Ben // People pressure

For the last week, I’ve been traveling throughout Italy with a group of 30 wonderful people that have quickly formed a miniature family as we travel together. We recently made it to our final spot in Venice after touring through Rome, Oviento and Florence. As I travel across Europe, I come across fascinating people not only from this continent, but also from countries around the world. In Italy, I’ve been spending a lot of time with folks from the US and recently had the chance to talk with Ben from Florida.

A group of us got into an interesting conversation after learning that Ben has worked extensively in the recycling field, and has been working on some neat projects both in the US and developing countries around the world.

Working on recycling, Ben noted that in the last 3-5 years there has been a big shift in the way the public perceives sustainability in the US. But that mental shift has yet to fully sink in with the politicians, and Ben believes it is political will that is truly needed to create change within the US. But in order to make the politician’s step up and make those necessary changes, it is going to require a large change in the public’s behavior and opinions. Over the next few years, we need to see a significant bottom-up approach to help move our country towards a sustainable future.

A bottom-up approach requires both a change in behavior and opinion of the people. Recycling has been one of those behaviors that has dominated the environmental movement as a symbol of ‘acting sustainable.’ About 70% of the US regularly recycles, which along with turning off unused lights, are two of the most widely-adopted ‘environmental behaviors’ in the US. Many other ‘environmental behaviors,’ however, have only been adopted by 10-20% of the population (for more information, see the poll results by Harris Interactive: How Green Are We? Putting Our Money (and Our Behavior) Where Our Mouth Is). As a result, although the public’s attitude toward sustainability has increased in the last few years, there has remained a gap when it comes to translating those attitudes and opinions into action and behavior.

Getting the public to make that step will require a few different approaches. One of the important steps for Ben has been to ensure that sustainable initiatives produce a return on investment for his business, which ensures that he is able to continue solving future sustainability challenges. Generating a profit allows future problems to be tackled and solved and is critical for engaging more individuals on the problem. The business side is just as important as the environmental and social. Too many people see sustainability as just an environmental movement – yet the economics and social aspects are equally important.

Now although Ben focuses on recycling, he recognizes that it fulfills just a single piece of the puzzle within the larger picture. Ben explained that he fell into this field because he felt compelled to make a difference in the world many years ago, and rather than letting that feeling pass by, he pursued it and fell into the world of recycling.

What piece of the puzzle have you felt compelled to solve? And what is stopping you from fully tackling that puzzle piece?

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