An anecdote on business, sustainability, globalization and a pandemic.
I met Cyrille in January 2019 at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi. He was sitting on a seat made from cardboard at one of the stands and I approached to ask whether the seat was made from recycled cardboard (one of the odd questions I happen to approach random strangers with). It turns out he had nothing to do with the seat and only happened to be taking a break there. He proceeded to hand me his business card which I dutifully captured with my phone.
Cyrille is a nuclear engineer. I was not sure how I felt about nuclear energy but we had a chat and have been in touch since then. Two days after we met, he sent me a picture of the strawberry milk he was about to have; it came in Tetra Pak with an attached straw wrapped in a flimsy plastic wrapper. He said he was sorry. I had opened a window for confession.
Cyrille is constantly traveling for work, whether in France or abroad. To support our work he has been documenting his encounters with the single use plastic he encounters on trains, planes, transit stations, hotels and exhibitions. And even though when I ask him why he chose to buy a drink in a single use plastic bottle, his reply is "sorry, I'm thirsty," he still uses his leverage as a customer to express his discontent to the service providers.
At his own office, Cyrille explained how they moved from serving water in single use disposable 300ml plastic water bottles to providing it from a 5 gallon water dispenser. He said that the company which delivers them to the office does so in bulk (four at a time) and works on offsetting the carbon footprint associated with the delivery and that in contrast with the small bottles, the plastic dispenser containers can be reused 20 times. When I asked why they did not serve tap water, he said he was not sure what the regulation was on serving tap water in a non-residential space.
Some of the pictures Cyrille has been sending me are comical. Examples (below) are a tooth brush which claims that you can save the environment by reusing it and "Eco" body lotion in disposable plastic tubes next to disposable plastic wrapped plastic cups.
In case you were not aware, France has legislated a phase out plan for single use plastic disposables. In one of his messages, Cyrille tells me that instead of going to McDonald's, he opted for a good French restaurant where he was also served tap water (which again begs the question: why is tap water not being served at his office?). On the occasions when he cannot avoid fast food, he remarks "I feel less guilty than hungry."
For the first time ever, earlier this week, Cyrille took a reusable cup to get coffee. In his previous conversations with me he had explained that he did not find it practical to carry reusables around especially because he was constantly on the move. Nevertheless, it seems he decided to embark on the experience and he took his reusable cup to "McDo" of all places, in a town named Pouilly en Auxois in the French countryside. The person serving him, he noted, was surprised.
With his post about the experience, Cyrille entered our weekly draw and he was randomly picked as the winner of a handy, portable, 3 in 1 reusable utensil. This brought a smile to my face, knowing that he was scheduled to be back in the UAE in March (i.e. he can pick it up) and that he would make really good use of the tool. He was elated, explaining that it will be "useful for all [his] trips everywhere in France or abroad."
Cyrille, however, will no longer be traveling as planned. Even though the carbon footprint of his travels had no impact on his decision or obligation to travel (as is the case with many of us), a pandemic has now restricted his freedom.