When Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff Project) admonishes us to “make change,” she’s not talking about dimes and quarters. She’s one of my personal heroes and someone I was excited to interview back in 2010. So you can imagine how honored I was this year when asked if she could interview me for her podcast The Good Stuff, a companion piece to her new video, The Story of Change. The premise of the video and podcast is that personal changes are great, but they’re not enough. As Annie puts it, “Conscious consumerism is a great place to start, but it’s a lousy place to stop.” After watching the movie (it’s only 6-1/2 minutes long), do you agree?
In the the companion podcast, Annie interviews me along with people like Ralph Nader and Van Jones about how to go beyond personal lifestyle changes to make change on a more systemic level. I talk about how making changes in my own life led me to start the Brita water filter recycling campaign in 2008.
Is Annie Leonard right?
After working since 2007 to reduce my own personal plastic consumption and to inspire other people to do the same in their lives, I started coming across articles from writers saying that personal changes were meaningless and that if we really wanted to fix our environmental mess, we needed to forget about bringing our own bags to the grocery store and changing light bulbs and push our world leaders to make global changes. The articles made me think… and think… and think… In fact, I thought about the topic so much that it became the theme of my TEDx talk back in 2010 and continues to be what I talk about in every presentation I give.
Back then, I came up with 8 reasons why personal changes matter:
- We change because we want to personally stop doing harm
- To protect our own health and that of our families
- To support ethical businesses
- To develop our own ingenuity and self-reliance
- To clarify our values
- To learn the limits of personal change and when it’s time to ask companies to change
- To figure out in what areas we need to work for systemic change
- To set an example for others
Then last year, writing the final chapter of my book, I found a 9th reason: Community. We learn through making changes in our own lives that we can’t do it alone.
So I’m asking you, the plastic-free community, what do you think? Is making changes in our personal lives enough? Or is it important for each of us to go further and, as Annie puts it, not just develop our consumer muscles but our citizen muscles? What qualities and actions do you think make a good citizen?