Slow down

Paul Squires
3 min readSep 3, 2023

This is the last summer weekend of the year.

It has been sunny. In a nice but hot walk this afternoon, I heard people mowing their lawns.

It led me to think about how we use the everyday, but less common, objects in our lives.

By “less common” I’m talking about objects that we may have at home, but use perhaps once every few weeks or even few months. Garden appliances, kitchen appliances, and gifts that one receives at Christmas that are occasionally useful.

If you own any such items, then it’s likely that yours will be similar to others’. In a street where everyone owns a lawnmower, for example, how is that an optimal solution?

Taking a capitalist approach, your lawnmower, food mixer, or fondue set are, for the most of the time, economically inactive. You have paid for something which, over the course of its life, is normally switched off and in storage.

From a productivity point of view, much of what you own is economically sub-optimal.

The same, of course, applies to cars. Uber, to its credit, has tried to address that problem by turning domestic cars into taxis, to help to optimise their use and for owners to profit from that ownership.

If one can apply that to cars, then surely it can be applied to practically anything else where a physical item of capital largely sits idle.

You may think that this is ridiculous. Domestic appliances are relatively cheap, as demonstrated by the above point – many people have them. But, that’s not the point.

As individuals, we buy lawnmowers, food mixers and the like for ourselves simply because we can.

Factories make these things because people want them. The factories, and their subsequent supply chains, produce CO2. This is not hard. So, to reduce global CO2 usage, we need to reduce the demand on those factories to make things.

This is where the “… we’re reducing our emissions but China is building a new coal-fired power stations each week” argument comes unstuck. China has been building new power stations because, in part, of demand from the West. Your cheap new appliance has been made there and shipped to your local supermarket or online distribution centre. We can offset our guilt because the emissions take place somewhere else.

When we offset our guilt, the guilt eventually comes back to us, in different ways. It’s possible to buy a pair of jeans for £2.99 (I checked), a price probably cheaper than the cheapest pair in a shop 20, maybe 30 years ago. The reason is because they are now made in countries where labour is very low cost, with people often exploited accordingly. If that’s acceptable to you then don’t feel bad when clothing manufacturers, often in economically-dependent towns in the UK, close and make people redundant. Cheap clothing is, in part, responsible for some of the most horrendous environmental contributions: 360,000 tons of clothing are dumped in landfill each year in the UK, and synthetic clothing contributes to 35% of microplastic contamination per year.

Fundamentally, we need to rethink how to measure progress. Countries are measured in GDP, and companies are measured in profits, with shareholders demand profit increases per year. This means that growth is tied to selling more, marketing more, and making more, almost irrespective of the effects. When we talk about sustainability, we often mean sustainability of the economic system, rather than of the people and organisations within it.

These measures of success need to be rewritten. Measurements of environmental performance are surely, as the Earth is burning, as important as economic growth. It is often a sign of failure when a business sells less in one year than the previous. That only makes sense in a world which is structured to produce and consume more. In any other structure, it’s ridiculous.

I’m not suggesting that we stop consuming, and stop buying. We’re in a capitalist society, like it or not.

What I am suggesting is that the structure of capitalism that we live in, needs to change.

Communal ownership, with a new generation of startups offering pay-per-use models.

Longer ownership with fixable, repairable items that are well made and are less environmentally harmful.

Tax incentives for companies that offer environmental benefits to the consumer.

Tax incentives for companies that allow for the recycling of items, and to offer those items back to consumers.

Put simply, we need to slow things down.

That’s going to be very difficult. Socio-capital structures only seem to move in one direction, and we demand more things, more quickly. But tell me how positive that is in a world where we need to reduce CO2.




Paul Squires

Founder @imperica @pereramedia / Strategist @ibminteractive / Chair @furtherfield. Digital, media, art, politics, environment, culture, ephemera.