Heroes of Sustainability: Thom Hartmann

No one could accuse Thom Hartmann of not pursuing his interests. Probably best known as a radio talk show host, Hartmann has also co-founded an herbal products company, started international relief programs in a variety of countries, written more than 20 books, worked as a psychotherapist, developed a widely known theory on attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and inspired a web movie from Leonardo DiCaprio on the environment.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Rachel Carson

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

There is perhaps no book that’s made a greater impact on the environmental movement than Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Published in 1962, the groundbreaking work brought to the forefront of American public consciousness the impact of pesticides on the earth, making the New York Times best-seller list for more than 80 weeks. A decade after the book was published (and due to its influence), DDT was banned in the U.S.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Christopher Swain

Christopher Swain. Photo by Carrie Branovan.

The world is watching this week as the best swimmers go for the gold, but there’s a significant swimmer they won’t see: Christopher Swain.

He isn’t the fastest — in fact, he’s not that fast at all — but he is just as dedicated to his cause as Olympians are to pursuing their sports.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry. Photo by Jim Fothergill.

“Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.” — Wendell Berry

Prolific writer and farmer Wendell Berry has spent his life sticking close to his roots. That doesn’t mean the Kentucky-based scholar has never gone out and experienced anything new — he studied at Stanford University in California, taught at New York University, and traveled to Italy and France as part of a fellowship.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Michael Braungart

Michael Braungart. Photo by Enith Stenhuys.

“Think about this — today the indoors air quality in most buildings is very poor, yet the insulation techniques keep improving, so by not looking at the big picture we’re effectively trapping ourselves in polluted air. My conclusion is that if you do something wrong, don’t make it perfect, otherwise you’re just making something that’s perfectly wrong.”
— Michael Braungart

Michael Braungart is driven by two big questions: How can mankind really integrate itself into life on earth? How can people be not just less harmful, but rather useful?

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Heroes of Sustainability: Janine Benyus

When working to create a new process or product, Janine Benyus recommends asking one simple question: What would nature do?

The biologist and science writer coined the term biomimicry (from bios, meaning “life,” and mimesis, meaning “to imitate”) to describe the process of taking designs from our natural environment and using them to create more-efficient and sustainable products and processes. For example, think about a plane emulating a bird, a spider’s web that’s as strong as a bulletproof vest, pharmacists studying organisms that self-medicate, and buildings that model themselves after termite mounds that maintain a constant temperature despite fluctuating heat outside.

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Heroes of Sustainability: E.F. Schumacher

One of the hundred most influential books published since World War II, according to The Times Literary Supplement, E.F. Schumacher’s internationally known Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered has informed thinking on Western economies since 1973.

The German-born economist and statistician was more than just a numbers guy — he was an environmental champion. In Small Is Beautiful, he argued that technological production shouldn’t mean damaging our finite natural capital and thus ruining it for future generations. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent,” he said. “It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

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Heroes of Sustainability: William McDonough

“I can’t imagine something being beautiful at this point in history if it’s destroying the planet or causing children to get sick. How can anything be beautiful if it’s not ecologically intelligent at this point?” –William McDonough

When William McDonough co-wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things a decade ago, it revolutionized the way we think about design. Part of that was because of the book itself — instead of being printed on paper from trees, the words were pressed onto plastic resins and inorganic fillers that feel like paper (yet are waterproof) and can easily be recycled.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Donella Meadows

Donella Meadows in 1994. Photo by Medora Hebert, Valley News.

“Speak the truth. Speak it loud and often, calmly but insistently, and speak it, as the Quakers say, to power. Material accumulation is not the purpose of human existence. All growth is not good. The environment is a necessity, not a luxury. There is such a thing as ‘enough.’” — Donella Meadows

Remembered for her contributions to systems analysis and environmental science, Donella Meadows — known as Dana to her friends — gained international acclaim when she served as lead author for The Limits to Growth in 1972.

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