Sanitation is king

After having hosted workshops for the “real WTO”, the World Toilet Organization, this May, we at betterplace have become more sensitive to the global toilet and sanitation issue. Thus today, over lunch, new team member Jens Best (we’ll introduce him more thorougly next week), on the spur of the moment, came up with an intriguing scenario for a promotion video for the WTO (you might here more about it in a few weeks time).

Then, this evening, I came across an article in the New York Times, combining my passion for anthropology, my newly found interest in sanitation and a meeting I had this week with Andreas Scholz-Fleischmann, member of the managing board of BSR, the local Berlin city department of sanitation.

The NYT-featured anthropologist Robin Nagle, who teaches at New York University has been studying trash collectors for years. To her, city employees who sweep your streets and collect your garbage are “folk sociologists.”

They can give you a demographic and sort of a sociological and anthropological interpretation of a given block or a given section of the city that’s remarkably detailed

Nagle writes about the image problem NY sanitation workers have. To counteract the stigma, she and some colleagues at NYU want to create a garbage museum.

We have museums dedicated to the police, to firefighters, to mass transit, to various ethnicities, to skyscrapers, even to sex. But oddly, there is nothing devoted to sanitation, though we cannot live without it. It’s plainly more important than sex.

(No way, you say? Then try this simple test. Can you get through the day without having sex? O.K., now ask yourself if you can get through the day without having to toss something into the garbage. We rest our case.)

Reading this, I was struck by the power of clever advertising. Because over the past couple of years, BSR, the Berlin sanitation company, has managed to turn its reputation around. With the help of creatively worded campaigns, the image of the men in the orange overalls has shifted dramatically, loosing much, if not all of its stigma.  

The same shift in public opinion is possible, if companies take CSR seriously and communicate it successfully to their stakeholders. 


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