Environmentalist. Tree hugger. Greenie. Unfortunately, these terms often denote images of self-righteous, hypocritical idealists whose crazy ideas for living in harmony with the Earth can cause eye rolls among those within ear shot.

I went to Urban Dictionary to find out what they say about “environmentalist” and found the following definition:

A person who lives in a nice timber and stone house filled with wooden furniture, who advocates a total ban on cutting trees and mining. This person is inevitably a city-dweller, but acts as if he knows what is best for people in rural environments, especially those dependent on timber cutting or mining. This makes an environmentalist as popular as a turd in the punch bowl in rural places. An environmentalist uses liberal judges sitting in courts of law, rather than the legislative process, to shove his plans down everyone else’s throat.

Yikes. That’s harsh. I recognize that change-makers are threatening and are often unfairly targeted. I also believe that some environmentalists tend to forget the well-being of the human species as they advocate for a more holistic and balanced ecosystem. But regardless of it’s fair or not, it’s a stereotype that lives on. And that represents a significant problem if we’re going to figure out how to live on this Earth without depleting every resource, eliminating species at an alarming rate (75 to 100 per day), creating disastrous climate change, and jeopardizing our own existence while we’re at it.

I’ve seen it for myself countless times when I tell people about my newest pursuit with Ecofluent. There are two fundamental reactions: an enthusiastic response with encouragement and generous offers of help or, alternatively, a polite nod and blank stare (I suspect the blank stare is much kinder than what’s going on in the person’s mind!). It certainly gets discouraging.

But I’m not easily discouraged. My hope with Ecofluent is to join the many companies, organizations, and individuals who are transcending this stereotype and replacing it with an image—based in a new truth—that is contemporary, smart, and innovative. A stereotype that evokes respect and intelligence. We desperately need to change the narrative by powerfully illustrating that a comfortable, healthy, contemporary lifestyle—filled with modern conveniences, cutting edge technology, nutritional foods, and beautiful aesthetics—is attainable while simultaneously maintaining a balanced ecosystem that treats all members—including people—with dignity, fairness, and kindness. And if I have my way, the word “environmentalist” will conjure up a coolness factor rivaling George Clooney or Beyoncé.

Fortunately, we’re making progress on this front as talented, motivated, and inspired individuals and organizations from various professions and walks-of-life build on the environmental movement of the past by tackling ecosystem problems with innovative and bold thinking. We need inspiration every day, and thankfully people are providing it. Like wildlife crossings—bridges, tunnels, culverts, etc.—that are re-uniting fragmented habitats so that animals can migrate across human obstacles such as highways and interstates, illustrating that we can simultaneously maintain our mobile lifestyle and restore diverse species and their habitats. Just imagine a road trip watching great herds of buffalo, bison, and elk moving over/under you!

And we’re seeing fundamental changes daily, such as the growing desire of people across the globe for locally grown and organic food, and the accompanying health benefits for people, the environment,  and the social and economic wellbeing of the local community. And what about our gas-guzzling, carbon-producing cars? Modern technology is slowly but surely converting our power sources to renewable and clean energy—the latest Toyota Prius Hybrid gets an inspiring 52 highway miles to the gallon—despite energy companies that are trying to hold onto carbon producing fuels as long as they can. How about all the portable electronics we keep dumping in our landfills? Creative and innovative researchers at leading universities and think-tanks are developing new biodegradable materials (the University of Wisconsin recently developed a semiconductor chip made of wood) that will ultimately allow us to use our technology without harming the environment.

There are so many more innovations occurring daily across our planet, each offering inspiration and a growing confidence that we can, ultimately, live in balance with our environment without sacrificing quality of life. Getting there won’t be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight. But with people like you and me, who refuse to get discouraged, see possibilities instead of obstacles, and support our world’s innovators through our financial and social habits, we will get there. And, in so doing, I bet urban dictionary’s definition will be a thing of the past.

So spend wisely. Spend kindly. Be ecofluent.

About the Author:

Ecofluent Founder and President

Rebecca brings over 30 years of experience in strategic planning, management, and marketing to the organization, most recently as Senior Associate Director of the University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Throughout her life, she has felt an inherent and spiritual connection with the natural world, and a compelling desire to re-examine the relationship between humankind and our environment. After earning her MBA from the University of Illinois, she began a personal exploration of the writings and teachings surrounding environmental science, environmental sociology, environmental ethics and related fields. Those studies, combined with her lifelong interest in sustainability were catalyzed into action by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2005 (she is currently cancer-free), and in 2008, 4 Osprey—an organization designed to promote the acceptance of an ecocentric value system—was born.


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