The following outlines how complexity can hinder good environmental actions, and how you as an environmental planner or product manufacturer can overcome it. And yes, I am going somewhere with the coffee story.
Hi, my name is Mona and I’m a coffee addict.
Seeing as it’s one of my only vises in life, I don’t really mind it. But it does mean that I am not a functional human being without my morning Joe, and that is what prompted today’s post.
I’m currently staying with some friends who are very techy. Their house is filled with robots, drones, and really cool gadgets. As well, their coffee maker is really advanced, you know the kind that has an inbuilt alarm so it can have the coffee ready for you before you’re out of bed. It also has an inbuilt grinder so you can get fresh coffee. Amazing, right? Wrong!
The darn thing never works, and in its effort to be as simple as possible, it only has one on/off button and a nob that also works as a button. This morning I spend 15 minutes trying to get it to grind the beans. 15! I’m not gonna brand shame so I won’t tell you the name of the coffee machine.
There were just too few buttons and no matter what I pushed, or in which order, it didn’t work. In the end, I gave up. I sat defeated and ate my breakfast with a glass of water.
Why am I telling you this? Because green design matters.
Because a coffee maker that’s too complicated to operate is a spot-on example of how our world is way more complicated than it needs to be.
And the same goes for acting environmentally friendly.
If you live in a westernized country or the metropolises of high-tech South East Asia, you probably have some sort of waste management and recycling scheme.
Those schemes have rules, and those rules are often really complicated and with a large set of exceptions. This is because of technical requirements from the waste treatment facilities. It makes recycling confusing for us mortals who just want to know how to sort our waste in the right way.
Likewise, if you’re gonna purchase a new car, and you want to get one that is environmentally friendly, what do you get? One with good mileage? An electric? A used car? Which is better? The answer is the same, ‘Well it depends…’
But we don’t want to dig into why there are so many differences in regards to buying an environmentally friendly car, we just want the answer: What is the best car I can buy if I care about the environment?
If you promoting a greener behavior, or selling a green product, it is your job to make it as easy as possible for your audience/consumer, to do the right thing.
How to make sustainable products or services
Seeing as I still haven’t had coffee yet, I’ll give you the bare minimum.
Test it! Then test it. And then test it again.
If you’re asking someone to act in a different way, you need to test if what you are asking them is sufficiently easy and understandable. Test your message or product over and over until you have made it as approachable as possible.
I call this theGrandma Test.
Edit (06.08.18): I was actually meeting my grandma after writing this, so I took the opportunity to put a face to the concept. Here she is.
If I can explain something in a way that even my stubborn, 82-year-old grandma gets it, then I’m on to something.
My formal education is Technological Socio-Economical Planner.
That fails the grandma test massively. Therefore I and most of my old uni buddies boil it down to the essence: Environmental Planner. Or as grandma says, ‘Something with environment.’
This is where the discussion of dumbing down usually comes up. I will say this until I am in my grave:
It’s not about dumbing down, it’s about removing unnecessary complexity.
I’m not a stupid person, nor am I a tech illiterate, but I’ll remind you that I battled the coffee maker for 15 minutes, and lost!
That’s what happens when things get too fancy.
Maybe when I have had my coffee, I’ll write the post about why humans always make things more complicated and what it means for our environment, and society as a whole.
For now, I highly advise you that whatever change you want to make in the world, you make sure that your actions are easy to follow and that you keep your instructions clear.
And on that note, I’m gonna dig out the old school Italian espresso maker, because that never fails me.
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https://somethinggreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/kermit-and-coffee-crop.jpg9011439Mona Jensenhttps://somethinggreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/something-green-1-1.pngMona Jensen2018-08-05 22:21:062019-06-01 17:05:56It's hard to be green -Why green design to be the default option and how to do it
This is a really interesting subject and I wanted to know more, however, what really got me was the words the WEF decided should go along with it:
’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’
‘Urg’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s a bad choice of words for this piece’.
The World Economic Forum, an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, is committed to improving the state of the world. This fact makes the above even more problematic.
Though in line with the article and truthful in it’s nature, that small sentence does way more harm than good. It’s working as a hindrance for sustainable development.
Why words matter
Let’s deconstruct the sentence.
By writing ’Eight of them are in Asia, two in Africa’, it’s easy to infer, that no other continent in the world is home to one of the rivers causing 90% of the pollution. This is still completely true and in line with the article but it has unfortunate side effects:
You are basically saying to everyone outside these geographical areas, that this problem is confined to two specific regions, which make people outside these areas distance themselves from the problem, seeing as it’s “over there”. It becomes Somebody Else’s Problem*
People who actively take steps to lower their plastic waste feel discouraged because they are let to believe that their actions have no impact at all. This will leave them less likely to want to change their habits or push for change in the future.
