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In recent years, the “green,” or, environmental movement has been gaining in notoriety. Suddenly, an enormous market has emerged for green products, from environmentally friendly cleaning products to low impact vacations in eco-friendly destinations. Yet in spite of great publicity and interest, a so-called “green revolution” has not taken hold. However, as those with psychology degrees already very well know, behavioral psychology can help explain why, in spite of the existence of great amounts information on going green, individuals and corporations fail to adopt environmentally sustainable practices.
Everyday the population of the globe grows, people live longer and individuals enjoy a better standard of living. These three trends result in the greater consumption of material goods than ever before (coupled with a concurrent increase in industrial activity), increasing waste and pollution worldwide. Concern over the increase of pollution led to the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States in the 1960s. However, since the inception of this movement, environmentalism has been hardened political issue. Thus “green” has become a loaded term, causing the debate over the necessity of changing business and personal practices to become a partisan issue.
At the business level, the debate tends to focus on the question of whether environmentalism is good for industry or if it harms profitability. There is a perception that governmental and environmental regulations cut into a company’s profit. Unfortunately, this zero-sum understanding of the relationship between economics and the environment creates a strong resistance toward developing environmentally sustainable business strategies. However, creative solutions that preserve profitability while protecting the environment exist; the challenge is to shift the argument away from the environment vs. economic scenario into a debate over which win-win solutions are best.
A second obstruction to the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices is the hesitancy to make short-term sacrifices in favor of long-term benefits. This is underscored by the fact that an individual’s or business’ practices become established over time and difficult to change. Something as simple as beginning a home or business recycling program, weatherproofing a home to reduce wasted energy or modifying a business supply chain can present psychological challenges that induce procrastination and avoidance. As counterintuitive as the rejection of the long-term benefits in favor of immediate rewards may seem, it is a fundamental human trait that acts as a barrier to sustainable practices.
The third and final main barrier to going green occurs mainly at the individual level. Despite increased publicity of urgent environmental issues such as climate change, pesticide contamination of food and water and air pollution, individuals seem unwilling to act. This is because the human psyche can only accommodate a limited number of concerns at any given time. Termed the “finite pool of worry,” this theory explains the lukewarm response to environmental concerns at the same time that it provides a solution. Environmentalism on its own, despite its importance, occupies a low position on most individual’s priority lists. Concerns about the economy, the job market, personal health and quality of life tend to dominate a person’s day-to-day worries.
Therefore in order to increase its visibility, the issue of environmentalism must be reframed to fit within a person’s existing concerns. For example, people concerned about the job market, might be interested in the potential employment opportunities created by adopting renewable energy resources. When people can see how environmentally sustainable practices can benefit them personally in the short term, they are much more likely to act.
Clearly, behavioral psychology can help provide insight as to why, in spite of the urgency behind the sustainability movement, corporate and individual actions so often fail to meet expectations. By using behavioral psychology to identify the barriers to the adoption of new mindsets and behaviors, we can simultaneously highlight challenges and suggest strategies to overcome them. Resolving the resistance to environmentalism requires a multi-faceted and creative approach, but it is possible to intelligently foster a sustainable lifestyle from the bottom up.This guest post was written by Allison Gamble.
This is a guest post by Sarah Harris
The old tradition of you and your kids washing the family car in the driveway on a Sunday afternoon is slowly turning into an environmental nightmare. While most do not realize what harm this simple household chore can inflict on the environment, rest assured that it’s not worth the small amount of money saved on taking the car to a commercial car wash. Simply put, the water that runs off your dirty car goes directly into storm drains, which then runs into rivers and streams and eventually pollutes the oceans and its millions of aquatic inhabitants. Unlike excess water waste from your home, that goes through treatment before it is discharged into the environment, water from washing the car, which contains elements of gasoline, oil, and exhaust fume residue, all go straight into our delicate environment.
Although reports differ, the estimate is that the average home car wash uses 100 gallons of water. A commercial car wash is estimated to use around 45 gallons per car. If you must wash at home, there are a few things you can do to help counteract too much water usage. First, use an adjustable hose nozzle. These cost a mere $10 and allow you to adjust water pressure and most importantly the amount of water by shutting off when it’s not being used. Second, park your car either on a lawn, gravel, or dirt surface. This allows the runoff to soak into the grass keeping it green, or if it’s gravel, to easily percolate into the soil below. This should only be done with environmentally safe detergents and cleaners.
