All Posts Tagged With: "social justice"

Don’t Want – Do Want

It seems we are experts at knowing what’s wrong in the world – whether global problems like climate change and poverty, national concerns like the economy and health care, neighborhood issues like the lady down the street whose dogs never stop barking. Even within our own families, we tend to focus on what’s not working.

What happens when we turn and face in another direction? Not to actively ignore or deny those very real problems. But to focus instead on what we want. Do we ever even ask this question of ourselves or others: what sort of world do we want to live in?

Even then, the answers may come back framed in negatives, such as “I want fewer wars” or “to eliminate racism”. The brilliant Hildy Gottlieb first opened my eyes to this habit.

I tested this out one recent summer weekend at our neighborhood shopping area. People were quick to cite the problems: education, the economy, global warming, racism, negativity, stereotyping, war. When asked to say what they want, if they could waive a magic wand and fix everything, they were less confident, sometimes even embarrassed. As if talking that way is not an adult activity.

The danger of dwelling on what’s wrong is that we can become convinced that there’s no hope for us. We’re just a doomed species and blight on the planet. I know many avid and dedicated environmental activists who harbor this secret belief deep within their hearts: that the planet will be better off without us.

And why wouldn’t we reach this conclusion, when all we read about and see around us are the consequences of our bad behavior? The mortgage crisis, countries in the Euro zone so deep in debt they threaten to take the whole thing down with them, giant corporations cutting down the boreal forest in Canada to get at the dirtiest most carbon-intense oil on the planet and then lobbying our government to build a pipeline to cart it to the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty million of nonelderly Americans (18.9%) are without health insurance or access to good health care.

This stuff is senseless. Meaning, try as we might, we can’t make sense of it. I wonder if it’s because, as Einstein famously observed, we cannot solve our problems using the same thinking that created them. So why not try a different way? What happens when we focus instead on what we want, instead of what we don’t want. Try it. You may be surprised at what happens.

Why does this matter? you may be wondering. It turns out that we create the future every moment of every day. A positive vision of a future that we want is the galvanizing force that animates the world-changing work of all the people who will be in the film, “I Want America to Thrive.” Even the title speaks to a positive vision. Why not? It’s a surer way to transcending, rather than merely solving, our problems.

I Want America to Thrive

Are you . . .

  • Looking for a thriving future for America – and the world?
  • Frustrated with arguing and finger pointing about the state of our country and the environment?
  • Worried about what kind of world your children and grandchildren will inherit?
  • Tired of hearing that humankind is a doomed, destructive species and blight on this beautiful planet we call home?
  • Wondering what you could possibly do to make a difference, to turn things around in a more positive direction?

So are we!

That’s why we are making this short film, “I Want America to Thrive”

We’ll show you the power of a new story. A story so inspiring that if we just turn up the volume on it, we can drown out the old story of doom and gloom, shame and blame.

This new story involves real people doing great work in pursuit of their vision of a thriving future for America – and the world. People who have taken a good look around, seen the challenges, and rolled up their sleeves in the face of mighty resistance.  They will show us all sorts of innovative things that they’re doing right now to renew the American Dream.

I invite you to imagine the kind of world we would build if we saw just how creative, connected, and compassionate we really are.

Humans have a pretty amazing track record so far: we’ve invented philosophy and penicillin, acupuncture and Shakespeare’s plays, pizza and poetry, the iPhone and the Tesla Roadster. We’ve landed men on the moon, harnessed geothermal energy, and created the National Parks. All of these accomplishments started with an idea. And the understanding that we create the future every day.

Sure, we need to pay attention to the effects of our competitive, industrial way of life on the people and living systems on which we all depend. But warning and scolding is not a great way to motivate people. Rather than curse the darkness, why not light a candle?

One of the great secrets of how architecture works is that together we create a picture of the finished building. And then we build it. That picture is a beacon; it holds us to a higher vision when the inevitable glitches and mistakes crop up. The beacon is essential because it keeps us from getting mired in problems and instead encourages us to be imaginative and collaborate on finding the solutions.

What We Need

It’s important for this film to be visually excellent and high-impact. We’re going to film a wide diversity of real people and ask them to share the ways in which they are helping America to thrive.

Your support will help pay for the necessary expertise and equipment for high quality documentary filmmaking and editing.

We’re also going to work with a well-known animation artist to help make our concepts appealing and easy to understand.

It takes time to put together the latest research about the many ways to do and be good for the environment – and we are committed to using only verifiable, trustworthy sources.

We’re also working with a local musician – the same artist who generously donated the music for this video – to make sure we paint an upbeat, energetic and emotional tone in line with the message.

Go to the campaign page to read more and thank you for helping to spread the word!

How change really happens

drawings by Alyssa Dennis
We are pleased to make readers aware of a new book, just released, called, “Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change.” This book, by author Nick Cooney,  looks at 80 years of scientific research conducted on human psychology and related fields, and distills that research down into practical tips that environmental organizations and other non-profits can use to more effectively persuade the public and create social change.

