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PETER LEVIN: Egoism is more effective than altruism

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

This time we talked with Peter Levin, a deputy of the Izmailovskoye municipal formation and an eco-evangelist, coordinator of the Stroysharing, Aptekasharing and Requisitarium communities.

Фото из личного архива Петра Левина

A few facts about Peter:

- Resident of the Northern Capital

- Education: higher construction and incomplete management

- Has two children

- Before the pandemic, actively traveled across Europe to study the city structure

- Main activity at the present time: "I am changing the world around me the way I would like it to be."

Let's talk about time, when did you first become interested in ecological or green lifestyle?

PL: I don't position my lifestyle as "green". It's important for me. I am an ordinary person. This did not come naturally, it started with various selfish projects, and in general, I position myself as an egoist who simply changes the environment to more comfortable for myself, but in general, others also benefit from this.

In general, I entered civic activism in the year 2010-2011. Before that, I was not systematically interested in the topic. These were unconscious things until 2010 and in 2010, everything changed and this is due to the fact that my income had grown significantly, and I had satisfied my basic needs. If I have a place to live, I have something to get around with, something to eat, somewhere to rest, everything is fine. Until 2010, I lived like an ordinary person, with ordinary interests and pastimes. It was great of course, but gradually my income level increased and I began to look for how I could be useful to others. A normal story, in principle, according to Maslow's pyramid, nothing so interesting.

What activities do you mean by civic activism?

PL: There is no clear definition of the activity that I do. I don’t like the word “civic” and I don’t like the word “activism,” but it’s the closest phrase to what I’m doing. And I am engaged in various projects to promote separate collection, organization of an accessible environment, politics and a bunch of other things. I always have a problem with how to present myself.

How did I actually start to get involved in all these projects? I started sponsoring various events. These were, in fact, subbotniks, then the “separate collection” was connected and it was only then that it began to be developed in St. Petersburg. There was money, why not use it, because volunteers usually don't have money. Then it began to seem to me that I was buying myself as if an indulgence, that is, I gave money, and someone did a good deed. It still haunts me, because I am a municipal deputy. And I do this not because i'm a deputy, but because it is important to me. And then I began to volunteer, to come as a participant to subbotniks. But it turned out that among the volunteers there is a big problem regarding the organizers, because everyone wants to do something good, but there are no skills and, as a result, they just want someone to be responsible for everything. And we just came to collect garbage in bags. And I turned from an ordinary volunteer to an organizer, a project coordinator. And that's how it started. I did it then, and still out of the motivation to do good to others.

About eco-egoism

I worked actively in non-profit organizations, and then I experienced a burnout. This happens to any volunteer, depending on the intensity of involvement in the process, after about 2-3 years. I survived the first burnout and continued to work on projects, and then a few years later there was a more severe burnout with a depressive state. Unfortunately, I did not know how to self-diagnose and apply various chips so that it would not affect my well-being.

Another very important thing that I want to note in the work of a volunteer, is that at first it seems that they are doing a good deed and everyone around him should praised them, but the opposite is happening.

In our volunteer environment, we praise each other, and especially when there is a leader who understands that this is very important and tries to support his volunteers, but outside people get used to the fact that you clean it all up, and when you don’t clean it up, you are presented with complaints ... As if I owe something to someone! With this, my altruistic mood fades away. And this is where my eco-egoism arose. When they tell me that I have to do something to someone, I answer that I don’t owe anything to anyone, I do it because I think it's necessary. Thus, I get quasi-immunity from people who like to devalue other people's work. Because if I do for myself, then someone else's opinion is not important to me. This, of course, is not entirely true, but nevertheless it is a defensive which by many burnouts can be avoided. And the second point, why egoism is much more effective than altruism, is when the benefit becomes attractive to a wide range of people, and you are just a volunteer, then there is no quality criterion, that is, you can stop at any moment and say that I don’t want to do it anymore. When you are your own customer, that is, an egoist, the only quality criterion is your satisfaction, that is, you are your own measure, you will not do bad things to yourself. Protection plus honesty with oneself, this allows you to achieve higher rates, in my opinion.

