The art of doing good

The art of doing good

Enough of ruthless exploitation of nature and people! Enough of overconsumption, fast fashion and waste! The time has come for a new way of having a good life, where we all try to do better.

She was engaged in the refugee crisis in the wake of war, she knitted as part of a social movement, she was part of an international network. She shared her belongings with neighbors, minimized her waste and on vacation she did not stay at hotels but with friends. She celebrated humanistic values such as equality. She had her own career. She grew her own vegetables in her backyard and every summer she’d make lemonade and enjoyed her home-farmed salad. In the fall she harvested and saved for the winter. She had one shopping bag and of course she baked her own bread. She ate less meat and more greens, more in season and less processed food. And yes, she kept bees. A true urban hipster 2018. But no, she was my grandmother, born in 1897.

“There is a genuine will to take a stand and live a truly good life”

Several of the strong behavioral trends we see today such as the sharing economy, social engagement rather than materialistic frenzy, celebrating an environmental responsible way of living, are really just signs of a huge sobering up for the western world. Add purpose driven businesses, the former sourdough mania and recent urban beekeeping bonanza, and there’s a clear pattern. We heard the wakeup call. And there is a genuine will to take a stand and live a truly good life; to have a positive impact, however small, in the choices we make.

When political forces fail

For too long we have indulged in ruthless exploitation of our common resources, for too long we have neglected the harsh reality of the state of our planet. Today, this is so evident that even the political agenda is dictated by these insights.

And when political forces fail to deliver on that responsibility, large corporations step in, as in the case of Trump and the Paris climate agreement. Several of the largest US companies, such as Apple, Exxon Mobile and Ford declared they would uphold the agreement or continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions, disregarding the president’s decision. Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger both left Trumps advisory councils as a consequence. Mr Iger is now being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate after also calling Trumps decision to rescind Obama’s program to allow children of paper­less immigrants to remain in the US “cruel and ­misguided”. All of a sudden the boss of Disney is the voice of social responsibility.

But we no longer necessarily turn to politicians or established organizations to demand or make a change. We want to change the way we live our own lives, how we interact, work and consume.
“We are sort of self-curating our own life and we are very curious about how we can get more out of life. We basically want meaningful experiences,” stated the well acclaimed futurist Anne Lise Kjaer at TedxArendal in Norway recently.

When Kjaer Global listed the global trends 2020, one of them was “betterness”, in the report described as businesses and individuals joining forces to make a positive impact for the greater good of all by practices such as radical openness and social responsibility. Another trend on the Kjaer Global list was “enoughism” a term used to challenge the belief that the good life is dependent on consumption of stuff, instead we look elsewhere for new ideals to define a fulfilled life.

The good life-trend can be seen in diverse areas such as in the fundamental change in how companies attract talents – brands that give us meaning, are authentic and connect to strong values are attractive to the younger generation. The latest Deloitte millennial survey states that “opportunities to be involved with “good causes” at the local level, many of which are enabled by employers, provide millennials with a greater feeling of influence.”

And purpose is one of the strong drivers in the start up scene, young entrepreneurs not only want to be best in the world – they want to be best for the world. A responsibility more complicated than Mr Zuckerberg opted for as it turned out.

Eat what you buy

But living a better life is also about the many small things that have great impact, choosing to buy second hand or buying high quality products that can be mended – or saying no to the plastic bag you are offered to carry stuff home in.

Reducing the number of plastic bags is an international effort to save the oceans, the EU wants to decrease the number of bags to 90 (!) per person each year. Several initiatives and campaigns are already in place. When British Tesco started charging, 80 percent less bags were distributed. The Swedish initiative One Bag Habit showed a decrease of up to 70 percent. We obviously don’t need these bags and it’s an easy decision not to use them. If we do nothing, soon there will be more plastic than fish in the seas. And no turtles. So get a basket for your Saturday shopping, and more importantly: eat what you buy.

According to the EU 88 million tons of food are wasted every year in Europe – to a cost of 143 billion EUR. A third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. An average restaurant in Europe produces more than 68,000 kilos of food waste every year. And most of it is perfectly edible. As a reaction The Ugly Food movement is giving the misshaped vegetables and bruised fruits of the world a new market instead of being dumped or rejected. French supermarkets have been required to donate all edible food to charities and shelters instead of throwing it away as in most countries. Some researches go as far as saying this is the solution to feeding the world in the future – we do not need to degrade to eating insects – we only need to use what we already have in a better way. Something to ponder on next time you think lunching on yesterday’s leftovers is not so hot.

Or you can make a change in the simple act of cooking spaghetti: Like photographer Judith Buijze from Amsterdam when she rediscovered an old household trick. She turned off the gas of her stove after boiling her spaghetti for only two minutes. She then left it in the pot with the lid on for another eight minutes and – voila!– the spaghetti was ready even though she had only used 25 percent of the gas required if she had followed the instruction on the package. She shared her experience on the social network Nudge, the information reached the CEO of the egg wholesaler Rondeel – and now the instructions on packages from Rondeel say that eggs can be boiled for only two minutes and then left in the hot water to get ready. Thus saving large amounts of gas or electricity.

Apart from being a social network Nudge is also a Dutch PR agency, specializing in changing behaviors within climate, energy and social sustainability. At the moment 60,000 activists are helping out, ready to influence their surroundings.

The skeptic might argue that all of this is for the privileged middleclass, comforting their own bad consciousness, and that these are all such small efforts that they won’t help. Fredrik Moberg, researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre, says they do. “Of course there’s a risk of thinking that my small contribution doesn’t matter. But it does – not least as an example. We know that people are more willing to change habits and act if a friend or neighbor is doing so. And not least – politicians are carefully watching what their voters are doing.”
He also confirms the over all trend.

“There is a change, individuals and companies are taking more actions.  And people are getting more and more aware. People don’t just act to be nice to nature.”

So, by living like your grandmother you might actually change the world.