Heroes of Sustainability: Denis Hayes


Now the world’s most widely observed secular holiday, Earth Day started back in 1970 as the brainchild of then-Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was moved to action by a huge oil spill in California in 1969. Hoping to model the environmental movement after the student anti-war movement, Nelson chose the young Denis Hayes, in his mid-20s at the time, to spearhead the Earth Day campaign.

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Heroes of Sustainability: James Balog

James Balog

With adventure comes danger, and James Balog been exposed to plenty of that over the years. He knows that one accidental dip in iceberg-filled water, one slip of the hand on a mountain, one mechanical malfunction of a helicopter high above the land would end the exploration. And yet, he presses on.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Wangari Maathai

If anyone knows the challenges that come with being a trailblazer, it’s Wangari Maathai. Her continual struggles for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation haven’t always been met with support on her native continent of Africa, where she’s faced…

 

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Tim DeChristopher Convicted on Two Felony Charges for Protecting Our Planet

As an environmental activist, I was shocked to learn about the prison sentence facing Tim DeChristopher, a university student who falsely outbid energy producers to block their access to precious Utah Canyonlands. As the President and CEO of Dolphin Blue, a company that strives to preserve our planets most precious resources, I cannot help but ask myself the following question: Should DeChristopher serve prison time for protecting our planet against the hopeless polluters who have little or no regard for it?

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Heroes of Sustainability: George Washington Carver

                                                                      
In an era long before green, eco-friendly, and environmentalism were buzzwords, George Washington Carver advocated for organic farming and plant-based products.

An early trailblazer in the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling, Carver was born into slavery, likely in the early to mid-1860s.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Andrew Revkin

Making the Earth Front-Page News

Andrew Revkin

There’s a saying in journalism that if you’re getting complaints from both sides, you’re doing your job right. If that’s the case, award-winning environmental journalist Andrew Revkin is certainly doing something right, having weathered plenty of criticism over his 25 years of reporting on everything from Hurricane Katrina to climate change.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Riane Eisler

Linking  Social Inequities to the Protecting Our Environment

Studying the world’s injustices is nothing new for Riane Eisler. As a young child, the Vienna-born social scientist, author, attorney, and macro-historian watched a gang of Gestapo men break into her home and capture her father. Bravely, her mother defied convention and stood up to save him, and the family escaped to Cuba with one of the last ships allowed to land there.

The Nazis had taken everything they owned; Eisler’s family lived in the slums of Havana. Her determined parents sent her to the best schools. Each day on her streetcar commute, Eisler couldn’t help but notice the shocking disparity that existed between the neighborhoods where she lived and went to school.

Eisler wasn’t always treated as the extremely bright and capable student she was, even while attending the University of California. Like the disparity between the rich and poor in Havana, she noticed a gender disparity in the recognition students received.

A Life’s Work

 

Eisler’s personal witness to so many injustices ultimately became the basis of research that’s led to worldwide acclaim, including a spot alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King as one of 20 leaders for world peace in the book Great Peacemakers.

To understand inequality, Eisler looked at how the concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” explain hierarchies in homes and societies. What she found is that a more peaceful, equitable world requires a change in the traditions of domination that exist between men and women, as well as parents and children.

Caring Economics:  Care for People, Care for Earth

 

How does sustainability tie into all of this? In Eisler’s latest book, The Real Wealth of Nations, she argues for a sustainable and equitable economy that gives value to caring for our greatest economic assets: people and the natural environment. Eisler writes that much of what ails us in modern day is largely fueled by economic systems with the wrong priorities. She points out that when basic human needs aren’t met, social tensions give way to major issues like war, poverty, and environmental ruin. By supporting traditionally female activities such as caring and care giving, we can transcend categories like “capitalist” and “socialist” to reap the benefits of a more humane — and more effective — economic model.

Eisler also believes that in raising the status of women across the globe, overpopulation rates will curb, easing the burden on the earth. In environmental meetings around the world, she explains how the “dominator” mentality that the land is something to plunder and conquer has led to degradation and depletion of our resources to crisis levels. “Caring economics,” as it’s called, not only means caring for ourselves and each other, but also for Mother Earth.

After all, we can’t make the world a better place — ridding it of atrocities like the kind Eisler faced during the Holocaust — if there’s no world on which to live.

For more information about Eisler and her work, visit www.rianeeisler.com.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Bob Willard

Bob Willard, Corporate Straight Shooter

 Some people talk the talk about sustainability — Bob Willard talks it, walks it, and drives it (he has two hybrid vehicles). A longtime businessman, Willard spent 34 years at IBM Canada before becoming a leading expert on corporate sustainability.

 With three books under his belt – The Sustainability Advantage (2002), The Next Sustainability Wave (2005), and The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (2009) — Willard is among the best at laying out a clear, actionable plan for business leaders to follow in order to institute more-sustainable policies within their companies.

 “Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders — the business game they are playing can’t continue,” Willard writes. “It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose.”

 Delivering that tough message is what Willard has made his mission, and to support it, he’s developed hundreds of keynote presentations, numerous webinars, two DVDs, and a Master Slide Set to drive home the point that if we want to have clean air, potable water, nutritious food, and adequate shelter, something has to change in the way corporations do business — and fast.