Is eco-egoism related to ecology? What is the deep motivation for this process in your opinion?

PL: The planet, in fact, will perfectly cope with the anthropogenic trajectory, nothing will happen to it. In general, when we talk about environmental problems, these are not problems of the planet, these are exclusively human problems, because all the practices that we apply during our life, they are exclusively related to our life. On the planet, due to the fact that we cut down all the forests, well, ok, the desert will be normal, the planet does not care. The planet doesn't care if you have a duck living there for 10 years or 10 ducks living for six months. For the ecosystem, this is the same thing, died and died, that's okay. The fact that some species disappear, others appear. It's okay, because they do appear! The fact that there were bears, but now bacteria, is just a change for the ecosystem. Just look at how the coronavirus is developing.

Therefore, I started simply by arriving a barbecue on the beach, and it was dirty there - unpleasant. So gradually, my worldview changed, and I received more and more new information about it. Therefore, we start with some silly things, at least now they seem silly to me, with the knowledge I possess and, perhaps, what I am now promoting will also seem stupid to me in the future, to a person in general. In general, it is common to be delusional. Because we do not have the entire array of information, and the most important thing that we already possess may turn out to be false. We do not know why a person exists, maybe he exists in order to multiply bacteria? Such an intermediate stage ... Why am I, to the fact that if we talk about motivation, I just liked it, I liked the process itself. I separate the waste not because it is right or wrong, I separate it because it is not difficult for me and overall fun. Now I am a rather lazy person, I try not to produce them, because I have to go somewhere and give them away. I do not want. I'd rather stop producing them, and it will be easier for me, I will save time and resources.

About sharing communities

Sharing economy. Picture credit:

Briefly described, projects in the field of sharing collect what others don't want. Actually, why I started to develop the sharing economy, this is also one of the mechanisms so as not to burn out. All these topics about recycling and sorting waste they reduce damage, but they do not make it zero. The topic of the sharing economy removes the original problem, that is, you donated some thing, then garbage is not generated, its service life increases and we indirectly reduced consumer demand for this product. While there are a hundred thousand of us, this is not noticeable, but when there are millions of us, we globally reduce the demand for a certain thing. Why would we buy a new drill when we can borrow it from a neighbor? We will also save our material resource and, again, we don't need to send it for processing.

How old is construction sharing? Well, it's been four years. Before it, there was only one project in Russia related to the sharing economy - food sharing, a project that originated in Germany. The principles are different there, in Germany this work is between business and people, that is, B2C (Business to Consumer). And in Russia, food sharing and building sharing is B2B (Business to Business), in recent years, changes towards B2C have begun, this is the involvement of partners, but still this is not a systemic story. At the time of the creation of the community, the food sharing system existed, and I knew about it. I was in Estonia for a fundraising session, and it was necessary to develop a project. At the event, it is immediately decided whether it will be funded for implementation. The project did not receive real funding in the end, but I launched it.


This is a system for donating building materials and equipment to those who need it. The first task is to reduce pollution, due to the fact that we do not send construction materials to the landfill and to reduce consumption due to the additional use of materials. The second reason for launching the project is absolutely personal. At the time, I already had children, and there was a two-room apartment where five people lived. Young children have a lot of things because they need to be constantly updated. Just before the birth of my second child, I freshened up the house and did some renovating, and I still had building materials left. They took up a lot of space, and I had to put things somewhere. I had a little bit of grout, a little bit of plaster, that is, just the little things. But why not give all this to someone? Because of my first career, I worked in the construction industry in leadership positions and I understand a little in this area. And this is the third factor that influenced the emergence of the sharing system.

