Are we becoming increasingly disconnected from one another because we spend hours in front of our digital devices? I think the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that in order to promote change, we need to connect on a personal level and harness the influence of the market economy. I want to highlight three lessons to transform the actions of community members that I believe will shape the marine debris and plastic pollution movement in 2014.
1. Spread your message person to person:
Environmental educators and stewards have a lot to learn from viruses! The Watershed Project is looking to spread the behaviors that can help local Bay Area communities save water, be more energy efficient or protect their natural resources. Just like a virus, the most effective way to spread this information is person to person. The most influential sharers or story tellers are well connected individuals from a group. People tend to believe information to be true when is confirmed by a peer or a friend. Even though different social media platforms have the potential for helping people change behaviors and inspire individuals to become environmentally conscious, word of mouth and grassroots campaigns told on a personal level are just as compelling to community members.
2. Use the market to get to your environmental objective:
Many times, the environmental movement is pitted against the market. However, it is not only possible, but perhaps necessary, to work within the market to create real change in our communities. Policy makers use fines, taxes, bans and incentives to help modify the behavior in the community around all sorts of issues, and plastic pollution is no exception. In the last few years, a series of incentives has been promoted by NGOs and entrepreneurs with environmental principles.
Several companies have started paying a refund for their products and their packaging. That way, the company is responsible for its product from cradle to grave— the disposal of the bottle, garment or wrapping— and the consumer is refunded a few cents per item. By combining market and environmental interests, consumers are given more opportunities to make decisions that are environmentally beneficial.
3. Combine social and market recognition:
Convincing the masses to use less water, produce less trash, and be more mindful of our watersheds is a daunting task. However, an innovative app called TraX is fusing market incentives with social recognition to promote behavioral change. The general idea of the app is for people to take pictures of themselves while they are avoiding the use of a “single use” item such as a disposable bag, cup or straw. After the photo is tagged, TraX adds a few cents to the user’s bank account. The money comes from a pool of companies interested in increasing the use of reusable products.
I felt inspired by the creativity of this app, and I hope that more innovative strategies and stories will bring us real change in our quest to reduce plastic pollution and marine debris in communities, our watersheds and San Francisco Bay. So stay on track this New Year by TraXing!
And tell your friends how easy it is to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Refuse (excess packaging).