Eight Steps to Overcome Barriers To Sustainability Home and Away
When Anna Clark started her journey into sustainability, it came after “the sickening revelation” that her household consumed five planets worth of resources. Now she has a sustainability consulting practice, has moved to a platinum-level LEED certified home, planted a garden, and adjusted her consumer habits considerably. Her ecological footprint measure says she’s now down to three planets. In this article, Anna comes up with an all-American eight step personal sustainability plan, which now goes global.
Overcoming the Barriers to a Sustainable America by Anna Clark
Can five percent of the earth’s people consume one quarter of its energy? America is proof the answer is yes. This leaves some thinking, “How can one country go on like this when two billion people live in energy poverty?” Our lopsided consumption is not limited to energy.
While one third of Americans struggle with their weight, 800 million suffer from hunger. Convenient and over-simplistic explanations include apathy, consumerism, and good old-fashioned greed. However, only some of the fault lies with human (and not uniquely American) foibles. The greater truth is more complicated.
The most insidious reasons for the unfair distribution of life’s vital resources are systemic. Cheap, abundant energy, a car-based culture, and a business-friendly financial system are a few of the reasons why sustainable development hasn’t taken root. This is changing, albeit slowly, because the very notion of conservation runs counter to a consumer-based economy.
As countries like India and China adopt our ways, the scope of the problem goes global. If America is to blame for overconsumption, then we might call developing countries that manufacture our products our accomplices. But condemnation is unproductive in a world so desperate for solutions.
Fortunately, the steps to a sustainable America are simpler than we think, and the positive ripples have the potential to span the globe. Here are eight simple actions that will cost us little while fostering a sustainable future and restoring us to a position of leadership for the long haul:
1. Promote energy efficiency. According to a McKinsey report, the U.S. economy has the potential to reduce annual non-transportation energy consumption by roughly 23 percent by 2020, eliminating more than $1.2 trillion in waste – well beyond the $520 billion upfront investment that would be required. The reduction in energy use would result in the abatement of 1.1 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – the equivalent of taking the entire U.S. fleet of passenger vehicles and light trucks off the roads.
2. Conserve. Too many of us have confused the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of stuff. The proliferation of cheap goods makes hyper-consumerism too easy. Product sales keep our economy churning. They also create waste and pollution while exacerbating the offshoring of American manufacturing. The Center for the New American Dream provides tools that help use live well with less and enjoy life more.
3. Pursue conscious capitalism. The land of opportunity can be a profound lever of social change when we apply American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to solving the world’s most pressing problems. Businesses like TOMS, which purchase a pair of shoes for impoverished villagers for every pair it sells, prove that having a mission can drive success, not hinder it.
4. Learn. Claiming you don’t know the law isn’t enough to avoid a traffic violation. The same should go for being a global citizen. Awareness is part of functioning as a member of 21st century society. For example, did you know that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by just 10%, we could have enough grain left over to feed 60 million people? There is empowerment in recognizing our individual roles, however small, in mitigating issues from world hunger to water scarcity.
5. Teach. You don’t need a world stage to teach sustainability. A small garden patch will do. If you have a child and a recycling bin, or a next-door neighbor and a backyard, you have an audience and a platform large enough to make a difference.
6. Vote with your dollars. We exercise our voice for a better planet with every product we buy, or decide not to buy. Purchasing organic produce is good; growing your own is even better. Shopping is a reality, but we can spend more consciously by learning labels and researching the sustainability programs of our favorite companies.
7. Forget partisan politics. George Washington warned us of the dangers of the two-party system. It’s a good thing our forefathers didn’t live to see us mired in this political divide. Sustainability, with its economic and health benefits, is one value that we can all share. Green is the glue that can pull us back together.
8. Take responsibility. Sustainability is not a policy decision to be left to institutions like government or business. It’s a personal expression of respect for our fellow man. We need to get sustainability out of our heads and into our hearts. To get radical, think of “green” as the Golden Rule: treat your (global) neighbor as yourself.
When I started my journey into sustainability, it was following the sickening revelation that my household consumed five planets worth of resources. Since that time, I’ve launched a sustainability consulting practice, moved to a platinum-level LEED certified home, planted a garden, and adjusted my consumer habits considerably. I recently recalculated our ecological footprint to gauge how well I’m doing. Now we’re down to three planets. Disappointing, but progress nevertheless. My point? Natural living doesn’t come naturally for most Americans, no matter how hard we may try. It requires change – that’s the real inconvenient truth.
The good news is that easy incremental changes on all our parts can improve matters considerably. The economic opportunities inherent in these simple solutions easily compensates for the cost in addressing the problems. Sustainable living also strengthens our familial bonds and our bolsters community ties. Sustainable development is a feasible resolution to volatile energy prices; water scarcity; toxins in our air, food and water; and climate change. Sustainability gives consumers healthier products and companies a competitive advantage. More than a good idea, sustainability might even be our best change to preserve the American way of life in a rapidly changing world.
Anna Clark is president of EarthPeople, LLC and the author of Green, American Style. She writes on sustainability and leadership.
Anna Clark is president of EarthPeople, a consulting and communications firm that helps clients of all sizes save money and bolster their brands through profitable green strategies.
Her ideas for greening small business have appeared in USA Today and on Greenbiz.com, FOX Business.com and Entrepreneur Radio. Her first book Green, American Style, is scheduled for release in April 2010.
Anna lives in Dallas with her husband and two preschoolers in one of Texas’ first residences to earn a platinum LEED-certified rating from the US Green Building Council. She writes and speaks on topics ranging from green living to leadership.