After the election: Turning a negative into a positive

The presidential election was a shock to many of us.

After some reflection over the past few days, I have a new outlook. As the new President of Recycling Advocates, I’d like to share that perspective with you as we start looking ahead to 2017 under a new political landscape.

1) We have momentum on our side

The pursuit of zero waste is ingrained in the culture of the Portland metro region. No decisions at the national level are going to stop the momentum we have, unless we allow it. Even if all support for environmental programs, agreements, laws and incentives are taken away, is that going to stop us from caring about the future of the planet? No! Are we going to stop working towards carbon reduction goals? No! Are we going to get creative if funding goes away? Yes!

Progress might slow down in other parts of the country, but I think this could motivate us to re-double our efforts, and send a strong message that we are not affected!

Having lived outside of Oregon most of my life, I watched from afar at how creative and progressive Oregon was at helping people and the environment. You inspired me to work for change in places like Iowa and Florida (who don’t vote like us). I moved to Portland to learn from the best, and share what I learn with my friends, co-workers, professional network and family. There are people out there in the same situation I was, watching from afar, waiting to see how we react. If we stop and complain that the odds are against us, so will everyone else. If we gain momentum and excitement around our mission, we will inspire others to do the same!

The world is watching, how are we going to react?

2) We live in a free country

We can do whatever we want to promote our ideas and values. Our freedom and 1st amendment rights have not been taken away. This does not affect our mission in any way. In fact, I think we too often expect our government to solve these problems for us. Now that definitely won’t happen at the national level, so it’s up to us to make the change happen locally, and help it spread across the country. We have enough work to do locally, so let’s stay focused on what we can control. Others will notice when we achieve success, and will naturally want to replicate what we do. Worrying about what might happen outside our control is a waste of time, and a distraction to our mission.

In fact, I think this could be very empowering when we realize how much we can accomplish without reliance from the top!

3) We have common sense on our side

We need to keep reminding people that many things we support also make a lot of good sense.

  • Bottle bills work for increasing recycling
  • Climate change is happening faster than predicted
  • Taking things to the landfill cost people money
  • Recycled products require less energy and raw materials
  • Safe chemicals are good for our communities and our health
  • Reduced oil and gas consumption is good for our economy, our health, and national security
  • Renewable energy is becoming more affordable than fossil fuels
  • Doing the right thing feels good!

4) Businesses are seeing the value in becoming more sustainable

The same people that voted in the election have been living in our country for a long time. In the last gallup poll in March 2016, 57% of the U.S. population felt that the U.S. government was doing “too little” in terms of protecting the environment, and 56% feel that the quality of the environment is “getting worse.” Over 50% of the voters did not vote for the winner. Voting results and public opinions are two different things, since only 55% of eligible voters actually cast a vote in this election.

Businesses have been feeling more and more pressure to do the right thing for the environment. They are being pressured to reduce their carbon emissions, reduce their toxins, conserve water, and be good neighbors in the community. They are concerned about rising energy prices from depleting fossil fuel reserves, looking at recycled materials to conserve a limited supply of raw materials, and do not want to end up like BP for damaging the environment and showing up on the front page. It’s not good for their stock price. The pressure that consumers are putting on businesses will not go away.

People are also starting to care more about the mission and purpose of the company they work for. They no longer just want a paycheck, but want to spend time working for a company that cares about more than just the bottom line. If they can’t find any recycling bins, don’t see solar panels on the roof, electric vehicle charging stations nearby, or composting in the cafeteria, more and more are choosing to look somewhere else to work. The costs to replace these employees is very high, and the more that leave, the faster the business will adjust and start to change their ways.

5) We actually vote with our wallets, not at the polls

Elections are important, but we actually make a bigger impact when we spend (or choose not to spend) our hard-earned money. Look at your bank statement. Are you spending money at places you want to support, that align with your values, and minimize the impact on the environment? Is your money going back into the local economy, or helping a CEO in another state or country buy another boat?

Let’s talk specifically about Recycling Advocates. Do you buy groceries at places that compost, recycle and encourage you to bring your own bag? Do you buy items with minimal packaging that can be composted or recycled, or do you buy in bulk and bring your own containers? Do you frequent coffee shops that encourage you to bring your own cup, or offer “for here” cups?

Voting with our dollars makes companies change their behaviors. Politicians listen to businesses, but we decide which businesses succeed or fail. Which companies do you want to grow and succeed? Which companies do you want influencing our politicians? We have more power than we realize!

6) We can modify our message to appeal to a new audience

Consumption costs money, and so does throwing stuff away. Reusing items or refusing them in the first place avoids future spending, and recycling can pay you back (an extra 5 cents starting in April!). Sharing or giving things to your neighbors through Rooster can also save you money, or help you give away your stuff, so you can get a smaller place and reduce your housing payments and utilities. Riding your bike, walking, and taking the bus can save you money on insurance and gasoline, and it’s good exercise! Not only is it the right thing to do, but there are financial incentives we can leverage to appeal to a new audience, even if they don’t believe in climate change, or think the planet is not affected by our actions.

Still feeling bad? Listen to a recent TED talk from Al Gore a couple months ago, on how things are really going in the right direction. Very motivating for me, especially right now.

Bottom line: We must refuse to allow someone else or some other group to influence what we want to accomplish, or get in the way of Recycling Advocates’ mission.

How are you turning this negative into a positive? Add your comments below!