solve the problems facing humanity it needs to be done collaboratively and collectively: “We can only solve this together. That is the most important thing.” The power of the individual should never be underestimated. Especially, the collective power of people who are standing together with the same question of how can we make it better, should not be brushed aside.

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