"90% of Russian businesses do not think about eco-responsibility at all”

Elena Gorokhova, EKA — about the creaking change in the ecological consciousness of Russians

“Everyone can take and refuse free plastic bags in the store in favour of eco-bags or reusable packaging bags. But this is a whole big process of awareness. And other processes are even more difficult to implement. This restructuring of consciousness is very difficult, and sometimes our attempts to educate people cause aggression: “Why should I refuse this? I want to live as I like, I don't care about anything else," says Elena Gorokhova, the director of the Green movement of Russia EKA. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she spoke about how companies use environmental trends for “selfish purposes”, why it is necessary to divide the functions of the ministry of natural resources and ecology of the Russian Federation, and why Greta Thunberg is right.

“It is not necessary to adapt the trend with a separate fee for the marketing move”

Elena, what has made you particularly happy recently in the field of ecology in Russia?

There is a new wave, or trend, in the Russian business environment: businesses have begun to think about eco-responsiveness. This happened even before the Russian president outlined the direction of eco-responsibility of manufacturers and businesses in his last address to the Federal Assembly. The trend has started to unravel in the last couple of years, and this year we are almost every day approached by companies that want to change their business in the direction of greater eco-responsiveness. For example, to set up separate waste collection in the office or reduce your carbon footprint.

Now many people do not know where to turn with such questions and what are the general directions for improving environmental responsibility. We are preparing a methodological guide for such companies. Of course, there are companies in Russia that have been increasing their environmental responsibility for a long time, but they are mostly international. Now, Russian medium and large businesses have started to join in. And yet, probably 90 per cent of businesses do not think about it at all yet.

Do the representatives of the business community come to you, driven by some internal urge?

Most often, this is the call of a business manager or a meeting of shareholders. In top management, there was an awareness of the importance of the principles of eco-responsibility. Perhaps, they are going to or are already entering the international market, in this case, there are many aspects that encourage them to make their business eco-responsible. Now, if a company has foreign investment, it is necessary to provide investors with a report on sustainable development goals, business eco-responsibility, and gender equality.

Since last year, we have begun to realize that we can't just be users of resources. By the way, companies (not consumers) are their main users. Yes, we also have a responsibility to consume or not consume the product, but the manufacturer has a much greater responsibility. It takes primary resources, produces a product from them, sells it, and makes a profit from it.

We have the project kapoosta.ru, part of it is an online map with environmentally responsible businesses. This project shows that such a market exists at all. Yes, it is still very young, but such companies are becoming more and more. There are companies that are generally “tailored” for environmental purposes, for example, collecting and processing recyclable materials or vegetarian cafes. There are organic food stores or zero waste stores that strive to minimize the amount of garbage. In other words, we show on the map that there are certified eco-products, environmental vacancies, and environmental organizations, NGOs. We show different business formats that reduce their environmental footprint.

Photo: nash-dvor.livejournal.com
Since last year, we have begun to realize that we can't just be users of resources. By the way, companies (not consumers) are their main users

“Even if a person understands everything and shares eco-principles, it is usually difficult for them to take action”

How does the environmental movement feel in Russia in general? Apparently, it is actively developing and gaining momentum?

It's fine. We have a lot of work to do. Do you remember that 2017 was declared the year of ecology in Russia? We then smiled with our colleagues, because every year is the year of ecology. Despite the fact that Russian environmental legislation is considered one of the best in the world, it is often not complied with. Now there is a big fight in relation to the law on waste management — because of an amendment that equates incineration to recycling. People say: “Let's set up a separate collection, let's remove all organic matter at the primary stage, then incinerator plants are not needed. And if you still want to build them, then do not do it somewhere in Volokolamsk, build on Rublyovka. They are safe, after all.” The same struggle is going on when new landfills are planned to be opened. But these landfills are necessary because the amount of garbage is so large that there are simply not enough existing sites. At the same time, the priority of preventing and reducing waste generation laid down in the law is not fulfilled.

This is just one “garbage” topic, and there are many other hot issues related to forests, animals, climate, and air. Year by year, the discussion of environmental issues in the society is only getting stronger. Over the past 2 years, we have seen a strong surge of resonance in this area. We are very worried that our resources and the resources of other environmental organizations and groups are not enough to cover all that is necessary and attract as many people as possible to the topic of eco-responsibility.

Despite the fact that Russian environmental legislation is considered one of the best in the world, it is often not complied with. Now there is a big fight in relation to the law on waste management — because of an amendment that equates incineration to recycling

The question here is not only to somehow understand the scale of environmental problems — we need to do something about it. And if only a few people do this, then there is practically nothing we can do about global environmental challenges. There should be a lot of eco-activists. Yes, the eco-movement is gaining momentum, but it is quite difficult to involve people because the environmental theme is not so easy to understand. Even if a person understands everything and shares eco-principles, it is usually difficult for them to take action.

Let's talk about the simplest: what can an ordinary person do to somehow reduce the amount of garbage that they create?

Everyone can take and refuse free plastic bags in the store in favour of eco-bags or reusable packaging bags. But not taking free disposable bags from the store is a whole big process of awareness. It's really a deed: do not take bags even if you don't have a fruit bag.

And other processes are even more difficult to implement. For example, put a container at home for separate waste collection. Even if you don't have recycling bins near your home yet, you can still start dividing, storing, and maybe taking your trash to different recycling collection points. The issue of infrastructure is gradually being resolved, especially where people are actively seeking it. It is forbidden to transport separated waste to landfills — this is already a good measure. But it all starts with yourself, with each individual person who can already divide the waste at home. In general, each of us is responsible for where they go.

It is even more difficult not only to separate glass, plastic, paper and aluminum but also organic waste and so on. Every step in the environmental agenda is linked to personal responsibility and personal activity. . . It is important for us that every person, whether “ordinary”, businessman or official, implement environmental principles in their lives. An ecological way of life is a meta-habit that is important for everyone.

Here, the mission of environmental organizations is to involve as many people as possible, and it is more difficult than many other organizations that organize some one-time volunteer actions. A person with eco-principles can not do a little and one thing, for example, only divide the waste. His whole life must change. When a person joins an eco-movement, they gradually learn that it turns out that it is good not just to sort waste, but also to give up meat or at least reduce its consumption.

This restructuring of consciousness is very difficult, and sometimes our attempts to educate people cause aggression: “Why should I refuse this? I want to live as I like, I don't care about anything else.” So it is not surprising that Greta Thunberg tells such people that they do not think about the consequences, they live some strange consumer life. We fully support her in this. We are not alone on Earth. At least if you live only for yourself, don't harm others.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
But it all starts with yourself, with each individual person who can already divide the waste at home. In general, each of us is responsible for where they go

What have you been engaged in recent times?

For the last 5 years, I have been developing the environmental movement and making eco-projects in the field of IT. We have seven big projects in the EKA movement — Экокласс.рф, Green Universities, Plant the forest, kapoosta.ru, ecowiki.ru and others. All of them are aimed at eco-education of different target audiences.

Our most recent creation, which was released in mid-February, is the game Plant the Forest. The project won the Expo Live competition held within the framework of the international exhibition EXPO 2020 Dubai, and received a grant for its development. He will represent Russia at EXPO 2020 in Dubai. During development, our project became a Champion of the Earth. This UN competition is a kind of environmental Oscar.

By Matvey Antropov