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May / June 2009

Social Earth Day

I feel compelled to acknowledge that another Earth Day has come and gone. It was special for me because I celebrated it leading a stream clean-up effort with a group of kids. I'm a volunteer with ICO, Inner City Outings, a part of the West Michigan group of the Sierra Club. We cleaned up the same section of the stream last year as an Earth Day event. Part of the celebration for me this year was the fact that the stream was so clean. Last year we had several bags of trash and debris while this year we were so low on trash that we were looking for more activities to engage the kids.

One long range goal of the ICO program is encouraging the kids to grow an understanding of and respect for the earth. This time as we talked about the trash and debris, the earth, Earth Day and why we were cleaning up the stream, one of the young boys said to us "Where does the trash go from here?" I was thrilled with the question. Just knowing that the day encouraged him to think in broad terms gave me a real sense of satisfaction. And of course an idea for another outing; a landfill and the city incinerator. Usually we do fun nature trips but an educational outing inspired by his curiosity would be great. Following from curiosity and questions comes awareness and caring which forms the foundation for responsible actions.

Immediate benefits from experiences in nature are important too. For me, it's restorative, relaxing and rejuvenating. As a group we bond a little more each time we have shared experiences. We now recall happenings from the last time we cleaned the stream and reminisce about that hike at the nature center. Even as we add a stalled van and boredom in a confined space to the list of shared time together, we're sustaining the human spirit and building community. Every experience asks something different of us and each of us grows from handling both minor adversity and enjoying simple pleasures.

It's common for people to find an environmental activity to acknowledge Earth Day and that's always what I've done. But, this year I realized that my volunteerism with ICO is as much a part of my concern for people as it is rooted in environmental activism. It's more the social aspect of the triple bottom line. In that spirit, I decided Earth Day is a good time to reflect on sustainability by performing a triple bottom line check up.

I've woven environmentalism into all aspects of my life and work. It's a matter of ethics for me. You could say I eat, sleep and work environmentalism. I'm a vegetarian and planning to sign up for a share in a local CSA. Which means, on a weekly basis I get a basket of locally grown organic produce. I drive a 2001 Prius and am hoping I can keep driving it for a long time to come. If needed, I'll replace it with the next generation more responsible personal transportation. My vision is to move within the next five years into an Eco Village in a city just about one hour from where I live now. In that vision, Easy to be Green will be housed in a building on site with the village. I'll walk to work. I'll live in a group of people dedicated to creating a real community with an emphasis on our individual and collective social as well as environmental impacts. But, still with all that, the social piece of my bottom line portfolio is the weakest. So, I am happy to have the ICO opportunity to stretch my positive impacts and balance the base of my triple bottom line.

So, now, I challenge you to take stock of your life and work. What areas of the triple bottom line get most of your attention? Your personal economic well being is probably taking up a large chunk of time and energy. Maybe even more than usual if the recession has hit home. Maybe you're already weaving environmentalism and social justice issues into your professional and personal buying decisions. But, is some of your time spent on a type of social service for your community...something "people" focused?

Together we can start an Earth Day tradition. We can use it as a time to reflect on the growing meaning of "green" and true sustainability. We can use it to evaluate our lives in light of the triple bottom line and adjust our actions for the coming year. All in pursuit of that ever elusive goal...balance.

Joyfully, Sue Norman
Sue Norman, Managing Editor