Earlier this month, Iceland shared their 2018 Christmas advert that detailed the upsetting story of ‘Rang-Tan’, an orangutan whose home had been destroyed by deforestation for palm oil. The advert was a bid to explain and publicise Iceland’s decision to stop using palm oil in all their own products, yet was actually banned from television on the basis that such an issue was too political. Instead, Iceland committed to sharing ‘Rang-Tan’s’ story on social media.
Whatever Iceland’s motives in deciding to ditch palm oil may be, and the sceptic within me does see an attempt to steal John Lewis’ Christmas Crown, it is without doubt a step in the right direction for tackling environmental issues. For too long, the onus has been placed on the actions of individuals and some bizarre concept has emerged that all it takes to stop climate change is for ordinary people to take their television off standby, start having 3 minute showers, stop using plastic straws and adopt a vegan diet. Granted these are all lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact, but even in the hugely unlikely event of these changes being adopted by everyone, it wouldn’t even scratch the surface of necessary change.
It goes without saying that the global environment and its future is a global issue. Yet we act as if the cure and the cause lies within our own backyard. It wasn’t the decisions of individuals and an extra few baths and pieces of bacon that brought us to this point so change in our homes and at the supermarket checkout isn’t going to cut it. The issue is bigger than the individual and therefore so too is the solution. Companies and governments need to face up to the reality that they hold the main responsibility and potential to combat climate change and other environmental issues. When you compare the impact of charging 5p for a plastic bag to investing in greener ways to fuel delivery lorries or light supermarket stores it becomes clear to see that companies have been acting in self interest by pushing the onus onto us. The idea that individual life style changes could have as much impact as systematic change is ridiculous and helps to explain why such a frustratingly small amount of progress has been made thus far. Ofcourse we all have a part to play, but let us not deny that some of us have the potential to play a far greater role than others.
Iceland’s decision to stop using palm oil in their own products is therefore a great start and shift in where we place the responsibility for change. Consumers shouldn’t have to read labels and search hard for the most ethical, planet-friendly products. It should not be a struggle for the consumer to be eco-friendly. It should be something that companies and governments actively support and encourage and it should be something that they provide.
By all means, individuals should do all they can to help the planet and this article was by no means an attempt to ridicule or belittle individual efforts, for they do have some impact. Yet in placing so much attention on these lifestyle changes companies and governments have managed to almost hide the need for systematic change. That is why Iceland’s Christmas gift to us all in admitting they hold power for change and not shirking from this challenge is far greater than any cute sob story the other retailers may have in mind. Though saving the planet is not just for Christmas and we can only hope companies are willing to take on this task throughout the year and not just when there stands to be huge commercial gain and publicity on social media.