In 2006, the sustainability movement has begun to spread beyond blogs and the echo chamber of environment geeks into mainstream media with magazine articles, books and movies. Global Warming is now widely recognized as the greatest danger of our time. Environmentalism has effectively been taken back from the hippies and tree huggers and redefined for a more modern and mainstream society. In increasing numbers, average citizens are doing their part to shrink their ecological footprints.
They are, aren't they?
Getting out of Los Angeles during the holidays and visiting my family in the suburbs of Philadelphia reminds me just how differently we all live. The majority of Americans are struggling to get by, living paycheck to paycheck, doing all they can to remain in the shrinking middle class. Sustainability simply isn't at the top of mind.
My sister is a single mother. I'm sure she'd love to spend the time and money to make better consumer decisions but she just doesn't have it. When she's rushing from work to the grocery store to the baby-sitter's, she's just not thinking about the environmental impact of her choices. To her, it's all about convenience. She needs to do everything as cheaply and efficiently as possible to keep her household running like the well-oiled machine it is. As we lamented the lack of snow (or even cold weather - the grass was still green in Pennsylvania!) over the holiday, my niece interrupted our conversation, "Mom, when is it gonna' snow?" "Never, " my sister joked. "Get used to it."
We've made big strides in 2006 in disseminating information. 2007 must be the year that we turn that awareness into action. My sister knows all about Global Warming and she knows that we all have the power to make a difference. But for that to translate into real action on her part, the choices need to be readily available. She just can't afford to make major changes in her routine. Sustainable products and lifestyle choices need to become as easy and cheap as the alternatives.
And this is just America. How often do you think the members of the up and coming Chinese middle class think about their environmental footprint? They are more concerned with getting their share of the spoils of their country's growing economic power. And why shouldn't they be? We often write here about the need to align the desire for economic wealth with the cause of sustainability. In 2007, I hope we can do this not only on a corporate and governmental level, but also in a way that empowers people of all economic backgrounds to participate in building a better world.