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Magazine Issues » May 2022

Opinion: A world of complaints

Elizabeth PfeutiThis quarter, I will set foot on at least three continents as business travel shuttles me around the earth. From trade shows and conferences, panel hosting and client visits, my carry-on bag and laptop case will get a full and vigorous workout. I’m also nipping to mainland Europe for a birthday party, which may sound frivolous, but with a family as small as mine, we all have to make an effort (to make up the numbers, if nothing else).

Along with filling up my passport pages with stamps, I am looking forward to visiting new places and learning about their histories and culture. Television, radio and all the other media do a great job of transporting us around the world from our front rooms, but there is no substitute for experiencing it first-hand. 

Being part of a thousand-strong melee outside a railway station in Delhi; inhaling the glacier-fresh air atop a mountain in the Swiss Alps; stopping at the fifth police checkpoint within 20 miles in Malawi and chatting to the local law enforcement officials with the same good grace as the first – all these help you understand the nature and make-up of a nation. I don’t think there is anything like it – nor should we stop doing it. 

However, my impact on the world’s future worries me. Not only my direct actions of getting on a plane and jetting off, but the infrastructure needed to ensure my comfort both in transit and once I get there. From the throwaway cup and bottle of the in-flight G&T to the small flagons of shampoo/shower gel/body lotion waiting in my hotel room – the amount of plastic I get through on holiday dwarfs what we use at home. 

For years, we have used earth-friendly cleaning products, which we dissolve in glass jugs, soap (rather than shower gel) and have had a milkman for whom we rinse our bottles three times a week. I don’t know anyone who has new towels every day or changes their bedclothes more than once a week, so why hotels think we need that luxury on holiday is a mystery. 

Having worked in hotels, I can tell you the energy and water needed to launder towels and bed linen is monumental, not to mention the bleach when people don’t remove their make-up before bed. And, as a former chambermaid, I know many housekeeping managers override the notice about hanging up towels if you want to use them again. People don’t complain if towels are changed by mistake. They do complain if they aren’t.

But maybe we should be complaining when our eco-standards are not met? I think we need to be more intentional and vocal about what we expect from our suppliers. It worked with plastic bags in retail outlets in the UK and EU, so why stop there?

For example, how many of us wrote to airlines and airports when they read the almost incredible news about ‘ghost flights’ landing during the pandemic to ensure slots were retained? How many of us have enquired what happens to the excess food that is thrown away every day after breakfast or dinner buffets?

Aside from the environmental damage, we are all paying for this excess we don’t actually need. On a basic economic level, surely this needs addressing? Instead of sponsoring projects that support communities being hit by climate change or have been exploited through irresponsible industry, or whatever it might be, how about we ask these companies to conduct their businesses in a way that doesn’t contribute to massive environmental and societal damage in the first place? 

So, as shareholders as well as consumers, it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Fund managers, over to you.

By Liz Pfeuti

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