Engineering Sustainable Change
By: Melanie Horton
“Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world”. –Roald Dahl
A friend recently asked me how Brendle Group manages to stay optimistic and hopeful about climate change mitigation in the face of record temperatures and increasing instances of natural disasters. At the time, I didn’t have a great answer for him. At Brendle Group, it feels natural to be hopeful and know that a more sustainable future is possible. But his question got me thinking about why we have such optimism and made me curious how some of my colleagues stay resourced and inspired as they dedicate their professional lives to solving problems that seem insurmountable to some.
The responses from the BGers I spoke with were pretty interesting and had some differences, but a common theme emerged. Many felt there was no alternative to being hopeful and part of the solution. While fear and worry about the long-term negative effects of climate change are logical responses, hope and optimism are much more likely to motivate people to take action. Judy Dorsey shared her perspective that “the generations coming up have access to so much more technical knowledge and information. With this knowledge, they will have even more to offer in terms of solutions. What are we leaving them to [work with] if we just give up?” Susan Blythe shared this simple mantra “Do the next best right thing even if it seems small. Take care of the small things and the big things become more manageable.” Moreover, Conor Merrigan shared “this world is a beautiful and wondrous place, and my appreciation for the mysteries I encounter daily remains a point of focus when I drift.”
While, like my colleagues, I generally remain optimistic, there are times when my heart tunes into the challenges we are already facing as a result of climate change. I do start feeling discouraged. During my time in graduate school, I had the great honor to take a weekend workshop called The Work That Reconnects. It was led by environmental activist, author, and scholar, Joanna Macy. The goal of the Work that Reconnects is to transform denial, despair and grief in the face of the social and ecological challenges of our time. During the symposium and through exposure to Macy’s writings, I was introduced to the notion of feeling the pain of the world as a way to provide a context for action. Macy says, “People fear that if they let despair in, they’ll be paralyzed because they are just one person. Paradoxically, by allowing ourselves to feel our pain for the world, we open ourselves up to the web of life, and we realize that we’re not alone.” In essence, we have to really feel the pain of the earth and all beings that are harmed by climate change in order to move forward in an effective way.
This has been a key teaching in my own journey – that I can acknowledge the despair and grief in my heart and also still have hope that we can foster a sustainable future for the next generations. We have to face our problems head on in order to lay the groundwork for solutions – being optimistic is not a form of denial, but is an ethos that provides the confidence and determination to identify, catalyze, and lead innovations in sustainability. When I start feeling discouraged, I focus on the beauty of our planet and the progress many communities have already made in reaching their sustainability goals. I am reminded once again that an equitable, economically prosperous, and ecologically thriving future is possible and worth working towards. To quote Macy again, there really is no other choice but to “truly see the magnificence of life by being ready to experience our pain for it and also to be willing to experience our capacity to meet the challenge.”
About the Author — As Brendle Group’s Executive Assistant and Administrative Coordinator, Melanie helps to keep our operations running smoothly and supports our staff so they can provide our clients with excellent service. Melanie has over 8 years of administrative experience ranging from the nonprofit sector to a small privately owned companies. In addition, she has experience in fundraising, member relations for industry associations, local business promotion, and in human resources. Melanie earned her M.A. in Environmental Leadership from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado in 2011 and also brings a broad-based understanding of sustainability issues and group dynamics to Brendle Group.