One Million Plastic Cups

We’ve all seen the stats. Millions of tonnes of CO2 here, billions of plastic bottles there. Pretty soon it’s all just a sea of number soup. Until you see the work of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan.
The image above, for instance, looks like a forest of conduits or ductwork – until you realize that it is hordes of plastic cups stacked on each other – one million plastic cups, to be exact – the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.
“Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing,” Says Jordan, “…making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.” Jordan doesn’t stop with the purely visual. His ‘Energizer’ image depicts a quote from the company’s own PR department on disposable battery use, using 170,000 batteries, equal to fifteen minutes of Energizer battery production. Beyond the fascinating and sobering critique of our consumer society, Jordan’s images also hold an important lesson for those of us who want to market products and services for a better world. The next time you are tempted to glibly toss a statistic into an ad, annual report or brochure, think twice. Humans respond much more intuitively to images than to numbers that must first be processed internally. Is there a better way to illustrate the calculus? Can you demonstrate the effect of your claim? Better yet, can you improve your environmental footprint even further?
I encourage you to check out for yourself. Click on the ‘Running the Numbers’ image and scroll down. You’ll never look at statistics the same way again.

P.S. Remember  this image next time you’re writing a press release. How might your words be interpreted visually?

All images ©Chris Jordan, used with permission

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