At the recent LOHAS Forum (Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability) in Boulder, CO last month, Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor of Greener World Media warned us that “Random Acts of Greenness” aren’t going to be enough for a sustainable future. As I was traveling this past week, I came out of my Colorado green cocoon and realized how right Joel really is.
I flew on an airline that I used to work for a couple decades ago, when my job included reviewing ideas received in a contest that emulated a suggestion box. Employees were not only asked to make suggestions, but put together a short business plan on the operational, marketing and financial implications of each suggestion. There were some terrific home runs that improved customer service and saved oodles of money. There were also some ideas that hit my desk–like taking the number two pencils out of the flight attendant kits and not rolling the planes forward before pushing back from the gate–that were totally impractical. We did remove the olives from the side salads (do you remember meals on airplanes?) and no one seemed to miss them but me.
The one suggestion that was demonstrated over and over again to be the right thing to do and was very cost effective, was recycling aluminum cans from the drink service. I’m glad to see that this idea, after many years, has finally been implemented. But then I started taking notice of what else went on during the drink service.
I ordered water. I received a plastic cup and a handful of napkins because the drink can being passed over me dripped on my book. When I asked for more water and proffered my cup, it was exchanged for a new one. This was happening around me over and over again. It wasn’t as if I was giving my “dirty” cup to other people. Nor were the flight attendants stopping communicable diseases, because they handled the service-ware just as much as if they had refilled the original cups.
On the other hand, American Airlines asked all of us to turn on our air vents, turn off our reading lights and close all window shades as we deplaned, to help keep the aircraft cool in between flights. Of course the temperature was 101 degrees outside in Dallas, but someone is on the right track here conserving fuel.
Then my mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” plummeted toward earth. On a layover, my husband and I ran out of snacks and decided to get some healthy food in the terminal. The food was nutritious and fresh (Urban Taco at DFW), but the entrees were wrapped in aluminum foil, placed in a styrofoam clam-shell container, then put in plastic bags with plastic silverware and loads of napkins–before we knew what was happening. I couldn’t believe all the landfill waste that I was responsible for, not to mention the carbon footprint we were creating on our trip.
I began to realize that becoming a sustainable culture is a long way from reality. I also realized that it’s a two-way street. American Airlines is reducing fuel consumption due to economics, but it taught me that I should apply similar practices to my personal spaces and not waste natural cooling or air conditioning. Likewise we, as concerned consumers, also need to ask and keep asking for practices like recycling cans onboard an airplane that force all people onboard to participate. Whether a company institutes the change or whether we petition for sustainable change until it’s institutionalized, sustainability will become less and less random and more and more achievable.
What environmental practices have you seen a company institute that inspired you or vice versa?