Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Consumerism to Sustainability

By Erik Assadourian

Climate change grows more threatening every day. Yet most responses offered so far only attempt to address the symptoms — namely greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing emissions through technology change or efficiency measures won’t be enough. Instead, we have to focus on the root problem of climate change – not to mention many other ecological and social problems – the consumer culture. To succeed, we’ll need to replace this failed cultural system with a new viable system: a culture of sustainability that focuses us away from tying our well-being so closely to how much we consume, and instead focuses on living a satisfying life sustainably . If we cannot engineer a cultural shift, we risk consuming our planet until it literally cannot sustain us.

“State of the World 2010” will paint a picture of what a culture of sustainability could look like and how we could develop it. More importantly, it will provide many case studies of the “cultural pioneers” who are already hard at work creating this new cultural system. Case studies will include: individuals hard at work to create social marketing campaigns that use the techniques of advertising to market sustainable living; leaders of social movements redirecting priorities like Slow Food and Take Back Your Time; business managers who are creating businesses not to maximize profit but to maximize societal benefits; and educators who are centering schools’ curriculums on lessons of sustainability. “State of the World 2010” will illustrate the growth of this new culture of sustainability, and the people cultivating it, and in the process, hopefully inspire many more to become pioneers themselves.

BIO: Erik Assadourian is a research associate at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC. He is project director of State of the World 2010, www.worldwatch.org .

Wanda’s Tips for Spring

1. Resolve to eliminate – or reduce –SUIs in your life. SUIs are the “single-use items” that have insinuated themselves into the daily fabric of American life. We’re talking about disposable coffee cups, plastic utensils, foam doggie boxes, beverage cups, paper towels, paper napkins and the like. SUIs support a culture of convenience and disposability – a “no-fuss, no-muss” mentality – from which those pursuing the simple path invariably move away.

2. Reuse your former throw-aways. Baggies and the like do good work in keeping your sandwiches and munchies fresh. But instead of throwing them away, wash them out and reuse. You save precious money and our environment.

3. Help pay your mortgage (or rent) by considering a house-share. Our living spaces have grown so large, do we all really need all that space? A guest room and bath could make excellent quarters for a single person who’s low on cash. Not only are you providing housing for someone, and generating income for yourself but building new relationships that – with the right care and handling – could last a lifetime.

4. Increase your donations. This may seem counterintuitive during this time of economic crisis. But if you’re feeling pinched, imagine how hard others – especially charities – are strapped today. The feeling of generosity is a freeing one. Consider direct donations of much-needed item like food, cleaning agents, books, clothing and garden supplies. Remember, local charities are generally the best.

5. Have some fun! Celebrate life with friends by organizing a pot-luck meal and clothing swap. Or be inventive and swap something different like tchotchkes, garden tools, books or kitchen utensils. Or try baby clothes, Christmas decorations, or jigsaw puzzles. Whatever you organize – bringing people, food and curiosities together – promises to deliver a special event which will add fun and excitement into your life without costing you more than the price of a casserole.

6. Consider co-coaching. Coaching is a great way to help bring change into your life and the life of a partner, friend or designee. Instead of plunking down cash to hire a professional, find a trusted friend, relative or individual through a barter network to work with. Study up on what’s involved and set guidelines, then establish a regular weekly or biweekly call (or meeting). It’s a wonderful (and free!) way of bringing about change in your life. Having an advocate for your journey, like a soccer coach rooting on from the sidelines, can help you gain clarity with your professional and personal goals.