Leadership and the Environment


183: Reusing and recycling are tactical. Reducing is strategic.

Ep. 183

I finally saw how to see reducing versus reusing and recycling. The distinction is subtle until you get it. Then you see that missing it leads people to counterproductive behavior and, egregiously, feeling good about that counterproductive behavior, leading them to do it more.

I read yet another person posting about recycling who didn't realize or address that if we keep producing plastic, it won't matter how much we reuse or recycle, we'll still choke ourselves with it.

The pattern and view I describe in today's episode applies for mercury, CO2, ocean acidification, using up resources other species need until they're extinct, and so on.

Actually, it's more, because reusing and recycling increase supply, which lowers the cost. The place to look for the effect of recycling is not at the specific case. Yes, if you recycle a given water bottle it will stop that bottle from polluting, but lowering the price by putting it back into circulation leads to more uses, like individually wrapped apples and other waste. It's like the fat on an obese person who keeps eating more calories than he or she uses. You get rolls on top of rolls and fat stuffed between all his or her organs.

We're bursting at the seams with plastic, and everyone stops at recycling or reusing while we produce ever more. Same with CO2, mercury, etc.

I've tried to figure out how to explain that feeling good about counterproductive behavior accelerates it.

Today's episode shares the view I came to recently. The title describes it:

Reusing and recycling are tactical. Reducing is strategic.

More Episodes


290: Excessive Self Interest, from Thomas Kolditz

Ep. 290
I ask people their reasons for polluting activities like flying, take-out, taking taxis or ride shares where public transit serves. They consistently tell me that they love these things. They love visiting family, seeing remote places, etc.If you feel similarly, you're about to face some tough love. These motivations came to mind while listening to Thomas Kolditz on a podcast I listen to and that has featured me. He is one of today's premier leaders and leadership educators. A few words about him:Tom Kolditz is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University–the most comprehensive, evidence-based, university-wide leader development program in the world. The Doerr Institute was recognized in 2019 as the top university leader development program by the Association of Leadership Educators. Prior to Rice, he taught as a Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management.A retired Brigadier General, Tom led the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point for 12 years.I heard him on The Leadership Podcast, hosted by Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos (who interviewed my in 2017 “What An Ivy League Degree Can’t Teach You.”).I recommend only listening if you're prepared for some straight, sobering talk on what those motivations mean.I also include a quote from that conversation about our sorry state of leadership education, which I relate to our sorrier state of environmental action education.The Leadership Podcast with Jan Rutherford and Jim VaselopulosThe Thomas Kolditz episode I quotedThomas Kolditz's pageMy episode, What An Ivy League Degree Can’t Teach You