Who pays? – the cost of sustainability

It pays to care. It also costs more.


How often does a purchase come off the back of a recommendation and a wee research session? You know, just to make sure that product is actually cruelty free, or wasn’t made in a sweatshop (here’s looking at your Tesco Christmas cards). 

Like thousands of other consumers, my buying habits have evolved in the last few years. Heck, I remember looking for more sustainable alternatives to cotton buds after I saw 2017 entries in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year  (Source link: . Maybe you recall the image of the seahorse clinging to the fluorescent pink cue-tip. Well anyway, as a consequence, I now have bamboo alternatives. And yes, they cost more than plastics, yet surely it’s a price worth paying? But boy can buying with a conscience be expensive.  



The quest for a more sustainable society is surely climbing its way to the top of our collective list of priorities (right?). As a result, there are a number of bods trying to leverage government initiatives to develop sustainable solutions in their respective field beyond biodegradable cue tips. They are just the cue tip of the iceberg – let’s look at a slightly bigger issue.


One of the areas facing a great deal of scrutiny is the housing market in the UK. Not only is the stock woefully short, but there are pressures on developers to provide more eco-friendly housing. Building more sustainable houses is one way of going about it. The other, is retrofitting old housing to bring them up to code with modern expectations for a more economical and less wasteful approach. 

Before Christmas, I had the opportunity to hear the learnings from one of the biggest contractors in the world about a proof of concept they’d been involved with in Essex. There they retrofitted half-a-dozen houses with wall panel insulation, metal skirting boards (replacing the existing radiators) and heat source pumps. The intention was to cut down on the heat loss, improve the efficiency of the central and water heating, and help cut down the energy bills.

And it was a success! The average energy bill of each house went from £130 to £30 a month. But when the team went back and did the maths, they figured it would take a whopping 222 years for the technology to pay for itself. Not quite as scalable as they had first hoped. 

Whilst there is a hope that the cost could be halved by simply operating at scale, there is an understandable reluctancy to make the full investment. Not because it isn’t worth it, but the financial arrangement was too much of a headache. In simple terms: who should pay the bill? 

Not a question of who, but when?


The reason this is an important topic to raise is because sustainability is a time sensitive issue. The longer we delay making those sustainable choices the greater the problem we face. At which point, we will lose the ability to choose and be faced with a starker reality. One where money will be no object.

If I may briefly tie together the recent events in Australia with the topic of sustainability and its geeky, annoying cousin, Climate Change – the black sheep of the family that some pretend doesn’t even exist. Sustainability, like climate change, is a numbers game – it is the slow culmination of marginal gains. An area of bushland roughly the size of Ireland has been decimated by the fires – this what non-sustainable decisions look like. On our current trajectory, our decisions are making things worse not better. The lives lost, the thousands of homes destroyed, the half a billion of wildlife critters that have perished – this is the cost of sustainability, or lack of, right now.



On our current trajectory, the question maybe isn’t who pays; it’s when do we pay. In fact, you could say we’re already paying for it now.

I’m not looking to get preachy or overly dramatic. I’ll leave that to the tabloids. However, what I would encourage is for you to start making small decisions with a sustainable mindset.

In our next blog post, we’ll be back with some helpful tips and suggestions about small things you can do to get started / add to the great work you’re already doing. 

Thank you for reading.

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