The Way Forward

The Paradigm Shift of Sustainability

When environment activism took root in the 70s, one framework it created was the Three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Those three words and the iconic three-arrow symbol became ubiquitous and contributed to a cultural shift. Albeit in the reverse order of what was presented. Folks focused on recycle and often skipped the first two. To be clear, it isn’t that recycling and reusing didn’t exist prior to the 70s. The ethos of repairing and repurposing has always been core to rural life. But when the mid 20th Century heralded the first landfill in the United States, it marked the turning point of consumerism. 1How the 1970s Created Recycling As We Know It We quickly swapped out repair/repurpose/recycle with an it’s cheaper to replace it mentality. And the technology revolution has hastened that with its built-in obsolescence and upgrade upgrade upgrade framework. 

Now it’s rare to hear a conversation about recycling without the cynical voice decrying the system’s brokenness. And that voice isn’t wrong. 2Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?

And despite its many successes, the 3Rs itself needs an evolution. Which it has been in the midst of, with a plethora of expanded models over the years. Models based on 5Rs, 6Rs, 7Rs, 9Rs, 10Rs, and even 14Rs have surfaced. Most with slight variations from one person’s model to the next. None with the staying power of a three-word phrase and a simple logo but each with a deepening understanding of the complexity needed to achieve sustainability.

The most striking change appeared in the 6Rs models with the introduction of “Rethink/Respect.” These are often separated in later models with a variety of definitions:

RESPECT: It all starts with respect as weighty regard to first have esteem for one’s self, then others, property, our natural, physical, cultural, social and economic environments; and our earth’s delicate ecosystem. Without this, one cannot see beyond their nose and accomplish the good needed.  

RETHINK: To change one’s mind thought, and their figurative heart condition so they will not take the wrong course of action and cause harm to another, or to our environment; collectively business and government have to change their dismal pattern of thinking.  

source: The 10-R’s of Sustainability TM

Or this one that takes a less blunt approach: 

Respect. It all starts with respect and having esteem for one’s self, others, property, our natural, physical, cultural, social and economic environments; and earth’s delicate ecosystem. The challenge lies in a willingness to do things differently than we have in the past.  

Rethink. Think about what you buy as this will help the environment – look for better information on the durability of products (if replacement parts can be obtained). Try to buy products with as little packaging as possible. Ask yourself if you really need that new item? Or can you go without it?  

source: The 10 R’s of Sustainable Living [not trademarked 😉]

It’s fascinating to see the evolution of our environmental-based approach to consumerism threaded through these shifting models. The solutions to climate change must start with changing our paradigm. Without respect for the planet and the others we share it with, without rethinking consumerism on a deeper level, we will not create lasting sustainable change. 

I’ve borrowed from the many existing models to develop one that works for me. A framework to consider before buying something, throwing something away, replacing something. A paradigm shift towards sustainability.

My 8 Rs of Sustainability
(I’ll write more about items 3 through 8 in later posts.)

1. Respect: The earth and the beings I share it with.

2. Rethink: Do I need to make this purchase? Am I being a conscientious consumer at this moment? Is there a better approach to filling this need? Play the long game rather than the short road to instant gratification.

3. Refuse

4. Reduce

5. Reuse/Repurpose

6. Repair/Restore

7. Recycle

8. Rot

What framework works for you as you prepare or continue your climate change long game? Where do your thoughts need to evolve to reflect the situation’s complexity better?


If the floor in your bathroom is soaking wet, it’s better to turn off the bath tap, than mop the floor.

EVELINA LUNDQVIST, The 10 R’s of Sustainable Living

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