In the wake of the success of the Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, now executive director of Greenpeace, had the opportunity to travel to dozens of colleges and universities. In her keynote talk at the opening ceremony of the AASHE 2014 conference in Portland on Sunday, she shared that while in college she thought of the journey to sustainability as a sprint. Today, she has matured into thinking about it as a relay race, where we might not be around to see the results we are working toward.
According to Leonard, change is slow and hard. Below are several tips from Leonard on how to reconnect with your role as a changemaker and recommendations on leverage points that can make a real difference, including commit to 100 percent renewable energy, divest from fossil fuels, leverage purchasing and encourage student engagement, as well as some great advice on how to stay positive on the path to sustainability (don't miss the last quote at the bottom of the post). While targeted toward higher education professionals, many of these tips apply to any company or institution.
Forget about striving to be an eco-perfect person. We can't perfect our lifestyles, nor our institutions, within a context that is not sustainable. As many of us know, swimming against the current, against the existing system, is exhausting. She argued, to get serious about innovation for sustainability, the most important thing we can do is reconnect with our sense of being a changemaker and flex our citizen muscle. Her call to action: Move beyond small, individual, minor actions and find ways to scale-up bigger, more strategic solutions.
I had the great opportunity to speak personally with Leonard the morning after her speech. I was curious what top action she recommended as a potential game-changer for higher education.
”I think that going to clean energy is the number one thing. Commit to 100 percent renewable energy," Leonard said. "This is really important. We can’t expect the energy providers to switch over unless they are secure the demand is there."
She pointed to Greenpeace's new campaign Clicking Clean, which is working with business leaders to green their data centers. “If places like Apple, Google and Facebook can do it, colleges and universities can do it,” stressed Leonard. Collective commitments from these companies is providing a clear signal to utilities to build more renewable energy facilities, rather than coal-burning power plants.
Some other ways you can exercise your citizen muscle include:
"There is one other thing I do. I just made a personal decision not to get depressed. It is a personal decision. It is my most personal, fundamental act of resistance. I feel that these planet destroyers have taken so many things from us — the people who I loved that have died from cancer, the rivers that I used to swim in as a kid that I can’t swim in now, and my ability to breastfeed my child without fear. They have taken so many things from me. So I decided to draw a line right in front of me and say you can’t have my sense of joy and hope. It is a very fundamental, personal act of resistance to wake up every morning happy and excited."Images by the author
Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.
Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.
She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.
You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.