Sustainable Ideas for the New Year


Today’s guest post is by Melibee speaker Michael Despines.  Michael’s commentary on a sustainable society is one that you must forward to anyone who is thinking through new year resolutions. The resource links are highly bookmark worthy!  Michael is available for Earth Day/Week presentations – so reach out to us via his speaker page if you’re interested in his work on sustainability.

Want to be happier in 2013?  It’s simple — Get involved.  Engage with people.  Help others.  Look in the mirror less. Read more.  Work less.  Build Community.  Do your part to make the world a better place.  Give more of yourself to others and that pain will go away.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. (attributed to Margaret Mead)

We need that “small group” to get bigger.  In 2013 we need you — more now than ever.

Over the past 100 years we created a society that has been wildly successful in creating mountains of stuff and material wealth.  Just check your closet if you need affirmation.

But our society is not sustainable.  This means, if we continue along the current path, that the quality of life for your children will be worse than yours.  And your grandchildren’s life will be even worse…

The fact is that our society, and therefore our lives, are based on illusions and false assumptions.  We are told that the growth of the economy is the key to prosperity.  The reality is that we live on a finite planet and we cannot grow forever (ponzi scheme anyone?).  We thought more stuff (money, cars, houses, tvs…) meant more happiness.  It doesn’t.

This graph (source) says it all.  Since 1977 (roughly) we have been consuming the Earth’s resources faster than it can regenerate them.  To meet all current demands we would need 1.5 earths.  Each day above that line we are destroying the earth’s ability to support life on the planet – yes, including ours.

We are not doomed to catastrophe. The fact is that millions of committed citizens, in the US and around the world, are taking steps to create a great life – one that fits on one earth.

I offer a few examples of those small groups of committed citizens who are changing the world to help get your creative juices flowing.

Climate Change:  One of the greatest symptoms of the failure of our economic system is the disruption it is causing to our climate.  We need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible.  College students across America are demanding that their schools divest from investments in fossil fuels.  Brilliant!  Check out to learn how to help stop climate chaos.

Healthy Food:  Between Cargill, industrialized food factories, and McDonald’s and other fast food dealers we are killing the soil, our waterways and our health.  Join the Slow Food movement to celebrate healthy, natural food.  Or join the Slow Money movement, which helps people find ways to invest and support local farmers and food producers.  Healthy, tasty food for our schools get you excited? Check out the Farm to School movement.

Active Citizenship:  Democracies only work when citizens are knowledgeable and active.  In the US we are neither.  Take the government back!  Learn more from Public Citizen.  Get your voice heard through

Get Local:  Locally-based economies are the future, man.  Imagine companies that actually care about the community, buy their inputs from local suppliers, hire workers from the local area, and pay a livable wage.  Yes, it can happen.  Check out BALLE and learn more about how over 30,000 local entrepreneurs are making the dream into reality.  Check out Green America and learn how we can all contribute toward creating “a socially and just and environmentally sustainable society.”  Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

More of what matters:  Check out The New American Dream for ways to promote stronger communities and less consumption.  Join the Slow Movement to encourage a more sane, connected way of life.

I could go on and on and on…Inspiration and hard work to make the world a better place is happening all around us.  Find your cause (or a two or three) and DO something.  In the process you, and the world, will thrive.

Michael Despines

About the Author:  Michael Despines is Vice President for International Programs at the Institute for Sustainable CommunitiesMichael has spent over 20+ years supporting locally driven efforts in Africa and Asia to create sustainable societies. His presentation, “The American Dream, The World’s Nightmare” has received rave reviews from countless students and educators around the world.