The Social Germs of Sustainability

by | Traveling

The global population is predicted to increase from 6 billion today to 7.8 Billion by the year 2025. If this new population desired the same lifestyle as a typical American, we would need the equivalent of 7 planet Earth’s resources to support it.    Well, bad news…there is no 7 Earth-like planets that we can get to (at least in the short term).  The younger Millennials and Generation Ys  are very aware of this and are the new guardians of the planet, keeping a watchful eye on the management of our environment and resources. Any transgressions here and a company or person holding on to past patterns of consumption will acutely feel the backlash. But this attitude certainly has taken a long time to take hold not only with the new generation but with the older ones as well. Will corporations and people still behave in a sustainable manner in the future?  We think they will…through the power of networks.

When recycling blue boxes first came into everyone’s home in the 1990s, I remember the peculiar behavior (at the time) of still throwing most of my garbage into the garbage.   Today, I don’t think twice to separate out my recyclables into the blue box and other stuff into the garbage.  This shift, though, took a long time and it only became part of my behavior when I noticed everybody else doing it.  The social affect of sustainability is just like any contagion or germ in a group of people. Once someone gets the bug, it will spread.  In fact, just recently I was so reliant on my neighbors that I no longer even think about when to put out my recyclables and garbage…I just do whatever everyone else is doing! The network affect of one person doing something, will cascade to others through social pressure.

The planet needs sustainability to be a priority and there is a lot of opportunity for people and corporations to do just that.  Products could be made to be:

  • Durable: the product could be used longer without break down
  • Recyclable: the product could be recycled for other uses
  • Upgradable: ability to keep the core product but upgrade to better performance and features
  • Reusable: the product could be refurbished for other customers

And there are many ways we can use our resources much more efficiently by reusing and sharing them. There are now “Tool Libraries” which allow people to borrow household tools for short term use and then return them later.    There are services which allow you to rent out your unused rooms in your house and help you utilize your car more efficiently.

The internet, mobile phones and instant information are enabling this golden age of “sustainability” by allowing us to see what other people doing, adopt those ideas quickly and more importantly making sure there is social pressure on everybody to do their part.    The future of sustainability is bright, not only because it needs to happen …but because everyone is doing it.

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