xrematon

October 18, 2018

Bots-tastic!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:46 am
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Over the summer, I had the opportunity to experience the delights of safari activity in Botswana. This is one of those posts where I’ll the photos talk for themselves.

The awe-inspiring delta

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Bee eaters – never fail to charm

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The obligatory breath-taking sunset view

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Comic animal picture

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The show-off ‘look how close I got’ photo

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A gem only spotted by those who spent many hours looking into the scrubby brushes

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And the mystery arty shot to finish.

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September 19, 2018

Change in the financial sector – three observations

Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to dabble in numerous projects for FMCG clients. Recently, however, this pattern has shifted and I have worked on several projects in the financial services sector, giving me a chance to engage with the challenges and dynamics impacting this sector.

Across all areas of commercial activity, there is increasing focus on innovation. In mature markets, growth is slow and it seems that the best opportunities to deliver against revenue targets come from not simply tweaking the existing but taking a fresh approach. When it comes to the financial sector, innovation is undeniably taking place, but a lot of this is driven by the external context, rather than established players deciding for themselves to do things differently. How money is managed is changing rapidly – thanks to changes in technology and the accompanying shifts in consumer expectations and habits. What is most interesting of all is the way that this new of ‘doing things’ is most apparent in emerging and developing markets, with mature markets lagging often behind.

Think about mobile money – this initially got going in Kenya. And now look at where the most sophisticated mobile payment ecosystems exist – there are in China. In mature markets, we are hobbled by our legacy systems which make switching to quicker and more convenient processes hard. Moving to contactless payment didn’t require waiting for the technology to be invented (that was around a long while ago); the delay came from having enough retailers who had installed the pay points that could accept this payment method. In emerging markets, it has been possible to build the infrastructure from scratch, using only the latest and best, which can work seamlessly across all types of digital processes and systems.

Mature markets are not only behind the curve in innovation. Some might argue there is a backlash as well as momentum to maintain the status quo. In an article earlier this year, Victoria Cleland, the Bank of England’s chief cashier, mentioned that she does not use contactless payment cards for personal spending – in part because she is yet to trust the technology completely. In Sweden, though the country is making rapid progress towards becoming the world’s first completely cashless society, there are growing concerns it is causing problems for the elderly and other vulnerable groups, as well as recognition that phasing out coins and notes could put the entire country at risk should Sweden encounter a serious crisis or war.

My final observation relates to how our relationship with money, and those organisations whom we talk to about money, is changing in the core fundamentals. In the UK, being able to buy a house is not a realistic aspiration for those in early adulthood. First-time buyers now wait longer – on average, they are seven years older than in 1960, and likely to be in their late thirties. In the face of this situation, some decide they will simply rent. Likewise, buying a car no longer seems such a critical entry milestone to adult life. Instead, there is great aspirational appeal in not being tied down, and instead taking the opportunity to experience life and work in a more flexible manner. I paint an extreme picture but only to bring out what challenges this presents for financial organisations.

If people are no longer buying houses or cars, gone is their opportunity to establish a long-term relationship with customers by providing them a mortgage or loan; if people are not slotting into standard regular jobs, gone is the opportunity to have salaries deposited in a nice and steady manner to build up bank capital; and with a desire to travel and focus on experiences, gone is the need for credit cards and other vehicles to facilitate spending.

It is a world for the brave, with the greatest innovation found not quite where and how you might expect it.

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August 20, 2018

Think Like An Anthropologist

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 3:08 pm
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This is the alluring title of a book I recently read. Look at the picture below and you will see that the volume itself is rather attractive: a very satisfyingly textured cover of a delicate turquoise in minimalist design.

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As someone who remains deeply fascinated by people, both at the level of the individual and the collective, I was keen to find out how to hone my thinking skills in understanding and making sense of human beings. Who doesn’t want to know about culture and society? Its aligns with all those big existential questions around making sense of who we are, what is our place in the world, what makes us special and what connects us with others.

However, it seems that turning this into a formal branch of academic study makes getting all the answers to these grand questions rather problematic. You end up getting bogged down in layer upon layer of caveats and additional questions; and it seems that learning to think like an anthropologist is actually about learning to understand how our attitudes towards understanding societies and cultures has changed over the past 150 years.

The problems begin when thinking about the central area of focus – culture – which seems like a good solid concept but the more you try to ‘go somewhere’ with it, you realise that it is actually a slippery thing which has slipped away.

