When What Is “Good” Is Also Potentially Detrimental
Recycling is dangerous. I always feel a slight sense of relief when I place something in a blue bin, as if being assuaged of a modicum of unconscious guilt. It’s okay to create waste, I think. I can recycle it. This study provides evidence of what I’ve always suspected: we’re inclined to consume more when we know we can recycle. The Rebound Effect states that when goods are cheaper, more efficient, or can be disposed of “responsibly,” we tend to use more of them, sometimes enough to negate any potential benefits. The challenges we face are as much behavioral as technical. It will be interesting to see if energy consumption increases when the savings from Chicago’s new electricity provider kick in. Mayor Emmanuel tried to capture those monies for City environmental initiatives, which would have been the right thing to do from a conservation perspective, although apparently not a political one. Guilt can be a powerful motivator, and perhaps should be more purposefully cultivated. It’s no surprise that Chicago’s lack of recycling has, until recently, been the most popular local sustainability subject. Which begs the question, what exactly are we discarding in all those blue bins?
P.S. On Monday, Chief Sustainability Officer Karen Weigert distributed this list of 2012 City sustainability accomplishments. It will be incorporated into Foresight’s Feb 6, Chicago Sustainability 101 lunchtime seminar. Consider joining us!