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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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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?


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15 comments to Why Doing It Alone Isn’t Enough

  • Our Transition Town OKC group is working to build a sustainable and resilient community to face our energy and environmental challenges. The thing is, it takes time to educate and network enough to build a groundswell of support for the things that need to be done. In addition, it’s pretty difficult in a city this size, so we are trying to take it to the neighborhoods to work at a very micro-local level (something I think is already being done in your area).

    Right now we’re in the early stages of the process- so it doesn’t necessarily look like we’re making progress – because we are still building the foundations.

  • I left a comment on the other post with a few of the things I do. But I’m also thinking about how communities can be so different. I’ve lived in several neighborhoods in Seattle where I knew none of my neighbors, I didn’t even see them very often. The only sense of community I had was from where I worked. The community (small city) I live in now, I know everyone on the street by sight, visit with many of them, and have developed friendships with several. I grew up in several small towns. In three of them my family knew everybody (populations of 1000 or less). Just thinking….

  • Take a moment to remember doing it all alone, really isn’t all alone. When you are out in your front garden weeding, and harvesting and your neighbors walk by and tell you how beautiful a garden you have and you tell them that your garden is natural. no chemicals, no artificial fertalizers, they might just think about a chemical free garden themselves.

    When people notice your smiling eyes (which is something you never get with a fake smile) or your fulfilled lifestyle and you tell them about it, you might just be changing their lives.

    I personally don’t get political, because of the politics. Politics is not the way to change the environment or the world (in my opinion). Consumerism is. That is not spending your dollars on companies that do not protect or promote the environment. Spending your dollars on local companies that do, speaks louder than polictical agendas, that have been paid for by big business trying to green wash itself.

    I do however think that people should participate in their community in order to rebuild communities. Kids were safer when I was a kid because neighbors new neighbors and everyone looked out for everyone. It didn’t matter if the Smiths punished you for something your parents might let you do, the Smiths said no so your parents went along with it, and they didn’t go yell at the Smiths for disciplining or protecting their child.

    When we had neighborhoods, the “bad” neighbors (for whatever reason, mean, drunk, other issues) were known, and kids new better than to bother mean Mr. Jones because he was mean and he might even hurt you. The odd neighbor (the one people always say, I always had a funny feeling about him, but he seemed so normal after something has gone terribly wrong), has a harder time fitting into a close community than a neighborhood.

    I do believe that we as a community need to make our numbers and prescence known and would participate in local parades and events, just to build my sense of community, not for the political reasons.

    BTW – I have a degree in History and Political Science – so people who know me, find my stance on political activism a bit odd.

  • I am now, as National Novel Writing Month begins, working on a piece of fiction that I hope to publish once I am finished with it. It’s a ‘greenpunk’ novel – which takes the DIY ethic of steampunk and blends it with the idea of sustainability. Why? Because all the dry reports and honest pleas of the world can’t motivate people like a well-written story can. It’s the biggest thing Kunstler has right – fiction will reach a wider audience, and can make a bigger impact.

    Sharon and Aaron know it, too – their plea in the back of A Nation of Farmers calls for more storytellers spinning yarns about an alternative future to the ‘burn or starve’ options espoused as the only choices, in order to motivate people. I can write – so I’m going to turn that talent to the use of our collective future, in hopes of inspiring others to join us.

  • It’s slower here than those who have heard of Eugene’s reputation would believe. City management is in the grip of developer interests, and there is not much the mayor can do (she’s aware of the Transition model) to help. It would be necessary to restructure local politics to have an impact there.

    So individual actions have been at the forefront, and small group actions. One indicator is that where there was once no farmer’s market, and then for decades there was one, there are now about fifteen, most of which sprang up in the last four years. Successful CSAs abound, and green startup companies are looking good.

    Big news is that the gargantuan chip plant that had garnered millions in tax breaks to locate here, and then failed, has gone to an outfit that makes solar panels. They’ll start small — but it’s a HUGE building; lots of potential.

