Category: (Y)our Stories

Emily is incredibly fortunate to occasionally contribute her stories and thoughts to the Lift Blog maintained by some management and leadership experts she deeply admires, Bob and Ryan Quinn from the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, respectively. This father/son pair wrote a book entitled “Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation” that inspires the blog. This week, Ryan posted a blog that started to analyze an experience Emily had while trying to progress efforts for large scale environmental education and engagement. Ryan takes a first pass at understanding whether or not it matters if people believe in climate change… in this conversation and analysis- maybe it doesn’t.

Click here for the story/ analysis

Here is an excerpt from this article about our close friend Cynthia, who is changing the world through changing the way people move water.

“The problem hit home for Cynthia Koenig, Umich Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise MBA/MS ’11 , during a William Davidson Institute fellowship in South Africa. Moved by the health and socioeconomic effects of the water crisis, Koenig launched a nonprofit organization (turned social enterprise) to help distribute a locally available water transportation tool. In order to address the issues of poor quality control, corruption, and limited geographic distribution, she soon found herself at the helm of Wello. The social venture manufactures and distributes the WaterWheel, a 20-gallon drum that moves four to five times the amount of water possible using traditional methods of collection and carrying.”

She is the visionary but works with countless others to see her vision come to life.

Check out Wello’s website here:

Zach Bonner, a 6th grader from Tampa Florida, believes we all have the ability to make a change in this world if we just try. Sound like the same ole idealistic drivel afforded by youth? It’s not. Zach IS changing the world and has been for years now. What can we learn from him?

From his foundation’s (Little Red Wagon Foundation“) website

The past 4 years Zach, wanting to get other kids involved in community service and draw attention to homeless youth, started hosting an event called 24 hours. This event brings together kids from across Florida to simulate being homeless for 24 hours, raising funds, supplies and awareness.

In November of 2007 Zach walked 280 miles from Tampa to Tallahassee in order to bring awareness to the 1st ever National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

October 17th he set out on another 280 mile journey from Tallahassee to Atlanta to once again draw attention to Homeless Youth and also raise money to build a home through Habitat for Humanity for a homeless family.

Summer of 2009 Zach completed his walk from His House To The White House.

So in 2010 he is planning a Coast to Coast walk in which he will involve other kids and help fund their ideas to help homeless youth.

This is a story about honeybees.

A lovely woman I know named Lisa was keeping bees in her backyard – illegally (gasp!).  Bees are technically “livestock”, and until recently, were not allowed in residentially zoned areas of Ypsilanti, Michigan (similar laws exist in cities around the country).  Lisa is a skilled and passionate homesteader, so her bees were thriving – so much so that a neighbor complained to the city about their robust activity.  (I believe the actual complaint was that they were pooping on her car – no joke.)

Lisa bravely stood her ground, and after many months of courthouse and city council debates where many other Ypsi residents testified about the benefits of bees – pollination, honey’s healthful properties, biodiversity – the Ypsilanti City Council passed a resolution making beekeeping legal within city limits.  Beehives are popping up in backyards all over town this summer.

And it doesn’t stop there – immediately after the ruling, the Ypsilanti Food Co-op launched the Ypsilanti Honey Project, where a group of volunteer beekeepers-in-training (led by Lisa, of course), takes care of several hives placed around town.  The goal is to be able to provide local honey for Co-op customers looking for its specific health benefits– so even those who don’t want their own hives can enjoy the sweet, sweet rewards of Lisa’s once-criminal backyard beekeeping.

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Hats off to the administration of this school that was open to the idea that students could add value to facilities management. This kind of respect and openness at the top-level of an organization is a key ingredient to change. (In general, it might also be just a good idea to keep doors open to good idea as they can come from anyone.) In the Green Construction class taught by professor Hoffman during winter 2010 we learned that the commitment U of M has made to LEED certification for the Ross building, the in construction law building was also the outcome of student led initiatives. I wonder where else this has happened?

Note: the MSNBC Nightly News series called “Making a Difference” is FILLED with small infinity stories. More will surely come.