This is addressed in the first chapter which sets out how culture has been interpreted differently over time, showing therefore that it is a subjective concept. It has limitations. Let’s think about some concrete examples.

You cannot connect culture with a place too tightly, contrary to what we might initially think. As the author notes,

“What if we want to get even more specific? Can we speak of ‘London’s culture’? Or do we need to be more exact and speak of third-generation Bangladeshi Britons in Tower Hamlets? …And yet further, can we necessarily call someone whose grandparents came from Sylhet to East London in the 1970s a ‘third generation Bangladeshi Briton’? What if they couldn’t care less about ancestry? What if they consider themselves a ‘native’ Londoner?”

Nor is culture fixed in time. The author gives the example of some seminal studies done on tribes in Zimbabwe but in these “the Ndembu are presented very pristinely, as if the huge political and economic challenges and changes taking place simply didn’t register.” In fact, at that time, the 1950s and 1960s, North Rhodesia was full of anthropologists studying culture change and the dynamics of culture change in emerging urban centres, but it is that atemporal study on the Ndembu that has the biggest impact on students!

And then when you try to make sense of has been found out, it is necessary to make analogies to what is already known and understood. In other words, all understanding is relational and more revealing about the attitudes of the one interpreting than providing insights about the subjects of anthropological study. It seems that the dangers come when trying to make the leap from the observed specific to general theories or principles onto which to hang all these little ideas. The theoretical packaging that goes around it all reflects more of our values. It is the study of the particulars that stands the test of time – ethnography – spending time with people to watch how they behave and what makes them tick.

As a curious consumer (in all senses), I think I am doing that already, thank you.

July 21, 2018

The Rituals of Dinner – part II

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Sustainability,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 6:23 pm
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This is the second in a duo of posts inspired by reading The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser. The first post can be found here.

One of Visser’s points that I would like to content is the idea that food is not something we value. Having a good meal with people whose company we enjoy is an activity we seek. In this time of experiences over ‘stuff’, we are certainly keen on creating moments that matter and sharing good times – so much so that our big feasts are often instigated by commercial activities, rather than our own particular personal or social cultural rituals. We now get very excited by Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the World Cup and other big sporting events, as well as get the opportunity to invest with great splendour at Easter, Christmas and New Year.

There are many many interesting nuggets within The Rituals of Dinner which made me look at food habits in a new light as I gained a better understanding of the historical or cultural context from which these habits sprang.

  • Offal used to be the most prized part of eating an animal. This is because at a time when hunting was an important way to get meat and there were no fridges to keep food cool, offal would be most the delicate and most important part of the animal to eat fresh – it could not be hung and improved as with other cuts. And offal is often the most nutritious part of an animal – quite different to a big fat plumped up piece of chicken breast.
  • Meals that are to be eaten with chopsticks have the food chopped already, which necessarily encourages faster eating, in part because the food is already in convenient sizes but also because it is most likely to lose heat thus. Compared to this, those of us relying on knives and forks are slow and languorous eaters.
  • What will happen as we eat less meat? This is important as meat often formed the basis of the ceremonial energy in a Big Meal: it is a special and relatively expensive ingredient and there is entertainment and social value to be had in going through the ritual of carving and dividing up the meat. It is hard to see how as much energy and excitement can be created around a roast butternut squash or cauliflower.

Back to our original questions: are table manners dead or getting worse? If this is a source of concern to you, rest assured that help is available. In the US, the Barclay classes, table manners and how to carry out small talk are part of its programme. http://www.thebarclayclasses.com/aboutbarclay.html The next generation will know what to do.

June 19, 2018

The Rituals of Dinner – part I

Table manners – are they dead or alive? Getting better or getting worse over time?

If you ponder these questions, then the above book is for you: The Ritual of Dinner – The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser. It covers how people – across time and across cultures – behave at the table going from how such behaviours are learnt as part of growing up and then played out during the process of a formal meal with invitations, sitting at the table, getting the food eating it and then at the end of the meal.

As you might imagine, it is a fascinating read, but with a major shortcoming: it is dated. The book was written in 1991 and updated with an additional chapter in 2008 and so misses out on the developments in food culture from the past decade. This is significant as it has been all too easy for the author to perceive, from the perspective of their understanding of the subject and the experience over their lifetime, that we have reached a nadir in table manners and respect for food.

