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The evolution of the tree hugger

<p>Today&#39;s tree huggers are no less committed than their predecessors, but they use different strategies and tactics to pursue holistic goals.</p>

In the past, the term "tree hugger" described an individual who took extreme action to prevent harm to the environment. They often would put themselves in harm's way by lying down in front of bulldozers or tying themselves to trees to deter development.

Although those individuals meant well and held deep respect for our environment, in most cases they did not change how our world evolved. The increased demand on natural resources continued.

This post is about the tree hugggers who have kept a strong devotion to the environment, but now act with holistic goals in mind. Today, these modern tree huggers negotiate sustainable actions to meet the needs of our changing world, using safer means to instill change.

As an environmental engineer within General Motors, I have been fortunate to live in both worlds, as a tree hugger and developer, with a goal to serve the needs of industry while holding deep convictions to our global environment.

The rise of the modern tree hugger

Today, the demand for natural resources is greater than at any other time in world history. This demand reinforces the need to care for the environment with great passion. Modern tree huggers, young and old, are needed to manage progress with sensitivity to other stakeholders needs. They must base their opinions and actions not only on environmental impacts, but also serve as stewards to economic and societal issues, as well.

We hear that technology and innovation will bring solutions to our current economic and environmental challenges. To achieve efficiency-based solutions, however, our politicians, business executives and planners must work together with engineers and scientists to create solutions to match or exceed impacts caused by global conditions. Those solutions must be deployed to offset increased demand for economic growth and natural resource conservation for future generations.

A shift in sustainable balance

We've moved into a turbulent era, with a need to focus on economic factors with great intensity. In many areas, basic human needs are not met and more are at risk from both natural and man-induced sources.

There are many innovators with solutions who have the skills needed to address many of these issues:

• They are the people who work long hours, care for their families and community.

• They are the people who create jobs and manufacture and procure products using efficient systems to reduce operating costs.

• They are the people who use and seek additional technologies to increase operating efficiency, pass savings onto their customers to remain competitive, and subsequently reduce environmental impacts.

• They are the people with diverse backgrounds who keep the engine of economy churning.

Many of them are not in leadership positions. However, if we enable them to succeed, they will bring forth change.

They are the modern tree huggers.

On the road to change

Accomplishing these actions will demonstrate that we simply cannot protect just one environmental, economic or societal factor without regard for all three. We must use an ecosystem approach to improve our economy with sustainable progress as the goal.

These modern tree huggers hold the conviction to build a better world.  They act to create jobs by developing new technologies in energy optimization, waste elimination and pollution prevention. They apply science-based emotion into their actions and, most importantly, motivate others to do the same.

These people draw upon their human spirit, combining scientific principles, faith and innovation to accomplish what was once considered non-progressive and anti-economy. They share experiences with others who believe dreams can become reality and inspire all, regardless of position or background, to improve the future.

Today, we must travel these long, sustainable pathways together with those factors in mind, viewing ecology and economy as inseparable. When done, the result will be an improved world for all.

Tree hugger photo via

This post originally appeared in GM's Beyond Now blog and is reprinted with permission.

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