Cooney is the founder and director of The Humane League, an animal advocacy organization based in Philadelphia, PA that focuses on farm animal protection issues.

“Change Of Heart” provides science-based answers to many questions that are hotly debated among environmentalists. For example, is it better to encourage the public to adopt small, simple changes (like using CFL light bulbs) or to ask for more major life-altering changes (like getting rid of one’s car)? What messages and techniques have been proven to succeed in reducing home energy use and increase recycling? And what role does “green consumerism” play in helping – or harming – the environmental movement?

We already have the information, the expertise, and the technology to make the shift to a clean-energy, environmentally-restorative economy. There are plenty of smart people working on this front. Behavior change, and even making the case for this as a preferable course of action, have a bit of catching up to do. That’s why we are so excited about books like this one and the Heath brothers’ “Switch.” Here is an excerpt:

Narrow Their Options

When a farmer is trying to herd animals from a larger area into a smaller one, they’ll often create a chute that starts wide and gets narrower and narrower. Similarly, when we are trying to get someone to take an action it is helpful to narrow their options. Offering people too many choices will make them more likely to choose nothing at all. A study of eight hundred thousand workers found that the number of retirement funds offered by an employer was inversely related to the number of workers that signed up for any retirement fund (Iyengar, Huberman and Jiang). The more retirement fund options they were given, the less likely workers were to choose any fund—which probably had negative consequences for workers and their families.

In another study, student participants were presented with two hypothetical choices for what they could do that evening:  study in the library or attend a lecture by an author they admired who was in town for one night only. Only twenty-one percent chose to study, with seventy-nine percent choosing to the more enjoyable activity. In the second round of this study, participants were given three options:  the library option, the author option and also the option to watch a foreign film they had wanted to see. In this second study, forty percent of participants decided to study, with sixty percent choosing one of the more enjoyable activities. Giving students two good alternatives to studying made them less likely to choose either alternative (Redelmeier and Shafir 1995).

In trying to get people to do something positive, we’re often tempted to give them an array of choices based on the idea that the more choices they have, the more likely they’ll find one of them acceptable. Environmental campaigners might provide a list of twenty-five different things a person can do to help protect the planet. Gay rights groups might create a similar list of actions people can take to promote equality. Health organizations might create a long list of foods rich in vitamins and minerals that should be part of a healthy diet. The research suggests that these groups would be more successful if they focused instead on promoting a few key actions.

Activists should also be aware that there is a big difference between education meant to stimulate thought and education meant to stimulate action. There are many shades of grey to every issue, and the more we think about an issue the more complexities we will see. If we are a college professor and our goal is to hone our students’ critical thinking abilities, then ongoing discussion that examines every aspect of an issue is a good thing. But if we as activists are trying to educate people in order to motivate them to do something, then our communications need to simplify the issue and call for clear, specific action. We need to eliminate distractions and narrow options.

We will feature more excerpts soon. In the meantime, you can read more on the book’s website.

Turning conflict into community

We don’t always remember that social justice plays a key role in sustainability. One of the underlying assumptions of the modern world is that we can throw something we no longer want “away.” Well, there is no “away.” This planet is designed as an exquisitely intricate, interconnected web of life. And we are as much a part of that web as eagles and mushrooms.

As Van Jones, founder of the green-jobs advocacy group Green for All, has observed, there are no throwaway people, either. Our modern criminal justice system has not exactly gotten this message. One of the unexamined assumptions in this complex system is that some people are just too bad to be in society; they need to be locked up and forgotten. Essentially, thrown away.

Lauren Abramson, founder of the Community Conferencing Center, doesn’t buy it. Their work is based on the simple premise that people have the wisdom and compassion to resolve their own conflicts, given the right setting and subtle guidance. In fact, as you will see from watching this video, Conferences have a very high rate of success and the parties involved have quite low rates of re-offending. Conferences are also profound for the participants, binding them together through shared experience.

Get Your Business in the Flow

photo by: Julie
On a recent trip, I read a fascinating article in the October 2009, “Environmental Building News,” called “Building for People: Integrating Social Justice Into Green Design.” Being the mindset-tool junkie that I am, I was particularly drawn to the discussion of a tool called LENSES (Living Environments in Natural, Social, and Economic Systems), being developed by Dr. Josie Plaut at the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University.

LENSES looks to be an excellent tool for cultivating awareness of the interconnectedness of elements, from big-picture foundational principles, to human needs and impacts, to environmental flows. As I read, I kept seeing the applicability not only to building projects, but to any human enterprise, including your business.

Plaut sees the potential for the tool to change the way we think. We tend to look at enterprises, whether buildings or businesses, as static and self-contained. Yet, they are actually hubs for flows of natural resources, people, and ideas. Plaut’s words: “What makes a place living is not the notion that it has a net-zero impact but rather its relationship to others and the flows through the system.”