Yes, compared to earlier generations, it could appear that we are dismissive of food, seeking poor quality but highly convenient options. Food is a means to an end – refuelling out of necessity and not an end in itself to be enjoyed and shared with others. Eating is an individualised activity – not just because we often eat on our own but this is designed into the structure of food options – as captured in this memorable description of the burger:

Every burger is self-contained, as streamlined and replete as a flying saucer, and just unmistakably as a child of the modern imagination….Hamburgers are ready very fast (we do not see, and therefore discount all the work which this speed and availability presuppose), and they take only a few minutes to eat: informality in this case cuts away time and clearly signals a disclination to share.

I do not wish to deny that eating has become individualised – in a way this has become truer than ever as much of all that we do in our lives, whether work or leisure, is done alone – think of working home alone, watching your personal choice of content on your own device, as well as having your own meal to fit in with your particular schedule and taste and health preferences. Woe betide any school child that tries to share or swop food – with much better awareness of allergies and intolerances, across all generations, we all know better than to simply offer what is on our plate/in our packed lunch with someone else – what if they are wheat intolerant?

However, I think it is fair to say that, in certain cultures, in particular more Western and urban populations, as well as among our beloved Millennials, food has been re-evaluated. We are now willing to invest significant time and effort into looking at, preparing, sharing and eating food. Some have argued that food now plays the role that music did for earlier generations – a way of establishing identity and defining their relationship with current society.

This is not to say that we are necessarily cooking more, eating healthier or adopting better table manners (I don’t think it would be hard to find evidence to challenge those assertions, in particular if you think about the rise of streetfood, food that is meant to be eaten with hands such as pulled ribs or even the rise of food in bowls- effectively taking us back several centuries when we only had a spoon and knife with which to eat). No, what I would like to challenge instead is Visser’s implicit assumption that food is not important to us – it is and having a beautiful social eating experience is an aspiration and experience that people hold dear.

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May 21, 2018

Frazzled

Filed under: Coaching,Consumer Trends,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:35 pm
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‘It’s the spores – all that fungi floating around you – that’s what makes it so special.’

We were discussing the virtues of ‘foresting bathing’, which involves lying down on the forest floor and reaping manifold, albeit somewhat mysterious, benefits. The context: a recent book meeting I attended.

I have picked out this moment as representative of how we often have a tendency to seize on ideas that capture our imagination but not really go much further.

We were meant to be discussing A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax but the book had only be read by a handful of us (a fifth of those attending to be more precise). And, as the above quote suggests, the approach we took to engaging with the book was similarly ‘magpie-ish’.

‘All those exercises Ruby Wax describes, well, I don’t have the time or money to do all that. We’re not all wealthy celebrities who can take time out of the day just like that to do breathing exercises.’

‘I thought mindfulness was all about living in the moment. In the book, it seemed much more complicated than that.’

‘Someone at work gave me this article about how mindfulness is actually bad for you. All that introspection – it can make you down. You need to go out and do stuff, not just navel gaze!’

This chatting reminded me of how people engage with health, and in particular healthy eating. People have caught onto certain ideas and concepts, bringing them into their lives with great enthusiasm, going all out on avoiding gluten-free, eating quinoa with grim determination. In fact, it’s now a majority activity: 54% of the population purchased a ‘free from’ product during the past three months. Or what about the 5-a-day recommendation? Well, the message has definitely got through, but the issue is that though people know about it, they do not act on it – again a bit of a pick-and-mix approach. Only 26% of adults ate the recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day in 2015.

But with this flitting around between different ideas, I am actually demonstrating the type of behaviours that Frazzled aims to tackle – namely, not letting oneself get distracted by zillions of different thoughts, which aren’t actually the main focus of the task in hand.

Back to the book….

Well, I must confess that the elements I found most engaging were not so much the guidance around how to do mindfulness or explanations of why it is so important in our frenzied modern lives, but more the elements which were closest to telling a story. This story was the story of Ruby Wax’s life and her journey around writing the book – all of which were searingly honest and characteristically spikily funny. As the author makes clear, the book was written with hiatuses – times when depression hit and she fell into bleak black ‘do-nothingness’. She also lets us into her mind and shows how even people whom we might perceive as successful are riddled with insecurity, often in meeting other successful people!

