Use Less Stuff: An Interview With Sustainability Expert Bob Lilienfeld

By Mary Silver, Epoch Times
November 20, 2014 7:09 pm Last Updated: November 21, 2014 4:17 pm

Use Less Stuff Day is celebrated in America on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. As the holidays can mark a peak of consumerism and waste, ULS offers a way to enjoy the period in a more sustainable way.

Environmentalist, author, commentator, and photographer Bob Lilienfeld started the observance. Here is an interview with him.

Epoch Times: Why did you start Use Less Stuff Day?

Bob Lilienfeld: Americans throw away 25 percent more stuff per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Use Less Stuff Day was created to alert people to this incremental 5 million tons of waste, and help them learn how to reduce it.

Epoch Times: Tell us more about the Sustainable Products Certification Program.

Mr. Lilienfeld: We want to help businesses and other organizations promote products that have undergone significant decreases in material usage or energy consumption. If at least a 10 percent reduction versus similar or previous products can be proven, we allow the products to feature the ULS logo for a two-year period. The cost to do so is minimal. We charge only our time to certify and announce the claim. There is no ongoing royalty fee.

Bob Lilienfeld, editor, The ULS Report (Courtesy Bob Lilienfeld)
Bob Lilienfeld, editor, The ULS Report. (Courtesy of Bob Lilienfeld)

Epoch Times: Sometimes I hear contradictory things about the greenness or lack of greenness of things such as cloth versus disposable diapers and paper versus plastic bags. How can a regular person cut through the mass of information?

Mr. Lilienfeld: There is a great deal of scientific evidence that generally supports lighter weight products and packages, regardless of the material used. In many cases, this means that from a larger lifecycle perspective, plastics produce the least amount of waste in terms of materials used, energy consumed, and greenhouse gases that are generated. So, consumers should simply focus on being moderate in terms of the amount of materials and energy they use. If they think about saving time and money, they will save natural resources as well.

Epoch Times: I’ve read that solving environmental problems needs concerted, governmental/corporate efforts, and that emphasizing individual things like home recycling is too small. What do you think?

Mr. Lilienfeld: There is no question that by itself, home recycling is not going to solve the big environmental issues such as greenhouse gas production, loss of biodiversity, and deforestation. In fact, there is a danger that by simply putting their trash in the recycling bin rather than the trash bin, people inadvertently reward themselves for consuming! 

Frankly, consumption is the real environmental problem, and its key causes are global population growth and increasing affluence. Governments and industries must work together to ensure a sustainable quality of life while continually innovating to help people do more with less.

Epoch Times: Anything else people should think about or do to use less stuff?

Mr. Lilienfeld: It’s holiday time. Think about your own childhood memories and you’ll realize that they were experiential, not material. Give gifts that provide lasting experiences: tickets to sporting or cultural events, trips to local theaters or museums, and even restaurant gift cards. No material goods, wrapping paper, or ribbons are needed. The gift receiver will enjoy the gift today, and will also remember it for years to come.

Epoch Times: Thank you so much for being willing to do an email interview. We like to highlight green living and sustainable practices.

Bob Lilienfeld is editor of “The ULS Report,” a newsletter aimed at spreading the benefits of source reduction (ULS means Use Less Stuff). He and co-author Dr. William L. Rathje of the University of Arizona, wrote “Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are.” He served on the Corporate Environmental Management Program Advisory Board at the University of Michigan Business School, and the Sustainable Enterprise Institute Advisory Board at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.