Sustainability for Real People
As I write, I’m half way through an 8 day stint of solo-parenting our three boys – and, boy, am I exhausted. With the little one still at the nappy and Calpol stage, and the middle one still demanding quite a bit of attention, it’s a flat out effort to keep food on the table, dishes done, cleanish clothes on them, and some semblance of order in the house. By the time they’re all bathed, regaled with stories and in bed in the evening, I’m beat – and facing a load of chores just to be ready for the morning.
A couple of years ago, I tried out a ‘sustainable living’ programme run by a high-profile not-for-profit – partly because of a position I held at the time, and partly to see how other people do engagement. The idea of the programme was to monitor your waste and energy usage and then share ideas on-line on how to reduce those impacts.
Reader, I flunked it completely.
The problem was even the small effort required to weigh and record each load of waste going to the bins was at least doubling the time taken to perform this task. And in our house, if it takes twice as long to do something differently, then it doesn’t happen. OK, I might manage once or twice, but if you have a teething child screaming at you, dinner is on the hob and the bin is starting to stink, that bag of waste goes out fast. My data quickly became so patchy it was a joke, so I packed it in.
And I think that summarises the problem with the attitude of much of the activist end of the environmental movement – and even the Government programmes such as the UK’s Green Deal. They assume that people have, or should find, the time, inclination and energy to sacrifice on sustainability. A sizeable minority may do it, but for the majority, other pressures – or pleasures – will take priority.
The best way to do sustainability for real people is to make it as easy as ‘normal’ behaviour, if not easier. Failing that, make it more fun, cheaper, or more status-enhancing, whatever – just make it better. And, if you are looking to test a sustainability idea for practicality, can I blearily suggest a single parent might be the ultimate target audience…