The aspect of the book I found most challenging was the fact it set up a pressing need to deal with stress but was authored by someone deeper in than that, someone who suffered from periodic bouts of debilitating depression. Despite all the humour, it was clear mindfulness, for the author at least, was not about pushing up mental wellbeing, but a vital means for dealing with more profound mental health issues. A genuinely lighter touch might have been more helpful than many brutal but comic asides about the author’s feelings of inadequacy.

In my final words, I would like defend Ruby Wax’s promotion of living in the moment. This is certainly something which is brought up in the book, in several instances, and encouraged for its positive benefits, with advice on how to achieve such moments. Memorably, Wax talks about how delighted she became at eating some potatoes.

‘That night at dinner I fall in love with a potato. I couldn’t believe it could taste so sweet and crunchy and then so fluffy – it had everything going for it. I go into the kitchen and break my silence, demanding to know how they cooked the potato. The chef shows me a potato and some Tesco olive oil. I don’t get it: I have eaten potatoes in my life, but never on this level. Again, I’m wanting another one while I still have one in my mouth, and I think, ‘Yup, this is how I live my life.’

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April 21, 2018

Hairy business

Filed under: Business,Consumer Trends,Futures,Innovation,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 10:34 pm
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Over the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to work on projects in the ‘personal care’ category – think all things hair, skin and other forms of beauty care.

Now, my first learning was actually that I had a lot to learn. Unlike food, where I not only have done many pieces of work over the years, but I am also deeply personally engaged given that I generally cook from scratch at least 10 meals a week, for personal care, I have limited exposure. I have bought the same brand of shampoo for the past 25 years and the same brand of facial cream for the past ten, and apart from other bare essentials (toothpaste and deodorant), I’m done. I have in effect opted out of some whole categories – make-up, more sophisticated hair care, treatments and styling and skin care (the latter, I realise now, is a particularly bit gap given that I am of the age when I should spending a good proportion of my disposable income on anti-ageing products. (For the record, I am currently relying on addressing wrinkles from within by eating lots of avocadoes).

But it turns out that personal care is a fascinating category which has some dynamics it shares with food and some which are quite specific to personal care. Let’s start with the similarity:

Personal care and food are both deeply influenced by the local cultural context. How and what we eat will, to a certain extent, vary depending on where we are: in the US, the UK and increasingly Europe, we shop from supermarkets and are happy to a certain amount of ready-made foods, going from dried pasta and bread all the way through to ready meals, and the food we eat will be quite diverse with many non-native items. In other countries, there are often stronger food cultures and more variety within that culture of food, for example think of all the different types of curry in Asia, but curry will still dominant, with fast food nibbling away at the edges.

In personal care too there are culturally-dependent preferences, for example beauty regimes in Asia are more complex and a lot of effort going into achieving fair skin. Interestingly one might argue, that just as with food, there is starting to be some globalisation/less variation across geographies. Think of the impact of social media on the convergence of aspirational aesthetics – everyone wants to look as lovely and beautiful as the Duchess of Cambridge or Meghan Markle etc.

However, there are important differences between the dynamics of food and personal care.

A key one is the direction of influence. In food, though we have ‘hot’ food cuisines, which become trendy for a year or two, for example it was Korean recently, but perhaps the crown has now gone to Scandi food, in general, food is becoming more ‘Westernised’. By this I mean that people are cooking less from scratch, there is greater consumption of processed and ready-prepared food, people’s food routines are changing with more snacking, whether to fill hunger gaps between meals or to replace meals entirely. And that’s not to mention the irresistible temptations of delights such as burgers, pasta and pizza.

In personal care, in particular beauty and skin care, the more interesting ‘stuff’ tends to be happening in the East first, in particular countries such as Korea and Japan, where people are willing to invest considerable time, money and effort into looking after their appearance. Fancy a 12-step skin-care regime anyone? It is from this region that the BB cream came, now a major staple in the beauty product world, as well as many other weird and wonderful products, such as syringe face-masks (not quite as dramatic as they sound!). So look East for beauty tips!

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March 21, 2018

Can graphic design save your life?

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

This is the arresting title of an exhibition I saw at the Wellcome Collection. It was a more interesting experience than I had expected, but I am not convinced I would answer ‘yes’ to the exhibition’s opening question.

Do you remember those iconic Silk Cut print adverts from the 1980s?

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Well, that’s what the exhibition started with – adverts to be admired for the way in which creativity was used to circumvent restrictions on advertising. This, in effect, is graphic design that brings you closer to the end of your life.