Additionally, you risk enhancing old believes that Asia and Africa do not care about the environment. This is, of course, a generalization, not to mention an outdated view of the two continents but unfortunately, the western part of the world still views Asia and Africa as lazy, indifferent or unknowledgeable to environmental issues.
What to do instead
Had they instead chosen a solution orientated caption, they could have fed into the positive wave of change already taken place around the world – the focus on oceanic plastic pollution. If the World Economic Forum wanted to leave the reader more informed but also more likely to support anti-pollution initiatives in the future, they could have replaced the caption with something like this:
‘By knowing which 10 we can focus on targeted solutions, with higher success rates’
They could even just have copied points from the article itself, for instance:
‘The rivers all had two things in common; a generally high population living in the surrounding region – sometimes into the hundreds of millions – and a less than ideal waste management process’
Why it works
The first example is simply putting a positive outlook on a dire situation. Yes, the ocean is filled with plastic, but by pinpointing the 10 biggest sources, we can act.
Action is the key word, because only presenting your audience with the (often negative) facts of global pollution issues and climate change, serves as an emotional paralyzer.
What the heart hears is: The world sucks and no one, especially you, can do anything about it. You might as well go back to facebook and kittens.
Instead, by choosing a more positive angle you are telling your audience, yes, this is a bad situation, but knowing the facts about it gives us the power to act.
In the second example, you’re getting even more specific in regards to what needs to be done, so we can turn the problem around.
It would send a signal that 90% of the world’s oceanic plastic pollution is caused by manageable problems that we already know the solutions to – waste management.
Having spent half a decade in waste management I guarantee you that less-than-ideal-waste management is not the same as impossible waste management.
But wasn’t it just click-bait?
Possibly. I mean, I clicked on the article. One could argue, that the caption is just right because it evokes resentfulness towards the places responsible for it. But then what? You would have to read the article to the end to get the positive news. And even this is still an issue because you just confirmed the preconceived notion that Asia doesn’t care, meaning that your audience is actually more likely to dismiss the positive news about the advances in Asia because it contradicts a strong held believe – that Asia pollutes, and don’t care. This is what’s known as the backfire effect. You can find a more colorful description of the backfire effect here.
Even if it is just a click-bait aimed at the WEF’s target audience, would you really want to risk pushing everyone who scrolls past the article even further away from taking action on the subject?
Small tweaks – Big outcome
I chose to write about this specific article from the World Economic Forum, for two reasons. Firstly because of their inherent role as a promoter of sustainable change, and secondly because their article was well written and had a great balance of facts and behavioral change elements.
I want to stress that I think weforum.org overall produces great content and I am a happy reader. Like this nice whale piece, below. It has a positive headline and caption, as well as a great photo – there’s even a sea pun!
But the devil is in the detail, and small tweaks like the above can push sustainable development much faster.
By empowering the audience with a positive outlook, you are allowing for much more support towards passing the necessary legislation, investing in alternative products or cleanup technologies, and willingness to change habits. Like giving your audience concrete advice on social media, complete with jokes and pictures.
This also means saving time and money for the companies and regulatory bodies working to solve the problem. But most importantly, you work towards removing more plastic out of our oceans.
*As coined by the great Douglas Adam, Somebody Else’ Problem refers to people’s ability to simply ignore things they don’t want to deal with.
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Why are there so many bins to choose from? Why don’t they just make recycling easier? This post is about why how our advanced waste makes reeks of complexity, and what you can do to make your daily recycling habits easier.
Have you ever found yourself staring at a sea of different waste bins, trying to figure out what goes where? Or have you ever had a heated argument with a friend or relative about how to recycle? If yes, then you’re just like the rest of us and it begs the question, why is recycling so hard?
Recycling is a big industry by now and few will argue that it isn’t an important thing to do. This is not a post about how, or why to recycle your waste, but about why there are so many rules and so many bins.
In the tiny country of Denmark, there are a least 100 different schemes. This can result in a lot of confusion if you move from one city to another because you have to learn the rules of recycling all over again. It also means that you could end up in a heated debate with your ant Irma about which bin to put your newspaper in.
Why do different cities have different recycling bins?
If you travel, you might have noticed different waste bins, with different shapes and different rules.
