Making resolutions for a more sustainable lifestyle is a challenge when money, time and convenience are affected. We feel the pinch when we shift to more expensive products and inconvenienced when trying to make a new habit stick.
But researchers say that the biggest barrier to change is actually social support. If we are alone in trying something new, or if our new choices isolate us socially, any new habit probably won't make it past our first big social event or family gathering. This is why community building is so important. It helps to have mentors who share similar values and who have learned to live those values. A long time after I learned about the harmful effects of plastics, I was finally able to change some of my buying habits with advice from the founders of MiNNBOX, a local zero-waste company. One great resource for finding a like-minded community of people is through the Meetup website. A quick search for groups in the Duluth area shows an overwhelming number of groups gathering over just about anything imaginable. I am in one of these groups and it is a great way to find immediate support and friendship. Several in Duluth are focused on various sustainability issues.
One of my favorite sustainability mentors though, is someone you'll never find online. He does not have internet or a car. Meeting him requires good old traditional community-building through sharing our open spaces. The best place in Duluth to do this, and to meet my favorite mentor in particular, is Chester Park.
The trails of Chester Park serve as a thoroughfare for hikers and pedestrian commuters to traverse through nature between downtown and the college area. We owe our gratitude for this space in part to Dan Proctor, my mentor, a long-time resident of Duluth. He makes his lifestyle choices with careful thought about how his actions impact the planet and people around him, and then consistently acts on what he concludes is right. Those of us who look up to Dan may not be able to emulate all that he does, but I've learned a lot of general lessons from Dan and the many people around Duluth who live life so intentionally. Another great way to find support is through taking classes. There are many different options for formal and informal continuing education in Duluth. The Whole Foods Co-op, the universities and the K-12 school districts are great places to start. Dr. John Pastor, a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is one of my favorite teachers.
Building relationships in the community is the best way to build support around you. Networking is not a dirty word. It's really about building our community's social, economic and environmental sustainability by building each other up and sharing resources. We have many avenues: internet forums, taking classes, attending special events and walking through our own neighborhoods are just a few. Whether you prefer the structure of a class or the spontaneity of meeting without a structured impetus, the important thing is to connect. Connect with others to support you, help you learn and celebrate your accomplishments.