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Soren Petersen

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Sustainability and Behavioral Change

Posted: 10/05/11 07:20 PM ET

Sustainability, simply put, is about "the sustainable production and consumption of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations." [Bruntland, 1994].

Despite all the doom and gloom, we have made huge progress in sustainability within the past few decades. This progress occurs along the entire supply chain and there still exists tremendous opportunity for improvement. Today, 90 percent of the CEO's of leading companies see more sustainability as essential for the survival of their businesses. Consumers have become more educated and demanding of the environmental performance and functionality of the products they buy. Media now focuses on alternative energy and the reuse and recycling of resources.

However, there is still an underlying but very fundamental challenge concerning our everyday individual and collective unsustainable behaviors. How can the creative economy encourage changes in this area and enhance the individual's desire to do things that will assist in sustaining our world?

A large, creative example might be changing the real or perceived scale of buildings. Architecture affects user behavior though the size and features of the dwelling. Small European houses, with carports as opposed to double garages, promote self-restriction. Super sized North American houses on the other hand, promote hoarding. This model difference alone, results in three times the energy consumption when compared to the European model.

A smaller but still creative example of design resulting in changing behavior is the novel idea of etching the outline of a fly into the bottom of a urinal. Research found that the etching reduced spillage by 80 percent.

Imagine how the creation of multiple small and large clever solutions can impact everyday user behaviors and alter them in ways that ultimately help our world.

As the Native Americans have said: "Treat the earth well: We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

We all know that changing our behaviors can be difficult. Even when we know our behavior is killing us, we keep on doing it. So, in order to accomplish change; we will need fresh, new ideas, willingness to change, peer support and a space that creates or allows acceptance.

Special thanks to Ab Stevels for researching and co-writing this article.