Keeping Sustainability Simple, Stupid
Yesterday I was talking to somebody who was lauding the kerbside recycling system in the London borough where they used to live compared to what we have here in Newcastle. “We sorted it all out into individual bags and put in in a single crate.” she explained, “There was no contamination.”
As I helped develop our semi-co-mingled collection system, I politely explained that we used to have a user-sorted system but a. on a windy day it all ended up blowing down the street and b. the recycling rate was stuck at 8-10%. When we made it easier for people to recycle, it soared to 43% in a couple of years.
Regular readers will know all about my Green Jujitsu approach to engagement, which is built around the interests of the audience rather than the usual tired eco-clichés. But the principle also applies to all interactions between people and sustainable systems – you’ve got to design it around their knowledge, attention-span and convenience.
Yes, a user-sorted recycling system will get you better results from those who use it, but only a minority of us will relish the job of doing all the sorting. If we design Sustainability as some kind of test of the commitment from the public then we are fools. Purists get angry with me for saying this (some go apes**t in fact), but 80% of people using a system that is 80% perfect from a Sustainability point of view is much better for the planet than 10% using a totally perfect system.
This isn’t a matter of morality but pragmatism. Do the math.