Maybe you’ve entered countries and thought;
Hot damn, they recycle a lot of stuff here! Or the opposite, they don’t recycle at all. What is wrong with these people, have they no shame?
The answer to why there are differences in what cities recycle is partly money and logistics. It takes money to transport and sort waste. But you also need to have facilities which are able to treat the waste. Not all cities have equal access to waste treatment, hence they develop different schemes to match the local circumstances and financial situation.
But that still leaves us with the more important question.
Why is recycling so hard?
Rule are rules, right? Why can’t each city just make easy rules to follow? The answer may seem counterintuitive:
Look around you, look at all the amazing things you have. You are reading this on a laptop, iPhone, tablet, or e-reader. Most of your kitchen appliances are a mix of metals, plastic, rubber, electronics and maybe even glass. Even your clothes consist of a myriad of different products. Fabric, zippers, beads, even el-wire.
We live in an amazing, awe inspiring and highly advanced world, and because of that we produce advanced trash
We have highly sophisticated waste. You can’t just toss it. Something as simple as a container for moisturizers may have a glass bottom and a plastic top. Should you sort it as glass or plastic? Or should you separate the two pieces? Should you rinse out the moisturizers or is that ok to leave in?
What about electric toys? Plastic or e-waste? Metal, maybe?
All these questions are a natural byproduct of our advanced world.
Being a waste geek, I often get asked questions about waste and how to sort it.
Recently I was sent this picture with the following question:
The After Eight conundrum – Picture by Stefan Anker Straasø
‘I can’t seem to figure out if some types of waste are paper or plastic. Like this After Eight wrapper. Paper or plastic?
And what about that little thingy that closes bread bags? It contains both metal AND plastic, so where should I dispose of it?’
It’s a darn good question, and I personally never heard it before.
The after Eight wrapper is likely a paper with some form of a coating, making it near impossible to recycle. Furthermore, the way the Danish recycling system works in most part of the country is, if your waste has touched food you can’t recycle it – this will likely change in the future as demand for resources rises.
The little bread twisters are devils and cause frustrations for many recycling superheroes. If you don’t use them directly to lock other bags then sort them as metal, as the plastic will be melted off in the recycling process.
Our waste and recycling system is just a logical byproduct of the way we live our lives in this high-tech world.
The above are both great examples of how the tiniest things in our everyday lives, are complex beyond reason. Why should I have to think about this when I just want to recycle and do the right thing?
It’s not that the people planning your local recycling schemes can’t do their job, or that big corporations are deliberately destroying the planet. It is just the unfortunate consequence of making everything around us more and more complex.
But, I can’t change that. Can I?
The world is insanely advanced, and every time I buy something I get about 10 different materials and I have no clue how to separate them – what do I do?
Let’s be honest, one person doesn’t change the world. But one person can definitely move it in the right direction. Want to be that person? It’s surprisingly easy. If you’re new to this, start with the easiest step. If you’re already a pro, move on to the more experienced step.
Stop buying plastic bags. Yes, we are starting at baby steps here.
It’s so easy to carry an extra shopping bag on you, that you have absolutely no excuse for not doing this. And compact shopping bags come in all kinds of cool designs now, so you can look good while lowering your ecological footprint.
You can also simply fold an old shopping bag, and keep it in your purse. Here is a video (and a link here).
(See how easy it is. I do this with my bags at home)
Roughly 80 percent of those bags were used in North America and Western Europe. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape.”
You might think that your bag can’t possibly make a difference. Well, worst-case scenario, no it doesn’t’ and you save money and plastic for no other reason. Many countries pay for the bags, so there is money to be saved.
In a better case scenario, other people will see you whipping out your smart little bag, and think: ‘Wow, that’s really clever. I should start doing that.’ They will start doing the same and will introduce other strangers to the concept. And so it ripples.
Buy products with only one material or with a take-back/lifetime warranty
This might seem like a really small step, but it makes a large impact. For example, if you want a new dining room table maybe consider shining up your existing table before spending money on a new one.
Remember that there is joy and pride in taking care of your belongings, of learning skills that enable you to polish a table, or sew on a new zipper.
I want to clarify that I do not endorse hoarding! There is a huge difference between buying a lot of stuff and not getting rid of it, and buying only stuff you really like or need and making sure you can keep it for decades.
There you have it, a few easy steps to get you started in regards to dealing with the advanced waste in your life.
I’ll end this post with a personal anecdote. I am fortunate to still have two grandmothers. They have taught me many things growing up, both in terms of what to do, and what not to do.
