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As promised, I wanted to share more about how the environment and are economy are intertwined.

Let’s start here: The world’s population has doubled to over 6 billion in the last 40 years, and United Nations projections indicate it could climb as high as 10.7 billion by 2050. Most of the growth will occur in the poorest and least developed regions of the world, which already must work to resolve issues related to shortages of quality food, soil, air and water as well as lack of access to education, healthcare and global political capital.

More developed countries face many of the same but also different issues. Agriculture has been so successful that many people living in the developed world enjoy a high degree of food security but are separated from the primary production of agriculture. Most see only products in attractive wrapping on their grocery shelves. For these people, it is difficult to understand the role that food security plays in political stability and comfortable living standards as well as the cultural and educational achievements, that they enjoy.

For cripes sake, I actually had people ask me how to eat peaches from the two peach trees in our backyard this year. Have we become so used to eating our food out of a can or box that we can no longer figure out how to eat something as simple as a fresh peach? Pretty scary!

The Importance of Conventional Ag, Value-Added Agriculture & Natural Resources

Pressures on farmers to produce higher yields from their land to feed a growing population has accelerated the adoption of technologies that are less labor intensive but require higher levels of energy and natural resources. Traditional agricultural practices in developed countries have contaminated the water and soil. Health concerns, such as cancer, have been related to chemicals used to produce food. Further, obesity and Type 2 diabetes have been associated with poor quality foods that are high in saturated fat and calories but low in nutritional value.

There are signs of a shift in buying trends. Some individuals in more developed countries are beginning to demand more organic and locally produced foods free from chemical inputs such as hormones and pesticides. However, these production practices traditionally require intensive human input, including labor and time. They also sometimes require a greater land mass. Significant changes, including mechanization and the introduction of chemical pesticides, have helped increase agricultural production over the last century. However, global food shortages, increased contamination of natural resources and rising rates of consumer consumption continue to threaten the welfare of humankind.

As the population grows, more food must be grown on a smaller amount of land using less water and fewer inputs. Rapid increases in consumer consumption and waste production must be addressed. Innovation in both thought and technology is needed to change current trends causing environmental degradation as well as concerns related to human health and the well being of wildlife. The environmental, educational, political and socioeconomic disparities between people around the globe creates a leadership challenge that must be approached from a holistic perspective unlike the world has ever experienced.

World leaders must change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors on a global scale. Scientists, politicians, business and community leaders must work together to create a global vision of environmental sustainability that can be achieved in short order.

Common sense Lesson #4: Teamwork is essential in our global world. We need to work together to change the planet.

That said, ultimately we are the ones who control our own destiny. More on this next time!

Leadership and the Environment

Leadership challenges associated with environmental issues are vast. Why are countries and organizations so slow to realize this critical issue, which also directly relates to our economic growth or decline?

Degradation, alteration and contamination of natural resources, issues related to food security and quality as well as threats to wildlife are causing critical concern. The growing population combined with issues related to quality and quantity of natural resources in problematic. It is time for us to discuss the need for leaders around the globe to work together and create a collective global vision designed to motivate individuals, communities and organizations to greater levels of social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

My Grandma was a leader in her community, and she expected results from her elected officials.

Common Sense Lesson #3: As individuals, we have to be willing to step up to the plate and lead. We also have to expect more from our businesses, organizations and political leaders, and we must let them know how frustrated we are with their actions (or lack of action in many cases).

The environment and our economy are closely interlinked. More on this in my next post! Stay tuned…

My Grandma’s Green: Common Sense

My husband and I were upstairs sleeping in Grandma’s house and were awakened by the smell of sizzling bacon and the sound of West Point’s local radio station playing loudly in the background. We went downstairs and ate a wonderful home cooked breakfast with Grandma. Afterwards, my husband and I started cleaning up the dishes, pots and pans. I started scraping the bacon grease out of the bottom of the frying pan and Grandma stopped me cold, “Connie, what are you doing? I want to save that grease. It’s still good!”

My Grandma was green before it was trendy, and she always viewed living sustainably as a necessity. Grandma saved a lot of money by buying only what she needed and by reusing everything from plastic margarine containers to glass jars. Her “green” habits were developed by necessity (she survived the Great Depression) but practiced by choice.

