Calling All Fire Starters and Star Throwers

The number and types of changes facing sustainability champions requires collaborative and individual efforts. Become part of the conversation on how to be a Fire Starter or Star Thrower in your organization.


We are often encouraged to think big when it comes to the field of sustainability.  Our challenges of climate change, social injustices, and economic inequities are so large that we must push ourselves to embrace an expansive vision for a better future.

Margaret Mead is often quoted when challenges are large and a collaborative vision is needed.  She wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  It is rare to go to a sustainability conference without seeing Mead’s words on a poster, t-shirt or button.  Her message is a call to action for sustainability champions seeking ways to overcome the very large environmental, social and economic challenges of our times.

This type of expansive vision and empowerment of committed citizens certainly has it place in the sustainability field. Indeed, the energy of a committed group can heighten awareness that leads to policy and procedural changes at an organizational and governmental level.  Mead’s call to activism is desperately needed to address topics of water quality, climate change, waste management, and sprawl.  Torbjörn Lahti, Sweden, would call these people “firestarters”.

Torbjörn Lahti and his colleague Sarah James work at the community level to empower individuals to make a difference. Lahti and James work together to educate citizens around the world in the principles of ecomunicipality. Lahti describes those individuals who have the energy and commitment to begin this process as the “fire starters”.   Mead and Lahti would no doubt encourage all of us to be fire starters.

An engaged committed group of citizens is needed to maintain and grow the momentum to address large systemic challenges.  However, there is just as much need for individuals to identify the small steps that will make a difference in their homes, neighborhoods and offices.  In fact, people may remain more hopeful if they can see how the small changes they are making in their lives can have an impact on their local environments and communities.   Herein is the invitation to become a star thrower.

Loren Eisely published the 16 page essay Star Thrower in 1969 in The Unexpected Universe.   His now famous essay unfolds about a man waking the beach in the Costabel, most likely an imaginary place mirrored after Sanibel Island, Florida.  He writes…
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, “It makes a difference for this one.” I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”

In examining the complex challenges we face as a society, it is often hard to identify which starfish to focus on.  Antioch University New England’s Net Impact chapter launched an initiative that helps individuals to become star throwers in the realm of hunger and sustainability communities.

Their project, similar to others, is called the Perpetual Food Pledge . This simple pledge is taking root in businesses, nonprofits, schools and faith places.   Individuals sign the pledge stating…

“As long as I enjoy the privilege of food security,
each time I shop for my own groceries I pledge to purchase
a healthy non-perishable food item for members of my 
community who are food insecure.”

A basket or box in an office hallway slowly begins to fill with food donations from weekly shopping trips: a bag of rice, a can of beans, a box of pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, or a can of tuna fish. The gathered food is weighed and then delivered to a local food shelf.  The food pledge replaces the holiday food drive and stabilizes food donations throughout the year. This “one can at a time” approach helps individuals feel they are making a difference on the issue of hunger in their community.

One can at a time, one starfish at a time; we make a difference for a more sustainable and just world.  What are the star thrower projects in your life?
What are they ways you can make a small difference?
Are you a firestarter or a star thrower?

Learn more about Antioch University New England’s MBAin Sustainability

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