From the Climate Action Summit in SF: “Living the Change”

Photo by Kei-Sygh Thomas

Photo by Kei-Sygh Thomas

“If you want legislative change, then you need culture change.” So said Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, at the Living the Change workshop, part of the recent Global Climate Action Summit gathering in San Francisco.

The Living the Change workshop was hosted by GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition with the mission of helping people of all faiths to become better environmental stewards. It was one of more than 350 affiliate events in the Bay Area that week. Leaders from different faith traditions shared experiences on building narratives around sustainable lifestyles, behavior change, and community engagement.

Rev. Harper shared the six “pillars” -- evidenced by research and practice-- that are most effective for inspiring people to commit to environmental stewardship:

  1. Walk the talk. Leaders need to commit to model behaviors publically.

  2. Tell a story. Talk about individual action in a way that is real, not moralistic

  3. Create activities. Provide opportunities for people to experience new behaviors.

  4. Foster peer-to-peer support. Engage ‘champions’ in the community who can provide encouragement to others

  5. Celebrate. Make the process of changing habits enjoyable and fun.

  6. Tie to the big picture. Link the effects of individual actions upon the whole of society.

Although all six elements are critical to creating permanent culture change, Managing Director of Sustainability at Hazon, Jeremy Kranowitz, believes that modeling the desired behaviors is paramount.

“If you can see that your neighbor has done it, (literally or figuratively) that nothing bad happens and there were benefits from it, that is the thing most often that leads you to do it yourself,” Kranowitz said. “To make a difference that happens at an individual level on a daily basis, thinking about the things we can do around (issues such as) food waste makes a huge difference collectively.”

Deliberate individual actions compound into collective impact over time. Other simple lifestyle choices that will make significant environmental change include eating a plant-based diet, using an electric car, reducing transatlantic, and living car-free.

Marisa Vetress, Campaign Director for Global Catholic Climate Movement, emphasized the importance of building networks as well as encouraging simple living and community advocacy. “We have to emphasize the communitarian nature in this,” Vertrees said. “But how do you give people the tools to talk about this? How do you get the people who are doing this work, sometimes all alone, together to support one another?”

One answer to those questions is the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which trained 460 individuals from 60 countries to bring change to their communities. The online training platform taught participants environmental science, key themes from Pope Francis’s Encyclical, Laudato Si’, and grassroots organizing.

Other speakers suggested that reframing the conversation is pivotal to influencing sustainable lifestyle change. “Frame it as a practice, so the practice is embedded in everything we do,” advised Kristin Barker, Director and co-founder of One Earth Sangha. Barker acknowledges the inherent connectedness of humans and Earth's eco-system.

“This is what humanity needs to transform itself as a collective, to see how much is at risk,” she said. “But it won’t happen if we don’t turn toward the challenge of caring for the earth, take responsibility, and lead by modeling for others.”

Story submitted by Kei-Sygh Thomas, a freelance journalist based in Newark, NJ.