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Monday, November 16, 2009

Want More Junk?

My children are at a wonderful school, with wonderful programs on environmental responsibility. They recycle and compost and learn about the importance of biodiversity from an early age. As they grow up they will carry with them a much deeper sense of responsibility to the environment than my generation.

But when it comes to school holiday events, participation is still recognized with piles of cheap plastic trinkets. This reinforces one of the key behaviors we need to change, that disposable material goods are the reward for success. But we grown-ups demonstrate exactly those behaviors too, and at sustainability conferences of all places.

At the most recent round of fall corporate responsibility conferences, CRO, WEEC, BSR, Net Impact, FOSI, I collected re-usable water bottles and conference bags galore. But if you get a re-usable water bottle at every conference there is no opportunity to reuse it. And who has ever re-used a conference bag? Most can’t even be used at the supermarket.

I have collected enough stress balls, memory cards and ‘do not use for climbing’ carabineers from expo stands to last my family for years. But still I find myself hankering for even more. I try to determine how long I need to speak to the guy behind the table before I can take another credit card flash light without it being obvious that was the only reason I approached. I recently picked up a baseball cap made from recycled bottles and I was pleased with my acquisition. But I already have more baseball caps than I know what to do with.

We are allowing recycling and notional re-usability to ease our conscience for having stuff we don’t need. Instead we should treat it as a transitional step that has served its purpose. As a next step, I encourage the sustainability community, including myself, to wean ourselves off all this stuff and find other ways to make our clients and ourselves feel good for participation at conferences. I think we will find it liberating.

And then maybe, with a clearer conscience, I can speak with my kids and with their school about finding new ways to reward the next generation that rely less on material and more on substance.

1 comment:

  1. Another frustrating source of useless trinkets: children's birthday parties and the "goody bags" that are filled with plastic knicknacks. Despite the fact that these cheap toys only get lost or break within minutes, and are most likely produced under sub-par environmental and social conditions, we seem programmed to 1) expect goody bags and 2) provide the same when our childrens' birthday parties come up. Is it any surprise that as adults, we're conditioned to want more such toys at conferences?
    The desire for "stuff" is coded at an early age. For my own small part, I try to focus my sons'-- and my own--attention on fully enjoying the pleasure of others' company in social settings. We'll see how it goes during this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!