Less Mess, More Good

There’s no doubt that each of us would do well to stop walking by the little messes we could easily clean up and start creating more beauty and sustainability where we can.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

We all have plenty of opportunities to do a little spring-cleaning in our lives. From the piles of clutter that have built up in our homes and offices to the little misunderstandings we’ve created with the people we care about.

And then, of course, there are all the daily patterns and habits we fall into without even being aware of it — the messes we create or pass by day after day without giving them a moment’s thought.

One small but maddening mess I seem to confront on a daily basis is parking-lot litter. It doesn’t matter where I go — grocery stores, neighborhood restaurants, corporate headquarters — no matter how pristine and well-landscaped the surrounding areas might be, it seems there is always some discarded garbage lying around just waiting for some person to bend down and pick it up.

On the days I’m walking by, that person is me. I don’t mind picking up trash. In fact, it always makes me feel good to do it. But it never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to toss trash down on the ground, and how very few are willing to pick it up.

“Well, it’s not my trash,” we might say. And what we mean, of course, is that we’re not the ones who put it there. Fair enough, but in my view, all trash is equal opportunity trash. It’s our trash. And we all stand to gain by doing what we can to both minimize it and see it disposed of properly.

To that end, here are a few more waste-reducing priorities I’ve begun working on in my own world:

  • I used to drink a lot of bottled water — not just when I was out and about, but at home, too. One day I realized that I was producing a lot of plastic waste, so I got water filters installed at home and at work, and what do you know? The deluge of bottles slowed to a trickle. I still use bottled water in some situations, but now I think about it more, and I look for opportunities to bring my own filtered water with me in a reusable container when I can.
  • I also took a look around at my personal possessions one day and realized that some of them were just taking up space. It struck me that every object, toy, tchotchke and “just in case” backup item requires a certain amount of energy, resources and time — not just to manufacture and obtain, but also to maintain, organize, insure and store. So I’ve started paring back my worldly goods a bit. This is just a small change, but to me, carrying a slightly lighter load feels good.
  • And then there’s the work we’ve been doing at Life Time Fitness. As I mentioned in my April 2007 letter, we have been striving to build and maintain our clubs with a more efficient and sustainable approach. To that end, I have continued to challenge our team of architects, designers and engineers to make our facilities more environmentally friendly. We started at the South Austin club, which opened in October 2007, and I’m happy to report that we’ve made some exciting progress: That club uses approximately 20 percent less energy and potable water, and discards 20 percent less wastewater. We’ve incorporated these advancements into our prototype, and going forward, we plan to make them a part of our new buildings whenever possible. What’s more, the new prototype provides a healthier indoor environment and has a reduced heat-island effect on the surrounding community. I think these are some great first steps. We’re now looking at more ways to reduce our environmental impact, while creating even better results for our customers, shareholders and neighbors.

The interesting thing about all these changes is that they’ve been rewarding in ways I never anticipated. They didn’t just reduce mess, they created new sources of pleasure, efficiency and satisfaction that surprised me. There’s certainly more that I can do — more that each of us can do — to reduce waste and ugliness. And there’s no doubt that each of us would do well to stop walking by the little messes we could easily clean up and start creating more beauty and sustainability where we can. That’s what I tell myself every time I bend down to pick up a piece of trash, anyway. And I hope you will, too.

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