The old 80-20 rule when it comes to sustainability

Pareto Principle — the 80-20 rule — and the Law of the “Vital Few”

Here is where I first learned about the Pareto Principle; while studying Industrial Engineering in the late sixties.

One of the coolest and most powerful things that I learned as an undergraduate in Industrial Engineering was Pareto’s Law, which has come to be known as the 80-20 rule. It’s a common rule of thumb in business that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers, in the fashion business 80% of our inventory came from 20% of our styles, and so on.

Essentially, the most important thing is the identification of the “vital few,” regardless what you are studying. For there is always a “vital few” twenty percent of the items that will account for a disproportionately large portion of the total. And that is where you must focus your attention. So how does this theory relate to living green? Let me explain…

The "sunset" on the era of cheap oil on planet Earth. It's time to start living like we would if the price at the pump were already $10 a gallon or more.

Yesterday, I had an “energy audit” conducted in my home. They conducted tests, identified air leaks, made some repairs and replaced ten of my lamp bulbs with CFL’s (compact florescent light bulbs). Then, in my report, they identified the “vital few” things that I could do to save more energy (and money) on my electricity and heating bills.

Having already installed new windows throughout my home a few years ago, my “vital few” for saving energy was all about adding more insulation to my attic. It will cost about $1,000 and will pay for itself in about four years — or less, depending on the rising cost of heating oil.

Water, our most precious natural resource, is being wasted by the highly inefficient process of producing meat and dairy calories for human consumption.

So that experience got me thinking about how the Western world has completely ignored the “vital few” when it comes to our environment. Many scientists around the world are well aware of the following “vital” information regarding the way we eat. Compared to whole plant foods on a per calorie basis, our Western diet requires:

  • Twenty times more land
  • Twenty times more energy
  • Twenty times more water

Some of the folks at the United Nations also understand these “vital few” numbers and recently announced that “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.” But no mention of that was made on the evening news and I haven’t heard any of our world leaders talking about it.

Our land, topsoil and forests are primarily riding on how we choose to feed ourselves.

All we hear is the “politically correct” stuff that has nothing to do with changing the way we live. When it comes to saving water or energy, all we hear about are things like taking shorter showers, turning off our lights, etc.

All good things, but they’re almost insignificant (a drop in the bucket) when compared to walking away from our incredibly wasteful and harmful diet consisting of meat and dairy three meals a day. This blog and Chapter 8 in our book is full of information about “why no one has ever told you this before,” and it all boils down to one word — money.

The Bottom Line. Once one learns enough of the facts about the way we eat and the staggering amount of damage that it is causing — if she continues to eat the Western diet — then she may no longer refer to herself as an environmentalist. And, according to my own informal survey, 100% of the people in Connecticut claim to really “care” about the environment. But what does “care” mean to them?

Being politically correct?

Or taking decisive personal action to address the “vital few” causes of environmental damage?

My background in Industrial Engineering led to my own "blinding flash of the obvious" when I first began to learn about our harmful, wasteful, cruel and completely unsustainable Western diet.

Want to answer that question in your area? Just do your own “shopping cart survey” the next time you go to the supermarket. According to my survey, 95% of our fine Connecticut citizens fall in the “politically correct” camp.

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at

PS: Occasionally an unauthorized ad may appear beneath a blog post. It is controlled by WordPress (a totally free hosting service). I do not approve or personally benefit whatsoever from any ad that might ever appear on this site. I apologize and urge you to please disregard. 

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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1 Response to The old 80-20 rule when it comes to sustainability

  1. Andrew says:

    So true. People who claim to care about the environment often pay only lip service, and I see many business owners who want to and are trained to enact serious, real change, but are turned off by people telling them never to buy a bottle of water ever again. The 80/20 rule is important here.

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