It seems that everywhere we turn, there are constant reminders of the huge environmental challenges we face. It’s clear that many of the existing models—such as economic, business, and educational—aren’t working for our health or the planet’s, but what are the alternatives that will help us reduce our footprints?
In March, Rachel’s Network addressed that question by gathering leading advocates for “Advancing the Low-Impact Lifestyle” at our 2013 Annual Meeting. More than 40 members and guests joined us in Washington, D.C. to hear diverse perspectives and success stories from experts who are on the frontlines of the sustainable living movement.
- Panel discussion with sustainable business leaders: Susan Aplin of bambeco, an online retailer of green home furnishings; Julie Corbett of Ecologic Brands, which creates revolutionary paper packaging; David Levine of the American Sustainable Business Council; and Brenda Platt of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Each panelist made it clear that business can— and does—play a huge role in advancing sustainability, and the triple-bottom-line is making inroads to the mainstream.
- Lunch at Network Advisor Nora Pouillon‘s eponymously named restaurant, the first in the U.S. to become certified organic. Over our vegetarian meal, Peggy Neu, president of The Monday Campaigns, presented the keys to success for their Meatless Monday initiative; namely, that it promotes a small, specific, and doable change in behavior.
- Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, gave members an in-depth look at Seattle’s new Bullitt Center, “the world’s greenest office building.” From compostable toilets to a glass-enclosed staircase with panoramic views, the Center is a model for innovations that lessen its impact on the planet and promote the well-being of its occupants.
- Congresswomen Lois Capps of California, Donna Edwards of Maryland, and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire inspired members with their efforts to promote women’s leadership on and off the Hill.
- Workshop with digital communications expert Anne Lewis, who advised members on how social media and the internet are leveraged to fulfill organizational goals.
- Wendy Philleo, executive director of The Center for a New American Dream, spoke over dinner about the importance of conscious consumption and a sharing economy that builds a sense of community and promotes access over ownership.
- Jaimie Cloud, founder of The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, captivated members the next morning with her psychology-based approach that challenges young people to think about the world, their relationship to it, and their ability to influence it in an entirely new way.
- Network member Jaime Matyas, vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, and Josh Saks, NWF’s legislative director, briefed members on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Clean Air Act, the primary issues on which members would lobby their representatives. Katie Whitehouse of Voices for Progress offered helpful tips for effective meetings with lawmakers, advising members to be clear on their objectives, use personal stories to make their points, and to try to find common ground.
- Katherine Hamilton, co-founder of 38 North Solutions, a public policy firm specializing in clean energy, provided additional context to our lobbying. She thanked members for meeting with their elected officials and emphasized how important it is to speak up for strong environmental policy, despite the frustration of gridlock in Congress.
- Tour of “Minding the Landscape,” a special exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, with artist Freya Grand, sister of Network member Naomi Cobb. Freya’s rugged, windswept mountains and sandy beaches transfixed members and served as a stirring reminder of the wild beauty of the earth and our role in conserving its resources.
- Kate McGinty, former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, shared her journey (so far) in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race. Kate acknowledged the challenges she faces between now and the 2014 election, but expressed confidence in the success of her environmental message.
While our speakers represented varied sectors, they all shared a simple, but powerful idea: hope. Although environmental challenges may at times seem insurmountable, our Annual Meeting offered evidence that positive changes are not only possible, they are already taking place. Members returned home feeling inspired by what they had learned and with a renewed sense of the importance of their own environmental advocacy and philanthropy.