Again, if the absolute need arises to wash the car at home, there are now options to wash without using water at all. Lucky Earth and Eco Touch offer products that require no additional water. They are easy to use, typically by spraying the dirty area and wiping clean with a cloth. While this may not be the best approach with a car covered in mud and dirt, it’s a great solution for mildly grimy cars. And in addition to using no water, these products are all safe for the environment as well as the consumer. And remember, by not washing your car at home, or using better methods of doing so, you can very easily add to a wide variety of simple ways to practice sustainable living. Living our lives never again has to mean trampling the abundant environment we all use and cherish.
Earth Day is more than just a day for our kids to plant trees and learn about recycling at school. In 1970, the first Earth Day was a day of grassroots political protest against rampant uncontrolled pollution of our air and water. It was perfectly legal to dump hazardous waste into streams and spew dark plumes of toxic smoke into the air. And this is exactly what companies were doing.
The environment was not yet part of the national political discourse. US Senator Gaylord Nelson had been working in vain for years to change that. Finally, his idea for a day of environmental teach-ins galvanized people all across the country who were concerned about the environmental degradation they were seeing locally. As interest grew, Nelson resisted trying to organize the event from Washington, preferring to let people celebrate Earth Day any way they wanted. He wanted Earth Day to be a celebration of grassroots action.
Twenty million people from all walks of life self-organized to protest on behalf of our planet on that day. Amazingly, they did this without the benefit of cell phones, twitter, or facebook. If you want to get a sense for the historical context and the truly revolutionary nature of the ideas, listen to Nelson’s Earth Day speech in Milwaukee on April 21, 1970.
It worked. By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air Act was law. The Clean Water Act followed in 1972. The air and water in the United States began to recover.
How are you going to celebrate this milestone on April 22? How about trying to go without disposable plastic for a day? Pack Litter-less Lunches and use your reusable bags and bottles. If there’s an environmental issue that needs attention, find others who are also concerned and get together to do something about it. In the spirit of Gaylord Nelson, go ahead and celebrate locally, any way you want. Let us know how it goes!
Last June, math teacher and director of sustainability Kevin Merges arranged for the seniors at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, New Jersey to get a surprise under their chairs at
their graduation ceremony. Seniors quenched their thirst from reusable bottles filled with tap water instead of bottled water during the ceremony. Merges noticed in prior years that dozens of water bottles were only partially empty. Mary Ganzenmuller, Vice President of the Board of Trustee worked with Merges to find this sustainable solution for the event. Provided by Back2Tap, the stainless steel bottles were customized with the school logo and the words: Rutgers Preparatory School – A Sustainable Future. According to Merges, the students were thrilled with their reusable bottles and plan to carry them proudly as they go forth toward their sustainable futures.
As a small green business owner, I particpated in an eco-preneurship panel at the Rowan University Sustainability Conference on April 3. Business leaders working in the area of sustainability shared their accomplishments and challenges with the students and faculty in connection with this Principles for Responsible Management Education intiative.
There was no “greenwashing” there. The companies, large and small, showed that they had a serious commitment to sustainability, way beyond recycling and choosing eco-friendly paper products. The eco-prenuers were generally small companies primarily focused on meeting the market demand for green goods and services. The large established companies were focused on improving operations and products. DuPont reported on its progression from being the #1 polluter to trying to “do less bad” and finally to now “trying to do more good.” Domino Sugar spoke of its plant in Florida where electricity is generated using bagasse – sugar cane fiber waste as well as the introduction of carbon footprint free sugar in some markets. Ernst and Young reported saving $100 million by banning bottled water and has eliminated the use of 4 million disposable cups per year. A regional flooring company spoke of their manufacturing model where the volume of waste consumed is greater than the waste produced.
It was very encouraging to see the serious commitment that these corporations have made to moving toward more sustainable operations: they have created and filled the position of corporate sustainability manager to lead the effort; they have gone through a process of re-examining their own operations, they have set goals and started implementation of sustainability improvement measures, and they have pressed their suppliers to do the same. Best of all, every business reported that they found economic benefits in their implementation of these sustainability improvements.
