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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!
Back in January, I wrote about this year becoming a Year About Me, making sure that I have what I need in my life and that I follow my own dreams. These are the things many people have thought about in their 40th year, no doubt.
At mid-career, with many skills built up, a family and a home, the question lingers: have you done everything you want to do? And if the answer is no, then get on it already!
Right at the beginning of the retreat, I checked my email for the last time before unplugging for the week. There was an email from a man I’d met and worked for on a small video shoot a year ago: he had just begun producing a documentary and he wondered if I’d be interested in working on it with him. I told him I would get back to him in a week, and promptly unplugged.
At the conference, surrounded by media makers of all kinds, my next career steps swiftly crystalized for me: I have a unique gift in being able to communicate stories in a wide variety of media. I have, in various ways over the years, used that talent to create positive behavior change in others. I have been working for a very long time toward accruing these talents and skills, and at long last I am ready to take my work to the next level!
Transformation happened in those woods, and I freed myself to do what I needed to do.
At the end of the week breathing in the beauty, I’d realized I was ready to move from my high-paying corporate anchor client back to the work I really set out to do in my life. I’d learned, I’d paid some of my loans, and it was time to move on.
It has been scary, but also comforting – like finding my way home.
When I got back home, I was re-energized. Like I was 25 again, excited at the possibilities and convicted in my dreams.
I worked hard to finish my website, to visualize my vision, to jump into the next phase. I started talking about my work with other people more, no longer bashful about it. Somehow the “what I do” conversation became so much easier.
Two days later I called the man with the documentary. We talked for 4 hours.
It turns out Jon has been on a similar journey, trying to figure out how to create sustainable change in the world. By the end of our 4 hours, we were discussing how to bring large environmental organizations together to empower them to do their work more efficiently and effectively. We were discussing how to incentivize businesses to operate more sustainably through community storytelling. And we dove deeply into how to take people beyond awareness of climate change, and help them get to the next stage: how do we help people change their lifestyles? What tools and guidance can we offer to make that transition easier and more effective?
We had our first day of shooting the documentary last week. It required Jon and I to be one on one together for 23 hours. We took each of those amazing topics and discussed them at two levels deeper. And so it goes…
I have an email box full of marketers’ pleas to feature products on Earth Day. There are loads of conferences all over the world this week. And then there’s a huge backlash of bloggers coming out against Earth Day and all the bad it now stands for (over consumption, etc).
But don’t get caught reacting so hard against commercialization that you lose sight of the reason Earth Day began. Make it your own.
Take it back. Take Back Earth Day. Don’t use this day to buy stuff, but instead DO SOMETHING.
Sure, every day is (and should be) Earth Day. But today it’s official, so DO SOMETHING BIGGER than you normally would.
There is a song that has been inspiring me lately. I’ll share it here in case it inspires you.
Here are the lyrics:
Don’t they know that there’s something going on
What they’re harming with their indecision
But who will be left standing when I’m gone?
There’ll be nothing left but a vision
It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It’s too easy to bow your head and pray
There are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today
Are you hoping for a miracle
As the ice caps melt away?
No use hoping for a miracle
There’s a price we’ll have to pay
It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It’s too easy to bow your head and pray
There are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today
If this doesn’t inspire you, find something that does inspire you and then go do something. Because it won’t get any easier.
And then, try not to let a day pass where you don’t do something. No matter how small.
Take your kids to a park, call or write a Senator, compose a blog post or a letter to the editor, support a local non-profit, volunteer, read, unplug for a day, attend a local community gathering, cut down on your electric bill, … do something.
I have gone through a couple of closet purges over the last few months, as my body grew smaller after the cleanse, increased exercise, and avoiding gluten (which, among other things, made me bloated).
My favorite drop-off site for used clothing is Lifelong AIDS Alliance. Sometimes I drop things off, other times I pick things up. It’s a wonderful cycle, and it helps a great local charity at the same time. (Plus it’s a tax write-off, which doesn’t hurt.)
I just came across usagain, a for-profit company that sells, gives away, and recycles used textiles – clothes, curtains, shoes, etc.
I must say that for a moment, I was annoyed that it was a for-profit company given all the charities you could donate to instead. And then I rethought for a moment. Here’s their mission:
Our mission at USAgain is simple: to provide consumers with a convenient and eco-friendly option to rid themselves of excess clothing, which we divert from wasting in landfills for resale here in the US and abroad.