I was lucky enough to find myself at a meeting with the organizers from a few weeks ago (yes, including Bill McKibben himself, who is delightfully nerdy and very approachable) and as these young people introduced themselves and their work, I couldn’t help but notice that their project,, illustrates exactly what we’re talking about here in the Small Infinity Project., you may remember, sponsored a National Day of Action last October, encouraging people all over the world to plan rallies, gather together, and take photographs around the theme of the number 350 (representing 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, the atmospheric concentration that most climate scientists agree is the upper bound for avoiding major global temperature increases… we’re already over it). collects these photos, and together they make a compelling statement that people all over the world want policymakers to act urgently to pass a binding global agreement.

This year, is sponsoring another day of action on October 10 (10/10/10).  Instead of just rallying, they’re now encouraging communities to plan “Work Parties,” where citizens will get together to get something done.  It was at the planning meeting for the Ann Arbor area work party that I met the crew, who were in town for the US Social Forum.  These young activists, who each represent and conduct outreach to one of six global regions (“Hi, I represent the Middle East”), stood and described some of the projects that will take place in their regions on 10/10/10: folks in Africa are organizing a tree planting; a group in Malaysia is working on a bike advocacy project.  Here in Ann Arbor, we’re going to try to build 350 raised bed vegetable gardens in one day.

These small projects are worthwhile in themselves; just the act of getting together to work on a project like this strengthens communities intangibly, while also producing tangible results.  But’s strategy allows people to participate in their own communities, knowing FOR CERTAIN what we all love to hope- that people all over the world are working just as hard as we are, in their own small way.  That knowledge empowers future action, and, communicated to policymakers, drives political change as well.

This sign is just vague enough to make me laugh. Elizabeth Dean, bless her heart, gave some money to the City of Ann Arbor, and trees became possible! Which trees? All trees? TREES!

Here is a story from our friend Kim from Ann Arbor, MI. He contributed this story of a woman who is making the world a better place in SO many ways. Have a story? You can submit yours too!. Small Infinity stories are everywhere- help us collect them!

Mom * 7 children * Inspiration for others!

I just met a woman in La Coruna, Spain whose passion is making the world a better place for children. Clearly that passion manifests in how she lives every aspect of her life. She has adopted seven children, only one as a new born. Five of the children are natural siblings. This was 10 years ago and they now all speak 5 languages and are terrific children. One has an inoperable brain tumor, but the family is optimistic, grounded in moral values, and very spiritual in perspective.

Entrepreneur * Administration of Schools, etc * Thousands of Children

She also has started several businesses, the latest of which is an organization to certify all organizations that deal with children in any way . . . schools, retail stores, amusement parks, transportation companies . . . to ensure that they are safe and that they meet a modicum standard of safety and child-friendliness.

Talk about self efficacy! This woman is the embodiment of the Small Infinity spirit!

The University of Michigan connects its students to AMAZING people. Not too long ago I found myself in a casual conversation with a member of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during a presentation reception. The things said in that conversation have changed me forever.

The presentation preceding the conversation was about the amazing efforts our government is taking to address today’s problems through progressing science and technology. From carbon recapture to nano-everything, we seemed to be working on it. It felt really great to see such inertia in science under this administration.

That said, the picture painted seemed incomplete.

Given the urgent gravity of the problems the espoused technology are posed to solve, I was hoping to hear more “prongs” to the approach of solving them. Specifically, I wanted to hear about how the administration had scanned all the sciences, including social sciences, to identify many levers for addressing problems. I wanted to hear about how research in neuro-cognitive studies, sociology, ethics, and environmental and health behavior was informing research into proposed technologies and so on.
I didn’t hear this inclusion of social science and and my questions lingered. What if technology isn’t found fast enough? What if even when it is found it will be ineffective, not enough, not used, etc.? Why weren’t we calling on social sciences to figure out why the potential for carbon reduction from EXISTING, tested technologies has not yet been realized. ? Couldn’t social science help us figure out the obvious gap in what we know about nutrition and how we eat? My primary wonder is this: Why aren’t we talking about changing individual and organizational behavior?

So I asked some version of this last question to my new acquaintance from the Office of Science and Technology.

His answer was eloquent and respectful. He had clearly thought a great deal about the topic, without a doubt more than I have in my entire lifetime. But… he admitted abandoning the passion he had for changing behavior long ago. When I asked why he said many things but the one that stuck out was, “because it is too hard.”

Too hard. No reference to suggest support for targeted social science coming elsewhere in government and a suggestion that “Too hard” is now an acceptable reason to abandon ship.

