By Donella Meadows
–July 27, 1989–
For the past three years a Washington-based group called Renew America has published an annual report card on the environmental progress (or regress) of the 50 states. The “State of the States” report ranks the states on the strictness and completeness of their policies on such matters as water quality, air quality, waste disposal, energy conservation.
I don’t know about you, but back when I got report cards, a bad grade didn’t much motivate me. What had a real impact on my behavior was a positive comment. If a teacher mentioned a good point, an occasion when I’d really tried, a small success, that raised my confidence and spurred me on. Bouquets always worked better for me than brickbats.
So I’m delighted to see that this year Renew America has launched a nationwide competition called Searching for Success, to find and publicize America’s environmental success stories. There will be awards for the three most effective programs in each of 22 categories — including air pollution reduction, beautification, food safety, forest management, growth management, hazardous materials reduction, soil conservation, renewable energy, transportation efficiency, and wildlife conservation. Applicants can be individuals, organizations, communities, businesses or public agencies.
Here are some examples of the kinds of stories Renew America is looking for:
AIR POLLUTION REDUCTION: The 3M Company has reduced its air pollution emissions by more than 110,000 tons per year, and saved millions of dollars in the process. In one of its plants in Northridge, California, a solvent used in a coating process was exceeding state air pollution standards. The company found a way to do the coating with a water-based system that eliminated the solvent altogether. The change cost the plant $60,000 and saved it $180,000 in pollution control equipment.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION: An eroded hillside in Perryville, Arkansas has been transformed into a demonstration farm visited by thousands of people each year, thanks to the Heifer Project and a bunch of volunteer high school students. They planted trees, terraced along contours, and gradually brought the soil back to life. The two acre hillside is now the Guatemalan Hillside Farm, a place to test and display how small farmers throughout the world can use appropriate technology and renewable energy to increase the productivity of their land.
GROWTH MANAGEMENT: Through a comprehensive program the state of Oregon has helped all its 278 cities and towns develop their own land use plans. It has enabled cities to adopt urban growth boundaries — designated limits beyond which urban services like sewers and streets simply will not be provided. (These are common in Europe but almost unheard of in the United States.) The state has also permanently protected 15.5 million acres of prime farmland and 12 million acres of forest land.
WATER PROTECTION: The Rouge River, which has the unfortunate fate to flow through industrial Detroit, was long ago reduced to a waste channel for chemicals and sewage. Now it is being reclaimed by high school students. The students learn in their science classes how to do nine different laboratory tests for water quality. Different schools take on the responsibility of monitoring segments of the river along its course. The students pass information to each other over a computer network. They detect and bring to official attention illegal dumping and leaks from faulty sewers, and they band together, when necessary, to block a new effluent source that would degrade the river.
You get the idea. There’s a lot of ingenuity out there. Though our national environmental problems are a long way from solved, I suspect the Searching for Success program will turn up an amazing assortment of good ideas already in motion.
Searching for Success awards will be announced in Washington on Earth Day 1990. All entries will be placed in an Environmental Success Index, available as a reference to individuals, organizations, businesses, and policymakers. If you want to start a recycling program, or protect rangeland, or use energy more efficiently in your workplace, you can look in the index and get ideas from what others are doing. “If a program is working in San Francisco, we should know about it, so it can be recreated in Boston,” says Robert Rodale, Renew American’s Chairman.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1989