It gets even better. Can you imagine your business as not only symbiotic with natural systems but as a filter for all that flows through it? “What if things are better coming out that they are going in?” Plaut asks. This simple question can dramatically change the way you think about your business, the opportunities you see, and the decisions you make.

Want to learn more about how to transform your business to be good for the earth? My FR.EE 75-minute audioseminar, “How to Overcome Green Overload in Your Small Business: 5 Steps for Cutting Through the Clutter,” explains clearly and simply how to start greening your business right away!

This is your chance to learn all about:

• The essential questions you MUST ask yourself before you go green
• The astonishing power of a green mindset
• The 4 must-haves of creating a sustainable green vision for your company
• My ground-breaking 5-step model for creating a green business

AND I’ll work with you to create your first green business plan right on the call!

Join me Thursday, November 12 at 4 PM Eastern (that’s 3 PM Central, 2 PM Mountain, 1 PM Pacific), and you’ll be on your way to an eco-inspired business. Follow this link to register.

09-09-09: Worldwide Interconnectedness Happening

photo by: julie

Wildness reminds us what it what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.  Terry Tempest Williams

World Day of Interconnectedness is September 9.

I’m going to get personal here. Many of you who know my work and teaching will probably not be surprised by this: I am obsessed with connection. My business, fundamentally, is all about discovering, cultivating, and restoring connections at many levels: to the living world, to other people, to communities, to meaning, to the arts, to craft, to great ideas, to myself.

Reflecting on this recently, I saw that one of my ah-ha moments about sustainable design came in 1989, at a lecture by the great Australian architect Glenn Murcutt . His work demonstrates the profound beauty and sense of connection that is possible when you ask the right questions. It is rooted in a deep reverence for and experience of the natural world. People who live in his houses routinely talk about the unique, profound connection they feel to the outdoors, quite unlike other buildings in our modern world.

Aren’t we all, consciously or unconsciously, longing for that deep, peaceful sense of connection? I know I am. It has driven me for the last 20 years, often to unexpected places. That sustainable design and green business is my lens and medium is no mere coincidence. It fits me because it marries meaning with cultural expression, vision with practical action, spirit and matter. It is grounded in the laws of the physical world, its harsh realities AND its sublime truths. A life spent trying to understand and model how nature does it is the most exciting thing I can imagine.

That’s why when announcements like this one come to my inbox, I jump at the chance to spread the word. A World Day of Interconnectedness? Why not!? From the website : "A deep sense of interconnectedness, or oneness, is at the core of decisions and actions that are life affirming and good for the whole. In other words, it will bring forth an environmentally sustainable, fulfilling and socially just human presence."

This is a global 24-hour event with a focus on celebrating interconnectedness. The intent is to manifest and attract more of what we want on a global scale: a greater sense of interconnectedness as a foundation for a world that works for all life.

It’s simple: On 090909 in every country at 9 AM in every time zone (starting in New Zealand), all people who are aware of interconnectedness and who are committed to translate that awareness into action are invited to practice interconnectedness as much as possible throughout that day. There are a bunch of wonderful suggestions of practices you can do in the areas of ecological sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. Many of us strive to practice our awareness every day, and usually fall short (speaking for myself). This is a chance to be fully conscious and to tap into the world-wide juice of so many with the same intention.

Please post a comment here about your experience with this. It would be wonderful to hear how it went.

We’re Going to Blogging School

photo by Julie: Lucky's Warehouse by Furbish Co.
Recently, we started in earnest to learn all we can about the blogging world, including how to increase our site traffic so we can continue to offer GOforChange to our community and the wider world. Naturally, we enrolled in Upstart Blogger’s 30-Day Blogging Course . We are known mostly within our own networks, where we reliably preach to the converted. But what about people who are just waking up to environmental and economic challenges? With our expertise, wealth of information, online forums, calendar, and marketplace, we are determined to reach a wider audience.

We started GOforChange in early 2008 to help spread the word about the growing sustainability , local food , social justice, and greening movement in the Baltimore area. A blog was the right format to share information about upcoming events, volunteers opportunities, advice, and all the organizations and businesses in our area that are working for a better world. We are always learning about new things — community gardens, energy auditors, local artisans, schools — and the list of topics keeps growing. We continue to believe that reliable information about local resources is valuable to people who want to know how they can make a difference in their daily lives and communities.

As of Day 5 of the course, we have already learned much about social networks, Technorati rankings , Google Analytics, and reaching out to like-minded blogs. We are shifting our posts to offer more advice, musings, and stories from Julie’s work as a green architect and sustainability consultant, and Alyssa’s hands-on artistry in urban gardening, composting, and other DIY projects. Interspersed with posts about Baltimore-area topics, these will have a broad appeal beyond our geographic region. The Upstart Blogger course is something we probably should have taken six months ago, but back then we just didn’t realize how much we don’t know! Stay tuned for updates on our progress.