Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays From the Conservation Value Institute

The snow is falling this Christmas morning here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where I'll be staying (and skiing in lots of powder) through this Saturday.

We here at Conservation Value Notes are grateful to all of you for reading this blog and using the slew of green resources that we maintain at Conservation Value Institute's online library of sustainability.

We wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Happy New Years and an overall Happy Holiday Season!


--The CVI Team

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Motivating Sustainability - Ingraining It in the Lives of Our Favorite Movie and TV Characters

I like this idea of advancing sustainability 'subliminally' by ingraining green products and practices into the daily routines of movie and TV characters. In the words of Paula Silver, founder of Beyond The Box Productions, which markets independent films:

"Social norming is about making behavior seem like you do it all the time," Silver said during a discussion on marketing green messages at the first annual Hollywood Goes Green conference in Los Angeles.

"It seems to me that if we can put some of these messages subliminally into the action so that you see somebody recycling, you see somebody turning off, pulling out their plugs," continued Silver. "It's about seeing and doing and creating that performance structure so that people say, 'I should be doing that.':

Very intriguing, and I'll bet it works to a fairly significant extent. After all, isn't the spread of recycling often attributed to folks seeing more and more of their neighbors doing it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Food Service Providers (and Beyond): Too Often, Still Clueless About Sustainability

Most of the time when I get a cup of coffee at a café, it's no sweat when I ask them to fill my steel mug rather than use their disposable cup. The attendant gladly fills the mug, and just about always gives me some kind of discount of a dime to a quarter (occasionally more).

Sometimes however, usually at places like an airport café, on an airplane, or at any range of coffee-selling places that are not the typical coffee house, the attendant will either refuse to fill my mug, or will do something completely stupid like pour the coffee into a disposable cup, pour it from the cup into my mug, and then throw the disposable cup into the garbage.

What is it with these people?

I’m guessing that their problem is simple lack of education at two levels.

At one level, many of these folks, working in places like an airport Duncin’ Donuts, are not very well-off and have been concerned with just surviving for most of their lives. Sustainability is the last thing to come to the forefront of their attention. They have learned to do what they are told to make sure they get a paycheck. When they see something a little bit out of their norm, such as a green citizen bringing their own mug to save a little paper or plastic, and it doesn’t cleanly fit into the “small”, “medium” or “large” category, they either refuse to do it, or have to make sure they serve the “right” amount of coffee by measuring it out in a disposable cup.

When I politely ask them to please not do that and try to help by telling them how many ounces my mug is (or just ask them to “please save yourselves a cup pour it into my mug – everybody else does”), these types of folks usually get angry and refuse to serve me coffee unless they use the disposable cup.

The best solution, I have found, is simply to explain what I’m doing, walk away for a few moments, and then come back and try a different attendant, who is usually fine. It’s usually just that one person’s ignorance (and stubbornness) that is the problem. Sometimes, it’s a bad manager who doesn’t have a clue and holds their employees to these dumb rules. But they’re out there. Those people whose way of doing things is just so far removed from the green revolution, and so stuck to wasteful, inefficient routines, that it makes those of us who take pride in living more sustainably wince.

At a second level, many of these folks are just not receiving the proper (if any) corporate education in (1) how to use efficient sustainable practices and (2) why these practices are important for benefiting the company’s bottom line (and, when used at home, help save money). The company is not adequately (if at all) making sure that efficient green practices – from knowing how to handle somebody who brings their own mug, to recycling, to using materials efficiently (I don’t need a bag for a single pack of gum or 12 napkins for my small fries), to using energy and water efficiently – are properly ingrained in the training of its employees.

Too often, I still find that we have a long way to go before internal corporate sustainability training – of employees in how to live and work and use resources in a smart, efficient manner – becomes ingrained at the mainstream level. Then again, too often, when visiting friends and family outside of my little green bubble, even the most basic of green (and often money-saving) products and practices have yet to be put to use. What will it take for this to change?

Sustainability News Headlines - 12/14/2007

News of Sustainability Benefiting People TodayAbout CV Notes' Sustainability News Headlines

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Motivating Action on Climate Change: Appeals to Self Interest Are Key

I am catching up on reading, and wanted to point to this piece titled Why the Climate Change Wolf Is So Hard to Kill Off.

The author discusses the difficulty in motivating people and businesses (and politicians!) to take action to stop a calamity like climate change, which is slow to unfold and difficult for many people to plainly "see" and thus believe. He notes that, "The point of the story of the boy who cried wolf is that, finally, a wolf did appear."

This, the author adds, might explain our politicians' difficulty in taking decisive action on climate change:

(Climate Change) is far away and coming slowly. “If the worst comes to the worst,” mutter the rich to themselves, “we can always let our children cope.”

