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A Civilisation Hell bent on Destroying Itself seems to be what is pushing today’s people to try anything within their reach. For instance, Deepti Kannapan starts in his article dated August 5 by stating: I tried to go zero-waste in 2019 before adding ‘I bought my groceries bulk or package-free whenever I could, carried my own silverware to the work cafeteria, and stopped ordering food delivered to my house.’ Here is that article.

What Can One Person Do to Protect The Environment?

Three things: Innovate, call their Representative, and organize boycotts

Every time I went to a big-chain coffee store I made sure to pointedly ask for my coffee “for here, in a mug” while making eye contact with the cashier and miming holding a mug. Even with all this emphasis, about every one time in twenty I got handed a disposable coffee cup. At this point I’d be torn: that cup is going in the trash no matter what I did; but I dislike the experience of drinking from a disposable coffee cup. I usually ended up asking the barista to pour it into a mug for me.

Eventually, I told my regular barista that I’d quit disposable coffee cups as a new year’s resolution (which it was not). He changed the order and thanked me for making that resolution.

Most people reacted similarly when I told them what I was doing: with admiration, and then backing away by saying they could never do it themselves. Overall, not an encouraging reaction, because I’m not having much impact by myself. I’m just one person out of billions.

Innovate in your household.

My zero-waste experiment in 2019 resulted in a lot of frustration, but that frustration was useful. I deeply understood the difficulties of eschewing disposable cups.

Using this knowledge, I’ve been experimenting with methods to store my reusable cups and workflows for washing and replacing them. I’m hoping to find or develop a cup that’s fun to drink out of, easy to wash, store, and keep dry.

Innovations like this aren’t particularly high-tech or difficult to do, but that is how progress often happens. According to Eric Von Hippel, a professor who studies innovation at MIT,

Every field we look at in terms of the basic innovations, about half were done by users. And it’s fantastic. Companies very seldom mention the user-developed roots of their innovations.

If you’re frustrated by a problem, you’re uniquely qualified to figure out a solution, whether that’s a trash sorting system, a modified water bottle, or durable clothing.

People modifying products to make them do what they want is how we got the mountain bike. Companies often incorporate the modifications users want, as Von Hippel describes.

And then as a lot of people begin to do it, they say, “Aha! Not only is there a proven innovation, but there’s a signal of general demand.” And that’s the point at which you begin to define what a mountain bike should look like.

Participate in the political process.

Innovating helps create the technologies and processes that push the envelope beyond what we already have. Now the question is, will people use them?

They will if you regulate industries and compel them to adapt with the improvements in the state of the art.

Politics is an area where at first glance, it can seem like an individual voter has no influence. I found the idea of getting involved overwhelming. The 2018 election was the first time I participated beyond voting — I canvassed voters, phone banked, and called my Representatives, as often as I felt up to it, and eased my way into greater engagement.

And the results showed me how momentum can build.

Start small. Sign up for a mailing list of an organization like the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, or any group that resonates with you, and keep aware of environment-related bills that are coming up in your state or country.

Then, after a while, when you feel brave enough, call your Member of Congress or whoever represents you win your government, and tell them how you’d like them to vote on it.

Organize boycotts.

I put this last because this is where most people assume you have to start. I am in favor of boycotts, but only when there is enough leverage to give them a chance of success.

Boycotts tend to work by tarnishing a company’s brand. They work best when the company has a good reputation that is sliding, and that it wants to restore. Boycotts don’t need to significantly impact the company’s revenue to succeed.

Most importantly, they need to be well-organized, focused, and strategic. So just buying what you approve of and not buying what you don’t will not have much of an impact.

Zephyr Teachout, an author and associate professor of law at Fordham Law School, wrote in a recent Atlantic article:

[…] we have somehow inculcated a belief that if someone fails to boycott a company, she lacks standing to object to political behavior or to petition Congress for change. People feel guilty about not boycotting, and that guilt gets in the way of full-throated political protest.

There’s no need to feel guilty about the products you buy. You can’t boycott every flawed product in the world at once; you wouldn’t be able to live.

It’s a good idea to learn to plan an effective boycott. It starts with choosing the right target — a company that is sensitive to criticism. Done right, boycotts can succeed.

Think big.

My avoidance of disposable coffee cups probably didn’t cause the coffee shop to order fewer of them. It probably didn’t cause the overall market for disposable cups to decrease, or fewer cups to be manufactured.

That’s okay because my experiment got me thinking bigger — about the possible products we haven’t yet invented, the legislation we need, and the markets and industries as a whole.

It got me thinking about where we have the most leverage. That’s where we are going to act.

Here’s the workbook I use for researching and selecting sustainable products.Sustainability Experiments

Tools and processes as building blocks to a better supply chain



Deepti Kannapan