Behavior Change in Sustainable Development – Part I: The Ban

5 01 2011

One of the questions raised in the comments of Right to Dry was how do we integrate behavioral change into sustainable development? It’s not enough, after all, to recognize the ways in which we as people need to change; quite another to bring about those changes.

For example, for those of us who were raised with dryers in our homes, switching to line drying isn’t simply a technology swap, but also a habit swap. Hang drying clothes involves a certain degree of forethought: when you have a dryer in the house you can wash and dry your clothes in as little as an hour meaning you can literally wash and dry an outfit the same night that you want to wear it. That’s something you simply can’t do when you hang dry clothes unless you fancy going out in wet clothes. In a culture in which many of the same technologies that we have adopted in the name of convenience -the automobile, the tumble dryer, the air conditioner, the plastic bag – are the same technologies which are bringing us ever closer to environmental destruction, learning how to shift away from these behaviors is a critical part of sustainable development.

There are several ways of bringing about behavioral change and over the next week we will look at several methods of doing so.

One of the most common ways of bringing about behavioral change is simply banning the behavior. The Montreal Protocol which effectively banned substances known to deplete the ozone layer is often touted as one of the most successful use of the ban, although a more recent and intriguing ban has recently occurred in the town of Concord, Massachusetts. This town of roughly 17,000 known both as the birthplace of Thoreau and as a battle site during the American Revolution recently fired an opening salvo in the bottled water wars by banning sales of all bottled water beverages within the town limits. Their motivation was to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated which too often ends up in vast patches of oceanic garbage.

Although some argue that residents will simply go across the town limits and purchase bottled water in bulk from bulk retailers, others argue that the inability to simply walk into a store and purchase bottled water will decrease bottled water use for one simple reason. In order to drink water on the go, residents would have to carry their illicitly purchased water with them. Under such a scenario, proponents argue, it’s simply easier to carry a reusable water bottle. The water ban, then, might shift people from cluttering landfills with one use bottles to using reusable bottles.




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