My favorite panelist on the Environmental Leadership Panel at the GoGreen Expo NYC was the Lazy Environmentalist, Josh Dorfman. The night before, I had done my homework by visiting his website. His blog about how to better articulate the concept of sustainability definitely struck a chord with me so I knew I was in for a treat on Sunday.
First of all, I agree with Josh that the current definition of sustainability is pretty uninspiring: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. When I speak to groups, I usually just explain that sustainability is “making Earth’s resources last forever.” While my definition is simple to understand, Josh takes it a step further and makes it also sound appealing: to live as well as we possibly can while bringing our lifestyles into balance with nature.
Josh pointed out that it doesn’t matter if we “green” folks do everything we can to live more sustainably; it’s much more important what the other 90% of the population – the “mainstream” are motivated to do. In terms of how to get the mainstream to go green, he suggests appealing to people’s self interest: it’s better for you and for the planet.
One small example of this would be getting Back2Tap by using a reusable stainless steel bottle and drinking tap water instead of bottled water. You’ll save money and reduce your impact on the planet.
Later in the afternoon, there was a premiere of Josh’s first Sundance Channel TV reality series episode that will air in June. In this episode, he visits a typical American family and tries to green up their lifestyle. I was LOL in no time – the family actually uses disposable dishes for lunches and some dinners on a regular basis, the son thinks global warming is a girl issue, and the father thinks there’s plenty of room for all our trash in all that open space in Texas! I won’t spoil the outcome of that green “makeover”!
The Lazy Environmentalist blog and show are now some of my favorites!
It’s almost springtime! Festivals and all sorts of events in their planning stages will soon be blooming like spring flowers all over the land. For the many Earth Day celebrations, “Green” fests and other events trying to operate more sustainably, there are ways to quench people’s thirst without resorting to cases or truckloads of bottled water.
For small events, like school field days and picnics, there are large “Gatorade” style containers that can be filled with tap water and ice. Everyone can bring their own reusable bottles to fill at the coolers as necessary. Just make sure the bottles are labeled with names before the fun begins! If it’s unlikely that most people attending your event will bring reusable bottles, you could offer disposable cups made out of PLA (corn plastic) or Bagasse (sugarcane fiber) that is biodegradable or cups made with some recycled material content. You will probably need to order these cups online and factor in time for shipping.
With a little upfront planning, it is even possible to free larger events like outdoor festivals from bottled water. For a helpful ten step program, I highly recommend the Food and Water Watch guide: “Free Your Event from Bottled Water, A Practical Guide to Take Back the Tap at Your Next Event and Avoid the Waste, Expense, and Environmental Problems with Bottled Water. Once you confirm that your caterer and vendors are on board, you need to identify the best tap water source, decide if you want to filter it, and calculate how much water you’ll need (1.5 liter/person). Next, plan self-serve water stations and choose serving containers. The final steps involve identifying partners to defray costs (e.g. municipalities, utilities, and water filtration companies), publicizing your event as bottled-water-free, and lining up volunteers to make it run smoothly.
An easy way to raise money to fund events large and small, while spreading the Back2Tap movement, is to sell custom logoed reusable stainless steel bottles. Please visit http://www.back2tap.com/ to learn more about how Back2Tap can help you “green” your event and raise money!
How about kicking off a Back2Tap campaign for your school’s Earth Day celebration on April 22! This movement against the ridiculous wastefulness of bottled water, is gaining momentum in schools across the country. Once students are made aware of the problem, it is easy for them to take action by drinking tap water from a reusable bottle and making their own drinks using concentrated drink mixes with tap water. These very simple steps toward sustainability are easy for students to comprehend and feel good about.
Back2Tap offers free downloadable educational resources, including a fun 9 minute video about the wastefulness of bottled water and everything you need to know about tap water, suitable for ages K-8, but guaranteed to be enlightening to high school students and adults, too. Classroom activities include making a bottle tower out of discarded disposable plastic water bottles, conducting a drinking container survey, collecting and categorizing waste for a day, and more. These resources will raise students’ environmental awareness and their understanding of sustainability and are well suited for either an Earth Day assembly or for classroom activities.
