Best of the Web: Sustainability Infographics


Infographics have the powerful ability to make complex information both compelling and easy to understand.  Although Wikipedia reports they’ve actually been around for centuries, in recent years they’ve been popularized on the internet through the power of social sharing.

Infographics are a powerful tool to communicate sustainability messages enabling organizations and non-profits to educate, increase awareness, and ultimately change behavior. Given the power of infographics to share sustainability messages, these have become increasingly popular over the past few years.

One of the most famous infographics of the past few years is Tracking Carbon Emissions, a piece that is both visually powerful and data rich.  Created by Stanford Kay for Atlantic Monthly in 2010, it is an interesting piece because the call to action is implicit: what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint from a national and global perspective?

I think it’s fun to review infographics: I get to learn something new and potentially powerful, and see it in an interesting format.   Julie Urlaub of Taiga Company curates an excellent collection of sustainability infographics on pinterest.  Here are five of my favorite sustainability infographics from this past year (or so):

5 – Plastic Bag Bans: A World Survey and How A Landfill Works infographics presented by shouldn’t be missed.  I like these infographics because the facts are clearly presented and the call to action is something we all can do: reduce our use of plastic bags.  The need to make this small change is particularly powerful when the facts are presented. Globally every minute one million plastic bags are used and each bag takes 1000 years to fully degrade.

San Francisco is well known for advocating sustainable measures.  I lived in San Francisco for several years and appreciated their ban on plastic bags which has recently been expanded.  While living in San Francisco, I bought two reusable Chico bags.  Although it’s been nearly five years since that purchase I still have these durable bags (which fold up to almost nothing) and use them nearly every day.

4 – Is It Green To Be Green? is a compelling infographic because it takes us through various life stages sharing the cost of living green versus traditional living demonstrating the compelling savings attached to green living.  Paydayloans UK makes the case that making greener decisions can save you nearly $100,000 over the course of your life “giving the planet time to recouperate, and your wallets time to flourish.”

Infographic: Is it green to be green3 – How Bikes Can Save Us builds the health case case for biking instead of commuting by car.  This is a tough sell for Americans, where our cities were constructed for automobiles, and where our lifestyles for several generations have been literally geared for auto use.  This infographic reminds us that 70% of American trips are under two miles, which suggests we could change our lifestyle.

My favorite fact shared here is that “the average person will lose 13 pounds the first year commuting to work.”  Aside from health benefits, there are financial benefits to biking as well.  We’re reminded that European nations incentivize healthier commuting by heavily taxing gas. I recently returned from a trip to Reykjavik where gas was $13 per gallon!  Although gas prices aren’t that hefty in America, I wouldn’t mind spending less on gas and losing a few pounds by using my bike more and my car less.
Biking And Health

2 – Sustainability 101 builds the business case for sustainability. It suggests that what is good for the environment provides businesses with savings and that actually doing the right thing for the environment is also rewarded by Wall Street (and customers).  This infographic reports that companies that ranked their sustainability efforts most highly saw share prices increase by 33%.

I like this infographic because it’s the approach taken by my company.  At Extra Space Storage our focus is finding sustainability programs that benefit shareholders and the environment. When we find a fit we move forward in a big way!  Solar Savings: A Solar Innovation Story was an infographic we developed last year to share how our energy efficiency initiatives, and specifically our solar program, benefits investors and customers.  Since we started installing solar in 2010, we’ve added solar to over 100 properties and will be realizing the benefits of this program for the next 30 years.

1 – My personal favorite is the Green Guide to Dating and Love.  Timberland surveyed 1000 American singles adults and learned, not surprisingly, that environmentally friendly behaviors are helpful to finding love.  Or in their cheeky language:  “nothing screams romance like reusable shopping bags.”

Timberland’s survey highlights some of the conflicting desires of the American public when it comes to sustainable/environmental behavior.  We learn from the infographic How Bikes Can Save Us  (#3 on this list) that in the Netherlands only 10% of the population is obese and that 25% of trips are made by bike versus 1% in US, where 30% of the population is obese. However Timberland reports:

“This isn’t Amsterdam; American women do not want to be picked up for a date on a bicycle! More than half (52%) of women would reconsider a second date if they were picked up for a first date on a bicycle.”  Source: Eco Love Survey

Perhaps for American singles swapping the gym for an occasional outdoors date is the key since an outdoor adventure was most highly ranked for an ideal eco-date (54% of survey respondents liked this idea).

Combining the learning from How Bikes can Save Us, Is It Green To Be Green?, and the Green Guide to Dating and Love, maybe our green and traditional desires don’t need to conflict at all.  If we bike to work we’ll slim down, save money, and be in great shape to make an eco-friendly bike date with that attractive single we notice using a reusable bag at the grocery store.  We’ll realize health benefits, financial benefits and maybe even romantic benefits – all while doing our part to help our communities have a cleaner, more sustainable impact.

Emily Emmer