The 4 Rs of Behavior Change
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The 4 Rs of Behavior Change

The previous chapter offered one set of suggestions, picking a few big categories and demonstrating the possibilities for living differently with no diminution of quality of life.

But there are other ways of organizing our thought about behavior change. Back in 2019, my colleagues and I at Amasia started thinking about how we could steer our venture capital firm towards supporting behavior change at scale. We came up with a framework we call "The 4 Rs of behavior change."

What are the 4 Rs?

The 4 Rs help structure our work at Amasia and organize how we think about tangible, scalable ways to change behavior. We invest in companies that catalyze these changes in behavior.

Source: Amasia
Source: Amasia

This framework reflects a very different way of thinking about climate- and sustainability investing (or innovation). Especially in R3, and to a certain extent in R4, the sustainability angle can be harder to see if you've been thinking about "Sustainability" with a capital S—that is, the way it is marketed to the world.

But I am confident that if you look through to the underlying effects on our world of adopting these solutions, you will quickly see the point.

Why 4?

There are seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. Project Drawdown has one hundred solutions. There are numerous weighty tomes put out by consulting firms that lay out ESG frameworks with dozens and dozens of "metrics."

We wanted to keep it simple and prevent complexity paralysis for the average person—we believe that these four cover the vast majority of "things that can help change behavior."

Am I now going to blather on about Amasia's investments?

You haven't made it this far to hear a venture capitalist talk about his firm's investments. You are here to learn about possibilities for behavior change in your life. And the good news is that the 4 Rs are a framework you can use to assess the impact of companies long after you've read this book.

I'll walk you through some examples—a few of which are Amasia companies, but most of which are not. Some of the companies on this list may surprise you, but I hope they provoke you to think more creatively, as we all will have to, about how we can collectively fight the climate crisis.

R1: Reduce and Regenerate

When we are thinking about investing in this category at Amasia, we use the following guiding question—"How do we help consumers, corporations and governments make better data-driven decisions about climate and sustainability?"

From the standpoint of individual behavior change, actions in R1 involve trying to get a hold of the underlying data in order to make decisions about either reducing your carbon footprint or helping to regenerate the biosphere. Think of this "R" as the one that requires you to be the most intentional.

Ten years ago, this might have been hard. Not so anymore, and getting easier by the day. Why? Because in part thanks to new kinds of tech companies, we now have a lot more data with which to make decisions. Here are some examples:

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  • Yelp: One of the ways we can have a big impact on the climate is by eating less meat. Yelp allows people to find delicious vegetarian options near to them, making eating less meat more accessible and appealing. "Wait," you may be saying, "Yelp didn't intend to fight the climate crisis!" To that, I say, "But you do, and you can use Yelp to do so!"
  • PaperKarma: PaperKarma allows you to unsubscribe from all that pesky junk mail you receive, reducing the burden on both your patience and on the Earth's forests.
  • Clarity: Clarity's services allow users to measure air pollution levels reliably and cost-effectively. Based on the data from sensors, cities and companies can understand and identify when and where air pollution is happening and who is being exposed. 
  • Joro: Joro is a digital platform that provides users with information about how their specific actions and purchases contribute to their carbon footprint. Through Joro, individuals can understand their footprint, take action to reduce that footprint, and support high-impact projects that reduce and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

R2: Reuse and Recycle

Our guiding question for this category is: "How can we turbocharge the shift in views on consumption towards re-use and recycling?"

This is the "easiest" of the Rs to explain—the title says it all. The creation of virtually any physical product results in damage to our natural environment. For example, 84 percent of an Apple laptop's life-cycle emissions come from production and transport. Our focus here is on companies that help people reuse items that already exist so that new ones don't need to be produced. This is a fantastic area in which to change behavior dramatically. Here are examples:

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  • ThredUp: ThredUp may not be exclusively considered a "climate company," but it has allowed people to give their used items a second home. In fact, the company's sales have displaced an estimated 500,000 tons of . Yes, it would be better to not buy anything at all, but if people need to buy things, secondhand marketplaces like ThredUp are the best option.
  • Carfax: Carfax has helped thousands of Americans buy used cars, thereby reducing the number of new vehicles being produced in the United States. Of course, the best way to reduce carbon emissions is to not have a car at all, but a used (fuel-efficient) car is better than a new one.
  • Isthmus: Isthmus is an app that allows people to trade clothing and other items. Members can join communities for sourcing and swapping these items, providing an alternative to fast fashion.

R3: Replace Bricks with Bytes

When investing in this category at Amasia, we ask the question, "How do we help build the infrastructure required for a dramatic expansion in remote services?"

R3 covers companies that facilitate, directly or indirectly, the transition to remote services.

29% of US greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation in 2019. Traveling with electric vehicles will dramatically reduce such emissions, but the best way to reduce transportation emissions is simply to reduce travel.

As a result of many activities being halted or reduced in frequency during the pandemic, we experienced a drop in emissions of about 6% compared to the previous year. While significant, this decrease was far smaller than most anticipated and far less than what we need to make significant progress. Furthermore, as the pandemic comes under control in some regions of the world, emissions are rising back to normal levels.

This is a hugely important area that lends itself to the most change in how our society functions. Because the changes are just happening around us every day, we may not fully perceive their full effect—and how to accelerate them. This also often means, for me, that the most comprehensive and forceful areas in which to take action are often not associated with sustainability at all, which constantly blows my mind.

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Here are three examples:

  • Zoom and Dialpad: These are the two companies that have most dramatically shifted my carbon footprint. Though I used to travel frequently for business, I now conduct the vast majority of my business meetings remotely. And it's not just me and the business world—one study estimated that a single in-person academic conference could be responsible for 16,000 metric tons of emissions. The pandemic changed the paradigm for travel, and we have to give kudos to Zoom, Dialpad, and others for showing people what is possible.
  • BetterHelp: BetterHelp offers counseling with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home. It is just one example among many in the health sector of a service that can be moved online, to the benefit of both convenience and the planet's health.

R4: Rationalize Resources

In R4, our guiding question is, "How do we help make supply chains for consumer consumption far less wasteful?"

This R involves thinking about what it takes to get goods from point A to point B. In your own life, you are "point B"; and "goods" includes really everything that you purchase.

For almost any physical good, global supply chains are massively overbuilt because of the relentless focus on consumer convenience. This category focuses on companies that help supply chains become more efficient and reduce waste.

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  • Mealime: Food production is responsible for a quarter of global emissions, and a quarter of those emissions are attributable to the 1.6 billion tons of food wasted every year. Mealime allows you to plan a week of meals in advance and add the ingredients to a shopping list. The algorithm even suggests meals to add to the plan that use ingredients from other meals, ensuring that you will use everything you buy at some point in the week.
  • Living Food: Living Food is an e-grocery store that procures exclusively from top local artisans using environmentally sustainable practices. Living Food eliminates many efficiencies of the traditional grocery store model. By sourcing locally, delivery service can be optimized thanks to the close proximity of suppliers. By operating digitally, the company avoids waste, which is more difficult to do in a physical store that has to keep many items at the ready.
  • Super: This isn't all about food—there are many items whose supply chains could be improved. Super, for example, is a social commerce platform in Indonesia that provides affordable access to essential consumer goods via its network of community-based agents and logistic centers. This streamlines the existing supply chain with direct fulfillment and removes various intermediaries between the producer and consumer.

A Quick Note

This is just a starting point. If I could summarize all of the above in a pithy phrase, it would be: “be intentional.” In your choices and in the behavior you model, you can be a real agent for change.

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