Sarah Shewey

CEO/Founder, Happily


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How can we help the sustainability community maintain its growth? *A TEDActive Sustainability Project question*

The TEDActive Sustainability Project will look at best practices in community organizing, and explore radical solutions to push the sustainability movement forward.

At TEDActive2011 in Palm Springs, an amazing group of individuals came together as a group to come up with a simple micro-action solution for helping the sustainability community continue to grow. After a quick 36 hour period of time, they recommended that we move the sustainability TEDTalks into TEDWalks by starting TED Conversations that include an action item attached to a TEDTalk. If you'd like to join them in doing so, please add the tag TEDActiveSUS in the "topics" section of the conversation form.

What would be your micro-solution to growing the sustainability community?

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    Apr 26 2011: I need to grow into sustainability. Growing is step by step. As a toddler, the first steps from chair to table. Then walking in the house. Than Speedy Gonzales in super markets.

    So my micro solution : Try to be a toddler in sustainability; a 5 months challenge with yourself, to learn to walk. List you sustainable spending. And put the barrier each month 10% higher.

    month 1 : 10 % of spending sustainable
    month 2 : 20 % of spending sustainable
    month 3 : 30 % of spending sustainable
    month 4 : 40 % of spending sustainable
    month 5 : 50 % of spending sustainable

    Say you go to the super market and spend 100 dollar, back home you need to be able to mark 10 dollar on sustainable spending and put it under a fridge magnet. It sound silly and childish, though we really have to trick ourselves into sustainable spending step by step.

    As for the micro solution on a micro/region effect;
    As where we live, on Europa, you can't get further than 50% spending sustainably.

    Though if many people reach 50%, it will tip over market driven statistics to invest in the other half 'economically uninteresting products' to become sustainable, this way to to pursue a 100% sustainable economy.

    To get a TedxTalk Walking somewhere; 100 people in a 20 mile region showing together in the regional media their 20% achievement, and how they did it is enough to start a decision making revolution for that region.
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    Apr 20 2011: Today, I've faced an issue at a local conference I attended, that I'd really like to bring on this platform.
    The aim of the conference was to guide entrepreneurs and businessmen -I'm neither- on how to adopt green practices (hopefully without greenwashing), how to do sustainable marketing, how to create sustainable brands... (which all sounds like a joke to me, because the end wish is primarily profit, thus it is just greenwashing for the sake of looking good.)
    The speakers were giving "good" application examples from big companies... then came (I'm sorry if it's unappropriate but I'll mention the company name) the example of UPS. This company made up something called "carbon-neutral-shipping" in which their customers pay more to have this service, and this extra amount is to be transfered to support renewables.
    It sounds pretty cool at first, isn't it?
    But, think again!
    Doesn't it actually sound discouraging?
    We are trying to get more people into the sustainable community, and the companies are punishing their customers for choosing the more sustainable service. They are just after profit and the name-tag. Isn't this clearly greenwashing? (even the presenters have fallen into the trap until I warned them.)
    Shouldn't it be vice-versa?
    So that more people will prefer the "green" option and may drop the prejudice that "green" is expensive.
    I understand that it is not possible for every product or service, but in this specific example, the carbon-use-shippers can pay more to balance their effect. So that they will gradually start to join the sustainable community.
    I think this is one of the most serious challenges we have to face... changing this "business" mindset.
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      Apr 23 2011: The problem is that "green"is not part of business in most of the companies. And they look at this as side business and start by compensations. Logistics companies, for example, have to start thinking about changing fossil fuels to other sources of energy, for example. Only by doing this, for example, a green fuel market will emerge and that will be expensive as it is now.
      Sustainability should be part of the business and not seen as philanthropy. We still have a long way to, but we already started.
    • Apr 29 2011: Naz: I work for UPS. I wanted to explain a bit about our carbon neutral service. We started it after our customers asked for an option to mitigate their carbon when we calculated the carbon impact of their shipping. This was a year ago. The cost in the U.S. (sorry I dont know what it is in Turkey, Naz) is as little as 5 cents per package. We don't make a profit on this service but use the money to purchase high quality certified offsets. And we match that offset purchases that our customers make (we have pledged up to $1 million for this program). We've been very careful to make this whole process transparent. We have used third-parties to verify and certify our methodology for calculating the carbon and then purchasing the offsets in the most credible way possible. You can read our FAQ at (You will need to pick your country first to get geographically-specific information). I hope this will help address your concerns. Lynnette
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        Apr 29 2011: Cool!!! Sorry, if I took it out on UPS (:/).... I didn't mean to offend or anything... I was furious simply because the presenters (who had nothing to do with UPS so they actually don't know much about the process) were explaining things without any depth... I'm used to approach every company claiming to be "green" a bit skeptically because one source says something and another a completely different thing. In this overdlown of info one has to question before absorbing that info...
        I'm truly glad you enlightened me on that. I'm now sure to try this service.... Keep up the good work.
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    Apr 20 2011: I agree with you Naz. The fact that term sustainability comes from a history of 'compliance' or 'measurment' which both in itself are not very inspiring puts it behind the eight ball from the get go. I think we all have seen the picture of gloom and doom if we don't address the issues facing the world today soon and it is so hard to understand what to do when there is no silver bullet (another reason why this is so elusive).