If I needed any more reason to become passionate about studying environmental behavior and organizational change in business, I just found it. “Too hard” is not good enough. “Too hard” closes opportunities social psychologists, organizational theorists, behavioral psychologists, etc work to create. Opportunities we need to exist. Opportunities that will help fill the gaps left by an exclusive technology and cap and trade policy approach to mitigation. Opportunities that, if ceased, could better many societal problems simultaneously. (What else happens when you bike to work, use a clothesline, shop at farmers markets, encourage a corporate culture that authentically cares about all stakeholders, etc?)

Maybe my expectations of the knowledge my new acquaintance would have about such efforts were unfounded. Maybe the support for a behavior change approach comes from a different part of government. (LET me know if that is the case!) Maybe I was talking with someone who is not up to speed on the progress made in behavioral, environmental, and organizational psychology AND SO ON since he last visited ideas about this “lever” for change (pretty sure it was long ago). Maybe supporting behavior change initiatives has economic and (consequentially?) political implications that might make such an investment risky or unfavorable for the requisite politicians. Maybe we have a hard time translating social science findings into action. Maybe my thinking is made possible by naivety. Or… maybe it is “too hard.”

But those are just excuses I’d be accepting despite myself. Unspoken excuses that “we” accept despite ourselves. Not only do I believe that the social sciences offer new levers to addressing social problems, I believe that levers drawn from social science insight are the ones that need to be pulled soon… now…decades ago. This project, including all the As, Bs, and Cs in your stories, is a proverbial electron of an atom of a molecule that comprises the tip of the iceberg when it comes to observations (and research!) that suggest changing behavior is possible and a good idea.

Nobody said it was easy, but I am not convinced that is a reason to disregard that which can be labeled “hard.”

Early 1980’s. I recall the thrill of our first microwave, our first VCR, our first manual cable box, my first attempt at personal computers. All of this was considered progress and ingeniousness.

Concurrently, my grandmother passed all of this by. She continued to can her own jam, make her own wine, keep a garden, save scrap materials for quilts for the grandchildren, wash and save used tin foil, and hang every bit of laundry on the line. (My grandfather had proudly built my grandmother a clothesline using pipes -spray-painted silver- in the 50’s. She considers it a symbol of his love for her, I would later learn.)

However, in this particular era of progress, I could sense that my parents were a bit embarrassed by my grandmother’s traditionalism and reticence to use anything that she couldn’t fix with grandpa.

I noticed a similar sense when our family discussed how our neighbor lady also hung up every stitch of laundry on the clothesline…right up to the first snow and after the first thaw. We laughed as her husband’s underwear flew in the breeze, those bright Fruit of the Looms, next to her generous Playtex brassieres.

Christmas 2007. I shared breakfast with my grandmother and told her about our sustainability courses at SNRE, particularly with Thomas Princen. I told her that it all reminded me of her lifestyle. She balked, but was slightly happy about the comment.

As we did the dishes together by hand and looked out on her snowy garden, we started talking about lifestyle changes since her childhood. She turned a bit serious and said quietly, “Young people today have too much pride. They just have to have so much stuff and work so many hours to get more. Then, they don’t have time for their families or neighbors. Why do they need so much stuff?”

Pride & Stuff. I glanced out the window at my grandmother’s beautiful clothesline poles glistening with frost. That got me thinking about my lifelong embarrassment to hang my all of my clothes on the line. I could start there. Just a simple act of humility to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

I wonder who built this? I would like to thank them.

I would like to thank whoever constructed these poles.

Summer 2010. I have been hanging my laundry for the past three years in the sunshine.

Every place I live, my eyes seek out the ancient infrastructure of a clothesline. Sometimes there is an old hook or a rusty nail at just the right height. Sometimes, like this summer, there is an old pipe stuck in the ground, not unlike my grandfather’s structure, around which to tie lines.

To my surprise, I connect with neighbors and nature as I hang up wet clothes. My grandmother and neighbor lady must have also found that a clothesline is more than an economical choice. This summer my current neighbor, said to me, “You know Kate, it must be 50 years since that post was used. Good ole thing. It’s so nice to see fresh laundry again. We’re so glad you moved in.”

Can you see the support poles?

Every Stitch of Clothing

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