Grandma often told stories of life during the Great Depression. People worked together and did what they had to do in order to survive. Instead of purchasing something special for the high school their senior year, Grandma’s class fund was used to buy coal so they could continue to heat the school. We used to love looking at Grandma’s wedding dress. Every time she showed it to us, Grandma told us how her veil was used as a baby’s blanket during the Great Depression.

My Grandma saved money and the planet the old fashioned way. She worked hard, rarely paid full price for anything, did not buy things unless she really needed them and reused whatever she could. Bottled water? $5.00 cups of coffee? Neither one of these products made environmental nor fiscal sense to her.

It’s common for people in my Grandma’s generation to live conservatively. It is however, uncommon for most people living in the United States to live so frugally. If more Americans (me included) lived like my grandparents, living green while saving money would be a way of life. Today’s consumer habits have contributed to environmental degradation as well as social and fiscal irresponsibility, both of which have created the need for a new consumer attitude.

Consumers must get back to the basics and use more common sense. We all know how important it is for all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle. This is a great first step in the right direction. However, we also all have to rethink. We have to rethink what it is we are doing to the environment, our bank accounts and each other.

The next time you make a purchase ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Keep in mind, there is a big difference between needs and wants. Absolutely needing something is much different than merely wanting it. I need clothes for work, but I may not need twenty sweaters and thirty pairs of shoes.

Everything we buy and use has an environmental price tag. It took resources to make your purchase, and it takes more resources to discard it.

Our purchases also have a real price tag. Think creatively about ways you can save money. Use what you already have to make do. When Grandma was out of spaghetti sauce, she used ketchup. This may not have been one of my favorite meals, but it was one of the most memorable!

What about changing our attitudes towards each other? We are so quick to judge people by material things. We judge others by what they wear and what they drive, their occupation and sometimes even their last name. Making assumptions on material items can lead to us to make false assumptions about others. These assumptions and expectations also pressure most of us to put on some sort of show that we can neither afford nor maintain.

I have often wondered, what would Grandma say about today’s challenging economic situation? She would simply use her common sense wisdom: Don’t buy anything unless you really need it, and reuse everything. This common sense approach to green living puts less pressure on the environment while also saving you two other precious resources: time and money! She would also tell you not be so quick to judge a book by its cover. Some people are doing what they can to get by and others may just be as frugal as my Grandma!

Common Sense Lesson #2: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But, more importantly: Rethink!

My Grandma died three years ago. It was the day after my 34th birthday. She was 92. This was a defining point of my life. Grandma lived through the World Wars and the Great Depression, which were defining moments of her life. Grandma was a woman of greatness who knew what was important in life: family, food and the environment. She was one of my role models and one of the most influential people in my life. Grandma often told stories of her life as a child and young adult. These stories will be used throughout this blog. Each story held meaning and a common sense lesson for us all to consider.

My Grandma graduated from high school in 1930. I graduated in 1990. We attended our class reunions together. It was her 70th and my 10th. She was sad because only a handful of her classmates were left.   Only three other people showed up for her reunion.  The rest had all either passed on or were unable to attend.  I was sad because my classmates were so serious. To be honest, all I wanted to do was drink a few beers, catch up with everyone and talk about the “Glory Days.” It was clear that she knew it would be her last class reunion. I can only imagine how that feels.

My Grandma grew up in my hometown.  She lived in town often told stories of how she had to fight off snakes and dogs with a stick everyday when walking to and from school. She never did like dogs, and she hated snakes. I would too if I had to defend myself from them everyday.

This may seem strange to many of us, but as a child my Grandma lived in a small town that was in its infancy. There were no paved streets or sidewalks. Many people, including my parents, did not even grow up with indoor plumbing.

Education was incredibly important to her. She believed in investing in an education so much so that she became a school teacher herself. Common sense lesson #1: Invest in Yourself- even if you have to Fight Snakes and Dogs off with a Stick.

Education is a great investment.  Our human capital (education, skills and abilities) opens the door to opportunities, increases our earning potential and typically has a great return on investment (ROI).