Pippa Stevens and Jack Burrell are both Cambridge University graduates, who have since started the Emissions Infographics page and, more recently, the Emissions Eco-Clothing business. Here’s E.MISSION.S in their own words, and a quick Q&A on the role of businesses and public protesting in governmental and systematic change:
Whilst at university, we realised how responsible we all were for the ongoing climate crisis, but felt powerless at how little effect the numerous marches or calls for change were having. From our own unsuccessful attempts, we also recognised how difficult it can be to change your entire diet or never use a polluting vehicle, and questioned what realistic changes we could make to our everyday lives that would have a lasting impact.
So, with the knowledge that people don’t like change, we wondered how we could make an undercover systematic change to our daily lives, without noticing too much of a difference. Enter Emissions infographics and Emissions Clothing.
Back in September 2019 we started to create fun infographics, with the aim of sharing (and comparing) the positive impact of everyday sustainability actions. We made each post relatable, aesthetically pleasing, and scientifically sourced. By posting these on Facebook and Instagram every few days, we reached over 1,000 follows on Facebook, with some posts reaching over 50,000 people. The enthusiasm of the online community to be more sustainable led us to take the next step and launch our eco-friendly clothing brand – Emissions Clothing.
At Emissions Clothing, we now sell eco-friendly & low-impact clothing in the hope that people can reduce the carbon and plastic footprint of their wardrobes, without having to notice a change in price or quality. All of our clothes are made of organic cotton sourced from sustainable farms, printed in a UK factory running only off renewable energy, and sent to you plastic-free. Our suppliers use a tonne of other cool methods too, such as recirculated water and co-planting. We recycle used clothes that our customers send to us, and give them £5 credit in return. If you have any comments on either initiative we’d love to hear them! You can drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You said you ‘felt powerless at how little effect protests and calls for change were having’. People are increasingly feeling like authoritative bodies do not align with people’s demands. Do you think protesting is worth it and do you have any advice for new environmentalists going to their firsts protests, or to your past selves in that situation?
In our opinion, it is hard to argue against the impact of peaceful protest. If successful, such a protest can start a cycle of positive change by attracting the attention of three important groups of people: the government, the wider population, and the private sector.
– A democratic government looks to its population to understand their views, gain votes and popularity. A clear example was the rhetoric used in the December 2019 election campaign after the September climate strikes led by Greta.
– Protesting also galvanises the media to report on climate action, to promote positive change or (most often) to shame hypocrisy. If a climate story sells better than other stories of the day, it is printed. And if thousands of people are spending the weekend at climate strikes, the population wants to know about it. So the story is reproduced, attracting yet more media attention, and more people join the strike.
– The ethos of the private sector revolves around profit. If a climate-positive company has a more profitable future than a company with a worse environmental footprint, the climate company will win, every time. The reverse is also true. But if a protest shows that thousands of people are so passionate as to take to the streets to demand eco-friendly products, the climate-positive company might find itself with a pretty good business case!
If you TELL the government that you will vote for climate policies, and SHOW the private sector that you will buy eco-friendly products, a peaceful protest could have a far larger impact than you might first imagine.
You’ve now started an eco-friendly clothing business. What role do you think businesses, especially small alternative businesses, play in bringing about change? Do you think business can also achieve government reform or does active protesting have the best chance of achieving that?
If we want to become net zero, almost every aspect of our society has to change. Small alternative businesses are paving the way, by showing that climate-friendly business models can be profitable. After they demonstrate this, large industry players will catch on, and try to take market share in the eco-friendly consumer market. I’m sure that they will be successful. But others will experience such a vast quantity of market shaming in the transition period, for example from media reporting their unsustainable practices, that they could well be driven out of business.
What is almost certain, on our current trajectory, is that unsustainable business will become unprofitable – through lack of sales or, more likely, through regulatory fines. This is called a climate ’transition risk’ or ‘legislative risk’ and, if unaddressed, will be the downfall of many companies if they do not open their eyes to our new society.
Of COURSE business can achieve government reform! Large industries have the right (and often also the left) ear of many government ministers, as the government must be reliant on corporate taxes. But ultimately, companies listen to their shareholders – people like us – and the government listens to scientists, companies and the population – people like us. Like in any relationship, we have more power than we know.