Waste! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing
As the world rightly focuses its attention on Ukraine, climate change has taken a back seat.
However, it does not appear that climate change has got the memo. As I sit here today, the news just in is that the Antarctic and Arctic regions are over 40 degrees warmer than they should be at this time of year.
The worst storms in over 150 years have just battered Australia not long after the terrible wildfires it suffered from two years ago. I’m beginning to think that Australia is the canary in the mine… sorry, Aussie friends.
And yet it feels like we’re ambling rather than running to a solution. The IPCC makes it clear in its latest report: some progress has been made, but much more action is needed and needed fast.
COVID and Ukraine demonstrate the power of collective will when things need to happen quickly. COVID was, in many ways, straightforward. The adversary was a virus, and viruses are well understood. Within weeks of COVID first appearing, its genome had been mapped and vaccines were in development, ready to be fast-tracked through trails.
But climate change is a remarkably complex problem, and its solutions are manifold and multifaceted. Solving one problem can create others. For example, I recently listened to a presentation on black carbon or soot, a significant contributor to warming. A point made was that everything requires black carbon emissions, including the things designed to reduce it: every wind turbine and solar panel results in some soot.
If it is so complex, what can we as individuals do? As I have contemplated that question, one thing that has come to mind is how much waste there is in our daily lives. Taking stock of the waste in our lives and thinking about ways to minimise it could be a good start.
I was reminded of a documentary about how Team Sky went from obscurity to winning the Tour de France cycling race.
David Brailsford, the team director, talked about their approach – the aggregation of marginal gains. They examined the entire system and identified ways to improve every aspect of the system by 5%. From the weight, comfort and aerodynamics of the bikes to the clothes worn to the nutrition, everything was looked at to identify improvements.
My favourite factoid was that the riders’ bedding went with them, so they slept on the same mattress and under the same duvets every night. Sleep problems caused by changes to bedding in different hotels had been identified as an issue.
So taking that mantra, what could we all do to reduce our waste by 5%? And when I talk about waste, I think it is essential to go beyond the obvious things like food, energy, travel and so on.
Think about waste at work.
I was contemplating how many projects I have worked on over the years that haven’t seen the light of day. I enjoyed working on many of these projects but often knew they were doomed from the start in my heart of hearts. I also know how much time and resources many of them involved.
What I never sat and thought about was the energy that was involved. Every step has a footprint from travelling, meeting, brainstorming, UXing, designing, building and testing. Perhaps it’s time to start forecasting and measuring project-based energy as part of the rationale for the project itself. The footprint of a project could be a potential gate to be overcome. An ideal opportunity for those who understand the project’s futility to use energy as a reason to say, “Stop, don’t start!”
The mantra on innovation is “Fail fast, fail often” – something I have espoused many times. The fact I am sat writing this article is on the back of many mistakes made over the years. But is “failing” climate-friendly? If we consider the energy footprint of failure in the context of innovation, what does that look like? How much waste is involved?
As I look at the incredible infographics of the fintech ecosystem, I am often struck by how many companies have been started to solve essentially the same issue. How much energy is underpinning competition in the start-up space? And how much of that is waste?
A logical conclusion could be, do we need so many banks? Ultimately, what’s the balance between climate change and competition?
These are big things and would involve a wholesale change, which will not happen tomorrow.
So, to get started, I wonder if it’s time for us to think about the 5% savings we can all make.
Think about how you work and how things work at work, and ponder how much waste could be involved. Then imagine changing how you work and reducing just 5% of that waste as a starting point.
It feels like time to leap out of the water as the temperature rises!
About the author
He is a passionate customer advocate and champion and a successful entrepreneur.