I asked a question at a talk on sustainability entitled ‘How To Move Toward A Sustainable Lifestyle (Including Quick Wins and Discussions on Zero Waste Design)’ that I presented last week around 40 minutes into the event because of concerns from my audience that achieving sustainable practices was a long way from being achieved.
‘How many people here use reusable bags when shopping?’ Every one of the 60 person audience raised their hands.
I immediately asked, ``How many people here used reusable bags 5 years ago?’ Only two hands were raised. My audience for the evening was stunned, that is an increase of over 95%! In only 5 years!
Now, I suspect that you are thinking that 5 years feels like a long time but the reality is that it is quite short if we were to think about policy changes or institutional restructures that could force people to change to these more sustainable practices. So why was there so much pessimism leading to that question about the direction of sustainability in Chennai?
Evaluating the responses and discussions that I had on that evening I would suggest that, at least in relation to sustainability and managing waste in Indian cities, people are regularly pessimistic. This is often due to the fact that waste is spread far and wide on most streets in the city, which leads to animals eating the waste, families inhaling the fumes from cars, trucks and buses, and, rivers and water bodies being clogged. Yet, if we were to step back and assess things, then how does it look?
One way of evaluating the situation is to notice that there are more people at events that speak about waste, the environment, climate change and living plastic free among other areas relating to sustainability. Another way is to see that there is a growing number of organisations that are designing, innovating and providing more sustainable methods of living to consumers. Or, we could look broader still to the fantastic leaders in today’s climate action field led by the young Swedish woman who recently sailed to the global climate event across the Atlantic to the USA. These are real positives that we are seeing more and more each and every day.
Yes, there is still waste in the streets and rivers and in the bellies of animals. Without a shadow of a doubt we must address this issue in a number of ways and we must endeavour to not become paralysed by a pessimistic outlook because that world view does not allow us to find solutions to combat unsustainable practices.
Every member of that audience last Friday night was already combating these issues even if they expressed their concerns. They were doing this by attending the event, speaking about ways they are limiting waste and brainstorming ideas with myself and everyone else there to help instruct the business I consult for on what to design to offer as part of their zero waste product range. Most poignantly though, at the point of my question, they were demonstrating to themselves that they were wrong to be as pessimistic as they were verbally expressing simply by raising their collective hands in the air.