Editor's note: This is Sydney Menees' last column for Greensburg GreenTown in her role as AmeriCorps fellow. Today she heads out on vacation before starting law school in the fall at Georgetown University. Her talents have been a great asset to the organization this past year and we are deeply grateful to Sydney for her time in Greensburg. She has been instrumental in making many projects a success, and has helped countless visitors learn about the community and its big vision - in person, on Facebook and Twitter, and here on the website. As we told her, she joins the other illustrious alumnae in our AmeriCorps "Hall of Fame".
Sydney recently studied the inspirational book, Cradle to Cradle, which has had a big impact on her way of thinking. We hope you enjoy her analysis of the book's message and its implication for the future of the Earth.
Daniel Wallach, Sydney Menees, Ruth Ann Wedel & Jason Culbertson smile for the camera during Sydney's last week in Greensburg
Transitioning Away From Sustainability by Sydney Menees
Since I started working at GreenTown in August of 2012, I have been happily surprised by the amount of sustainable products and practices available today. There are so many innovative green building products on the market and renewable energies are getting better all the time. But thinking of the actual definition of sustainable (“capable of being sustained”) doesn’t make it sound like an especially appealing lifestyle.
As I hear politicized rhetoric surrounding sustainability, I gather that a lot of the pushback comes from people disliking feeling guilty. Some of the dialogue of environmentalism encourages people to cut back: use less gas, produce less waste, have fewer children.... Why should I cut back if my neighbor isn’t? Previous generations didn’t worry about cutting back; why should we? It’s a natural inclination, but the sustainability of earth depends on us cutting back and restricting ourselves...or does it?
I recently finished reading the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The book introduces a new paradigm for sustainability: eco-effectiveness. The idea behind eco-effectiveness is that environmentalism and capitalism necessarily go hand-in-hand. This harmony is achieved by ditching the current paradigm for sustainability, which is making products, buildings, and emissions less bad. Eco-effectiveness means making products, buildings, “waste,” emissions, etc. that are actually GOOD for the environment. To illustrate how creating good waste/byproducts is possible, McDonough and Braungart use the analogy of a cherry tree. By living and growing, the tree purifies the air and its “waste” (blossoms) enriches the soil and provide food for other animals. Why use chemicals that make us sick when we have the possibility to use materials that are harmless? Why be less bad when we can be 100% good? Though the switch to eco-effectiveness will require a restructuring of current practices throughout industry, it is possible and a few companies (the book specifically mentions Ford and Nike) have been reaping the benefits of enhancing the environment.
The ideas presented in Cradle to Cradle make so much sense to me. It personally relieves me to know the future will not necessarily hinge on humans restricting themselves for their survival. But it will require thoughtful, diligent planning, to which I am excited to contribute.