31st May, Hay book festival, and a talk by Cambridge lecturer (in public policy), Finbarr Livesey (billed as a conversation with Andy Fryers) on the subject of Livesey’s new book: From Global to Local’.
The subtitle carries quite a punch: ‘The Making of Things and the End of Globalisation.’
Is globalisation the only paradigm, is hyper-globalisation inevitable? Livesey argues powerfully against this thesis. An archetypal example of globalisation is the development almost by accident of the shipping container by a US trucking magnate in the 1950s. And the biggest downside is the level of emissions produced by moving product around the world, primarily by sea.
Major developments are underway which are changing this, 3D printing, with books being produced almost to order being one classic and small-scale example.
Robotics scale down the labour requirement, factories in China with vast labour forces will no longer dominate the production process as they have for the last twenty years.
How we make the journey from idea and design to finished item is being radically reconceptualised. Adidas already make running shoes bespoke to your exact requirement. The Finnish bike maker Jopo brought manufacturing back home to Finland when they realised that their quality standards were more easily and more cheaply met back home. Zara work to a tight timescale which requires local not Far Eastern production. Amazon are even looking at the possibilities of making some products en route to the customer. (Quite how this would work I don’t know!)
In the light of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (yesterday, 2nd June), a comment by Livesey on the agreement is put into even sharper focus: ‘As countries commit to harder, binding targets for emissions reductions, the ideas of reuse, remanufacturing, circularity and zero waste will all gain more currency and increase the uptake of ideas across industry.’ China and the EU have come together to condemn Trump. Put that also in the context of the statement two days ago from the EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete: ‘The EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.’
Where is the UK in this?
Trump may briefly be taking the USA out of the loop, but the ideas mentioned by Livesey are ideas that could make up the substance of the closer cooperation, between EU and China, plus India, Canada, and most other countries, in the years and decades to come.
Circularity: ideas for making refurbishing reusing, sharing, zero waste, minimising emissions, avoiding landfill… against traditional linear notions of take, make, dispose. The straight line to landfill against the closed loop of reuse. There are, as Livesey is only too well aware, only signs of this at the moment, but bringing production back home is a vital first step. And there’s the example of IKEA, which has moved from ideas such as sustainable sourcing to offering buybacks and creating markets for second-hand IKEA furniture. Nike has stated it wants to double its business while halving its environmental impact: a recent Nike report states that ‘the future will be circular.’
I’ve only touched on themes here. It is early days, but Livesey outlines as I see it an attainable future, more climate-friendly and one which would be underpinned by countries working together: supply chains much more local than at present, and sharing to the benefit of consumers, businesses and countries as an economic reality.