Sustainability Information Overload: What’s the Way Out?

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Woman looking at bulletin board full of announcements

Courtesy Jorge Franganillo via Creative Commons

Some people have no wish to be more sustainable. Others want to do more but don’t know where to start.

My Google search for “sustainability” brought back over 36 million results. The Wikipedia article on the subject has 183 footnotes. And that’s not even delving into the details of (to name a few topics related to business sustainability) expansion plans, energy efficiency improvements,  and employer-sponsored health care policies. The problem isn’t finding information. It’s finding useful and credible information that we can act on.

David Levy discusses this issue in considering the 1945 essay “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush:

[A]s Bush himself pointed out, the information problem isn’t just the state of the record (its quantity, volume, or state of organization) but the possibility of using it. “A record, if it is to be useful to science,” he said, “must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted” (p. 90). While this observation seems exactly right, it doesn’t go far enough. Yes, consulting the record is essential, but we must also have time to reflect on what is gleaned from it. [emphasis in original; source: abstract, full text (PDF)]

Levy’s focus is the need for time for reflection. But I’m interested in the broader point: information is almost useless unless it can be interpreted by the right person at the right time and place. With so much information out there and no clue how to digest it all, how is the average person supposed to become more sustainable?

We hope that Green Plus can help. What could we do better? What strategies or resources do you use to figure out how to be more sustainable?

Max Felsher is currently pursuing a master's degree in Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focusing on the ways that information can be used to help solve social and environmental problems. He has served on the executive committee of the Orange-Chatham Group of...
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