Over the last few years, our world has been plagued by a collective sense of doom due to challenges including the pandemic, economic instability, wildfires, floods, and more. As we face an increasingly uncertain future, many of us crave a different world — a more sustainable and harmonious life in balance with nature and our community. In this blog, I explore practical and possible ways to achieve sustainability at a local level through extending the core principles of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” Also proposed is a novel solution called Sharing Stations, which can foster community connections while minimizing waste and unnecessary resource use.
Environmentalists have been refining the core principles that support sustainability for decades. Most are familiar with sustainability’s core tenants including the 3 Rs including Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
“Reduce” can include using less resources by sourcing locally (even hyper-locally, think neighbors) and by sharing, renting or lending items not currently needed.
“Reuse” of materials and goods can be done within the home, or between neighbors by lending or sharing tools, books and consumables.
“Recycle” is well established in more communities at a centralized level but the processes may of be improved by extending the items and locations for recycling.
By making better use of resources, we minimize the cost of and energy needed for, and the pollution created by, production. This contributes to a more stable environment and is seen as a key tool to counter the negative effects of climate change. While some may debate the extent and nature of of climate change, and deprioritize the need for sustainability programs, I have personally seen damages to, and the collapse of the environment that may be pegged to climate change. This has me gravely concerned (see my recent article on ecosystem collapse— Who cries when ecosystems die?).
Today consumers’ have shifted to supporting firms and products that focus more on sustainability. Seventy-five percent of Millennials say sustainability is very/somewhat important when buying consumer packaged goods. And 4 in 10 shoppers are more concerned about sustainability now than they were pre-COVID-19. Industry is reacting to this trend and many in business are calling sustainability the #1 trend and touting that sustainability is going mainstream.
On a personal level, I am a lifelong participant in activities that support sustainability including recycling, growing my own food, composting and using energy efficiently (see my recent garden efforts here). As deep a history as I have with some aspects of the practice, I am touched by some recent examples in my business and community.
Last winter, I needed an asphalt shingle to repair my leaky roof. It turns out they are only sold in packs of 40 at the hardware stores (and online), but I only needed one. It would have been incredibly wasteful to purchase the whole pack just to use one. But at there were some loose shingles from a scrap pile at my local hardware store, and they were able to provide me one without having to purchase the entire package (thank you Friedmans!).
One the low-tech solution of just talking to my neighbors about what you need and what they have can be productive. During the pandemic I remember we would get together at least weekly on the sidewalk and talk about how things were going and what help or things people might need.
We shared a great deal (including physical items and emotional ones) and I feel a loss now as that sense of community and closeness is now diminished, at least in my neighborhood. I dearly miss that shared sense mission and resources.
I’ve found services such as Nextdoor, Freecycle, and Craigslist to be useful for sharing, selling and reusing items. The volume of unneeded tools, left over materials, food, clothing, and furniture I see being shared lately is impressive.
However, these services have the drawback that they are digital first models. People you contact to share, repurpose, or purchase from maybe in the same town, but it is likely a car trip away plus the friction/energy required for the trip and the negotiation is often more then worth the effort for a box of nails, an odd sized battery, a needed tool or a box of fresh berries, for example.
Is there a better way to share while building and maintaining community?
We propose expanding the free library model to move beyond lending books to lending and sharing household items, tools, Art, toys, electronics and more. Sharing Stations hold the promise to be the hyper local Craigslist, Nextdoor and Classified combined.
What you need in your neighbor today!?
Check the station as you pass by in the morning or as you check your mail. Is there something there you need or a note from someone wanting to borrow something? Or, when a sharingstation.org app is available, post to your walking area in the morning (or night before) that you need a # 8 Star screwdriver, small hand sander or canning pot. Hopefully someone checking their daily alerts for neighborhood in the morning sees you need that item and you ping them back that the item will be in the sharing station by 5 PM. How many single use purchases or trips to the store could be saved in this type of process? Think also of esprit de corps among neighbors who build a physical way to connect and share not dependent on some distant social media giant?
I believe embracing sustainability and adopting practices like Sharing Stations can lead us towards a more balanced and harmonious communities. By reducing waste, conserving resources, and building stronger community connections, we can create a world that we truly desire — one that is sustainable, livable, and in harmony with nature and each other. Let’s take action today to shape the future we long for.