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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Community Building: I Often Fear It, But Never Regret It

Recent Event My Company Hosted

I’m shy at heart.  I’m ok at writing down my thoughts, but networking and speaking in groups and putting myself out there are things that take a lot of effort for me.  Not that I’m terrible at it, but it exhausts me and I usually dread it.

That means it’s a whole lot easier to stay at home and watch a movie or read or write.  “I need some down time,” I say.  Or, “I’m just exhausted today.”  Sometimes those things are true, but often I’m hiding because it’s hard to go out, it’s hard to talk to strangers, it’s hard to do new things.

But I never regret it.  There is always something I learn, some connection I make, some rewarding experience I have.

Last night I had on my calendar to go to the P-Patch Post Meeting.  The P-Patch Post is our community garden newsletter.  I want to be involved locally, and what better way than to do what I do anyway (ie, write about gardening), meet new people, and have a new writing experience.

But I was running late, and it was raining, and I was tired… I almost, almost, almost went home.  But I didn’t.  I walked into a pub without knowing who I was looking for (a table of strangers in a pub, how hard could that be?).  I walked up to one table who looked studious and involved, but that was a parents meeting.  Whoops!

Ah, that other table, deep in conversation – I bet that’s them.  There are no free chairs at the table.  I could still walk out now.

But I didn’t.  I walked up, pulled up a chair, and introduced myself.  And by the end of the night, I had agreed to writing a gardening series for every newsletter, and I had offered to use any of the photos I have on this blog.  They enjoyed my presence, and were happy to have a writer they could count on.  I enjoyed myself, and am on the road to becoming more involved with my community garden system.

All in about an hour.  That’s really all it took!

Is It Too Overwhelming To Hear That You Need To Do More?

Overwhelming by Dave Pearson on Flickr

I am concerned about the state of the world, and for me, it’s extremely important to get others to do as much as they possibly can, and to help motivate and support them.

I see so many “green consumer” blogs, press releases (I get about 5 per day!), advertisements, and overall encouragement.  And to me, those often serve to let people off easily:  “you save the planet and by living your life just exactly as you do now, if you buy these couple of very important things!”

As Crafty Green Poet writes, “I think the idea of starting where people are at and giving them easy things to do is a great way to start but there has been research done that shows that campagins using this approach lead to people thinking that’s all they need to do.”

With the right support networks, many of us get past that stage of green consumerism and realize that we do have to change our lifestyles.  So we spend a lot of time restructuring our lives and redefining normalcy on a daily basis.  It’s incredible – that movement of living simply, sustainably, and/or frugally is growing every day!

But societal change has to happen on multiple fronts in order to fully succeed.  History has taught us that time and again:  personal changes are the beginning, but then there must be a movement that changes society, and laws and rules that secure it for good.

And so that brings me to believe that there is a continuum of change, and my idea behind this blog and particularly the last several posts I’ve written about doing more, is to capture anyone along that continuum and help push them forward, to the next level.

Belinda brought up an excellent point, however:  “if someone had told me at the beginning that to be sustainable I would need to be an active part of my community I probably would have walked away”- it would have been too overwhelming.  Stephanie wrote yesterday, “You’re asking too much from this overworked, tired, groggy introvert who doesn’t even know where to begin in her personal environmentalist efforts.”

I don’t think there’s room in our lives and time enough in the day to create change in your community at the same time that you start down the journey of personal lifestyle changes.  Have you found that?  I personally made lifestyle changes for a long time, and participated in voting and letter writing and other small, more peripheral things at the same time.  But it wasn’t until I felt I had more or less redefined normal on a foundational level in my own life, that I was able to move on to work within my community.  It is too overwhelming to start doing both at the same time.

And that is a part of the continuum of change, as I see it:

  1. Become aware.
  2. Buy greener products.
  3. Change your lifestyle at a personal, daily level.
  4. Work within your community to create change.
  5. Work globally to create change.
  6. Learn how to effectively and sustainably integrate each of these things into your daily lifestyle.

It’s difficult to move on to each next step without feeling at least somewhat like you have mastered the one before it.

Does this continuum ring true from your own experience?

Ruchi addresses this in her latest post: “Yes, This Is Important.”  She writes, “We cannot transition to a new era of renewable energy without changing people’s behavior.”  I believe her thought is that not only is this more or less a continuum, but it must work in that very order:  first you change at home, then you change within your communities, and then you can create global change.

So what do we do, how do we provoke, inspire, and support people at each stage – without overwhelming them? Can we have blogs and media that address multiple levels, or does each person need a community of people who are on the same point in the continuum?

I’m on number 6 by the way.  I feel like I won’t master that for quite a while, but I’m working on it!

Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

by Redvers on Flickr

I admit I was disheartened by the small response the other day, and I want to address the incredible need we have to continue our sustainable paths far beyond ourselves.  Please indulge me and leave a comment about your thoughts!

Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

Living a sustainable (or simple, or green) lifestyle is hard sometimes – no question.  It’s not always easy to try new things, to find what works for you – and find what your family will handle.  I believe we all come here to learn how to do that better, to figure out new tricks and ideas, and to lean on others for support.

