My Virtues of Sustainability - Celebrating 50 Years of Earth DayApr 21, 2020
What brings us together? What is it that taps into our common humanity and drives us to care about each other?
I believe we have a collective drive to live a life of joy, meaning and purpose - to meet our own needs and thrive as individuals as well as serve a broader goal. That calling, for myself and many others, includes protecting our planet. The environment sustains us through jobs, natural resources, recreation and quality of life.
Whether you support cleaner energy, efficient homes, sustainable cities and transportation, less waste, more equitable food systems or a stable climate, I honor you for your commitment and dedication to creating a better world for yourself and others.
I’m excited to introduce 'My Virtues of Sustainability' on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Earth Day is a celebration and call to action. It’s an awareness of our unity. It’s about hope and optimism for a better future. It’s about respect and beauty for the natural world. It’s about service to the community and caring for others.
I have always been passionate about the environment. As a kid, I collected animal postage stamps of endangered species. I lived near a creek - ironically, a few miles from the home of Rachel Carson, conservationist and author of Silent Spring - and was fascinated with the frogs and turtles that frequently wandered in my yard.
Growing up, I learned about business. I cut lawns, worked at my father’s local market and got both an undergraduate degree in marketing and an MBA. In doing so, I learned how commitment and perseverance was needed for running a successful venture.
The combination of my interests and skills took me to one of the coolest jobs imaginable. In 2002, I became Consul of Trade & Investment at the British Embassy in Washington D.C. In this unusual role for an American, I developed and supported business relationships between the U.S. and U.K.
Through this work, I deepened my understanding and appreciation of how communities develop strategies and priorities. Not every place measures success the same way, but most communities want a healthy, fair economy, prosperity, and an environment that supports a good quality of life for residents and workers.
This awareness would ultimately shape my beliefs and give me trust that I could bring something unique to the world.
Around this time, I stumbled across a book by a British author that has come to greatly influence not just my work but my personal life. It’s called Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, written by E.F. Shumacher. The Times Literary Supplement rates it as one of the 100 most influential books of all time.
To me, the book went beyond economics. It debunked the notion popular at the time that more is always better, and instead argued in favor of well-being measured through achieving enough, not maximum, consumption.
And then I delved into another book that changed everything.
Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, which demonstrated how creating incremental steps could lead to profound change. If the right factors are in place, change happens extraordinarily quickly.
If products or ideas can tip, why not sustainability and smart economic development?
How can we create green jobs and support local business with excellence?
How could we engage a critical mass through cooperation between business, government and universities to address the bigger challenges we face?
In 2006, I attended a Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) conference in Burlington, Vermont, Creating Sustainable Communities where the focus was to strengthen local economies. I met and joined forces with Kelley Rajala to build community sustainability hubs, ‘backbone’ organizations, perhaps anchored in a physical space to be of service around a broad array of social, economic and environmental issues.
Not long after, I met with Seth Goldman, TEO of Honest Tea, and George Leventhal, county Councilmember in my community to present our concept. They were determined to make Bethesda, Maryland a showcase of excellence for green business and sustainable living. In January 2008, Bethesda Green was launched and I became its Executive Director.
Bethesda Green became a green business incubator, education center and launchpad for many innovative green solutions. One program—setting up recycling bins in the central business district—had the obvious benefit of cleanliness and reducing waste, and the not so obvious effect of a constant reminder of the simplicity of making an impact and everyone’s role of responsibility and accountability.
I learned invaluable strategies to create unity between government, private sector and community. Kind, generous, and caring people volunteered, shared, contributed, taught and participated in programs, not only because they believed in the mission but also because they wanted to belong. Many people are committed to making a difference and just need a vehicle.
I also spent a few years as the founding director of Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions which helped develop sustainable supply chains and drive systems change in multiple sectors.
There are many lessons learned on a journey towards accelerating global sustainability. It takes confidence and courage when others don’t always see your vision. It takes optimism, trust and faith that there are bigger forces at play. It takes respect for core differences and discernment to navigate through them to reach common ground. Endurance and perseverance are tantamount to success in any field, including business. And creativity and innovation, new ways of looking at the world is the only way we can address the many challenges we collectively face.
So how can we harness our collective will to drive transformative change for people and the planet?
I have committed a good part of my life to working in sustainability, and I recently found a solution that might move us toward a more sustainable world. It’s not a product or service but a framework in which to look at the world and each other. It’s Virtues…universal positive qualities of character, qualities such as compassion, excellence, gratitude, respect, hope, resilience and justice. Virtues (all the words highlighted in italics) are the lens to see and a language to speak about the environment, climate change and a host of other environmental and global issues. I believe it’s the underlying driver to give us clarity, motivation and wisdom go forward.
Last year, my wife, Dara and I decided to launch Virtues Matter to positively change as many lives as possible. We work in close partnership with The Virtues Project, a global initiative in more than 100 countries. We developed the Virtues Cards mobile app to aid all people in the everyday quest to lead lives of joy, meaning and purpose. The work has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama and honored by the United Nations.
The 5 Strategies of The Virtues Project have transformed the lives of individuals, organizations and communities around the world. At this defining moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, we need radical transformation. This approach, based on the diverse wisdom traditions of the world, offers the high level of commitment needed to a positive tipping point.
For more information, visit virtuesmatter.com or email me at [email protected].
In honor of Earth Day, here are my top 10 Virtues for addressing climate change.