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Sustainability: Plans Go Marching When We’re One

Posted by Natalie M. Smith, Guest Columnist

Jan 25, 2017 9:16:28 AM

Leilani Munter

As a child I used to observe ants from time to time while sitting on the picnic bench at recess. I’d watch them trailing in an invisible line, each carrying a crumb back down the leg of the table to their tunneled community below my feet. Often times, bands of ants would break out of line in unison to carry a particularly heavy piece together— an unspoken natural order.

[Pictured above: Leilani Münter speaking on environmental awareness and sustainability]

Fast forward to January 9th, at the Sustainability Symposium 2017. Experts and activists alike shared information, solutions, and awareness to new or underrepresented issues. Like ants, each bringing a crumb of knowledge and lifting heavy ideas together. It was held at the Dr. Phillips Center of Performing Arts in Orlando, ironically ant-pile like in design itself. We filed up a center circular stairwell into various rooms and corridors throughout the day. Individuals ranging from mayors to race car drivers, city planners to H-VAC company CEO’s, interns like me to Philippe Cousteau (grandson of Jacques Cousteau) were in attendance. All had a common goal— to protect and sustain our natural world.

Thus, as a great symposium generates, ideas on how to reach out and connect people to this effort were discussed in great length.

As a twenty-something woman in the twenty-first century, there is a vast ocean of information at my fingertips. I know that has never before been the reality for a past generation. I both relish and despise this. Leilani Münter highlighted yesterday in her symposium talk: “awareness [is] both a blessing and a curse”. This “burden” of awareness in this century calls for action. It is a frightening and challenging call. I think a lot of people purposefully turn away from environmental and sustainability issues because it is such an overwhelming sensation.

Your Actions Count

The problem is that they cannot see how taking individual action can create movement. How can we reach people in their daily lives to help forge a pathway for individuals to feel that they are making a large-scale difference through their small efforts?

So what? My recycling some paper towels, or not eating as much beef isn’t going to change the world, ” someone recently said to me.Foodprints by diet type

I am an almost two-year-strong vegan and recently made the change to recycle all that is recyclable, and to compost food waste. It frustrated and hurt me to hear a response like this. Are my efforts to no effect? I pondered. Is being a conscious consumer worth my effort? A resounding inner voice shouted YES! My life has been changed so much for the better since deciding to live a greener life. I could never go back now that I’ve gone forward.

But what a crippling mindset this has been in our society and in my peers, for too long— belittling the environmental cause because of feeling incapable of inciting positive change.

Dismantling the Mindset

This feeling of helplessness in regard to the environment is all too prevalent in today’s world regarding many global issues. People know on a big scale that things can change, but they struggle in their daily lives to feel they are making any real difference.

Mayors Stoddard and Brainard
[Pictured above: (Left to Right) Mayor Stoddard of South Miami, Florida and Mayor Brainard of Carmel, Indiana]

“You have to convince people that it is broken before you show a new solution,” Mayor Stoddard of South Miami said at the event. He was speaking to the issue of people being wary of big change in their communities. This idea of convincing people something’s wrong before trying to change it (whatever “it” may be) was one of the most catching ideas I heard during the symposium. This concept speaks to what truly drives change— the people.

All the law makers and activists in the world can put up recycling bins, ask for donations, or implement new water safety protocols. But it will be to no great effect if the general populous does not understand why we must all be doing these things, and how it effects us for the better.

I know as a person trying to reach out into the world and give what I can, the “where do I even begin?” is the hardest part to overcome. Yet, here I am, immersing myself into the world of environmental advocacy, because I took a step in the right direction. Yesterday felt like a culmination of all things I care about.


I found myself very positively railed up over a particular idea brought up during Mayor Stoddard and Mayor Brainard’s discussion. They discussed retrofitting a city to be more sustainable through density increase and public transport. “Yes!” I wanted to cry out, “This is what the people need!” Togetherness is the deathbed of apathy. People are too isolated. We are too used to outdated and inefficient technologies, too unaware of impact on others. If we can usher in a revival of strong community and accountability, our surrounding ecosystems, and our decisions, will be better for it.

Bergen Norway
[Pictured above: Bergen, Norway– dense areas of living space and shopping, yet spacious public forests, walking paths, waterfront, plazas, and mountain hikes.]

I’ve spent a lot of time in European cities over the past few years. Sprawl and isolation in America is of the starkest contrasts of daily life and structure I’ve noticed between here and Europe. It not only speaks to environmental impact, but to human emotional impact as well. And neither is mutually exclusive.

In my own town of Apopka, Florida there is zero walkability. There are nearly-empty shopping centers, huge parking areas of hot black asphalt. More trees are chopped down every day. There are no options for fresh food restaurants or cafes to relax in. I have no place to enjoy my town. I leave my own town daily to work, to shop, to eat, and to enjoy nature, or to walk. Why should one have to leave their own community to find the things they need and want? This is part of the big question of creating sustainable communities. People have to be there to care.

Ideas that Work

Philippe Cousteau asked each of us yesterday to form a “two sentence big idea”, one that we could each actually work towards. One of my big ideas is:

“To advocate for the city of Apopka to create more commerce in town through small business and outdoor public space in order to cut down distance drives and fuel usage to other towns. Through beautification and small business investments people will no longer have to get out of Apopka to have walkability, enjoy public parks, have a fresh meal, or shop at a farmer’s market.”

436 and Balmy Beach Drive
[Pictured above: Newly flattened forest area on the corner of 436 and Balmy Beach Dr. One of many areas that has been completed flattened for wide sprawl development.]

Make it Happen

I now pose this to the wider audience: form a personal big idea, and try to make it happen. However you can. Because when it’s something we care about, it’s something we talk about, work for, and find the drive to go after.

Whether it is to fix up a local park for your kids or start a neighborhood garden for fresh produce, make it happen! Whether it’s volunteering at a wildlife rescue to combat wilderness depletion, writing a sustainability proposal to your local mayor, or even to set up a separate trashcan for recycle, make a plan.

Let’s start believing in our ideas. Share them and piece together how to make them happen. Because as was made resoundingly clear throughout the symposium— little things done together, become big.

Republished with permission. Article written by Natalie M. Smith, originally published on ideasforus.org

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