Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't Doubt DOT

When I first began writing about the Do One Thing (DOT) approach to sustainability on this blog last year, it sparked a heated debate. Many readers believed that the DOT philosophy let people off the hook by perpetuating the idea that real change can be accomplished through small alterations in our day-to-day lives.

There’s no doubt that, to create lasting cultural, social and environmental sustainability, we have to fundamentally change many things about the way we live. But this doesn’t mean that making small changes isn’t a good way to start.

Indeed, scientists at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London have discovered that small efforts to consume less electricity are actually much more effective at reducing carbon emissions than had been previously estimated. As the Independent reports, “simple measures such as turning electrical appliances off at the mains and installing energy-efficient light bulbs could slash the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by about 40 megatonnes a year, or up to one third.”

As for the claim that a DOT strategy gives people license to continue their wasteful behavior, I believe that the opposite is true. It’s often the case that, in times of economic insecurity like the one we’re experiencing, concerns about conservation and sustainability fall by the wayside.

But, if you’ve resolved to Do One Thing every day to make your lifestyle more sustainable, you have no excuse. No matter how bad the economy gets, you can still choose to ride your bike more often, purchase energy-efficient light bulbs or turn down the air-conditioner. In fact, all three of those changes save money as well as energy.

To those who still doubt the virtue of this approach, it’s important to remember that DOT isn’t just an individual philosophy; it’s also a corporate philosophy. For instance, Google recently announced that it is Doing Its Thing to make its business more sustainable by laying the groundwork to begin powering its data centers with wind energy. The internet – from individual PCs and mobiles, routing infrastructure, phone networks, and server farms – chugs an enormous amount of electricity to keep stuff moving and keeping it all chilled (how did we imagine that digital equaled green?).

Saatchi & Saatchi has also proven the effectiveness of DOT. At the end of 2009, our Hudson Street New York agency and HQ distributed free coffee mugs to our staff, and began offering free morning coffee. As a result, in the first quarter of 2010 alone the office reduced the number of paper cups and lids used by 9,005, and saved $4,237 in the process.

The philosophy is Do One Thing, Do Two, then Three, and so on. A virtuous domino effect. Long-term sustainability can start incrementally and we start by Doing One Thing.