Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Ripple Effect

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus and it’s not at all because I’ve giving up on sustainability and resorted to my old ways, but I have been struggling with some demons. Mostly I have felt a bit discouraged to continue writing about sustainability because a few incidents made me question my ability to make a change in the world and encourage others to follow my lead.

The first one happened about a month ago when I was picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. I had specifically asked them to not include the plastic blue sleeve with the refill, because I already have many of those at home. Of course when I picked up the prescription it was in a brand-new plastic blue sleeve. I told me pharmacist to make a note in my account to not include this sleeve anymore and she told me that wasn’t possible, because they need it to put the prescription sticker. I promptly responded, “How about I just bring my old one back for you,” to which she responded “Well, we can just give you a new one.”

Had she just missed the entire point of my request?

I calmly stated that I felt I would be causing unnecessary waste to which she nonchalantly replied “I don’t see a problem with that.” I had no response…she could not care less and there wasn’t anything I could do in the brief time we had together to convince her otherwise, so I mumbled “landfills aren’t endless” and left with the daunting realization that the problem is not that people don’t care or don't want to care, the problem is that the majority of people in this country have no idea WHY they should care.

That incident led me to question my ability to cause change. Can my actions really make a difference?

As that question lingered in my mind, my boyfriend and I got into our ongoing discussion about whether or not humans can change their ways before it is too late. The earth has tipping points. Ecosystems have tipping points, species have tipping points and our climate has a tipping point which on our current path we are slated to reach mid-century. While we don’t know exactly what reaching these tipping points will mean, we do know that once a tipping point is reached, there is no way back.

The problem was no longer whether or not my actions could make a difference it was about whether or not my actions could make a difference before it was too late. Could I reach out to the millions of people who didn’t know why they should care and convince them to start caring before it was too late? Was the ripple effect I hoped to start strong enough to go past my circle of friends?

I wasn’t sure and to be quite honest, I was a bit discouraged….until a few days ago when I walked into a client’s house. This family is the definition of electricity overuse. I’m talking all lights on, all the time, two to three TVs on all day and night and the heater set to 78 degrees. But when I walked in a few days ago, I was surprised to see less lights and only one TV on and best of all the heat turned to 73, which she then proceeded to turn off because their house gets a lot of heat from the sun. The ripple had spread and it continued spreading as my co-workers proudly showed me our new paper recycling bin and we discussed the possibility of adding a can/bottle recycling bin. Another co-worker gave me a bunch of binders she was going to throw away, but decided to reuse. And yet another co-worker proudly expressed how, thanks to me, she had started recycling and was trying to convince her husband to recycle too.

This whole month, as I doubted my ability to inspire others to change, the ripple had spread and people were changing. Who knows maybe I had even planted a seed in my pharmacist's head...

I don’t know how many people I can reach, but I do know now that I am not giving up. It just matters too much to me and it’s not because I am an environmentalist or a tree hugger. It’s because I am an educator, a future parent and most importantly a human being. So whatever you believe in, please consider the little things you can do to make a change.

Don’t know where to start? Look no further. I’ve got a million easy tips coming your way one day at a time.


  1. I feel the same way a lot of days - like the things that I do are futile in the grand scheme of things, when no one else seems to care. But then I remember that 5 or 10 years ago I was much less concerned and aware, but slowly my knowledge increased and my habits changed. And if I keep trying to do what I think is right, eventually other people will do the same. Will it happen soon enough? I don't know. But it's what I can do.

    It's definitely uplifting to see the influence you're having on others - hopefully I can do the same... and the ripple continues... :-)

  2. If you only knew. I was so down about it, I even came up with my own little cartoon about a school of fish swimming towards an open shark's mouth and some seeing it and turning around, but not getting anywhere. Then zoom out and realize that the school of fish is actually stuck in a net and slowly being pushed into the shark's mouth.
    I think if you look at some of the data out there it's bleak outlook, but you are right. So many of us have already changed our ways drastically over the past few years and I think we just need to keep going and keep hoping that what we're doing is enough.