    And there is a movement to learn to grow a variety of grains and dry beans for a secure local source of staples. A much needed project — this is supposed to be one of the great fertile areas in the nation, yet we can only feed about 15% of ourselves. Why? It all goes to grass seed and turf growing for landscapers (!!).

    Most of my personal activism is directed to “showing a way to live” by documenting everything online. Our location is a bit isolated, and being a groupie would mean an unconscionable amount of air-fouling travel. So, I’m with Tree on a lot of this.

    Degrees? Oh, mine are in English and Arts Management (with a concentration in Museum Studies). How’s that for practical? ;)

    risa b

  • Anita Beaman

    I work in a high school library, and this year one of my goals is to “green” the library. I’m hoping it will make a difference both in the impact the library has on the environment and that it will help educate our students about their impact on the environment – and that this impact isn’t just made at home.
    First items: making sure we have compact florescent bulbs in all our reading lamps, and installing a green print program on our computers (we have 60 of them, so it makes a big difference).

    I also sponsor Key Club, and international service organization for teens, and we do service projects regularly to help the community. Last week we had a haunted house fundraiser and collected canned goods as part of admission cost. This weekend we’ll be raking leaves in exchange for canned good donations – all these will go to our local food pantry.

    The kids want to do some local trail clean-up this year, and I’m encouraging them to brainstorm other ideas that will have a positive impact on our environment or educate them & others about the issues.

  • Note that not everybody needs to be doing everything in your list. Some people are into politics, some are into education, some are into business, etc. Every person will have different interests and motivations, and will find reward in different endeavours.

    Also, it’s OK for some people to just do their own thing sustainably. Part of the turnoff for some is that it seems everybody who is trying to be more sustainable is trying to drag everybody else along with them. Having some people who just get along doing their own thing, and not becoming ‘active’ or ‘activists’, is a good example to others too.

    The most effective things I’ve seen done locally have been the more fun things. For example a gardening group that brings together people who enjoy growing their own food. They have fun supervised activities for kids, talks and workshops for grownups, and lots of fun and camaraderie. The fact that the gardening club promotes organic, sustainable methods is almost secondary. But by making the sustainable stuff not the primary focus, the whole thing is more accessible to everybody and in the end more people are becoming more sustainable.

    I guess I’m saying that rather than trying to get people to “be sustainable”, it can be more effective to encourage people to pursue their interests and have fun, but to do so in a sustainable way.

  • I totally agree! Recently I have started to foucus my sustanable living efforts outside my home. I realise that I have to make changes at home, but in the long-term I believe these changes will achieve very little, unless I’m part of a strong and resilient community. I’m now actively involved in my local Transition Towns group (Transition Town Newcastle).

    Newcastle is actually a city, so the plan is for Transition Town Newcastle to be a hub – supporting a number of local smaller initiatives. I’m currently coordinating the first of these local initiatives: the Greater Waratah Wellbeing and Sustainability Project. The overall objective of the project is to build the capacity of the Greater Waratah community to maintain wellbeing and adapt to change associated with increased food and fuel costs associated with Peak Oil. Some of the actions we are considering include community gardens, frugal family club, free yoga in a local park, and large scale worm farming and compost facilities. But overall its about creating a more connected community.

    I wasn’t surprised when I saw the title of your post. I’m not certain people want to be part of a commnity any more. People seem surprisingly dissinterested in getting to know their neighbours. I know there are those that do care and do want to help – but they seem few and far between.

  • I started to respond then realised it was almost post sized… although it doesn’t directly address your questions I thought you might like a read.

    http://belindas-simple-life.blogspot.com/2009/11/community-as-flexible-space.html

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  • Oh, Melinda. You’re asking too much from this overworked, tired, groggy introvert who doesn’t even know where to begin in her personal environmentalist efforts.

  • You know, I want to do more and we reached a point where our small changes weren,t enough anymore. So I started my blog to try to reach yogis who may not have this kind of exposure or ideas.

