It's been featured on celebrity arms and glossy magazines, and designed by that celebrity designer of covetable handbags, Anya Hindmarch. It costs £5, but goes for £200 on eBay. I'm sure many Worldchanging readers are already familiar with the I'm not a plastic bag bag, created by UK organization We Are What We Do. Designer Hindmarch released the limited edition bag to celebrities and it will go on sale starting next month in British supermarket chain Sainsburys for £5. It's garnered so much press attention that the phenomenon has made other campaigns go green.
WAWWD is a self-styled "movement" that advocates simple, hands-on actions, ranging from "practice good manners" to "recycle a printer cartridge." They are also the publishers of the bestselling Change The World for a Fiver. But is it just tokenism, a conscience-soothing balm? Can creating a highly desirable non-plastic shopping bag really change mass behavior? Almost certainly, among the certain sector of the population that can afford to buy them or take notice. Perhaps even more so if this spawns mass-market imitations in the same way as high street fashion turns out copies of Hindmarch's other bags within weeks of their release. It is hard to turn curmudgeonly about something that is clearly so well-meaning and friendly.
But the "movement" - now with branches in Canada, Australia and Germany - is fuzzy in its aims: what does "changing the world" mean, when your suggestions for action include "leave work on time at least once a week," "aspire not to have more, but to be more," and "know how you fit into the bigger picture"? As this article points out, there are clear echoes of religious ethics alongside the environmentalism. I start itching for a little anarchy rather than the relentless mantra of "goodness" that their material repeats, although in my everyday life, I actually practice and preach precisely what they do - unnecessary friendliness and good manners combined with energy-saving lightbulbs. But surely people can -- and must --do more than that, particularly on the environmental front; I think good manners should be taken for granted, and any new religion for world-changing should advocate more difficult tasks -- the 21st century equivalent of St. Martin giving his cloak to a beggar. I also can't help my innate suspicion of "movements" that encourages people to follow orders rather than think for themselves. And with the news that WAWWD is now working with airline Virgin Atlantic on a campaign about flying, the accusation of greenwash will only be more likely to stick to this organization - not constituted as a charity, by the way - that is already treading a tightrope between integrity and a clever PR trick.
Still, they do manage to make critics feel like Scrooge-like cynics, and I like to remain optimistic. So I'll keep my reservations moderate, but continue doing worldchanging deeds my way, rather than abide by the directions of a branded consumer movement. Passing up plastic is a noble step, but it's still just a step, and we have many more ahead.
We just thought we'd respond to the comments Hana made about us in her article, 'We Are What We Do: A Bagful of Goodness'.
We Are What We Do's aim is to inspire people to use their everyday actions to change the world. The key for us is to show people that these actions can be really simple and if enough of us do them that together we can change the world. In fact, we use the formula, small changes x lots of people = BIG change. For us, this isn't about being perfect or doing everything. It is about doing what is possible for each individual. For some, this might be turning off the tap each day whilst brushing their teeth or turning off the lights when they go out, whilst for others it might be about bigger steps such as getting together with their neighbours to clean up their street or writing to their local MP. We Are What We Do encourages all kinds of steps, big or small and hopefully the small steps will lead to bigger steps - we all to have start somewhere.
We ask ourselves, how do we encourage more people to think about and change our relationships with the planet and with one another? Is it by wrinkling our noses and saying "you're not doing enough". Or is it by welcoming the smallest progress, encouraging, supporting and educating step by step?
One bag and a few books won't save the planet on their own but they can attract attention amongst those who've not thought about these things before, and they can start discussions here on the web, at bus stops, in the workplace and in the school playground. It is through these kinds of conversations that we learn and reflect and ultimately shape "common sense" - the ways in which most of us behave without thinking, second nature.
We Are What We Do is for everyone who wants to get involved. Some people read the news pages, some follow the fashion magazines, our world needs them all. We can't be exclusive when it comes to changing the world and the part we can all play.
I think that having images and speech of protecting the environment and keeping all of us conscious of this is very important. But sometimes, especially when it relates to branding and image, people are numb by the actual meaning behind the messages. Why produce bags and other ephemera with taglines, when you can tell people to use things they already have as their own "I'm not a plastic bag" bag?
Is this just another subtle way of consumerism sneaking behind us? Maybe I'd purchase a stamp which I can stamp the catch-phrase on my tote, but purchasing an extra bag (how much energy is used to manufacture them?) ? That isn't in my step toward saving the environment or education.
The 'I'm not a plastic bag' Anya Hindmarch bag has caused such a stir. But has the real message behind this whole idea really sunk into people's hearts? I think not, thay are just puchasing this item purely because it's become a fashion statement. They just want to use this bag to keep up with the fashion instead of really for it's real cause. Are they really going to take this famous bag shopping? Will they us it as an alternative for a plastic supermarket bag? No, they are just following the breadcrumbs.
I feel like many other ordinary folk I'm sure that WAWWD has concocted a fantastic PR stunt and has bought their movement to the fore so that they can continue their canvassing,(pardon the pun)for the issues they feel so strongly about.I shouldn't have fallen for it, but I did!
I agree with the comments Hana made,thanks for a thought provoking article.