    I was part of the sustainability task force at TEDActive and we grappled with this as well as many other issues surrounding sustainability and we all agreed that it is not only a matter of coming up with a correct answer (see silver bullet reference above) but also what is the right questions that provide specific directions for people or businesses to take - even if they are small. The definition of sustainabilty needs to come from the individual whether it be a student, a citizen or a CEO. Education on impacts of decisions give people more awareness of how they affect their environments. Providing education and information on our current situation is imperative. TED can provide this via their network which they are doing via their topic choices.

    I also feel that TED can go deeper - go beyond just the talks but walk the talk too. How sustainable is TED itself? Has that been considered? What information can be provided to the participants of TEDx events to make them zero waste or carbon neutral? Is this being considered for the larger TED events? These are low hanging fruit in my mind.

    We all know that 'whats in it for me' reigns in society today. Leverage this to provide TEDcred to those who provide insightful solutions or avenues of sustainability awareness and promotion via the TED network.

    Spreading the knowledge base to schools using some of the TED talks on sustainability is an excellet way to engage in discussion that can lead to micro actions for that community.

    These are but a few ideas that I think could enhance the conversation
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      Apr 20 2011: Here's a "Greening your event" resource page for the TEDx community, would love your input:
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      Apr 20 2011: Not just TED, in any event -at least the ones- on sustainability the organizators should be more careful about the choices they make. For instance, just today I've been to a day-long conference of sustainability and carbon footprint, and the only water available was in plastic bottles... that aside there was no recycle bins or whatsoever... and the speakers while explaining how life cycle should be assessed used the example closest to them... yes, the plastic water bottle... pretty ironic, isn't it?!
  • May 15 2011: My micro-solution to growing the sustainability community?

    Perhaps greater change can be achieved by empowering those who are already engaged in sustainability, with leadership skills - so that they can go forth and inspire others with their sustainability passion (existing skill set) and their leadership (acquired skill set) - perhaps by replicating the model of the Australian "Centre for Sustainability Leadership".

    I'm a 2011 Fellow in the program and believe it is a "missing link" - passion & knowledge in the community alone wont change the world, we must make sure thar tomorrow's leaders are those with sustainability knowledge and passion.
  • May 15 2011: Why don't we all have a close look at the one country on the planet judged by the World Wildlife Fund to be developing sustainably and copy what they are doing right?

    Its not rocket science (literally): its just doing a lot of small things well and, in the process, refocusing society from consumerism towards community. They also manage to score highly on the Happy Planet Index, showing that what they have gained is valued and what they may have had to give up not that important after all.

    They have focused on education and are now classified as the most literate nation by the UN.

    They have focused on healthcare and now have better life expectance and infant mortality rates than currently enjoyed by people living in the United States.

