swap, shift, scale
When it comes to sustainability, people have a multitude of responses – from completely changing their life to responding with exasperation. Most people have the 3 R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle memorized by heart, but this mnemonic device lacks clarity outside of the realm of materials such as with plastic, paper, and metals. What do you with food or electricity usage? With systems change, it is easiest when it is simple to participate in and remember. Thus, I propose the 3 S’ of sustainability: Swap, Shift, Scale.
This is the simplest form of change – swapping out one product for another with similar cost and usage. Examples of this include: choosing to use paper/compostable plates instead of plastic/styrofoam, using cleaning products without harsh chemicals, choosing to purchase recycled paper over non-recycled, eating organic foods, and even choosing a plant-based meat alternative. These sorts of actions are useful. The important thing to remember is to swap when you can and encourage others to do so while understanding that sometimes the swap is not as obvious for everyone. Over time, the more sustainable products can become the only option for everyone as less and less people buy the other products. Try to do a swap every day (especially for anything plastic)!
Lifestyle change is not easy, but necessary for . Shifting lifestyles can occur for small things (such as lowering the thermostat in the winter or increasing the thermostat in the summer by a degree or two) but still have major impact over time and across millions of people. Sometimes, lifestyle changes aren’t as easy or small, such as choosing to drive less and use public transportation more or to change to more plant-based diets. Instead of using disposable items, choose to use reusable ones. Instead of choosing the more convenient route, try out different options to get more comfortable with them. Be gentle on yourselves and others, as you probably grew up used to one way of doing things and have to re-learn! Additionally, some actions to shift may be hard because the world around us may be configured for the more convenient option over sustainable ones. In your own abodes and life, try to make it easier to default to sustainable choices – for example: keep a reusable water bottle in your bag and reusable bags in your car, use a smart thermostat in your house and let it maintain temperature, or keep the compost bin next to the sink for kitchen scraps. Identify a list of a couple lifestyle changes that you can shift and commit to do a new one every month.
Finally, it is important to recognize that sustainability is not just up to you, but your surrounding systems. We can’t just spend our way out of a climate crisis or change how we and our family live, we need to reconfigure our societies onto platforms that can scale to be sustainable. The easiest example of this is electrification – if all of your household appliances run on electricity, then even if the electric utility still uses a lot of fossil fuels, you or the utility could switch some or all of the electric generation to more renewable sources. Electric vehicles also fall into this category. Actions here can be costly and challenging, so it is also important to recognize how elected officials can incentivize and make it easier for everyone at scale to switch onto a platform. Besides the realm of politics, think about what your place of work might be able to change to make it easier for everyone! Work with your family, neighbors, or coworkers on making a couple of these changes each year.
swap, shift, scale
- Swap one item for a more sustainable one each day
- Shift one aspect of your lifestyle each month
- Scale your household, neighborhood, or workplace so it’s easy to make sustainable decisions