Unexpectedly for me and for my colleagues (because such projects are not done just by one person, and at first you should devote a sufficient amount of time to this), the project has proceeded very well. I want to clarify that the building sharing is not positioned as an eco-project, yes, we write there about the recycling and sharing of the economy, but it is for an ordinary person. We do not impose on them how to live, we provide a service, how they can get rid of the unnecessary and purchase the necessary. At launch, there was an explosive effect. On the first day, 30 people of our friends subscribed to us. On the second day, 150 people signed up, people from other communities that I lead. Then on the third day, we made publications in the media, we prepared press releases, and per day we received +600, + 1000 subscribers. In my opinion, in the first year we recruited 10,000 people without advertising, and now there are, in my opinion, about 34,000 people. At the same time, the peculiarity of the system of sharing and in general of sharing is that a person comes, fulfills their needs and leaves. They don't need to be a member of the group. Because of that, in fact, the audience is larger than the actual number of subscribers, because I see that I have 50 people a day joined the group and 30 leave. It works and works quite well, without requiring me to spend a lot of time, that is, I spend about half an hour a week on sharing, and that's enough. I have several assistants who also moderate the group and monitor posts on the wall in order to delete something unnecessary there. I answer all messages in the group myself and that's enough. The project lives on its own on the principles of human interaction, sometimes there are some complaints about the fact that someone promised something and did not fulfill it. We respond to these complaints, we generally try to support various requests and use system sharing as a platform for other social projects.


Initially, the idea behind this project was to create an opportunity to share different things for handicrafts. We formed a team, I even invited a friend who is engaged in handicrafts, because it is important for me that this is not too simple, but that it is useful for someone. I assumed that we would do different master classes there for the development of non-obvious things, but it did not work out.

There were people who launched Kraft Sharing. We were only glad and began to support the project, because we do not need to do anything and everything has already been done for us. Subsequently, it started the explosive effect of sharing in Russia and St. Petersburg. Beauty sharing, sports sharing and sharing of everything, anything, appeared. And there is some difference, someone wants to lead in their own way, someone in their own way, I do not see a problem in this and do not mind. We have a certain code where we prescribe the rules of conduct in sharing groups, because the basic rule is free use, and some people just type things for free for sale. In fact, these are very good people and of course, we are fighting with them, but if they really manage to sell these goods, then they will definitely go into action. Well, unfortunately, there is another problem, they collect everything and throw out most of it, because no one bought it.

And the requisitorium in the form in which it exists now appeared thanks to another friend of mine. She is a director, she needed to advertise her performance, and there she needed a certain stage props, and, in fact, we figured out what was needed for the performance, created a group and posted this information. Of course, this group, in addition to sharing, was aimed at supporting her creative project. Now it somehow lives on its own, I don't go there at all.


This project appeared much later than the Stroy Sharing group and was originally called the Free Pharmacy Petersburg. This group was led by a wonderful girl, her name is Sasha, then for some reason she renamed it to the Sharing pharmacy. And we generally follow each other and try to support each other, from the point of view of information modelling. In general, drugs are a complex topic, difficult from the point of view of legislative regulation. They began to complain about her, threaten with criminal prosecution, they simply hated her, and she closed the group and closed her VKontakte page. In general, she is not directly related to sharing, as far as I know, she is a gallery owner by profession, and it became difficult for her to do this, so she closed the group. And I got in touch with her and said that if it's hard for you, I can supervise the group. She said no, I will delete it. She broke up all the members, there were about 8000 people and really deleted the group. Well, we agreed that if I want, I can continue this topic. I took their short name and re-created the group and all id links returned to this short name. That is, there was such a concerted takeover.

All our sharing communities do not raise any questions, we do not have pre-moderation. If there are any spam messages, we just delete them. But due to the specifics of drugs, we have pre-moderation and pre-moderators are lacking, because you need knowledge of medicines, you need knowledge of prescription drugs. And the project is now skidding a lot. I can push it, but I took it not when I wanted to take it, but when it fell into my hands, in a dilapidated state. And at that moment, I thought I could easily pick it up. There will just be one more sharing, but here a slightly different story came out. Plus, I also planned to talk about the disposal of medicines there. According to the state, our population does not generate medical waste at all. We have the 83rd federal law, which describes all procedures for waste management, and from there medical waste, radiation waste and waste that affects the ozone layer are removed. Accordingly, according to the state, medical waste is generated only in the hospital and in the pharmacy, nowhere else is.