According to their “Live Stats”, as of this morning they reported:
Items saved from landfills
Lbs of CO2 saved
Cubic Yards of landfill space saved
It’s pretty cool that someone saw an environmental need and started a business to fill that need. If their statistics are any indication (only 15% of household textiles are recycled?) there is still a lot of unmet need!
At 8:30pm tonight, your local time, I recommend you and your family turn out your lights for an hour.
While it’s a symbolic gesture more than anything, it’s a fun way to show others you care about the world we live in together. Take a walk around the neighborhood, eat dinner or dessert by candlelight, talk with your family and friends under the light of the moon…
For just one hour you’ll be experiencing the same thing millions of others will be doing around the world.
I’ll be back soon, everyone. Apologies for my disappearance! I was ill and it took a while to recover fully. I lost a lot of energy and time, which ate into my time dedicated to writing. I miss you all. See you soon.
I know what some of you are thinking: Every day is Earth Day and every week is Earth Week. I agree.
However, I believe Earth Day, Earth Week, and now Earth Month succeed in helping normalize a respect for the planet. I hate to say it, but in this day and age, the Earth needs a good set of marketers to bring a celebration of the planet into our collective conscience.
And for this reason, I celebrate Earth Day: not because I need to be reminded of my impact on the earth, but because the more we all collectively celebrate this day, the more Earth Day becomes a part of the mainstream. And the more Earth Day becomes a part of the mainstream, the more people will say “Every day is Earth Day.” Every year this sentiment grows, and that is a good thing.
So for those of us who don’t need a reminder, and don’t want to buy stuff or let Earth Day turn into a day of buying stuff, let’s celebrate the day in our own way: in our communities, in our families, and within our lifestyles. Let’s celebrate it visibly and internally, so that it means something to us, but it also helps redefine normal in the mainstream.
Ten Meaningful Ways To Celebrate Earth Week
Start/plant a garden in a public-facing space. Try planting vegetables or fruits in your front yard, in a community garden, on your parking strip, in your church yard, or in another neighborhood space. Celebrate eating locally and sustainably!
Take a week off of buying things. A good way to counter the consumerist aspect of Earth Day is to remind yourself and those around you that celebrating the earth is about not buying more than you need. So go on, try not buying new things for one week, and let your friends and family know how you’re celebrating Earth Week.
Spend time reflecting on your surroundings. Take family walks each evening, walk or bike to work, go for a local hike or bike, sit on your porch and soak in the neighborhood… There are so many ways!
Support a local Earth Day event. There are more and more Earth Day events each year. Pick one that you believe in, and volunteer for the day or for a few hours – help them spread the word about Earth Day.
Have a family staycation. Camp in the backyard, have a picnic in a local park, eat dinner by candlelight, tell family stories around the dinner table, …
Eat locally all week, or all day. Changing the way we eat is so important for our own well-being as well as that of the earth. Some of us jumped right into this idea and live quite locally and seasonally. However, for others it is more difficult, so start slow: eat local meals for a day, or even for a week. You might find it’s addictive! Check out Local Harvest if you don’t know where to begin.
Volunteer locally. There are many local organizations who have needs in the spring. Local environmental organizations likely have work parties to plant native plants, for example. Local community gardens likely need help harvesting and growing food for local food banks, local charities can likely use your help in numerous ways. Call, email, or visit them – I’m sure they could use your help!
Give up plastic for a week. Need incentive to give up plastic? Check out Fake Plastic Fish for loads of ideas.
Give away things you don’t need. Go through that stuff in your closets, basement, and garage that you haven’t used for years, and give it to a local charity, thrift store, Freecycle, or a neighbor or friend who will use it. Not only does this free your home from clutter, it also keeps others from buying new things because you give them hand-me-downs.
What else? What else can we do for Earth Week that is low- to no-cost and stays true to our values? I’m sure you’ve thought about it, and if you haven’t take a moment now to think about it, and leave a thought for us in the comments. I’m sure your comment will help someone else. What are you thinking of doing this week for Earth Day or Earth Week?
During the holidays, I generally eat too much. I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy. I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.
It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.
But do you ever NOT regret it later? After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another? After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year? And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?
Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate. I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside! I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.
And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy. Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world. Is it? Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?
Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you. You deserve it. And we all deserve it.
If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people got together all over the world to spread the word: “350.” According to 350.org, “Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity.”
