The Psychology of Waste

Waste abounds and we know it all too well. One minute we are drying our hands with an infinite number of paper towels and the next minute we are throwing away write-ups, disposable silverware, water bottles, etc. To give you some perspective, in commendable shock-’em-with-a-fact fashion, let me draw your attention to the fact that the average American produces about 4.4 lbs. of garbage a day, which amounts to roughly 1,600 lbs of garbage a year. Still not shocked? Put a little differently, if you amass the garbage produced in America alone, you could cover the state of Texas two and a half times! Now, I think that’s a shockingly un-awesome fact (Section F.), and it would behoove us to reflect on this matter appropriately. To help us on our journey of reflection, I spent some time talking to two institutions that have made it a priority to reduce this staggering amount of waste that is upon us.I feel heavier just thinking about it.

National Grid
Joe Callahan and Tom Centore are tasking the National Grid with reducing the amount of waste that is produced by the organization. They have taken the approach of education, empowerment and positive reinforcement to nudge their employees down the path of sustainability.

Their story reads much like a LEAD case. Being the largest utility company in the UK and the second largest utility company in the U.S., the company is responsible for an inordinate amount of operational waste such as wires, metal, insulation, construction project trash, etc. To combat this reality, the company had to engage in a number of very tangible actions that have been hugely successful. What should the protagonists do?

Recycling bins, not trash bins: The National Grid took a bold stance by divorcing trash bins from office desks; trash bins have been replaced by small recycling bins. If employees want to throw things in the trash, they have to make the concerted effort of walking to the central trash repository. The rationale is that people will be more likely to sort trash if forced to than if they have the easy option to just throw it all in the trash. This has worked exceedingly well, with employees becoming more enlightened over time out of pure necessity!

Education, site team leaders + mouse pads: To ensure that employees are “heart” and “head” committed to recycling and conservation, the National Grid has undertaken an extensive training program to enlighten employees about the tangible benefits of recycling. The idea is reminiscent of Jan Carlzon’s little red book – if all employees fully understand the company’s commitment to conservation, and more importantly the activities they have at their disposal to individually contribute to this commitment, behavioral change will be more sustainable.

Further, they have recruited different team leaders at each site who serve as recycling champions charged with rallying employees at the various locations to actively engage in living more conservatively. Probably the most effective, they also gave out mouse pads replica breitling Aeromarine , which depict common waste streams and how they should be recycled. I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t have common recycling streams on the back of our name cards in class.I mean, do we really need a double-sided name card?

HBS Operations Department
If you’re like me, you may not be aware of the existence, and more importantly, the activities of our very own HBS Operations. It just so happens they’re doing a lot of amazing things in the background, some of which I thought were really exciting!

The sustainability credo of the HBS Operations department is to make sure that [at HBS] we manage our existing buildings and grounds and the construction of new buildings in the most green and efficient way possible. They believe that waste – here, energy waste is most applicable – is a reflection of the inefficiencies of a process, which, among other things, can end up being very costly. Below are a few ways the department is attacking the waste that seeps through our system.

Improved Efficiency in Building Operations replica breitling bentley 6.75
Think Big Brother but only the positive outcomes! The HBS Operations department has hired a vendor to monitor the real-time operation of mechanical systems and associated energy consumption in select campus buildings. This initiative reviews major heating and cooling systems in buildings and identifies inefficiencies behind the scenes that otherwise could have gone unnoticed (i.e. outside air temperatures that control heating could be set too high). Currently, HBS buildings are designed to be heated and cooled through a predetermined schedule. HBS Operations reviewed and tightened these schedules so that they are aligned with the actual occupancy of the buildings. Prior to the revised schedule, buildings could be heated or cooled from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. versus 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., wasting approximately 7 hours of conditioning an unoccupied space!ÿ

They recently completed a pilot project at McArthur and Morgan that resulted in significant operating savings and greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets.ÿ They are currently monitoring the next phase of buildings, which includes Baker Library, Gallatin and Spangler. This campus-wide effort is estimated to offset more than 7 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (MTCDE).

The Gallatin Chronicles
This one’s kind of interesting. So Gallatin residents cannot turn the heat up and simultaneously open the windows to enjoy fresh air. I know we’re all guilty of engaging in this bad behavior sometimes, but it really is just that.bad behavior! In Gallatin, the HBS Operations department has installed occupancy sensors on the lights and the windows to prevent energy waste in this way. Some may decry this as encroaching upon their civil liberties; I call it two thumbs up!

Newsflash: Compostable Dishware at Spangler!
Let me interrupt this expose briefly to shed some light on the new containers that have been sprung on us at HBS. In its quest for green restaurant certification, Restaurant Associates (RA), our food providers at HBS, has recently decided to further contribute to the greening of our community. As many of you have noticed, gone is the Styrofoam dishware of yesteryear. In its place, we have these new funky containers that are a lot more eco-friendly. The problem with this new fangled contraption is that many of you don’t know what to do to dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way. Very simply, if you take food to go, after finishing your meal bring it back to Spangler and put it on the Spangler conveyor belt! Made out of organic materials, the new containers are compostable and should be returned to the Spangler conveyor belt with your napkins, which are also compostable. Restaurant Associates employees do their part and separate the waste behind the scenes, composting the compostable materials (food, napkins and compostable products) and recycling the recyclable materials (plastic clamshells, cans, bottles, etc.).

While I realize that it is currently a hassle to compost these items since HBS does not have front-of-the-house composting, the benefit is worth it, so consider making the commitment to lugging your compostable dishware to Spangler a few times a week. How cool is it to be able to say “.of course we don’t use Styrofoam at HBS!” It would be such a waste to preclude the community from attaining the additional benefits of this change. If you can’t make the trip back to Spangler, the second best thing is to recycle the paper coffee and soup cups because they are also recyclable, but be sure to remove all food and liquid before recycling! Do not, however, recycle napkins or compostable hot food clamshells – these should either be composted or put in the trash. Lastly and arguably most importantly, if you dine in, remember to use reusable china and eliminate the use of disposables altogether.

In light of the above, my question for you is: what will you do to reduce your 4.4 lbs? Reverse the priority in the relationship with your trash bin and your recycling bin? Dutifully make the extra effort to take your food containers back to Spangler so they can be composted? Commit to carrying your reusable water bottle or mug around for 66 days so you can form a habit?

These actions are all well and good, but more fundamentally I implore you to first consider your relationship with trash! As we have learnt at HBS and in life, our psychological interpretation of things drastically affects our actions towards those things. Trash is no different. If we view it as a necessity in life, we will contribute to its formation thoughtlessly. However, if we view it as something that can be avoided, and, more importantly, as an unnecessary drain of our natural resources, then perhaps our actions will evolve more sustainably in and of themselves.

March 29, 2010
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