By Elliot Hoffman, CEO, REV
My wife Gail and I were camping for a few days about three hours north of San Francisco on the coast, overlooking the forest and the Pacific. As we were talking I happened to be holding one of those little red plastic stirrers that you often find in a hotel or anyplace serving drinks — a bar, a coffee joint. Gail asked a very simple question: “where did that little red stirrer come from?” What ensued has become one of my personal favorite stories that exemplifies the extraordinary waste in our society and is an example of our company’s collective thinking around sustainability.
Whether it’s small examples like this or much larger “offenses” (like driving a Hummer), we need to become more aware and change our behaviors if we are ever going to get to a place called “sustainable.”
The little red stirrer begins its life as oil that is pumped from the ground and eventually delivered to a place that turns the oil into a stirrer. About 500 of these stirrers are put into a small box which is then put into a larger master carton. That carton is placed on a pallet, the full pallet then wrapped in plastic, put on a truck and transported hundreds if not thousands of miles to its final destination — a local hotel or coffee joint.
The master carton is taken off the truck, unpacked by the staff, a few little red stirrers placed into a container that is then placed on the table with the coffee/tea and condiments. We pour our coffee, add sugar and/or cream, grab that little red stirrer and stir our beverage, for about one second. Then we just throw it into the trash. The usage of that little red stirrer is about one second, perhaps two. Then it’s garbage.
As Gail and I went through these steps in our heads it dawned on us both — what an amazing waste. All this material, time, energy and money for one second of use and then likely hundreds, if not thousands of years sitting in a local landfill. The story is nearly the same for wooden stirrer and any other disposable tool. We all do this kind of thing out of habit. It’s time to let these extremely wasteful habits die.
Think of the ways we could stir our coffee with no waste at all: simply put the cream or sugar in your cup first and then pour your coffee. Voila, stirred. I use my finger to stir (it’s not really that hot). Obviously there is that time-tested tool, the spoon. (Yes, it does need to be washed so this is not my first choice, but much better than the little red stirrer).
One would think that as the founder of a sustainability company, I would have been more aware and never chosen to use a little red stirrer in the first place. But we all have blind spots. Imagine if all of us decided to think about our little wasteful actions — the “little insanities” we do every day — and began to change our behaviors. Starting small — like never using a little red stirrer again — can lead to ever more significant behavior changes. It’s simply about becoming more aware of our actions and their consequences.
If you are concerned about creating a sustainable society and world, a world where we are no longer diminishing the future for our children and all future generations, then we all need to become more aware that even the most minor actions have an impact. Starting small is fine. But then let’s open our minds and hearts, reduce and eventually eliminate the extraordinary levels of waste in our lives and workplaces. We’ll save money, resources and feel a lot better about ourselves when we realize how easy it is to be part of the sustainability solution.
Sustainability must become our new habit.