However, after this, the exhibits were centred on communications from the world of healthcare, and not just for patients, but also for would-be medics. The latter was covered by excerpts from text books and teaching manuals which were closer to works of art than academic material, as the below images suggest.

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What struck me most about the exhibits of medicines and other health products is the way in which they reflect the best in lowest common denominator communication approaches. The pill boxes below make it very clear what consumer need they are responding to. I have seen a similar approach used by smoothies and herbal infusions, which pitch specific products as the solution for a particular moment, whether it is the search for an invigorating uplift or a soothing experience.

design pill boxes

One area getting increasing interest as a way to increase public health is behavioural economics – for example making ‘good’ products easier to get hold of, whether this is about making them more visible or accessible on a shelf, or making the default option the ‘good’ one. Behavioural economics wasn’t mentioned in the exhibition but graphic design could be used in partnership with behavioural design to up the ‘oomph’ factor of a piece of communication or instruction.

And finally, it’s worth noting that it was a refreshing experience to think about paper and packaging which didn’t come alive. If the exhibition was repeated in 10 years’ time, it would be about how augmented and virtual reality can save your life!

February 21, 2018

The internet is awesome!

I know that the online world is no longer new but I recently had an experience which reminded me of how *cool* some of the things you can do online are.

I should point out that my relationship with online ‘stuff’ is incredibly functionally driven. I have been an early and committed adopter of some internet possibilities – for example I started banking online twenty years ago, I have been regularly ordering all my groceries online for 12 years and now probably make over three-quarters of my other purchases online too. However, I haven’t been a major social media user (my life is too boring to describe to others) and still do very little on my phone (I just really prefer a proper keyboard and bigger screen).

So what are my internet ‘wow’ moments?

Well, the most recent one was when I finally decided to do something about getting rid of the two rabbit hutches that have been littering our garden unnecessarily for several months. The hutches are not in good condition and so not appropriate for selling on eBay. I just wanted to get rid of them but wasn’t sure they would fit in the boot of my rather small car to take to the tip. So after a quick search on Google, I found Freelywheely, which seemed much more friendly and easy to use than Freecyle, and within 15 minutes of the hutches being posted on their site, I was amazed to find I had requesters. By the end of the day, I had eight interested people, ready to drive almost an hour to pick up these rather battered hutches! And now they are gone, which is amazing. But perhaps I was just lucky and rabbit hutches are actually the most sought after freecycle item!

Rabbit hutch

Whilst I am at it, here are two other internet ‘wows’.

Second on my list is Airbnb, which I first starting using four years ago and now have clocked up 11 trips. I just really like the fact we can rent out something for the number of days we want and not stick to the old limited arrangement of a week and Saturday to Saturday or equivalent.

My third item is not so much an internet business but picks up on the transparency that the internet allows. I am someone who gets frustrated with waiting for things and I also like to know as much as possible about how long things might take. So the opportunity to track – in absurd detail – where your packages are is brilliant as far as I am concerned.

Delivery details

However, it does set expectations rather high. I have recently ordered items off Amazon which I think are being shipped directly from China, rather than coming from a reseller based in the UK. These items have what now seems like remarkably long delivery times of four weeks. In addition, once they are dispatched, there is no further information about the item until it appears in your letter box, more often than not several months late, by which time I have already complained and been reimbursed for said item! I’m waiting for everything to be RFID tagged so I track its global journey. That would definitely be awesome.

January 20, 2018

Sea blindness

This is the term that the chief of the Royal Navy has used to describe our attitude towards the great expanses of water that cover our planet. “We travel by cheap flights, not liners. The sea is the distance to be flown over, a downward backdrop between take-off and landing, a blue expanse that soothes on the moving map as the plane jerks over it. It is for leisure and beaches and fish and chips, not for use or work.”

Not so – this is the driving force behind a recent read Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George, a comprehensive investigation into the world of container shipping. I have long had an unrequited respect and interest in shipping – it is one of the topics which can be endless source of fascination once you actually open your eyes to its importance. At the start of her book, George describes playing a numbers game on the train – you think through what goods will have been transported by sea and the answer is nearly everything : that man’s iPhone and headphones, his book printed in China, the fabric of the seats people are sitting on, the coffee the author is drinking, the fruit they are carrying in the bag and so forth.