The educational program can be followed up by our green fundraising campaign. Back2Tap partners with a representative from a PTO/PTA, Boosters, faculty, or student group to sell high quality reusable stainless steel bottles with custom logos to members of the school community. Do something good for the planet and for your budget with our Back2Tap campaign! To learn more, please visit http://www.back2tap.com/fundraising2.html.
By chance, I recieved two articles reporting on bottled water bans in schools today – one about a Catholic school board in Canada and another about universities in the United States. The breadth of this bottled water backlash was impressive: both religious and secular, national and international, collegiate and primary/secondary, and coastal and heartland: Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic School District in Ontario, Canada, Washington University, Brandeis University, Evergreen State College in Washington, and the University of Arkansas.
This does not appear to be a regional fad that is going to fade. Increasingly, educational institutions are joining municipalities in rejection of bottled water and the extreme wastefulness and disconnection from nature that it symbolizes. Dramatic comments posted in opposition to these bans show how polarizing the issue can be and have sparked the following insights from my year of dedication to this pursuit.
Bottled water may not be the gravest problem in our midst and banning it may not be the best approach, but getting people back to drinking tap water is an important positive step toward sustainable living. It is essential for our survival on this planet to start questioning and changing our wasteful habits — drinking bottled water is just one small example of where we have gone wrong. It is an important but easy step people can take on the path to reducing their eco-footprints, but hardly the last. Once a person reduces their consumption of bottled water, they are likely to re-consider many of the other disposable convenience items they consume daily.
Most importantly, when we drink tap water, we are connnected with our environment. Suddenly, we are concerned about where our tap water comes from and what’s in it. We realize that we have to take care of our watershed because we are dependant on it. We tend to think we can live disconnected from nature or by conquering nature, but ultimately we can’t. Let’s get Back2Tap so that we consume fewer resources, reduce our waste and care for our watersheds.
Last Saturday I participated in a forum called “Inventing the Future – Rebuilding Communities from the Inside Out” organized by We Are BOOST (Building Open Opportunity Structures Together) in Trenton, NJ. As I navigated my way to the event using the GPS system in my new Toyota Camry hybrid, I found a neighborhood “in transition” – some of the old houses and buildings were boarded up, but many were cared for and charming. There was a feeling of hope here.
Once inside Planet Havana, the bar/nightclub hosting the all day event, I found the people who embodied that hope. Many of them had known each other for decades. All of them were committed to collaborating to find new solutions to old problems in their under-served Trenton neighborhood. In addition to hope, there was passion – the meeting began with local children aged 5 through 17 years reading their prize-winning poems on peace. Then each forum participant shared what they were doing and fielded questions.
After listening to the stories, I have to admit that the challenges faced in this community and others like it were not at all familiar to me – prolonged unemployment, crime, violence, prejudice, poor self-image, school water with high lead levels, industrial contamination of residential neighborhoods, and the difficulties of re-entering society after prison. All mind-boggling problems, and yet, my message about the wastefulness of bottled water and the importance of drinking tap water from reusable bottles was recieved with great interest and enthusiasm.
Maybe it was because getting Back2Tap is a simple concrete step that anyone can take toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Maybe it was because people who have been exposed to environmental contamination have a greater appreciation for the limitations of our planet and its vulnerability. Maybe it was because having less discretionary income motivates people to be less wasteful. Maybe it was because there is a mindfulness here that is far too uncommon. Maybe it was because of their unflagging hope for better days ahead.
At the end of the forum, over half of the crowd came up to take a brochure and express an interest in running a Back2Tap fundraising campaign with their particular organization or group. As I left, two of my beautiful new-found sisters Amini and Sa Mut gave me warm hugs that I won’t soon forget. As soon as I got back into my car and started for home, I discovered that Planet Havana is less than two blocks from a penitentiary surrounded by towering stone walls topped with huge bales of barbed wire that must serve as a constant reminder of how wrong things can go.
My new hope is that Back2Tap will be able to help these dynamic community organizers raise money, save money, and spread sustainability in their under-served community.