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Ali Hart headshot

Turn That Pointing Finger Around: Consumers Bear Burden Too

By Ali Hart

The following post is part of TriplePundit’s coverage of the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon. To read the rest of our coverage, click here.

At the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland last week, representatives of a range of brands expounded upon their sustainability efforts. While conferences are often a chance for companies to tell us about all of the initiatives they’re implementing to improve our world, it seemed that some brands had an eyebrow-raising message for their audience: turn that pointing finger around.

Companies undoubtedly have a big role to play in sustainability, especially since they’re profiting from the natural and human capital they employ. However, something that comes up often is the idea that it’s us – citizens – who need to consider our impact as we use their products.

Levi’s, for example, has their Water<Less jeans. Manufacturing jeans (and producing cotton) is a water-intensive process (each pair conventionally requires 42 liters). Levi’s tackled this problem by reducing the amount of water used in the finishing process by an average of 28 percent and up to 96 percent for some new products in the line. However, when examining an LCA of their jeans, it became clear that some of the heaviest water use is in the hands of the jeans-wearers – us. As a result, Levi’s launched a campaign to encourage its customers to line dry their jeans, wash them in cold water and to wash them less often, recommending once every two weeks. (Do people really wash them more often than this??)

Ian Yolles of Recyclebank alluded to Unilever’s similar campaign for shorter showers, which I reported on in this interview about Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan. Yolles also proposed that behavior change on behalf of the public is imperative in order for us to see the change we want in the world – from business and beyond. He spoke of the necessity of a “cultural infrastructure” in addition to the technological one with which we’re surrounding ourselves. Essentially, a cultural shift is required to become a more sustainable society and we’re all responsible for facilitating this transformation. Don’t feel too burdened, though; Yolles also called for progressive policy and radical innovation.

What better place to change behaviors than where enthusiastic sports fans congregate? The operators of the Rose Garden Arena, home of the Portland Trailblazers, saw the opportunity to influence its crowds and became a sustainability leader. The arena has shrunk its carbon footprint by 50 percent and invited guests to participate by recycling and procuring food from the arena's food providers, over 86 percent of which are local and organic. The Rose Garden didn't send out press releases when it started these efforts - in fact, the organization waited three years to talk about initiatives in order to have time to make improvements. The arena's sustainability efforts inspired the creation of the Green Sports Alliance in partnership with the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Seahawks. 100 venues have joined the alliance, influencing fans and changing behaviors across the US.

If you’re interested in cracking the code of behavior change, check out articles from the series, Behavior Change for Sustainability. And report back so we can all learn from each other!


Ali Hart is a sustainable communications and engagement strategist with a passion for life’s essentials: food, water and storytelling. Her background in the entertainment industry, penchant for humor and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School are Ali’s secret weapons in her quest to master the art of behavior change and to make sustainability inconveniently fun.


Ali Hart headshot

Ali Hart is a media strategist and content producer helping change agents harness the power of humor. From developing creative TV and web concepts to managing comedians to strategizing grassroots campaigns, she has devoted herself to exploring which messages and messengers inspire behavior change for good. Ali holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, where she currently laughs.

Read more stories by Ali Hart