Heather Conn Blogs

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What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.


In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.


The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.


I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.


That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.



As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.


I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.


What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

Annie Leonard says: NOPE, We need systemic change

As far as inspirational speakers go, I’d put my friend Annie Leonard among the top. I recently heard her give a talk to several hundred folks on Salt Spring Island, BC in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. After listening to her impressive knowledge of depressing facts regarding pollution levels and how we’re destroying our planet — “We’re in a system in crisis” — you’d think that I’d come away feeling hopeless.

Not at all. Instead, her passion, smarts and insightful perspectives inspired me to take immediate action on an issue I had previously dismissed. Her talk expanded my view of how we can make meaningful and lasting change on a broader scale. I felt invigorated by her enthusiasm.

We’ve all heard the quick ways to help our planet: Ride a bike. Unplug appliances. Buy organic produce. Start a vegetable garden. Yet, when it comes to truly transforming the planet and society, a focus on small, individual actions is ultimately a placebo and mere distraction, says Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff fame.

“We’re so used to identifying with our consumer role: Shop differently,” she told a crowd of young and old at Salt Spring Island’s Centre for Child Honouring. “We have to start to re-engage as a citizen and engage in our civil society. Our citizen muscle has atrophied.”

She reinforced that individual lifestyle changes are not enough. As a provocative systems thinker, Annie believes that we need deeper, systemic change and to ask tougher questions beyond: Where should I shop? (She promotes the approach of “NOPE” (Not on Planet Earth) rather than the all-too-common NIMBY (Not in my backyard).) She asked a fundamental question: “Why is economy based on growth?” Who says that we need growth? What happened to “Small is beautiful”?

In Annie’s view, we need to rethink our role on the planet to the core, beyond commonly accepted approaches espoused even by many environmentalists. For instance, think in terms of “Waste less” not “Recycle more.”

She says: We need to change the rules of our production methods, to do a life cycle analysis of products. Resist upgrades of electronics. Make them safe. Make them last.

Annie identified our three “simple” problems:

  • We’re trashing the planet
  • We’re trashing each other
  • We’re not having fun.

Besides that, we’re carrying toxic body-burden levels, she says. Annie has had her own body analyzed for harmful chemicals and had 80+ identified. Today’s babies are born pre-polluted with high levels of chemicals found in their umbilical cord, she noted. At the same time, one billion people are chronically hungry.

Amidst North America’s rush for materialist goodies, Annie pointed out four things, according to researchers, that determine happiness:

  • the quality of our social relationships
  • having leisure time
  • a sense of purpose and  meaning in our life
  • coming together with others with shared goals.

Facing an audience that included Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the front row, Annie outlined a few of her solutions for creating a healthier planet of happier people:

  • Build a clean, healthy, green economy.
  • Apply technology to help the planet, whether it’s using zero-waste designers or  biomimicry, whereby scientists study and emulate the processes and systems of nature to solve human problems. For example, how does a peacock make black? (See Biomimicry Institute for more details.)
  • Honour and embrace children as a culture. One way is to have nation-wide, annual testing of breast milk, to monitor what chemicals our vulnerable infants are ingesting. Elizabeth May stood up and told the group: “Nobody can breastfeed without fear on this planet.” Annie expressed her own dismay and worry while breastfeeding: industry has contaminated our most elemental human relationship. (Find out more at Making Our Milk Safe.)

Another way to honour children is to spend more time with them. As  a  single mom who’s on the  road a lot, Annie makes quality time with her daughter Dewi a top priority. When she can, she brings Dewi with her as a combined work trip/holiday. “Children should be first and foremost in our decision-making,” she said.

Our education system offers a great forum for honouring children and offering them ways to serve the planet and society. Annie has worked with teachers to develop curriculum and actions guides for youth around her concepts in The Story of Stuff. (She shared how neocon commentator Glenn Beck raged against her for a week on his previous talk show, telling schools that they should punish any teacher who showed The Story of Stuff in class.)

  • Adopt the same regulatory approach as the European Union. For example, the EU has banned 11,000 chemicals; the United States has banned only 11.
  • “Get corporations out of our democracy.” As event host, Raffi (Annie’s friend, a well-known children’s entertainer and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring) asked: “What choices are you being given by corporations?”

Overall, Annie reinforced that we need to make doing the right thing our default action. In her simplest terms: “hope, love, truth — not fear.” She said: “We need to rebuild community and communication. There is a giant dim sum table of possibilities.” Let’s dig in.

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June 5, 2011 at 6:03 am Comments (0)