The book itself is centred around a journey George made from Felixstowe to Singapore on a huge container ship – if the ship discharged its containers onto lorries, the line of traffic would be 50 miles long. However, the book is more than simply a description of this voyage- the author effectively uses it as a springboard to investigate many other weird and wonderful places, people and phenomena that connect into shipping. This takes her into spending a week on board an EU warship part of the international effort to counteract piracy off the Somali coast, accompanying the chaplain at the Seafarers’ Centre in Immingham, a port on the north-eastern coast of England, and even ringing up one of the ladies who knits the woolly hats that are distributed to sailors.

Despite this breadth of detail, I must confess that I finished the book with my curiosity not completely satisfied. I wanted more depth – to connect with what it really feels like to spend a month on one of these ships. What did she do each day, given that internet connection was sporadic, some of the crew didn’t talk much English and they weren’t really many of them? Come the end of her journey, George seems to be loath to leave the ship but I haven’t got enough of the experience to understand why this can be, given the potential for boredom hinted at earlier, coupled with the fact that she describes how vibrations from the ship’s engine (aside from any weather-related pitching and rolling) make sleep difficult, and she is vegetarian on a boat where the cook seems to struggle to understand what this means and there is very little fresh fruit and veg.

Perhaps what I was after was more poeticism. Just after finishing the book, I read a review of a more recent contribution which describes ten winter days on a Finnish icebreaker. According to the review, Horatio Clare, the author, writes “seeing silence”, and the ship itself seems to him no more than “the tip of a pencil line trailing off into empty space”. He is intoxicated by elemental extremes, dizzied, brought close to laughter. His dead mineral world—all crystalline ice and hard metal—stirs and quickens. Ice “sidles aboard, rinds the rails with icicles…is all but alive”. While down below, in the engine room, there grow “vines of copper piping and sprouting thermometers, the fuel pumps budded with bolts and flowering stopcocks”. There isn’t anything really like this in Deep Sea and Foreign Going. Perhaps just a few more pictures, and of better quality than the almost grainy, soul-dead black and white ones currently included, would have helped.

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Griping aside – I must make clear that the book is definitely worth reading, incredibly interesting and well written. There are a couple of stand-out bits and pieces.

The first is the little discussed but very real issue of noise pollution. This is discussed in a chapter George devotes to investigating whales and their interaction with all those ships trekking back and forth across the oceans. Rose goes to visit a laboratory in Cape Cod whose scientists aim to better understand how to protect the declining North Atlantic right whale population. We know that whales have been affected by hunting as well as chemical and material pollution. Well, it seems that the additional sounds we humans create will have noxious effects too. This is not just from the incredibly noisy engines of huge ships, but also from laying out cables on the sea bed, firing airguns for seismic surveys, fishermen sending out pings for echolocation to find fish, whilst the military deploy sonar. Sometimes the effect of all this is tangible: forced change of habit to flee the sound, whilst military sonar induces the bends in dolphins and whales so that they arrive on the beach with blood on their brains. Sometimes, it is hard to work out what the impact might be, but one researcher found that a quiet and still sea resulted in much lower levels of stress hormones present in whales compared to days of noise.

The second picks up on the harsh and potentially dangerous livelihoods of those who work on container ships. There are the obvious negatives, such as being away from loved ones for long stretches of time, but this is exacerbated by the fact financial pressure often forces these individuals to all too swiftly sign up for another passage. In addition, a large proportion of those who make up crews come from parts of Asia and get their work through middle men whom they don’t want to annoy by refusing jobs. Then you have to factor in the risk of accidents from storms and the bigger worry of piracy, which becomes particularly challenging when it is not clear who has responsibility for looking after the workers when these problems arise. Is it their own country? But their own country would argue it is the company employing them, coming from another country? Or is it the flag under which they are flying, or the territory in whose water the incident took place? It isn’t clear and that’s why it is often takes a long time to get kidnaps resolved. Despite this, and the fact conditions all round can be compared to a sweatshop, the Fair Trade Association’s comment is of one defeat: “Incorporating shipping requirements into our standards and certification processes would add to auditing costs.”

The third and final point is that there is no mention of the possibility that the flows of good might possibly start to change. In the general media, there has been much hype around the potential for 3D manufacturing to make near-shoring a real possibility, whilst a shift to services as well as intangibles (think of streamed media replacing DVDs and CDs) means that less ‘stuff’ needs to be shunted around the world. But given the volumes currently involved, I am not sure a marked shift will happen any time soon. Until then, we need to remember to be less sea blind.

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