More from MIT’s Senge on Recycling and Systems Thinking

As we mentioned in a post last week, the November 2010 issue of Fast Company has a good piece on the limits of corporate sustainability by Anya Kamenetz, called “The Starbucks Cup Dilemma.” The question of how to get some of the billions of cups Americans put in the garbage each year is a complicated one, especially given that consumers have been trained to buy, drink and toss.

MIT Sloan’s Peter Senge (left), founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning, is one of the big thinkers about the issue. In a follow-up to her piece, Kamenetz has a new Q&A with Senge at fastcompany.com that covers his broader interest in the waste stream and the potential for a gigantic “underground economy” built around trash. One of Senge’s comments:

“In principle we have a lot of stuff now that's highly recyclable. It could be a very big business. A friend of mine who retired in petrochemicals said, I have this vision that one day people will adopt the same attitude oil companies have today, exploring the world looking for new reservoirs of oil, except they'll be exploring the reservoirs of waste all over the world, and making it useful for society.”


For even more on the topic, check out a 30 minute video of Senge from the Sustainable Brands ’10 conference last June. The talk was called “Recycling the Cup: Systems Thinking and the Importance of Getting the Questions Right” and it features both Senge and Ben Packard, of Starbucks.

Also, our own MIT SMR interview with Senge, part of the MIT Sustainability Interview Series, covers some of his specific suggestions for how companies can, right now, stop adopting sustainability measures that simply do “less bad” and start doing ones that do “more good” for both business and the world around it.

“In a relatively short period, with a combination of internal process improvements, there’s a lot that can happen,” says Senge in the MIT SMR interview. “Figure out where your energy goes. Very few manufacturing organizations are technically sophisticated in their use of energy, but plenty of good consultants can get you there pretty quickly.”

3 Comments On: More from MIT’s Senge on Recycling and Systems Thinking

  • Anupam | October 29, 2010

    Recycling will go a long way in utilising our limited resources and also in curbing pollution and add up to sustainability.

  • Laurent Blondeau (evidencesx) | November 16, 2010

    I like really much this subject, but if recycling is an obvious good idea for sustainability, energy to do so is to be considered too. Recycling needs sometimes so much energy that we simply admit to stand for wastes as final goal. I know it can’t be sufficient, but raise recycling must not be wasting energy so far…
    So this idea can’t be resumed apart and has to be studied with the whole circle: collecting, transportation, investments and buildings, recycling, washing…re-using.
    It will so be a real net progress…

  • Ryan | November 18, 2010

    Let’s remember that the 3 Rs are Reduce–>Reuse–>Recycle…in that order! We shouldn’t skip the first two Rs and make ourselves feel better because something is recycled. In reality, these items are likely downcycled into something that is just a pit stop on the way to a landfill. Reduce, Reuse, THEN Recycle!

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