Heroes of Sustainability: Lois Gibbs

Lois Gibbs was on a mission. With just a U-Haul and her children, she left her home in New York to head to Washington, D.C., determined to start an organization that would help families living near toxic waste sites. As she left, her mom told her: “You’re forgetting you’re just a housewife with a high school education.”

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Heroes of Sustainability: St. Francis of Assisi

“My hero is St. Francis of Assisi because he understood the connection between spirituality and the environment. He understood the way God communicates to us most forcefully is through the fishes and the birds and the trees and that it is a sin to destroy those things.” — Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Sarah Susanka

In a country that values McMansions, architect Sarah Susanka has a different idea: build better, not bigger.

The England native moved to the U.S. in the early ’70s and has remained in the States since. She was baffled when she first arrived as a teenager at the fact that American homes had the same formal living rooms and dining rooms that the English homes had, yet no one used them. “Every time I went over to my friends’ houses, they all ate every meal in the kitchen — at the kitchen table,” she said in an interview with Chris O’Leary. “And I kept looking into those rooms that in my life had always been the heavily used ones and thought, ‘Well what do they do with those?’”

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Heroes of Sustainability: Vandana Shiva

For Vandana Shiva, it all started with tree-hugging — literally. It was the 1970s, and the Chipko movement, in which women in the Himalayas stood around trees to keep them protected, sparked her passion for ecological sustainability.

Now a well-known environmental activist and philosopher, the Delhi-based Shiva has authored more than 20 books and 500-plus papers in leading scientific and technical journals, becoming a leader in such areas as preserving forests, organizing women, and protecting local biodiversity. She’s fought against genetic engineering and biopiracy (patenting an idea for profit that’s been long used by indigenous cultures), helped grassroots campaigns across the globe, and started an international college for sustainable living.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Karl-Henrik Robèrt

Most people can’t claim that an idea they had has earned a royal seal of approval, but then again, Karl-Henrik Robèrt isn’t like most people.

A pre-eminent Swedish cancer scientist, Robèrt saw that the debate on sustainability was divided, with no agreement on what the scientific foundations of sustainability are.

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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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