Surface vs Substance in Sustainability
Over the weekend I’ve been mulling on a tough dichotomy, arising out of my last Ask Gareth episode:
- To make a real change in, say, our carbon footprint, we have to tackle the big issues – space heating, transport, the extraction of raw materials etc. This is the essence of my book ‘Accelerating Sustainability Using the 80:20 Rule‘ – we should stop sweating the little stuff and focus on what really matters.
- The general public sees (or has been taught to see) environmental issues in terms of relatively trivial issues: single use plastic bags, leaving phone chargers plugged in, drinking bottled water etc. So if a sustainability practitioner breaks one of these populist ‘green rules’, they will be seen as hypocritical.
The more I think about it, we just have to accept this reality. To make a real difference we should be focussing our efforts on the 20% of ‘levers’ which will deliver 80% of potential improvements.
However we need to be mindful that our audience may not see our efforts through that prism; we must also make sure we are seen to do the right thing through their eyes. You should see these simple measures as an introduction to sustainability for non-experts – the first steps on the way to understanding the bigger picture.