11/27/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

Two Out of Three R's

Since I see what my kids bring home from pre-school and first grade, I know that what they're learning about environmentalism hasn't changed much since I was a kid (and that's a long time!). For example, one message that my kids get that I got decades ago is "reduce, reuse, recycle." And why not, it's still a good message. But in practice, too often we only really know about the "recycle" part -- almost everyone today has separate bins for trash and recyclables, and we buy paper and other products with recycled content.

But we're not always as good about reducing and reusing. This is too bad, because these are areas that can really make a big difference in promoting healthier environments where we live, work, and play.

For example, most of us rely on many electronic technologies in our daily lives -- yet many of us change our electronic devices almost as often as we change socks, tossing out old yet usable equipment to upgrade to the latest gadget. Instead, we can often easily extend the lifespan of our electronics, with memory upgrades or simply with regular maintenance. Services like Cell Trader Online connect users who want to fix, trade, sell or otherwise reuse their cell phones or tablets, making it easier to hold off on new purchases.

Businesses can also save through better management of their electronics. Between 2006 and 2010, Health care giants Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Health Care West (now known as Dignity Health) reported combined savings of more than $13.5 million, through energy efficiency and waste reduction gains they saw after adopting sustainable electronics management practices. The companies noted they reused 318,364 units (or 9.8 million pounds) of electronics, while recycling another 387,198 units (6.8 million pounds). Finding reputable green standards for electronic purchasing and management can help businesses make better choices for saving money while avoiding "greenwashing."

Of course, reusing goes beyond electronics. New online sharing services like yerdle are connecting people who want to shop less and connect more, by sharing everything from clothing, baby strollers, tents, tools, blenders and more. Since many household goods are used just once a month (or less -- where are those snowshoes again?), sharing sites connect people so we can all spread our "stuff" around, resulting in reduced consumption, and making connections that enrich our communities. Connections like these are catching on in mainstream circles -- yerdle recently partnered with NBC Universal on a national campaign to encourage people to "share-and-tell" their stories of how sharing instead of buying helped create and strengthen friendships.

Ultimately, reducing consumption should not have to mean that we all must revert to nasty, poor, and brutish living conditions. As Annie Leonard points out in The Story of Stuff, we can replace over-consumption with local self-reliance, eliminate waste with an emphasis on creative design, and create economies based on active engaged citizenship in place of the current consumer culture that promotes disengagement and apathy. And if that all sounds like a long-term dream, the Story of Stuff project has some great tools and resources (including faith-based programs, back-to-school resources for all ages, even High School French class activities!) that we can all use right now to do more to reduce, reuse, and yes, recycle. So hold on to that cell phone, have an un-shopping party with some friends, and go share some stuff today!