As the end of the calendar year approaches, it is important to take time for self-reflection and self-assessment, especially for those who use the Gregorian calendar for setting goals and try to commit to new year’s resolutions. December tends to be too late as there is so little time to sit in silence, look ahead and be realistic because of the hectic nature of the holiday season, the looming deadline of December 31, and the distraction of others’ lofty goals. November, particularly before American Thanksgiving, is late enough in the year to give us a significant time period to look back on and early enough to start more intentional reflective and goal-setting processes.
It can be particularly helpful to have a change in environment to bring more clarity of thought, not being surrounded by familiar people, places and things that can often cloud judgment and limit creativity in thinking. To reflect, we need some distance, and to plan for the year or years ahead, we need a limitless mindset. It is much easier and more effective to think in expansive ways and figure out how to get to the goal than it is to think in terms of the resources we currently we have and try to be creative with limitations. Sitting in your office surrounded by co-workers and to-do lists sets a tone that is completely different from a long train ride, a café overlooking the ocean, or a creative space stocked with supplies.
While travelling this month, I not only had time to reflect on the past year, but was exposed to a completely different environment and culture. I had the opportunity to observe the action and inaction undertaken by citizens of a different country, participate in conversations about social issues, solution development and project implementation around the world, and to think critically about my own work and the usefulness of the tactics currently employed by my organisations, colleagues and peers. This sets the foundation for the process of professional assessment and planning for the future.
Observing the practice – and subsequent successes and failures – of others has great value when used for more than an exercise in criticism or copycatting. What methods are being used? Which ones are working, and how do we know? Why are some methods working while others are not? Could the same methods be used elsewhere? How can they be adjusted for effectiveness in another context? What might have led them to these methods? When we ask the right questions, without judgment, about what is happening around us, the answers can lead to ideas that can be useful as we move into goal setting and charting the way forward.
By speaking with people engaged in work toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) about their motivations, access to resources, skillsets, doubts, and personal and professional experiences, I also developed a blueprint for a more personal assessment to jumpstart my goal-setting process. For example, in hearing about numerous people’s struggle with balancing family life and professional endeavours, I was prompted to include work-life balance in my list of areas for consideration. In addition, because climate change was one of the eight areas of focus for our time together in the SDG innovation lab, people whose primary focus was on climate and environment expressed concern about the carbon footprint of the event – which was offset by the organisers and sponsors – and this led me to think about personal responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and give specific consideration to the environmental impact of decisions, including those meant to help achieve the other SDGs (which are inextricably linked to Goal 13 – Climate Action).
Corporate Bahamas can do much better, and so can we all
As the year draws to a close, businesses should already have plans in place for 2020 when the plastic ban will be in effect. Not many have made use of this opportunity to include climate action in corporate social responsibility policies or creating a policy if one did not already exist. Multinational companies tend to have these policies which often include set amounts of money for donations to nonprofit organisations, special campaigns and projects, and incentives and rewards for employees who get involved in community initiatives. Following Hurricane Dorian, there should be more focus on climate action as The Bahamas is still reeling from the effects – which continue to emerge and grow – and continues to be vulnerable not only to storms, but to rising sea levels and environmental degradation.
Cafes have become popular in recent years, especially as people look for alternatives to office spaces and conference rooms for day-to-day work and meetings. Small café-style spaces are popping up and have a unique opportunity to incorporate environmental sustainability and climate action into their business models and public relations. Compliance with the plastic ban should not be limited to the switch from plastic straws to paper straws or changing the type of containers and utensils for takeaway items. Businesses should not be focused solely on changing materials and making adjustments for the increased cost, but pushing consumers to reduce their consumption of disposable products.
Businesses should be offering discounts to people who bring their own travel mugs and bottles for their coffees, teas, shakes, and smoothies. In fact, they could sell branded containers and encourage their customers to bring them every time. In addition, they could make bamboo straws available for sale as these are reusable and certainly a welcome alternative to the paper straws everyone dislikes. There are opportunities for businesses to make money, reduce waste, and promote more sustainable living. The time to do this is now as promotion, adoption and change of behaviour take time and practice.
The plastic ban was announced months ago, yet grocery stores have done little, if anything, to encourage customers to move away from using plastic bags. There should be reusable bags available for purchase at checkout, and cashiers should make every customer aware of the option. The reusable bags on the market – currently in use in many countries including Canada, USA, and Antigua and Barbuda -- are durable, can hold more weight, and only need to be purchased once. It takes some time to get used to taking your own bags to the grocery store, and we should have started already. The extra step we will need to add is returning the empty bags to the car after unpacking the grocery or putting them where we will remember to take them if we take the bus or get a ride to the grocery store, and it becomes a part of the routine after a while. We should not be waiting until January 2020 to start this practice.
We, as consumers, can also take the initiative to ask the businesses we patronise for sustainable options and remind them that the plastic ban is only weeks away. If they are not prepared to meet the demand, already built-in by law, it will be on us to find alternatives and we all know they are readily available in foreign markets. It is important to support the local economy, and critical for us to actively reduce waste in order to mitigate against climate change. If the local economy does not give us the alternatives we need, we will have to find other ways, or we will continue to find ourselves in an unwinnable battle against an unmanageable dumpsite, a rising sea level, decline in agriculture and fisheries, and increasingly frequent, devastating storms.
Just like we take water bottles to the gym, we can take travel mugs to the coffee shop. It is just as easy to carry bamboo utensils to work, even keeping them in our desk drawers, as it is to grab disposable utensils at restaurants and takeaways. In the same way that we ask for specific products and discounts when shopping, we can ask for the sustainable options in containers and bags as well as consumer incentives for using them. The cost of reusable shopping bags as well as other sustainable products is far less than the cost of climate change, both on the macro and micro levels. We have to take responsibility for the way we consume, the waste we create and the effects we have on the environment. Corporate Bahamas can do much better, and so can we, as consumers and drivers of demand.