Where are the leaders? Around the corner, in the mirror

When it comes to pursuing a better quality of life on a healthier planet, most Canadians are ready to act. Or nearly ready — and there lies the challenge. Most of us want to take action, but we are waiting for someone to lead us. The problem is we are looking in the wrong places.

A national study conducted in 2006, corroborated by recent polls, found that over 80 percent of us believe we need to live more sustainably — to consume resources less voraciously, to waste less and pollute less, and to protect and rebuild what remains of our ecosystem – our life-support system. Four out of five of your neighbors and mine understand this and want to make it a national priority.

 But, and this is a really big but, only 15 percent are actively working to adopt sustainable lifestyles, while another 67 percent, though receptive, is still only dabbling,

 Excuses are varied but there is a common theme: leadership. We want somebody else to go first, we want somebody to show us how, we want to be inspired and reassured. We want a leader with vision and passion to rally behind, to be our team coach or captain, but we are not finding it.

 It may surprise you to hear that we do have leaders, thousands of them. Millions even! Remember the 15 percent figure? Over a million Canadian adults are sustainable living leaders!

 So where are they? Don’t look now, but there is one sitting next to you. Several just cycled past your door. A whole bunch are waiting for you, or with you, at the bus stop.

 Millions of citizens are working each day to make their way of living more sustainable. They are making decisions, big and small, with some thought going to the “right thing” to do. They haven’t achieved perfection. But that’s just fine. They are on the path to living more lightly. And they are enjoying it. Enjoying the rewards of the pursuit and not just the results. 

So why don’t we notice these leaders? Because only a few of them look like leaders, in the way we might expect: prominent, well-dressed, white teeth. The rest are just doing their thing. No preaching. No press conferences. No bumper stickers.

 These are the people we might dismiss as bit players on the big stage. Which is unfortunate, and it has to change if we are to leap forward to a better future for all. To an attractive life of cleaner air, more jobs that are safer and more fulfilling, efficient mobility, increased energy autonomy, tastier and healthier food, and safer, more vibrant neighbourhoods.

 Speaking of neighbourhoods, that’s where the leadership search starts. At least mine did when I set out to make a film about the people in our midst who are working to live more lightly, and about the challenges and rewards that go with it. 

 Just around the corner there is Randi Cherry and Robert D’Aoust. For decades they have been exploring and practicing dozens of new ideas, and old ones, with a new twist. Forming an organic food buying co-op before organic was hip, planting urban gardens, saving heritage seeds, teaching kids about composting, upgrading the energy efficiency of old houses, and much more.

 A little north lives Denis Bouillon, a resident of the Terra Firma Co-Housing Community and an avid cyclist, in all weather. His neighbours cite him as an example of how we can be inspired by the action and determination of others. Denis cycles in blizzards because he likes it. If that makes him a useful role model, it’s icing on the cake.

 Head west to meet Franklin Holtforster, a businessman with a mission. The construction industry consumes vast amounts of resources, and inefficient buildings are becoming increasingly expensive to operate. So Franklin is reshaping his company, MHPM Project Managers, to be at the “green building” forefront. His staff finds this approach exciting and rewarding, and many clients are seeing it as the way of the future.

 There are many more stories to tell, because there som many leaders in our city. In every city. And town, and village.

 Heroes and leaders are everywhere. But they are easier to identify when you reevaluate what makes a leader. Is it the richest or most powerful? Or is it somebody like Rebecca Aird, who teams up with neighbours to create a community garden on idle land, and to pursue a group purchase of solar domestic water heaters?

 Who on your block is building community bonds, planting trees, starting a car-sharing club, offering insulation tips? If you use those criteria, you’ll find your leaders. Your local heroes.

 But what about the corporations and the politicians?, Shouldn’t they be leading? Sure, elected officials should be offering vision and progressive policy direction, and a few are. CEOs should be demonstrating corporate social responsibility while providing safe, healthy, efficient products. A few are.

 But, we can really only expect strong leadership from the top, if we consistently demand it. If we are ready and willing to use the power of our votes and our wallets.

 It is too easy to expect somebody else to do the work for us, to pass laws that make us behave with common sense, to offer only green products, at any price. But that’s not the way the world works.

 Real change happens because people demand it and support it.

 So how will the big shift happen? When will the ranks of the sustainability “activists” leap from 15 percent to 82, and higher?

 It will happen when we start looking for leadership in the right places: Next door, and in the mirror. Yes the mirror.

 Ultimately real and lasting change will happen when we all take on the job of being a leader, of leading ourselves and, for some of us, of inspiring – quietly or loudly – the people with whom we interact.

 Only we can choose to insulate our homes, to replace a car journey with a stroll, to buy a little more local produce, to finally put in those efficient bulbs and water-saving devices, to not buy something frivolous. Nobody decides for us.  In this way we can vote every day.

 The tree-hugging minority has evolved into a green-loving majority, and it is time to embrace our power and use it wisely, but quickly.  It is time to act on what we feel is right. To share what we are learning. To step up and take a leadership role, alongside our community and business leaders. And to be ready if necessary, to step out in front of them.

 If not now, when? If not me, who?

 David Chernushenko 

Leave a Comment