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These are three topical sustainability issues at the moment:

  • Coffee pods
  • Bottled (tap) water
  • Plastic carrier bags

There’s been frequent articles about how much indestructible waste the consumption of these items generate. Gosh even celebrities are getting involved!

These things have been in popular use for decades. So why the mass concern only now? Why do we behave as if we had never, and could never have known, this will be the case?

We all have a sense that plastics last a long time. We can clearly see how much of our rubbish is plastic packaging and bags. We know how much we buy this stuff and how often.

We get also get and love the concept of mass production – the economies of scale that fill our shops with cheap things to buy. We get the desirability of “more for less.” we know that when something is popular, there will be lots and lots and lots of people using it everywhere.

So the problem is clearly not a lack of awareness or intellect.

So why does it take so long for society as a whole to realise that these things of convenience create huge amounts of waste?

  • Is it denial? I use this because it makes my life easier. I don’t want to know anything beyond what benefits me right now.
  • Is it simplistic rationalisation and broken reasoning? I am only throwing this much stuff out. How bad can it be?
  • Is it justification? Other people can do it? Why can’t I? Why should I be less-convenienced when others are not?
  • Is it shortsighted fashion? It’s all the rage. This brand of bottled water is so part of my identity…

Our individual denial and other avoidance techniques seem to be magnified by society. The greater the number of people around us in the same denial, the more entrenched and harder to shift that denial becomes.

Unsurprisingly we see the same mechanism at work in organisations and groups too. It is harder for a solo business owner to ignore problems in their business. In a larger organisations, it is easier for middle managers to hide and minimise problems.

How does society (groups of humans) become smarter faster?

How do we mitigate the effects of groups colluding to deny reality?

Are these even possible? Or are we too stuck in our human nature?

image: Plastic bottles via Shutterstock.