Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trash talk

Pushing a rock uphill is hard. Following it as it rolls downhill is easy. In legend Sisyphus was doomed to keep pushing the same rock up the same hill into eternity. If he was still around today he’d write a business book about it. The thing is, the best ideas have little to do with pushing – that’s the thought the Attraction Economy is based on. You give an idea a little nudge and it starts racing ahead gaining momentum as it goes. Why are some ideas so much better at doing this than others? I believe it’s because some of them are grounded in how human beings actually think and act intuitively rather than in assumptions about how they ought to act. Behaving sustainably amidst plenty is a discipline human beings are new to. ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it’ has been the motto for most of us for centuries so we need new patterns of behavior we don’t have to keep close track of. The best new patterns don’t rely on New Year’s Resolution determination; they simply require a nudge in the right direction. Like noticing that everyone in the supermarket has a cloth shopping bag except for you or your next door neighbours noticing that you’re putting out double the trash they are. The same social signals can be sparked in the office and I’ve just come across a great one. Swapping everyone’s regular size trash bins for tiny ones. Like 5 1/5 inches tall. Harvard Business Publishing’s Leading Green blog covered the regular to tiny idea recently. It works on the same principle as smaller plates make us eat less. Smaller trash cans make us throw less away. A lot less. At Sonoma State University they found that most of what went into the trash could have been recycled but people simply weren’t taking the trouble to do it. Once they decreased the size of everyone’s trash cans, guess what? The campus increased the amount of recyclable material by 55 percent. People threw away less when the cans were smaller and putting stuff into recycling became an easier option. Two jobs here. 1. Get small trash cans into your business now. 2. Someone, please, design an elegant, appealing small trash can. Now. The ones that illustrate the article may be made of recycled plastic but they should be banned.

1 comment:

ASR said...

Okay, but the implications in each case need to be thought through surely? In the UK, toilet flush mechanisms now only use 6 litres instead of the previous 9 litres of water. This is generally (well, in my case) not enough to shift certain product lines, so to speak. Two or three flushes later and a lot more water has been used than previously. Ultimately the motivated individual figures out the best way to modify their behaviour. In my case, I guess it will have to be eating less bran flakes.