    The have focused on organic agriculture and now deliver most of their fruit and vegetables from organic sources, an amazing turn around from having had the most industrialised agriculture in the Americas just a generation ago.

    They are very involved in their communities, and very committed to their democratic institutions with exceptionally high levels of voter registration and voter participation in general elections, yet they regularly turf out 50% of their members of parliament and replace them with better representatives, proving that there is always scope for better politicians.

    They don't drive cars (much), love cinema, live music, theatre, baseball, rum and salsa. They have more doctors working in the "Third World" than the World Health Organisation.

    If you haven't guessed the country yet - Google WWF Living Planet Report 2006. The answer is recorded on page 19.
  • May 14 2011: Whatever ways or actions someone or some group of individuals take towards sustainability, I suggested (Martinez-Garcia, 2005, 2010) that one should consider that human systems are complex. This means that whatever definition of sustainability for human complex systems should take such complexity into account. In practical terms, I suggested (Martinez-Garcia, 2005, Martinez-Garcia & Anderson, 2007) that a sustainable, human-made, complex system, coevolving with its environment (social, ecological, economic, cultural, technological, etc), should be fit (achieving its multiple goals and purposes while performing below threshold values for failure) and flexible (generating sets of diverse options-strategies-ways to achieve its goals and purposes). These definitions stress the importance of considering diversity (biological, cultural, technological, etc) as a key component of any sustainable system, since such diversity (flexibility) represents nature´s way to cope with uncertainty.
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    May 12 2011: Project idea: Measure the impact of Love, expressed between humans, on creating thriving, Life-honoring -- or sustainable -- systems.

    Let's consider a hospital. Give each hospital department the task of assigning staff to simply LOVE people -- fellow staff, patients, visitors -- for one week. Create metrics to assess the system before the project begins. Possibilities: On a scale of 1-10... How likely are staff to want to stay in their jobs and give their best self to their jobs? How appreciated do staff feel at work? How likely are patients to recommend this hospital to family members? How do visitors perceive this hospital to be a true healing environment?

    Don't tell people how to love; simply invite them to express love as they see fit. One moment it may look like generosity, humor or kindness. Another moment it may look like forgiveness or straightforward honesty. For someone it may be opening a door. For someone else it may be a compliment about hair style or religious open-mindedness.

    Use the same metrics once the weeklong experiment is complete. Compare 'before & after' results.

    Assemble staff from all departments in an interdisciplinary setting. Invite staff to hear each other's ideas and develop new, enhanced ideas for projects that further the impacts of Love expressed in a hospital setting -- not from the top down, not from the bottom up, but from all sides.

    See the system soar.
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    May 11 2011: McKenzy Haber, teen organizer for TEDxHomer, pitched in as a teen host, curator, and speaker for 2010: Sustain US. Rewarded for his efforts by EPA's President's National Environmental Award and up for Oceana's Young Ocean Hero. NGO's are taking notice that young people can call to action allies who otherwise may not hear adult calls for triple bottom line business or climate action plans. Zander Strode's turtle talks from TEDxTeens also won him a spot in the adult category for the same online vote. Both guys credit TEDxTeens with getting the word out to a much broader-even global audience.
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    May 10 2011: The Open Source Culture is really showing us that even if completely against the status quo of the economy, when people come together for a common goal, building something better for the sake of building something better, the sky is the limit...

    It would be really great if the open source culture was utilized not only for hardware building blocks but also for all kind of needs of a sustainable society. From a sustainable open source house to a transport device to security measures.

    All this should be encapsulated with an open source platform that discusses not only the how to do things but WHY to do things also.

    This is not only a framework for disaster scenarios, it is a framework that gives you the choice to say enough, it gives you the choice of being free, it shows you that you don't need to be dependent to anything and that the world is a place of abundance and not scarcity...

