The Power of Habits for a Sustainable Future

December 14, 2023
minute read

At The Loop Co., we develop technology for sustainability because we believe new digital tools can assist people, organizations, and communities in the collective effort to decarbonize. However, as useful as technology may be in this transition, it is far from the most powerful force for building a circular and sustainable economy. That role is occupied by the micro-decisions each of us makes daily. Ecological transition is only possible through a gradual but profound shift in the habits of individuals, families, and businesses. This is a significant collective endeavor that each person must engage in individually.

For intellectual convenience, we often prefer to live in a kind of unburdening humility, thinking that we can do nothing to alter or influence the course of the planet. However, the planet is nothing more than the sum of our individual interventions in the different spheres in which we act: from how we choose to vote to the products we choose to buy, including the small unconscious actions in our daily lives at home or the decisions we make in the context of professional activity.

I will mention four different spaces in which we all live and act, and in which we must begin by changing our habits, ultimately influencing others in a domino effect that we hope will be positive for the preservation of the planet and the promotion of the quality of life for those who inhabit it.

I. Democracy

In a democracy, the primary goal of decision-makers, from the local level to community institutions and international organizations, passing through national authorities, is to satisfy the electorates they respond to because that is how they protect their own interests. Sometimes more particular interests can infiltrate the decision-making process, but the most constant and lasting force will always be the general will. It is our responsibility to value all relevant environmental, social, and economic issues when making voting and civic participation decisions, and we will see leaders aligning with that tune.

II. Public opinion

All of us have a role in the public space, from conversations with colleagues and friends to social media or even more formal involvement in the media. The ideas and opinions we communicate constitute a particularly strong intervention in the decision-making process. It is based on the listening of public opinion that companies and political organizations calibrate their decisions because their results depend on all of us.

III. The market

As citizens, we are called to vote every few years, but as consumers, we make daily purchasing decisions. The production of almost all the goods we use, the extraction of the majority of natural resources, and the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere depend on the companies that compete in the market. As final consumers, we occupy a privileged place in the value chain that directly and indirectly influences all stakeholders downstream to follow our more impulsive impulses, as well as more considered decisions. It is up to us to put our money where our rhetoric already is, and encouragingly, recent data in this regard has been disclosed.

IV. Change within organizations

The role we play in the public or private institutions we work for and engage with has a relevant galvanizing function with our peers, subordinates, and superiors, and in shaping the "will" and strategic direction of the organization as a whole. We must be promoters of the ideas we believe in and can be seen as true champions of these ideas within the organization if we align and externalize our concrete actions with our social or environmental convictions.

In addition to our personal transformation, there are three social forces of utmost importance in the creation and maintenance of collective and individual habits, and in which we should intervene, depending on our position in relation to each of them:

A. The role of education

Education is the most powerful transformative investment that a community has, with sensitive effects in the short term and lasting returns. Recycling has been pointed out as a success story of this transformative strategy. It was through schools and children that this habit entered domestic environments and changed the way we view the waste from our consumption. This is now a acquired habit in developed societies thanks to applied pedagogy. If today the circular economy is commonplace in public discourse (although it is still not the majority economic action), we can attribute it to the school mnemonic of the 3Rs.

B. The role of the State – alignment of incentives

While social and intergenerational justice is a concern for everyone, the truth is that it will never override the primary goals of supporting the family and spending on one's own economic interests. Economic return is the counterpart of a participation with added value in the production process, be it in the form of labor or the provision of capital.

The social state has an important redistributive function of income with primarily social protection objectives, channeling a portion of the income of taxpayers with more financial capacity to beneficiaries with greater needs, especially in the form of goods and services and other protection mechanisms such as education, health, and different forms of security. The redistributive function of the state must now look not only at social justice in the current community but also adopt a perspective of intergenerational justice that preserves the environmental heritage of future generations.

Activities that compensate for the wear and tear produced on the planet by production processes generate added value, so their return should be theirs. It is up to the state to anticipate for the economic agents involved the return on the environmental investment they make to protect future generations, aligning the safeguarding of the collective interests of the community with the incentives appropriate to the pursuit of current individual interests.

C. The role of market leaders – persistence

Companies that hold leadership positions in the market, develop the products we consume, and make significant investments in marketing naturally have an important role in shaping new consumption habits that permeate our daily lives. These companies must show patience for the duration of consumer adaptation periods and the adoption of new habits, and be persistent in transformative investments, using the investment capacity that their size carries. Often, these operators lament the lack of adherence to their sustainability initiatives, forgetting their pedagogical role in the market and the time that the return of new products always requires.

Shaping the small actions we repeat daily, progressively turning them into virtuous habits, is the great struggle for the development of our lives and personal identity. But this is also the great epic of humanity for a fairer and more perfect society. A set of small steps for each of us will represent a significant leap backward in the wear and tear of the planet. Only together will we succeed, but that cannot be an excuse to wait for others to change what only depends on us.

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