T.I.P. to Achieve Sustainability

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While Sustainability could be defined by the complex nature of its problems1)See my thoughts on a Sustainability Science piece by Ben Warner., what distinguishes Sustainability from most other fields is the focus on solving those problems not just trying to understand them. Unfortunately what you typically see is a laundry list of solutions for Achieving Sustainability. I would argue that Sustainability solutions need a framework, which I propose here: Technology + Individual action + Policy (TIP).

This is certainly not a groundbreaking organization but important nonetheless as there is a tendency to focus on just one type of solution--as we saw with the Breakthrough Institute's unerring loyalty to technology in my recent critique. When you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. My thinking is still in the roughest of forms but here is my working list of key features/postulates/characteristics(?)2)Can't put my finger on what the right word would be, help! of this framework:

  • All Sustainability problems will require change in all three TIP types, though not of equal amounts.
  • The categories are only semi-independent--change in one may influence the others.
  • Change can happen in the wrong direction in a category even if in the others it is improving.
  • Solutions within each category need to be clearly prioritized.3)The three key factors for prioritization should be 1) Surety about positive impact 2) Scale of impact 3) Ease of implementation.
  • There are diminishing returns within each category.4)In other words as you move through the priority list in just one category your solutions will have less and less impact.

TIP to Sustainable Lighting

I am not much for operating in purely theoretical realms, so lets try a concrete example--Sustainable lighting.5)I have written a lot about lighting here at AS, so I hope you haven't tired of it yet! To achieve the vision for Sustainable lighting our solution list might now look like this:

  1. Technology
    1. Reduce manufacturing cost of LED bulbs
    2. Improve CFL usability
    3. Further efficiency improvements in LED bulbs
    4. Improve incandescent/halogen efficiency
  2. Individual Action
    1. Replace all bulbs with LEDs
    2. Replace all bulbs with CFLs
    3. Turn off lights when not using
    4. Install motion sensor and/or dimmer switches
  3. Policy
    1. Continue phase out less efficient bulbs
    2. Subsidize LED bulbs for all households
    3. Give away LED bulbs to low-income households
    4. Finance further research into lighting technology
So if we return now to the key features/postulates/characteristics(?) we can quickly review why I believe them to be important to this framework:

TIP
  1. I think from this example we can see how a list of solutions could be easily sorted AND that within each category the solutions have much more in common than between categories--validating the concept.
  2. The interdependence can be seen by thinking about the 20th century where individual action was very limited by a lack of technology and that recent change in T has created solutions in I & P.
  3. A change in T (efficient bulbs) could possibly enable people (I) to install more light bulbs and leave them on more often.6)The old Jevon's Paradox and Conundrum issue I am always circling back to.
  4. The impact of changing from an incandescent to an LED is much bigger that turning off the lights and extra five minutes a day.
  5. While advances in T which make LED bulbs more affordable would help a lot, advances in efficiency would at this point be far LESS helpful than individuals just installing the latest existing bulbs. The leap to today's best tech will cut 80% of the energy, the best theoretical bulbs would only cut an additional 10%.7)You can see that in the infographic I created.

Could TIP be useful in Achieving Sustainability?

We'll be trying TIP out on different Sustainability problems to see how well it works, but I believe the idea shows some promise. For example looking at water we could quickly see that Individual action and even Technology solutions will have very limited impacts when compared to Policy solutions.8)Which is why I don't like water as an introductory Sustainability issue.

But most of all I'd love to hear YOUR thoughts, critiques and suggestions!

Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. See my thoughts on a Sustainability Science piece by Ben Warner.
2. Can't put my finger on what the right word would be, help!
3. The three key factors for prioritization should be 1) Surety about positive impact 2) Scale of impact 3) Ease of implementation.
4. In other words as you move through the priority list in just one category your solutions will have less and less impact.
5. I have written a lot about lighting here at AS, so I hope you haven't tired of it yet!
6. The old Jevon's Paradox and Conundrum issue I am always circling back to.
7. You can see that in the infographic I created.
8. Which is why I don't like water as an introductory Sustainability issue.
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