Annie Leonard is the director of the Story of Stuff Project and author of The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff has generated over 15 million views in more than 200 countries and territories since its launch, making it one of the most successful environmental-themed viral films of all time. Annie will be speaking at the opening plenary session of the National Preservation Conference on Wednesday, October 31.
I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Seems like everyone, on every side of the political spectrum, is calling for change. It’s the topic of the relentless campaign ads leading up to the November election. The number one question we get from the thousands of our movie viewers who write to us is “how can I make change?” There’s so much interest in making change that we decided to tackle the topic head on with our most recent movie, The Story of Change. This latest film explains the three things needed to make change: a good idea of how things could be better, a commitment to work together, and engaged citizens taking action.
While making change requires a forward thinking perspective, it doesn’t require turning our back on the past. In fact, the best type of change is built on foundations of the past -- both the intellectual foundation and the built foundation. Clearly our ideas about how to run an economy need change; the current model just isn’t working for the majority of the world’s people or for the overstressed planet. But rather than write off the past completely and risk repeating familiar mistakes, let’s study the past and glean lessons about what has and what hasn’t worked. And then let’s keep striving to do things better. The same goes for our built environment. We’ve learned much in recent decades about designing buildings and whole cities to nurture healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy environment. In some cases, positive change does mean humbly scraping past mistakes and building anew. Other times it means preserving and holding dear the buildings and spaces in which our society has developed to date.
In this moment of political stuckness, I’m often asked if I still think change is possible. Change is more than possible; it’s inevitable. Right now, we’re using more resources than the planet can regenerate and creating more waste than it can assimilate. Sheer physical limits dictate that we can’t continue on this trajectory indefinitely. So the question is not if we’ll change, but how. Will we change by design, or by disaster? Either way, change is coming. If we chose to change by design, it is going to be hard work ahead, but we can be so much more strategic and intelligent about making that change. If we dig our heels in, refusing to critically assess where we’re headed and to start designing a better way forward, we’ll still change, but it will be a whole lot harder and uglier.
I’m convinced that we have what it takes to change by design. We have visionary thinkers and builders and communicators. We have innovative new technologies to meet human needs without trashing the planet. We have a rich history of citizens working together to solve big problems.
Preserving the best of the past while aiming high for a healthy, sustainable and just future, we can make change together. I look forward to meeting you at the National Preservation Conference in Spokane this fall to explore more about making change and building a better future for all.