Small Initiatives, Big Impact: What Will Drive Sustainability in 2011

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2011 will be the year of small sustainable changes. The year has barely started and a raft of new sustainable initiatives among companies and municipalities is rocketing forward.

  • British Columbia is banning incandescent light bulbs.
  • P&G's Auburn, Maine plant achieved zero-waste to landfill.  Caterpillar announces two plants in the UK achieve the same distinction. 
  • Kun_Tiqi is releasing a surfboard made out of 90% renewable and natural materials.
  • Istanbul has committed to increase the use of ferries to reduce traffic. 
  • Seoul is rolling out a fleet of electric buses to help move its ten million people. 
  • Italy is banning single-use plastic bags at shops.

People across the developed world are committing to meatless Mondays or to be weekday vegetarians. Bill Clinton was named PETA's person of the year for his near-vegan diet. Carry-your-own shopping bags, once the habit of patchouli-lovers alone, is now downright mainstream. Oprah is talking about the benefits of a child-free life.

In the face of massive disasters like Australia's near-biblical floods and the BP oil catastrophe, Americans seem to be taking a personal approach. It's no wonder, with the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit and the inability of the U.S. Senate to pass a climate bill, global action is a distant dream. In its place we have local and personal efforts.  Paul Hawken joyfully described a decentralized movement of local organizations in Blessed Unrest, as "dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent." Watch these local efforts, connected with action at the personal, municipal and corporate level, for progress in 2011. 

This is the year that the UN says we'll reach 7 billion people, twelve years after we hit the 6 billion person mark. I'd like to think that global leaders would be working at the scale of the development and ecological challenges we face, but for 2011, it's in our hands. As Buckminster Fuller wrote, small is beautiful.

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Adam Werbach is the co-founder of sharing startup Yerdle, formerly the chief sustainability officer for Saatchi & Saatchi and the president of the Sierra Club. He is the author of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business ManifestoHe lives in San Francisco and Bolinas, California.

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