Inconvenient truths, convenient actions

My latest simplicity thoughts, picked up by Greenbiz and Greenopolis, here:

If we want a billion people to act, we have to make a billion people want to act. The inconvenient truths are increasingly recognized, now we need convenient actions.

We’re constantly reminded that many of our planet’s environmental problems stem from our relentless desire for growth. The newer, gargantuan developing economies of China and India combine to increase this pressure. We’re told we have to stop consuming “for the sake of the planet.” It’s a tired message, which often falls on deaf ears in the absence of a personal incentive. As a result, we’ve yet to see real, lasting change at the levels needed to prevent further environmental decline. Which is why the messaging needs to change.

My business partner Nick continually reminds us that we need a billion people to act to prevent climate change. No mean feat, particularly if these actions sit contrary to natural or adopted inclinations. Demanding that people stop flying for environmental reasons when their disposable income and affordable flights have only recently aligned has little effect other than initiating, if we’re lucky, a smidgen of guilt. Telling people to stay in a locally run hotel because it results in a better, cheaper, more comfortable holiday, regardless of the social or environmental benefit, is likely to pique more interest.

These are tiny pieces to a giant jigsaw. If we want a billion people to act, we have to make a billion people want to act. The inconvenient truths are increasingly recognized, now we need convenient actions. We need to demonstrate the rewards of acting responsibly and sustainably.

Given the complexity of modern life, it’s ironic to note that much of mankind’s toiling has been an attempt to simplify — whether that be getting from A to B (cue the automobile, the aeroplane), communicating (the telephone or the computer), staying warm (the house and electricity), to eating what we want when we want (mechanized farming, irrigation, supermarkets).

Marketers recognize a yearning for simplicity and continue to tantalize. Our banks, our supermarkets, our computers, our phones — each claim to offer us a simpler life of one-stop shops, single-clicks, free delivery, instant communication, no-hassle purchases and ease of use. Yet our world seems increasingly complex. The sheer quantity and accessibility of “information” is mind-boggling. Apparently Google processes approximately 20 petabytes of information each day — impressive considering that it is estimated that the entire works of humankind from the beginning of history would stretch to a meagre 50 petabytes. Inevitably, as the rate of change advances, it becomes harder for each of us to keep up.

Over the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with “real” simplicity and have found it to be deeply rewarding and, indirectly, environmentally beneficial. I’ve been eating simpler foods. I’ve been cycling rather than taking public transport. I’ve been walking in the park, surfing and hiking, rather than eating, drinking and going out. I’ve been trying to spend less time in front of my computer and more time in front of people. I’ve been reading more and watching less. I’ve been focusing on the present rather than the future. The ideas aren’t new, but my renewed focus on them is.

I could go into a smug and lengthy diatribe about the carbon I’ve saved and the good I’ve done. I could explain, in no uncertain terms, which environmental problems I’ve been helping to alleviate by changing my behavior. I could demonstrate how this small contribution, if multiplied by billions the world over, might help prevent certain crises. I could feel angered by the selfish people who continue to do nothing.

Or, I could appeal to their selfishness. I could merely state that my attempts to simplify have resulted in immediate, palpable financial, health and personal benefits. Simply stated, I’m happier. And I’m not alone. Leonardo da Vinci once said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The deeper I delve into the topic, the more I believe it.

Within business, simplicity can also bring about lasting benefit; whether that’s reducing consumption or packaging, to keeping designs or messages basic, easy to understand and clear. This article from Fast Company magazine helps businesses understand the power of simplicity, in both message and action.

Real, lasting simplicity (rather than the simplicity marketers tout) is perhaps one of many ways we can spread a new message of sustainable, responsible living. It taps into a desire many people share — to work a bit less, to spend more time with ones family, to be richer (simpler tastes means spending less money). Plus the message is easy to push, namely: “Do this because it benefits you personally”… rather than “Do that because otherwise the planet is in jeopardy.” If we appeal to people’s desires and open up a world of possibility and benefit, rather than limitation, whilst aligning these actions with the environmental movement, then changing the world won’t be that difficult.

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