Do Less, Be More: Environmentalism That Works

 At one point of our lives, we all dream of changing the world, making it a better place, and being a hero for our planet. Whether it was becoming president, finding the cure for cancer, or feeding starving children around the world, we all had it in us at one point or another to really make a difference. But at one point, we discard these dreams. Either we’ve become focused on other things or run out of time to chase after those dreams, we seem to fail to hold onto our belief that we can make a difference. And so the majority of us have given up.  

However, as I look around me, I see more and more often just how many people are deciding not to give up on these dreams. One person’s dream, and the one story that goes with it, stands out in particular. Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man, had a dream of full blown Environmentalism: to have zero impact on the environment while still living in a New York City Apartment. As with the full title of the book implies, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes about Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, the journey was just as much about the self-understanding as it was about being selfless.   

What Beavan found is that the ‘the normal routine’ that fills our daily life was incredibly dissatisfying. He noticed that “while getting a new cell phone or a new car or a new house [does] give us a burst of pleasure, the pleasure did not last. If we wanted to feel the same spike of happiness, we would have to get another fix – yet another phone, yet another car. They call this mode of pleasure-seeking the ‘hedonic treadmill’.”

It’s so comfortable to come home after a long day and just flop on the couch to watch some less than thought-provoking television and gobble through the greasy bag of potato chips. But until we stretch our conscious boundaries, we will forever be living in this permafrost layer of desperation, also known as the content of the masses. Besides this activity wasting our precious planet resources, it is also wasting our precious personal wellbeing. By thawing out our consciousness, we begin to see just how unhappy we are with the current model of the world, or with our own hedonic treadmill.

And once we become aware of it, we CAN break this cycle. To end the vicious cycle, Beavan tried a new lifestyle, that was focused on “life lived with less emphasis on acquisition, with the effect of leaving more time for richer, less resource-intensive life rewards, making both the planet and the people happier.” By reducing his need for disposable products, mindless media, and needless transportation, Beavan created a localized lifestyle that gave him time to enjoy his family and life itself.

Right here, is a truly wonderful manifestation of the Be-Do-Have Paradigm. By doing fewer activities focused around having more stuff, one has more free time to be healthy, happy, and loving. Without constantly thinking and doing things to get the newest car or have the latest smartphone, there happens to be a lot of mental, social, and physical time and space left over for wellness and oneness driven activities. By simply having new time and new energy dedicated to the presence of being rather than the acquisition of stuff, we waste less resources and we waste less life. Doing less running around for that stuff certainly leads to more being in tune to the natural vibes of the world soul.  

Beavan did recognize his ability to be more, not only for himself, but also for his dream of being a positive impact on the collective. As described in the final moments of No Impact Man, “It is the workers at the organizations I volunteer for who confirm for me that environmentalism is not about trying to use less but about trying to be more. It is not about sucking our tummies in but pushing our hearts out. Environmentalism is not about the environment. It’s about people. It is about a vision for a better life – for people.”

If we are to truly live out our dreams of being this better collective life, then we need to start having a better vision. To go in the direction of such wonderful growth, is to go beyond sustainability. For in it’s simplest definition, sustainability is merely continuing to keep a way of life going. Do we really just want to sustain this path of doing that we keep stomping down? As sustaining is focused only on maintaining, I know that we all can be far MORE than that. Here are a few ideas on being better:

  • We can DESIGN better societies, not just sustain the ones that still aren’t working for us.
  • We can CONSTRUCT better cities, not just maintain the remnants crumbling down.                    
  • We can GENERATE better ideas, not just preserve the worn fragments of dysfunction.              
  • We can CREATE better understandings of Who We Are, not just follow our Old Cultural Story blindly.

Of course, we don’t need to be any of these manifestations. But, by being them, we can make an incredible difference in ourselves and in our paradise planet. All in all, BE a kid again. BE those dreams you once had, even if they weren’t about environmentalism or reducing our consumption to zero. Discover yourself in your dreams.  Be more of that bigger, better, brighter vision. The only way you will ever figure out what works or not is if you try.

(Lauren is a Feature Editor of The Global Conversation. She lives in Wood Dale, IL, and can be reached at

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