    Ok…. so now what? Recently I’ve started to write emails to local companies and offered to set up petitions. I’ve also just recently bartered energy-skills for free yoga classes (not really environmental, but community based that’s for sure).

    What I used to do in every apartment I’ve lived in over the past 8 years (a new place every year with school etc) is to bake some cookies and introduce myself to my neighbours. Weird for a 20-something? Yes. But I grew up in a tiny (pop 500) fishing village and that’s just what you do. I borrowed sugar from neighbours in Montreal.

    If I think back to my friends and family, most have adopted some small ‘eco’ (or large!) changes that we’ve made as they’ve seen how it’s just a regular part of our lives now.

    These few posts (linked from arduous) have been fantastic and nice food for thought. Thank you Melinda!

  • [...] 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 [...]

  • Yes, we can all do more, in our personal lives and in our communities. I have found in my own path to living with less waste that my actions originated from a deeply personal and symbolic place, but grew from there. I believe in the ripple effect of inspired people inspiring more people to change their lives and communities. Without taking the first step, we can’t climb the mountain. But once we set out on the journey, we’ll go farther than we ever expected.

    That said, have you read Derrick Jensen’s article about why personal change doesn’t equal political change?

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801/

  • Contrary to the widely held notion that most drugs – vis-à-vis Viagra pills – sold on the internet, there are a host of reputable online pharmacies, if only one would take time to ensure that the online pharmacy he is visiting is credible.

  • Jessica

    Whooooh… This one’s a doozy.

    Think of it in terms of eco-evangelism. Ever had the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door, and you 1)hide and pretend that there’s no one home, 2)politely tell them that you’re not interested and then close the door on them, or 3)answer the door in the nude just to watch them completely freak out? (I worked with a guy who actually did that once, and he bragged to high heavens about it.)

    We all know that lifestyle changes need to be made by more people, because when we live our sustainable lives quietly, peacefully allowing our neighbors to continue their wasteful, damaging practices, every positive impact that we’ve made for the benefit of the environment and society is essentially undone (and then some) by the overwhelming majority of those not living sustainably.

    BUT, as with those who don’t want to hear the Word of God (in whatever religious form it may take), there are MANY who immediately shut down, tune out, and even become hostile the moment you approach them with anything smacking of sustainability, green-ness, etc.

    Where I live, I’ve found that simply being who I am and practicing my sustainable habits has drawn backlash – not from “Bible-thumping,” if you will, but simply from living out my life in a sustainable fashion. (The only time I ever deliberately told someone to change their behavior was when I was carpooling with a co-worker – he was driving – and he tossed a pen out his car window because it no longer worked. I couldn’t believe he had done that. “Oh my God!” I said to him. “What? It’s just a pen. Doesn’t work anymore,” he responded. “I know we’re in your car and all, and it was your pen, and you’re being gracious enough to give me a ride…but…don’t ever do that again! It’s littering!” He brushed it off and said that that’s how they do things out here. I was aghast.)

    One of my best friends (she’s about as eco as I am) used to live in a community where sustainable living was violently discouraged. Anyone who recycled was “evil,” “Communist,” and “un-American,” and if you did anything to try and reduce your environmental impact, you’d think you’d wrapped baby Jesus in the American flag and then set it on fire. She said sometimes she just kept her mouth shut about her environmental positions, for fear of some kind of hostile response

    My point in all this is that, for many of us, trying to encourage others to live more sustainably isn’t always as easy as warmly and lovingly inviting friends and neighbors to try using baking soda and vinegar for household cleaning and telling them how wonderfully it works in your own home. I’m a particularly sensitive person (despite my best efforts to not be), so I tend to get very discouraged when I get the message, “Your kind is not welcome here.” I know I shouldn’t let it deter me, but it’s pretty lonely – and very frustrating – being the only one who seems to be doing anything to lessen my impact on the environment. It’s even lonelier when I feel like I have to hide my habits sometimes because it’ll rile the neighbors or co-workers.

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