How might this complacency be replaced by action, the author asks?

"The answer", he notes, "is that we must appeal at least as much to people’s self-interest as to their morality. Two things are needed, he says.

The first is convincing evidence that the true risks are larger than many now suppose. Conceivable feedback effects might, for example, generate temperature increases of 20°C. That would be the end of the world as we know it. I cannot imagine a rational person who would not seek to eliminate even the possibility of such outcomes. But if we are to do that, we must also act very soon.

The second requirement is to demonstrate that it is possible for us to thrive with low-carbon emissions. People in the northern hemisphere are not going to choose to be cold now, in order to prevent the world from becoming far too hot in future. China and India are not going to forgo development, either. These are realities that cannot be ignored.

Advocates of change will have to persuade people that living in a low-carbon economy does not mean giving up everything they enjoy. People will not wear hair shirts, whatever they may pretend.

These points underlie the whole purpose of this blog, and it's good to see them expressed so explicitly every now and then. As obvious as they may seem to some of us sustainability mavens, we clearly have a long way to go if we are convince our leaders to enact changes needed to stem the rising disaster that is global warming.

The good news, again, is that the types of appeals to self interest that the author calls for are quite genuine. As this blog's readers see evidence of every day, solutions to climate change are already spurring the creation of new jobs and whole sectors of an emerging sustainable economy. If this green trend continues, and is not devoured by massive green washing causing a loss of public trust, it will - among many, many benefits - make the air that we breathe cleaner and healthier, will help us secure our energy and economic future (including by helping us save ourselves from the dangers posed by Peak Oil), and thus will help us achieve an overall better quality of life.

PS - Note from Bali. It appears that fewer and fewer of our leaders need to be convinced to take action to stop global warming. Who are the worst climate sinners? Quite the couple, if you will... Hopefully this will change considerably as of about January 20, 2009.

Sustainability News Headlines - 12/12/2007

News of Sustainability Benefiting People TodayAbout CV Notes' Sustainability News Headlines

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Lesson From An Encounter With Global Warming Deniers

Sitting in the Richmond, Virginia Airport one morning last week, my conversation with a couple of southern gentlemen turned to rising oil and gas prices and the increasingly precarious global energy situation. The conversation began innocently enough. We all agreed about how important it is that America gain freedom from foreign oil and move to a renewable energy-powered economy as quickly as possible.

I was taken a bit back, however, at their resistance when I casually added the additional benefit that a rapid transition to renewables would provide much-needed solutions to the accelerating problem that is global warming. Both southern gentlemen – a skinny red-headed professional in his 30’s and an executive type in his early 50’s – became visibly agitated at the mere mention of global warming. They put forth many of the typical Limbaughesque points to support their view that global warming doesn't exist, including:
  • The jury is still out about how bad it’s going to be, so we can’t spend too much on the problem;
  • Climate change is just part of a natural cycle;
  • Volcanoes put more CO2 into the atmosphere than humans; and
  • It’s all just related to ocean cycles.
Even when I argued that the jury is far from out -- and pointed to the vast scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, as declared by the world’s top national academies of sciences -- they just shrugged this powerful pillar of credibility off. How? They (very) strongly believed that scientists (even prestigious National Academies) can’t be believed because their claims just reflect a political agenda.

Now I know there are plenty of Americans out there who share these beliefs, even in the highest levels of the U.S. government (embarrassingly enough). But that doesn't mean I still wasn't dumbstruck by the notion that for these two well-to-do men, it will take a flood from a melting glacier engulfing their Hummers before they are able to accept that global warming is a real threat to our environment, economy, and quality of life alike.

The Good News

There was a bright side to the story: these gentlemen were, both fortunately and interestingly, pro energy independence and pro renewable energy. They were also very anti our continued reliance on foreign oil, which they believed helps fuel the terrorists.

The So What
This conversation provided yet another indication that if many solutions to climate change and peak oil are one and the same (a rapid transition to clean renewable sources of energy), then to gain the broad societal support needed to solve both problems, we're a lot better off focusing on the goal of achieving energy independence than on the goal of solving global warming. To the conservative segments of society that these two gentlemen represented, communicating the importance of a transition to a renewable energy-based economy based on its potential to solving global warming flunked horribly. Many folks like this simply don't and won't believe global warming is a real problem that needs to be solved. So why force the matter with them when the patriotic, economic and security appeal for a transition to a renewable energy-based economy worked beautifully? They were all for it!

Sustainability News Headlines - 12/3/2007

News of Sustainability Benefiting People TodayAbout CV Notes' Sustainability News Headlines