They are both children of the war and have both lived in times of scarcity. One of them is a hoarder. Not the horrible kind you see on TV, but she buys thing she finds on sale. She doesn’t need it. She doesn’t even really want it, but she buys it.
The other grandmother seldom buys anything. Her kitchen has not been remodeled since the late 50’s. She has told me that sometimes she thinks about remodeling it, but then again, she likes it the way it is and doesn’t really need a new kitchen.
Because her and my grandfather always make purchases which are well thought out, and out of necessity instead of desire, they were able to own recreational things such as a boat, a summer house, and an auto camper. This on the salary of one working-class adult.
My very responsible grandparents, on their wedding day, more than 60 years ago.
My grandmother was a stay-at-home mom, and they made do with my grandfather’s salary. Of course this was much easier to do in the 60’s than it is today, but still.
Because they never wasted money on things they didn’t need or didn’t really want, they can now afford to stay in the house they have lived in since the 1950’s. A house they love and cherish.
Many of their peers have resorted to selling their houses and moving into a smaller apartment because they could not pay the mortgage out of their retirement plan – but not these kids. Now, in their 80’s, they take care of their house, and enjoy the freedom and space it gives them.
That’s the kind of person I want to be when I retire. Someone who doesn’t spend money on things I don’t need. Someone who can stay in my home if I so desire. Someone who has had a life of adventure, of boats and auto campers and hopefully, someone who can inspire my grandkids to live a life of joy, with or without a lot of material goods.
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The following post gives a quick breakdown of how the horrors in Aleppo are a symptom of a much bigger problem: Climate change. The post argues that even though every fiber of your body may want to fix the situation by attending marches or giving humanitarian aid, there is a better way. A more rational action is to fight climate change and prevent a crisis like this from becoming everyday news.
If you’ve read the news within the past 48hours, you know that nothing less of a manslaughter is happening in Aleppo.
Men, women, and children are being gunned down in the streets or burned alive. The latest death toll I’m aware of is 82 souls. But by now who knows how many.
I see many of my friends crying out for action on social media. I see them signing up for marched, signing petitions. I see them putting heart, time, and energy into this.
Because I believe other nations should clean up their own mess? —No.
Because I don’t give a damn about people in Syria? —No.
Because I’m a heartless bitch? —In part. I am a rational bitch
I am a rational bitch — I believe in treating the cause, not the symptom.
There have been a few scientific articles published, naming a very specific factor in the Syrian crisis. Do you know what it is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s a hot topic (pun intended).
Yep, it’s climate change! (Important — Climate change is not the only factor, but a “threat multiplier;” meaning its effects are greatest in areas that are already environmentally and socially unstable).
Farmers abandoning farms looking for jobs in the overcrowded cities + Rising food prices –>
High food prices + high unemployment rates = Political destabilization –>
Is it really that simple? No, the above is the short version. There are of course also a number of political factors to take into account. But had it not been for these first effects of climate change, the situation would not have escalated.
Whichever way you turn it, climate change is a is a big looming beast, either creating or worsening a situation.
That’s like getting a positive HIV test. Not a good thing.
So a positive feedback loop will heat up the earth, releasing even more greenhouse gases, heating the earth further, releasing even more gas… You get the picture.
And the results?
We might see a global temperature rise of between 4.47C and 7.36C, in 2100! This will cause runaway greenhouse gas effect and will turn earth into Venus.
A runaway greenhouse effect is a process in which a net positive feedback between surface temperature and atmospheric opacity increases the strength of the greenhouse effect on a planet until its oceans boil away. An example of this is believed to have happened in the early history of Venus. – Wikipedia
Let’s do the math: Unless you are already retired, this will affect you. Not your children, or your grandchildren, but you.
What to do:
Vote! Vote, vote, vote. On a candidate/party with a proven record of working to stop climate change. (Oh, ps. If you are inclined to vote for a party which gives you tax breaks, promises you retirement standard or a low premium on health care just remember: None of these things matter if you are dead, and a zero atmosphere earth will do that to you)
Get organized! Find a group of people who are already working on this, and use whatever skills you have to help
Talk to people about this. I’ll try to post as much as I can about how to talk with people about climate change, and I’ll gladly answer any question you ask me in the comments, or via e-mail.
*Of course I care about the massacre in Syria, and so should you. It hurts to the level where I can hardly breathe. But all of life on earth is a risk — we need to think and act long term.