 Willard’s talent is in quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies to CEOs and other C-level personnel. “Executives might think you are trying to convince them that sustainability is a nobler goal than contending with gnarly business issues like complexity, resource scarcity, and talent shortages,” Willard writes. “It’s sometimes better to back off and reframe sustainability strategies as enablers of executives’ priorities, rather than as another nagging goal to worry about.”

 To communicate effectively, Willard uses sales techniques widely successful in business: He talks the language of the decision-makers, meets them where they are, and makes the connection between what they’re already doing and what they could be doing. He has a personal commitment to sustainability, having been turned on to the importance of the issue when, after plans surfaced in his community to build a water treatment plant downstream from a nuclear power plant, he realized that those in charge weren’t looking out for the well-being of the community members. Since then, environmental issues and taking personal responsibility for making a difference have been at the forefront of his life and work. But even those who haven’t caught the sustainability bug the way Willard has would do well to follow the advice he lays out. “The bottom-line payoff comes from increased revenue, innovation, and productivity, as well as risk-mitigation and eco-efficiency cost-savings,” he writes.

 For more information about Bob Willard, visit www.sustainabilityadvantage.com, and read an excerpt from The Sustainability Advantage here.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Paul Hawken

Only One Bus:  The Story of Paul Hawken

The list of what Paul Hawken hasn’t done is probably shorter than the list of what he has.

Book author? Check. He’s got six of them. Magazine writer? Yep — his credits include the Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and Mother Jones. He’s also been on the Today show, Larry King Live, and Talk of the Nation, and he’s been presented with seven honorary degrees. Oh, and business owner? He’s got several under his belt.

A Lifelong Commitment

Since age 20, Hawken has had one overarching focus: sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. His long résumé includes founding ecological businesses, educating others about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.

Part of what makes Hawken stand out is that he doesn’t play it safe. He’s traveled throughout insurgent-held territories of Burma to study tropical teak deforestation, and he took a trip in 1999 to war-torn Kosovo and Macedonia. Back at home, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, leading up to the historic march to Montgomery. That same year, Hawken was in New Orleans as a staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter registration drives in Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida, and photographing the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian, Mississippi, after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed. These pursuits, of course, weren’t without risks — Hawken was seized by KKK members, but was able to escape with the help of the FBI.

Will Social Justice Meet Environmental Justice?

This social justice work is intertwined with his environmental goals. “What is most harmful resides within us, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame, deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, a history of violence, and greed,” Hawken writes in his 2007 book Blessed Unrest. “There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus.”

Respect and Achievements

Hawken’s research and views are respected by world leaders far and wide. Case in point: During the Battle in Seattle in 1999, President Bill Clinton called Hawken for advice, and has said his book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution is one of the five most important books in the world today.

On the business front, Hawken has founded several companies that rely solely on sustainable agricultural methods. His 1987 book Growing a Business became the basis of a widely viewed 17-part PBS series he hosted and produced that explored the challenges of starting and operating socially responsible companies. Today, he’s head of OneSun LLC, an energy company focused on low-cost solar power, and Highwater Global, an equity fund that invests in companies providing solutions to environmental and social challenges.

His many activities are a lot to fit in a day, but Hawken wouldn’t have it any other way. “My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition,” he writes.

To learn more about Hawken, visit his website at www.paulhawken.com.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Mathis Wackernagel, Pioneer of the Eco-Footprint

The concept of a carbon footprint — the amount of the earth’s resources a person or institution is using to function — is a widespread one these days. We use online calculators to find it, buy carbon credits to offset it, and know just what will make it go up and down (air travel is bad; energy-efficient lighting is good).

 This measurement that’s such an integral part of the eco-revolution is courtesy of Mathis Wackernagel, a Swiss-born leader in sustainable research. He was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia when he focused his doctoral dissertation on the concept of an “ecological footprint,” then a novel idea that he developed in conjunction with adviser William Rees. Today he heads the Global Footprint Network, a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and promoting metrics for sustainability.

The group works on a much bigger scale than just calculating the output of an individual person or company — instead, it measures nations’ ecological assets and deficits using about 5,400 data points per country per year. This is the most comprehensive look that we have at how humans are affecting the ecosystem of our planet.

 The importance of this work can’t be overstated. “If you don’t have basic tools to understand the resources we use compared to what is available, it’s hard to avoid ecological bankruptcy,” Wackernagel told Treehugger. And if anyone would know, it’s Wackernagel. After years of looking at the data, he is sure of one thing: We can’t keep living like this.

“Globally, it now takes one year and four months to regenerate what we use within one year. We are in a state of ecological overshoot, on an unsustainable path.”

To make a lasting change, Wackernagel believes we must start building cities more compactly, creating communities that have everything we need on a daily basis and methods of public transportation to get to those places. “The assets we create today can be future-friendly or not,” he told Sustainable Cities. “Future-friendly infrastructure — cities and buildings designed to be resource efficient, zero-energy buildings, and pedestrian or public transit-oriented transportation systems — can enable great lives with small ecological footprints.”

 The former director of the Sustainability Program at Redefining Progress in Oakland, California, and past director of the Centre for Sustainability Studies/Centro de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad in Mexico is working to get the word out on his findings, having authored or contributed to more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and a number of books on sustainability, including Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth and Sharing Nature’s Interest: Ecological Footprints as an Indicator of Sustainability. He’s worked on ecological issues for organizations in North America, Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia, and continues to get out his central message: “The two-word definition of sustainability is one planet.”

 For more information on the Global Footprint Network, click here.

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