Awesome.  I love that.  I need that!

Once we get to a certain point, when we have found most of the answers we’re going to find, when we have made most of the changes we’re realistically going to make in our homes, though, WE CAN’T STOP.

Nobody wants to hear that there is more to be done, that we can’t just live our simple lifestyles in peace.  But I want to be the one to tell you that it isn’t enough.  You can’t stop.  We need you to do more.  Society needs you to keep going beyond your own lifestyle changes.

You can’t change the world by living simply all by yourself.  There are a million reasons to change your own lifestyle, and doing that alone is something to be sure.  But there’s more.  And I firmly believe you cannot live a truly sustainable lifestyle without doing more.  We have too far to go, and individual change is too slow.

What Else Do We Need To Do?

  1. Participate in local politics. Vote.  Sign petitions.  Protest.  Make contributions.  Volunteer your time to pass important laws.  Run for office even, and do whatever you can to support those who share your values.

  2. Educate. Teach your children, and your neighbors’ children.  Pay your teachers a living wage.  Be an active member in the PTA.  Mentor and tutor.  Write books, blogs, newsletters, and letters to editors.  Make sure that next generation does not make the same mistakes we did by actively guiding them to a better way.  Get people to change their ways and to collectively redefine normal.

  3. Form groups. Yes, join groups for sure.  But if there isn’t a group that should exist, make it happen – don’t rely on others.  Bring people together to learn, talk, and most importantly, to act.

  4. Support organizations. There are entities that are large and doing great things already.  During this economy, they are able to do less due to lack of funding.  HELP them with your time, your money, your donations, and your ideas.  Volunteer, become a board member, attend events, offer your home as a meeting place, or do a number of other things to help.

  5. Encourage businesses to do what you do. Be a voice in your own office – write a CSR plan, help change light bulbs, start a corporate giving program.  Support businesses you believe in, and don’t support those you don’t.  Find unique solutions to business problems that are positive for the world.  Ask business to give time and money to important causes.  Inspire them to deliver more in the way of world change.

That’s just the start of the list.  What else do we need to do? Are you doing these things now?  If so, how is it working?

How Do You Participate In Your Community?

by Clifbar&co on Flickr


It has been a while since we’ve discussed community building!  I think it’s an extremely important part of living sustainably, and there are lots of different ways to do it.


Why Participate in Your Community?


  1. To help make your community what you want it to be.
  2. To build a support network in case of a family, town, or national emergency.
  3. To learn from your neighbors.
  4. To borrow and barter rather than pay for new things.
  5. To support your local economy and infrastructure, and make it more self-reliant.
  6. To know where your food, clothing, and supplies come from.
  7. To make our schools, homes, and governments stronger.
  8. To better enjoy our lives by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that we enjoy.
  9. To help set its course so that you and your children will live in a place you enjoy living in.


How Do You Build Your Community?


I’ve listed a number of ways here, but essentially you find your niche and go for it.  What do you like to do?  Then go find some other people who like to do it too!  What do you need that you can’t (or don’t want to) make yourself?  Find someone in your community who makes it!  Something not working right in your community?  Figure out how to make it right and then make that happen!  Children’s school need a new roof?  Get together with other parents and raise the money, or build it yourself!


I’ve written about how to start forming a group, so if you can’t find the group you’re looking for please read that post.


What Ways Do You Participate In Your Community?


You all have seen and read several of the ways I participate in my community – from planting roundabouts and buying local food at home, to supporting local infrastructure and bartering with local businesses at work.

I would love to know what you do!  How do you find ways to participate in your community?   What kinds of things do you enjoy?  Please give us all some ideas for ways we can engage more!

Happening Upon A Herd Of Urban Goats

Urban Goats!

It was a year ago.  I was driving down the street, and I saw them – were they wild dogs?  I slowed… then the car behind me slowed as well… they… they were goats!  Wow!

I was fascinated – they were alone, under some trees, behind a hastily put-up fence.  Two days later, I’d just returned home and was checking my RSS feeds.  On the Slog newswire was a headline “Goats in Capitol Hill!”

I grabbed my camera and whisked off – it was nearly dark, and this was something that must be captured!


Amazing.  On a hill between the dog park and the freeway, were a whole bunch of happily munching goats!  There were many people looking on, taking cell phone photos, laughing, and enjoying the bizarre sight. A community-building moment to be sure.

I learned later that the city rents them – I’ve seen them in other parts of town since.  One of those fun little sustainability sights in the city!

Not a Baaaad Idea, eh...?

Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

Live the Lifestyle You Want to Live, and Live it Sustainably

The following is a post I wrote for the co-op recently – I posted it late, so it wasn’t read by many.  Because it is a natural progression from my recent post here, I thought you all might enjoy it…

Ellis Exploring the Roof Garden

Last month I wrote about finding your own version of sustainability. Everyone is different, and for that reason, there is no ONE way to live sustainably. From the comments, I gathered that some readers felt I was somehow letting everyone off the hook, that we didn’t all need to live sustainably but we just had to live happily. However, that is far from what I meant. I believe we can, each of us, live the lives and lifestyles that we want to live – and live them sustainably.