I’m very conflicted about posting this, as I realize it has shit storm potential. Please understand that my reason for writing this is not to belittle the atrocious things happening in Syria. My reason is to raise awareness about an even bigger issue. One that will in the future only result in more horrific events like the one happening in Aleppo. We have the work at the root of the illness, not just the symptoms.
If we want to avoid more situations like Aleppo, we need to act on not just Syria, but global climate change.
https://somethinggreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/child-817373_1920.jpg12901920Mona Jensenhttps://somethinggreen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/something-green-1-1.pngMona Jensen2016-12-14 15:43:452018-10-31 06:36:03Why I don’t give a S#!” about Aleppo, and neither should you
If you’re still here you’re already further than most
The truth is we have a dire situation on our hands. Newest data suggests, that we have now surpassed the safe level of atmospheric CO2, averaging at 397.7 ppm in 2014, with a peak 404 ppm in the spring of 2014. The agreed safe level is 400 ppm.
If no drastic measures are taken NOW, we are facing a temperature increase of about 4.5 Degrees Celsius.
It will also likely result in a big decrease in fish population in the oceans. In combination with our current overfishing, this might result in the death of the ocean. Yes death, as in no more fish in the sea, and hence no more sushi for your chopsticks.
If the world does not act in regards to climate change, we are facing droughts, famines, the greatest migration problem ever seen, deforestation, desertification. All in all, a world that sucks.
See, I told you I was a cinephile
Why isn’t anybody acting?
You already knew that the world is in a bad state. None of the above was news to you, right? So, is there nothing left to do? Should we just give up? No, there are plenty of ways to act.
If we’ve been hearing these warnings for many years now, why are we still on collision-course?
Why are there still heads of state skeptical of climate change? What’s don’t the majority of Americans worry about climate change? And why on earth is the government of my home nation systematically cutting and worsening our climate initiatives?
A part of the problem is, we’ve created this big a complex world, but our hardware, our brain, is still set on ‘monkey’.
The psychical structure and functions of our brains haven’t changed for thousands of years.
As an unfortunate consequence of this, we relate to the world around us as if we still only had to attend to food, shelter, and coitus.
Thinking about what our actions today will bring us 50 years down the road, is just not a natural process for us. Which means..:
We have to work for it.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of our brains system 1 and 2. Or the reptile- and the cognitive parts of our brain. In short, we have a lazy brain that wants to conserve energy. It does this, by not working too hard, and converting as many actions as it can, into habits we don’t need to think about – like walking.
You’re pretty skilled at walking. You don’t need to think about that too much. The same with driving a car, brushing your teeth, and talking with your mother-in-law.
All these things we do out of habit. They required a lot of energy and focus from us the first times we did them, and then, with practice and repetition, they become mindless habits.
You gotta work (that lazy brain), bitch
Climate change is not something we can do on autopilot. Grasping the full scope, and furthermore, accepting that we haven’t gained knowledge of the full scope yet, is a job for the cognitive brain. We have to invest energy. This is why it feels so overwhelming.
“What? There’s more? I don’t think I can take it!”
Yes, there is hard work ahead.
The world’s ecosystems are in a dire state. 2015 has so far had the biggest hurricane ever recorded, the worst droughts ever recorded, and the worst forest fires ever recorded. 50% of the cases of extreme weather of 2014 were attributed to climate change.
You wouldn’t be reading this post if you didn’t already know that something is wrong, and you want it to stop being wrong. It not impossible, but it will require work.
Are you still reading? Well done, not only are you among the top percentage of people determined not to stick their head in the sand, and you also building your skill of using your cognitive brain with more ease.
Face the state of your life with determination. You can’t change your situation before you accept it.
What was that thing about it-security?
I fall into the same trap of a lazy brain. I have some really smart people in my network, who know a lot about IT- and data security. They tell me about IT-dangers, and what to do about it.
Every time I feel I have almost gotten up to speed and have a basic level of security, a new threat comes along and I have to learn everything all over again.
Then I think to myself: ‘Oh come on!! Just tell me what to do, already!!
I just want to know, what program I need to install in order to make sure I’m ok in terms of IT security.
But as anyone with the faintest knowledge about IT knows, it’s so much more complex than that.
Just like fighting climate change and working for environmental preservation, is so much more than turning the water off, or buying a Prius.
If you’re not an environmentalist, it’s an immensely complex situation, and the more you learn about it, the more complex it gets. Just like I find IT security a much bigger subject the more I learn about it.
Making the complex manageable
Finally gaining this insight was a blessing and a curse. It became obvious that my post needed to be centered on making sense of the immense, and turning the mass of numbers and facts into something you could actually do.
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