    This would be a real game changer...
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    Apr 27 2011: Link green teens/university eco campaigns with locally produced and teen organized TEDx events. With a theme of sustainability,TEDxHomer Teens were just awarded 1st runner up for the 2010 President's Environmental Award by the EPA, facing stiff competition. They applied the TEDx model to reach all ages, especially their peers, to expand local understanding of sustainability and reach a global audience of 1,800.

    The 4 teens (ages 13-15) shared many ideas with the theme of Sustain US: renewable energy, repurposing ecological economics, grad student skill sharing, sustaining relationships, teen leadership at world conferences being included in decisions, slow food for oil addicts, digital documentation of cultural heritage, whale rider conservationist, and living free off the grid. Link green teens/university eco campaigns with locally produced and teen organized TEDx events.

    They would have liked to have had Eric Corey Freed present sustainable building ideas from US Green Building Council. They came up with the bring your own stuff: food, plates, napkins, silverware, drinks. Greening the event underscored the grassroots appeal of making different decisions can be easy. Each decade, culture, region they decided has a different idea of what sustainability means to them.

    How can they leverage what they have learned and share it with teen leaders globally? In parts of Africa that demographic approaches half the population because of HIV aids. How could they use technology to support teens also interested in sharing sustainable/survival ideas by doing TEDx's? How can smart phones become an affordable delivery device? How do they convene in large groups from thousands of miles apart? How can adults support their process?

    Thanks for asking!
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    Apr 26 2011: We all have to agree on what we mean by sustainability. There are a number of brilliant minds working on this. Bill Molison is one: Another equally brilliant thinker is Craig Holldrege
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    Apr 26 2011: What would be your micro-solution to growing the sustainability community?

    My solution is: give them MONEY or other RESOURCES they value.
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      Apr 26 2011: To me, sustainability must be something beyond the claws of money. It'll only be valid for companies and corporations... as long as they see profit, they are sure to join in. But this is definitely not a local level. Although, I don't deny the fact that their strong lobbying is requried to empower sustainability acts on a political level.

      However, to reach people... to have a bottom to top effect...I doubt you can "buy" anyone to care for sustainability... you have to gradually make them understand. Spreading socio-ecological projects adressing local problems are best opportunities to do so.
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    Apr 21 2011: to keep sustainable community growth?
    1.- Segment of population. The tools to get people involved are not the same for a 40 yrs old than to a 17 years old and an 8 years old.
    2.- As Naz said...define sustainability.
    3.- Once you have the right people on the right projects, which tools are you going to give them to communicate? A teenager usually listen a lot more to another teenager than to a 50 years old.
    4.- How do we measure the efforts? People get excited easily at the beginning, but they need to see change or progress to stay involved.
    5.- What is the goal?
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    Apr 19 2011: I believe the key to that is to make sure people understand what "sustainability" really is and to show them it will not be burden as long as we can adapt the systems and the procedures accordingly. So, first step to gather more people is to clarify the definition. Then we need to adress local issues and demonstrate locak solutions to prove that it's possible to be sustainable. So from local communities to the global community the sustainability flow can flourish and become a flood.

    The second challenge to face, that I find really disturbing, is that many companies, entrepreneurs and corporations are using "green" and "sustainable" as a brand selling point (or im short they are greenwashing). This is tainting the philosophy of the sustainable movement. Thus, many -including environmentalists- approach it skeptically and they they to give up reaching to these profit-wishers to understand the true value of sustainability. Unless the lobies of business sectors actually start to move and raise their voices, there will be no way to put pressure on the governments, thus legislation and law.
    (And one more thing, the developed countries must stop selling old-fossil-fuel technologies to developing and third world countries. They must make renewables available and affordable for them.)

    To grow the community lies on the shoulders good leaders -as it generally does- but in this case, we need dedicated and headstrong mentors to guide the youth to be involved in this cause and we have to make sure that they are leading their careers in a sustainable path and actually creating change in every community they step in. And we require a global and free information web and of course and effective use of the social media will be vital. With these tools, all these enthusiactic and dedicated people from different professions from all around the world can reach out to eachother to form groups that can create projects for a sustainable future, and they can actually make a difference.