In other words, if I am most comfortable in a city, I don’t need to move back to the land to live sustainably. If you hate the chaos of the city, you can find a lifestyle in the country that is sustainable. If I want to fit into society – and not be thought of as someone outside of society – I can find a way to do that sustainably.

If I don’t have time to knit or sew, I don’t necessarily have to make time to do those things – as long as I buy clothing and household items that are sustainably made (and only when I truly need them). If I don’t like gardening, or if I’m not good at it, I don’t have to live in the country and tend a huge garden. Instead, I can live in the city and purchase local, organic foods at the farmer’s market or through a CSA. Often this makes food and clothing more sustainable, because fewer resources are used when things are made and/or grown in bulk. This is not true across the board, of course – no matter what you do, you have to do it conscientiously in order to remain sustainable. But you don’t have to do everything yourself in order to live sustainably.

Why don’t I do everything myself? I grow some food in a community garden and work with my mother on a second urban garden, but I no longer have a 2,000 foot garden in the country. I don’t knit or sew, and I don’t always make my own food at home. You can do all of those things and live sustainably and happily. But you don’t have to. And in order to do all of the work I do to make the world a better place, I cannot manage a large garden, sew, knit, cook all of my own meals, preserve foods, make my own soaps, and many other things.

I live a professional lifestyle, and at the same time I consume 90% less energy than the average American. I live a pretty darn sustainable lifestyle.

It is a choice. And I have chosen to do as much as I can at home, and to utilize my surrounding community to help me do the rest to live sustainably. And I do that in order to have a job that helps me reach a lot of people and create world change. Ultimately, I have a larger impact on the world.

I can do things in the city that I could not do in the country, and I have access to people and resources I did not have access to in the country. For these reasons, I can do more world changing things here.

Plus I have a small, energy efficient home here – built with green materials, and sharing energy and resources with other people in my building. I can walk or take public transportation nearly everywhere I need to go. I can find used designer clothing and nice furniture in local thrift and antique stores, I can walk across the street to the farmer’s market and across another street to a green grocery store. For these reasons and many more, I am able to live the lifestyle that I enjoy living, and make the changes I want to make in the world – all while living sustainably.

So I encourage you to live the lifestyle you want to live and make it sustainable. Only you are you, so don’t let others sway you into living a lifestyle you don’t enjoy. Life your life, and make it sustainable.

Living Sustainably in the City

Our Rooftop


There is a notion in the world of sustainability and green, that you must live a country life and make everything – and grow everything – and do everything – yourself.  I believed it.  I read books about moving back to the land, of living self-sufficiently.  I learned how to preserve, how to garden at a large scale, how to make cheese, and bake bread daily using our own homemade starter.  I began to learn how to sew and knit and truly believed I would learn to make everything I needed in my life.

I was not unhappy.  But I was not really happy, either.  There was never enough time in the day.  I worked very hard doing things that accomplished the basic necessities of life, and no more than that.  There is something very pure in that.  In fact it was a good way to purify my body – I lost a fair amount of weight, got my asthma in check, and felt good; and to purify my soul – after a rat race of working in the film industry for ten years, working 12-18 hours/day, I needed to unwind.  But it was not a lifestyle that ultimately made me happy for the long-term.

I felt isolated.  I felt unable to do the things I wanted to do to make the world a better place.  I felt lost within day to day living.

It was then that I realized that sustainability meant more than living self-sufficiently, and that simplifying made a lot of sense to me, but for me there is such a thing as living too simply.  It may be perfect for you, dear reader.  I am in no way saying it is not a good life to lead.  But for my own happiness, I’d gone too far down the simple road.

And so I moved back to a mid-sized city, where sustainability was an everyday word – trains and streetcars are returning, the urban center is being revitalized with built-green mixed-use buildings, and people talk unabashedly about changing the world.

In many ways, my lifestyle here is more sustainable.  While we spend more money on rent and the cost of living is higher overall, the wages are higher, too, and we don’t spend money on gas.  I’m not perfect – I do buy some new clothes to support my professional lifestyle (and try to buy them sustainably), but I also find nice used clothes in local thrift stores.  I don’t make my own meals every day – sometimes I purchase locally- and ready-made foods made from organic ingredients instead.  I don’t grow all of my own food anymore – but I purchase local and organic foods from local farmers.

I walk nearly everywhere.  I’m becoming a part of my community in many ways I could never have done in the country.  And I have time to do the things I set out to do in my life:  to change the world for the better in a large way.  I write this blog (and others), I work with amazing world-changing organizations and corporations in my company, I see my family regularly, and I participate in my community in numerous ways.

These things I could not do in the country, nor could I do them if I lived a totally self-sufficient life.  So I am happy with the places I have been, the things I have done, and the lifestyles I have lived.  And I am very happy to be living sustainably in the city.

I hope you have found such happiness as well.  Have you?