Ecologically Sustainable Futures
Exposing the relationship between unsustainable consumption and climate change.
Context & NeedCompared to independent business, transnational chain stores adversely impact their surrounding natural and built environment and disproportionately contribute to the earth's rise in temperature. According to author Stacy Mitchell, the amount of land devoted to retail space has risen exponentially, from four square feet of retail store space per person in 1960 to 19 feet per person in 1990 and 38 feet per person in 2005 (Mitchell, Big Box Swindle: 107). Built from predominantly heat-absorbing, non-porous building materials (like concrete and asphalt), the ground can no longer act as a sponge and delivers high concentrations of pollutants in dramatic swells of runoff, significantly affecting trees, plant coverings, fish, birds, and other living organisms. The erection and construction of new malls and big boxes often occurs in "edge" areas that have proven essential to the survival of species, particularly frogs, birds and insects. Wetlands and marsh areas, previously viewed as a last resort for development, are now in peril at the hands of financial consortia that can afford expensive reclamation efforts or who are able to broker subsidies and environmental "passes" from local and state governments.
Transnational Chains Promote Burning Fossil Fuels
Second, transnational chains are typically erected in locations predicated on access by passenger vehicles, whose carbon dioxide emissions constitute the primary greenhouse gas attributed to global warming. Between 1990 and 2001, the miles driven by the average household for shopping increased more than 40 percent. Shopping-related driving for the country as a whole rose by almost 95 billion miles in just eleven years. This additional distance of driving adds up: The extra 95 billion road miles that Americans are logging for shopping (over 1990 levels) account for 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 300,000 tons of hydrocarbons, and 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxide released into the atmosphere every year (Mitchell, Big Box Swindle: 115).
Reliance on Pollutant-Heavy Transnational Shipping
Big box chain stores rely on transnational shipping to deliver low-cost goods from offshore locations. This system of global distribution relies heavily on trucking, which is more polluting than rail or water transport, has expanded by 55 % since 1993, and contributes 16% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (Mitchell, Big Box Swindle: 116).
Transnational Chains Produce Disproportionate Amount of Packaging and Waste
Transnational chains contribute disproportionate amount of waste to landfills through excessive printing, packaging and shipping materials. Every year, the catalog industry as a whole sends out more than 20 billion catalogs most of which have no recycled content and are discarded without ever being looked at (Forest Ethics, accessed 3/23/08). Endangered Forests in the Canadian Boreal and the southeast United States are devastated in the process. According to the Environmental Protection Agency. America consumers generate 25 million tons of trash from Thanksgiving to New Year's and it is not uncommon to see naturally packaged foods like bananas encased in styrofoam and plastic.
The ecological effect of transnational retail economies can be experienced on an immediate and local level-- a rise in temperature, polluted watersheds, and a reduction of biological diversity.