For environment, health and safety (EHS) and sustainability professionals, water conservation, recycling and systemic thinking are concepts that are hard to leave behind at work. What if every employee felt the same way? That’s exactly what Mark Coleman, Senior Program Manager at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology, believes is necessary for businesses and communities to achieve their sustainability goals.
Mr. Coleman recently shared his ideas for sparking personal commitments to sustainability in his new book, “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW”. We spoke with him this week to understand how small actions by engaged individuals could add up to one big change.
Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?
MC: Throughout my career, I have noticed that when it comes to sustainability, the focus has primarily been on profit/economics and environmental/policies. While this has been a logical and necessary step toward helping us understand that “going green” does not have to cost more, true sustainability will never be achieved unless there is a realization that we, individual citizens and consumers, are actually the root cause of our current environmental challenges.
The world now has 7 billion people all competing for attention, natural resources, and room to grow. Growth in global population has constrained natural resources, and we now need to wrestle with moral questions of right and wrong regarding our growth, our purpose and our values.
I believe that we cannot consume our way to a better or more sustainable world by simply purchasing more green products. Instead, we need to question our state of consumption to determine if we even need to consume those products in the first place. What I’m asking for in the book is for everyday citizens and consumers to look inward and ask whether they are living life with a sense of purpose, passion, and balance?
Transforming our individual lives can create a new set of social values, reinvent our institutions, businesses and culture in ways that better align with the needs of the world’s population – today. So this book comes from my desire to offer a general readership perspective on sustainability, and a focus on the “social/people” side of the equation. I like to say “green” is good but “sustainability” is better. And, the primary way to work toward sustainability is through personal accountability and direct action by everyday citizens.
Q: Who belongs to the ‘Sustainability Generation’ and why is it important?
MC: Everyone alive today belongs to “The Sustainability Generation”. We will be measured not on our ability to wage wars or land on the moon, but on our ability to redefine what it is to be human in our modern society, with a focus on ensuring we have an earth to live on.
It is now time for us to come together to put our mark on the world in a positive, collaborative and sustainable way. We will not always agree on the challenge or the solution, but we can reconcile our differences through strong leadership and the ability for the different generations (perspectives) and political parties to focus on the goals and outcomes. So often, we get caught up on process and the minutia of decision-making. To break this inertia we need strong leadership in all facets of society. We also need greater accountability among all citizens to recognize that our generation will not move forward until we can move together. Cooperation is critical if we are to solve the complex issues impacting us today including environmental, social, economic, energy, education, healthcare, and geo-political conflicts.
Redefining how we choose to engage with a sustainable lifestyle does not mean we have to give anything up by way of our goals, aspirations, or otherwise. Sustainability can be thought of a process of enlightened critical thinking that enables accountability among individuals to be working toward a higher purpose with their life. It is an additional value and tool we can bring to the school-board or corporate board alike.
Q: What do you want readers to take away?
MC: Sustainability is a journey, and a personal one at that. I hope to empower and enlighten everyday people to define what sustainability means to them, and to take actions that help them lead a life with sense of purpose, passion, resolve and balance. Are we part of the problem, or working toward a solution? What is the status-quo and are we continuing to follow it without any question to our long-term impacts? What legacy do we want to leave behind for our children and future generations?
The book also centers on the notion of entitlement, and people’s behaviors toward each other and the natural world – asking readers to assess their state of consciousness to the world around them and with regard to their aspirations, values, goals and happiness. The core message here is that we have the power to design, influence, and take action on behalf of a better world. Defining “better” and what actions we take requires a level of consciousness and critical thinking for all individuals and our collective generation.
Ultimately we will be measured not on our ability to wage wars or land on the moon, but on our exclusive ability to redefine what it is to be human in our modern society, and with a focus on ensuring we have an earth to live on. This fundamentally is about “the politics of change” the first part of the book’s subtitle which gets to the point that petty or partisan politics is part of this generation’s challenge we must address. The book is geared to everyday citizens, business and policy leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators, educators, and anyone with an interest in discovering who they are and how they intend to live within our ever-changing world.