It's happened relatively quickly and without many noticing. New models have transformed the way we think about three of the most significant drivers of a sustainable future — waste management, innovative entrepreneurship and effective activism. By asking big questions and pushing for change, innovators have created powerful paradigm shifts in the fight for a better future.
Sharing-economy models have started to fundamentally change our modern, often problematic relationship with waste. One exciting initiative addressing this solution is the Buy Nothing Project. Through this "hyper-local gift economy," community members exchange goods with each other rather than purchasing new items. The group, which began in Bainbridge Island, Wash., has grown to include more than 4,000 members in 16 groups within just two months.
One influential proponent of this movement is Lisa Gansky, whose book "The Mesh" explores the impact of a burgeoning sharing economy. Her website of the same name provides a directory of sharing-economy projects and companies that is a must-read.
Startup incubators with a social conscience are remaking entreprenuership in exciting ways. The Responsible Entrepreneur Institute, for example, provides business mentoring and consulting to entrepreneurs with socially responsible aims. Similarly, Fledge invites seven or eight ethical entrepreneurs to participate in an annual 10-week program, during which they are provided valuable mentorship, advice and education.
As faith plays such an important role in many people's lives, initiatives that combine the spiritual with the sustainable can spur formidable change. Already, we are seeing examples of programs that cloak environmental activism in the principles of faith. Green Faith, for instance, works with places of worship and religious schools to promote environmental stewardship, while the book "Vedic Ecology" explores the relationship between the lessons of ancient Hinduism and caring for the planet.
There is also a movement toward individual-driven change. Environmentalist Boyan Slat, for instance, has devised a clean-up plan called Ocean Cleanup Array that aims to address one of the greatest environmental challenges of the day: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He's taken the initiative to recruit a team of about 50 engineers, modelers, external experts and students to examine the feasibility of an ambitious project that involves fixed sea-water processors, floating booms, self-supportive platforms and other innovative tech — proving that one person can have an impact.
As we settle into the new year, it's inspiring to think of how far we've come. To drive even more change, we need to continue to push for fundamental paradigm shifts that create a sustainability sea change.
Shift key photo by isak55 via Shutterstock