Rethinking ‘Reduce’

To lighten our global footprint to within ecological boundaries, we need to embrace transformative approaches to reducing our collective impact.

Although many solutions focus on reuse, recycling and disposal of materials and energy, there is less about how to prevent or avoid consumption and waste in the first place.

Let’s catalyze creative strategies for ‘rethinking reduce’ – including redefining progress, transforming how we use our time, and reframing ‘reducing’ as ‘healing’ and ‘maturing’.

Absolutely upstream

Reduce – it sounds so simple to do. Intuitively, we know that lowering the amount of resources consumed overall can help lighten carbon and ecological footprints. We also know that reducing the collective use of “stuff” can support a more equitable distribution of resources. But it’s easy to get stuck in the “how” of waste reduction. What’s most effective? How can households and decision makers move beyond small actions – like promoting reusable bags or metal straws – to more impactful actions?

So far, popular solutions to address the problems of over-consumption tend to be narrow and less effective in reducing overall consumption. The focus is mainly on reusing, recycling and disposing of products and materials that have already entered into use – and on how we manage the waste created during the phases of extraction, production, transport and consumption. Rarely do we focus on “upstream” considerations – reducing waste at its source by asking whether we need a product or service at all. We have an opportunity to unpack the practices and motivations that drive our resource consumption to begin with – and to explore fresh, creative ways to think about waste.

We have an opportunity to explore… fresh, creative ways to think about waste.

What do more powerful waste reduction campaigns and solutions look like? And how do we move beyond low-impact actions focused on “doing less harm,” to high-impact actions that improve human and planetary wellbeing? When we “rethink reduce,” we can stretch our imaginations and actions to embrace regenerative practices – ones that make things better and enable flourishing and thriving. We can shift our perceptions on ownership – from static and limited personal ownership, to more fluid and abundant sharing of resources. We can rethink our perspectives on what it means to live a good life. 

The Rethinking “Reduce” solution area unpacks the concept of consumption and waste reduction and explores transformative approaches to lighten our collective ecological footprint. With a focus on cities – where consumption and waste practices collect and collide – the Beacon is developing a framework that strategically thinks about reduce and challenges the cultures and practices of consumption and efficiency. To leverage change, we’re engaging with key actors who have to care about waste, helping them better understand where, when and how rethinking reduce can have the greatest impact on lightening ecological footprints.


This work: 

  • Highlights the need to accurately measure the scope of our waste challenges and to identify the highest-impact interventions

  • Offers valuable and impactful “reduce” strategies that support lighter ecological footprints that fit in Earth’s carrying capacity. 
  • Explores solutions that go “beyond reduce,” including ways to consume resources and manage waste that potentially lead to “net positive” or regenerative impacts. 
  • Shares innovative examples of how reduce is already being reimagined and put into action in pockets of industry, policy and social landscapes.  


Ultimately, the goal is to identify a spectrum of reduce strategies that can guide anyone working in the fields of waste, sustainable living and consumption towards more impactful solutions and practical steps forward.


Share Reduce Repair Initiative (SRRI)

SRRI brings together community, business and government across Canada to foster a circular economy that is a waste and climate solution, enables everyone to “live circular,” and supports resilient local economies and communities. It engages people, policy and producers to enable a greater supply of circular goods and services and to enhance demand for them, including by educating hundreds of people in reuse and repair at home.

The ReSOLVE Framework 

The ReSOLVE framework applies the principles of the circular economy to business. It provides businesses with actions that put the principles of circularity into practice: REgenerate, Share, Optimise, Loop, Virtualise, Exchange.

Zero Waste Hierarchy 

In support of a zero waste system, the zero waste hierarchy encourages additional actions and investment at the top part of the waste hierarchy that can be adopted by policymakers, industry and individuals.

Managing and Transforming Waste Streams: A Tool for Communities

The tool features a table of 100 measures that communities can employ to reduce waste and recover materials. It also includes over 300 implementation examples from communities across the U.S., including case studies of various municipal zero waste practices.

The Beacon is led by OneEarth Living and Hot or Cool, with generous support from the KR Foundation