This was, in essence, an awareness campaign. I believe the idea behind it is that when the number 350 is in everyone’s heads, we can then take action to lower the CO2 in our atmosphere.
But does awareness really lead to action?
Human minds are incredibly complex. There are fields of study, and careers of work, devoted to figuring out how to change our minds. And some also focus on how to change our actions.
Every public health campaign has been created this way – usually each one is tested and retested on focus groups before we ever see it. And every large advertising campaign is even more rigorously tested to find out the most effective way to change our actions. Every film, every documentary, every television show – they all are tested and focused on a particular target audience.
There are various theories surrounding the stages people go through before they change the way they do things. The most basic is this:
At each of these stages, people need some instigating factor that gets them to the next level. It could be a talk with a friend, a change in your life, a new action campaign, or any number of things. And of course this is just an outline. Sometimes you skip one of the levels, or they are a bit out of order, or you fall back to a prior level before moving forward – but this is generally pretty much the way things generally happen.
At least at the moment, the 350 movement stops at #1: awareness. I don’t know if there is a plan that goes beyond this, but would be a shame to lose all that work, all that momentum.
I believe they are right. We have a lot to do, and it’s either too late or almost too late to turn back around and go in the right direction. But I also believe this:
People are inherently different, and the way that they create change and respond to need is different. And whether they start with their own lifestyles, or go into politics, or help people in the developing world lift themselves out of poverty without destroying the planet as we did, or some other way – it doesn’t matter, it only matters that we all start.
Fear often paralyzes people. Many people become very overwhelmed by fear, and end up doing nothing. Climate change is big, each of us is small. We can’t change everything, so why change anything?
Even if we can’t turn our CO2 around as quickly as we need to, we still have to turn it around as soon as is physically possible… or things will get exponentially worse yet.
It does not matter what motivates people to change, only that they do. The world has other problems in addition to climate change. If Red Icculus changes because he wants to be more independent from the system and to provide a good life for his children, or if Maybelline changes her lifestyle in order to be more frugal and personally sustainable, or Deb G starts changing her life to protect her body from toxics in plastics, or someone else is afraid GMOs will fundamentally change the world and so eats local, organic food… isn’t that a good thing? Does it matter why people change, or only that they do change?
From Awareness To Action
How many people do you know who want to change the way they live their life, for one reason or another, but who just never seem to get around to it? I know a lot. It’s hard to change your life. We all resist it.
So how do we bring people from awareness to action, and then from action to maintenance (because one action isn’t enough, we have to sustain ourselves and make those changes constant)?
I spend a lot of time thinking about this when I write blog articles, when I do my work at my job, when I talk with people throughout my day. While I wish that people would stop what they are doing now and make an entire switch in their lifestyles, I have come to understand that this is not human nature. I think about how I started to change the way I do things: I started with driving less, eating locally, gardening, sending letters, protesting at protest rallies. Then I went further, and then further still.
Awareness can be overwhelming. Fear can be debilitating. But we cannot let ourselves become overwhelmed and debilitated, because for one thing, that is not a good quality of life, and for another, those feelings get us nowhere. There are a lot of people talking about change but not really doing anything about it – and maybe feeling guilty that they aren’t doing anything. I believe the best way to handle this feeling of being overwhelmed and debilitated is to just start somewhere, anywhere, big or small. From there, we can support one another and continue on our journey toward change.
So I do not believe you get people to act with more fear. Instead, you encourage people to concentrate on one action at a time, and you encourage people to start where they are most comfortable starting. Generally that means starting close to home: with health, saving money, reducing toxins, and so on. Because starting somewhere is better than not starting at all, and once people start to change it is easier for them to keep going, especially with encouragement.
Once we do start to change our lifestyles, the way to maintain and sustain that change is to build a support network: a blog, a group of friends, a book club, whatever it takes to surround each other with support.
It’s not as straight of an answer as I’d like, but humans are not simple creatures, and there are no easy answers when it comes to inspiring people to change their lifestyles.
What Do You Think?
We know we need to get a lot of people to change the way they do things, and the way governments and corporations do things. If you have an alternative way to reach people who aren’t yet doing anything to change their lifestyles, and to provoke them into sustained action, I would love to hear it!
And if you haven’t taken a look at the many 350 photos taken this past weekend, you should – they’re quite inspiring. What do you think they should do next, though, to capture that awareness and turn it into action??