Reflections on a sustainability pledge tree

In October of 2009, I happened across a Sustainability Fair on the MU patio during my lunch hour away from my faculty office in the ASU Counselor Training Center.  Always intrigued by activities of the School of Sustainability, I browsed the booths and displays, sampling foods and collecting brochures.   I talked to a group of students about the pledge tree they had displayed there.  On each branch of the drawing of a tree were suggestions about living a greener lifestyle, and those who stopped by were invited to put a leaf on the tree on the branch that indicated a pledge they were willing to make.   Trees  so often inspire strong feelings in me, especially in the fall as the air finally cools and autumn colors glow.  In October afternoon sunshine on an ASU patio, I was ready to make a pledge.

Several of the actions listed on the tree branches were things I knew I could or would do, like using cloth bags for grocery shopping, or riding places on my bike more often.   But it made sense to pick one pledge of a new behavior to fully commit to doing every day.  Since I drink coffee most every day, I stuck my pledge leaf to the tree branch indicating a commitment to carry a reusable mug for my coffee, rather than buying and throwing away a paper cup each time I stopped at a campus coffee shop.  Since then I have brought my own mug from home most every work day, and I keep an extra mug in my office.  I carry the mug with me, and I estimate that I buy one cup per weekday on average for almost two academic years now, so that means I have reduced my contribution to campus garbage by approximately 320 cups since I made my original pledge.  That’s a lot less trash from just one person!

Now  I find myself noticing all the paper and plastic cups and food containers stuffed in overflowing campus trash cans, and I wonder what it would take to motivate more of the people who discarded them to pledge to bring their own reusable mugs and bowls.  If ten more people who drink coffee at the same rate I do also brought reusable mugs, there would be 3200 less disposable cups in the trash over the next two years; one hundred more people would mean 32,000 less cups trashed.  It takes some effort to develop the habit, but once established, it’s not much work to bring one’s  own mug.   I take the mugs home each night and stick them in the dishwasher, and I have a few mugs so I can grab one in the morning if the one from the day before isn’t yet clean.  It’s become a habit, and the pledge I made increased my commitment to establishing the habit.  I am interested to learn what could get more of us to bring reusable containers to hold our purchases rather than buying and trashing disposable containers with each new purchase.  What would get you to make a sustainability pledge you will keep?


Cindi Glidden-Tracey, Ph.D.

Clinical Associate Professor

Counseling and Counseling Psychology Programs

ASU School of Letters and Sciences