Accordingly, with the pharmacy, the current legislation restricts the circulation of psychotropic and narcotic substances. Naturally, we categorically do not place painkillers in our group, this also belongs to this group, secondly, these are prescription drugs, they can be distributed only through pharmacy chains, there are no other options, and we also cut off all prescription drugs for which there is a high demand and high recoil. People buy an expensive drug and if half of the package remains, then they want to attach it. Of course, paid return is also impossible, because the sale of drugs can only be carried out through the pharmacy network. And since we are a legal entity, we are limited to a very narrow group of drugs, according to the law these are dietary supplements, these are non-prescription drugs and drugs that are given free of charge, so we work with about a quarter of the segment of all drugs. And according to the legislation, we cut off about 75% of drugs. I cannot say that I am against such legislation, of course I am for it. Because our people, unfortunately, like to self-medicate and prescribe diagnoses and start treating them. Therefore, the project is not underway yet, and it will be difficult, because there are such restrictions. But we have a search for drugs, there people are looking for prescription drugs and offer prescription drugs, and we turn a blind eye to this, as if we see nothing, but the community does not offer anything. We have an idea to cooperate with the guys from the charitable hospital so that they monitor such ads and scoop them out before people take prescription drugs for the needs of the charitable hospital, I think we will implement this idea in the near future. Another important point is the period of use of the drug, yes, we understand that activated carbon after the expiration date remains activated carbon, and it can be used in agriculture and the brilliant green does not deteriorate, etc., but we are limited by current legislation and accept only those medicines that have a valid expiration date.

Future plans

We are currently developing a public warehouse. Each of the non-profit organization (NPO) has a certain set of equipment, and we all keep it with the volunteers, or maybe something is kept at home, someone rents garages, it’s difficult to get there and it’s not clear how to control the property. We want to launch these warehouses specifically for an environmental NPO, because we have approximately the same equipment, that is, for subbotniks these are shovels, rakes and other tools that the NPO buys, stores and uses ineffectively. Therefore, we want to make a public warehouse for everyone, for money, with a storekeeper, an accounting system and so on. And the second idea: every NPO has something that is not used every day, but at the same time it can be rented out, and the option of leasing as to each other at some preferential or barter rate and to other organizations that are not ready to invest in NPOs ... We are responsible for the safety of the equipment, the organization of the reception and delivery process, and we take a small commission from the rental process. And the third thing we want to do there, we want to make an offline sharing zone there, when people have already found each other and found goods that they want to exchange, but simply did not find the time and place to do it, where they can meet. I called it the Center for Rational Consumption, there may be many more various additional things, it depends on the size of the area of ​​the premises that we can rent or buy. And so far this is not a completely public story, but I am talking about it, because when I declare it, it stimulates me to realize this idea.

And at the end of our conversation, I would like to hear your wishes for those people who are just starting to think about an ecological lifestyle.

PL: Now I can't talk about wishes, I would just like to talk about the hierarchy of decision making. My basis is safety and human life, because if I die, then everything else will make no difference to me. If I get very sick, it’s also nothing good. The second is pleasure; if some business of my life does not bring me pleasure (that is, health, safety is physical, and pleasure is a psychological component), for example, in the morning I drink coffee, this ritual brings me pleasure, even if the coffee is not very good, the process itself is important. For example, in the morning I forgot my reusable glass, then I can safely drink coffee from a disposable one. I most likely will not take the lid because it is redundant, but I will take the composite paper cup and drink coffee, because if I do not drink it, I will be out of the resource and will suffer.

The essence is very simple, if you do not want to divide the factions into 50 varieties, do not divide. Hand over only waste paper, do only what brings you pleasure and satisfaction.

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