Monday, April 9, 2007

The Ecopreneur Makes a Difference

As much as I wish Grassroots could carry on business without relying on a motorized vehicle, the fact is that we have to shuttle more items around than we can manage with a bike trailer. The decision to use a van brought with it some serious thinking about how to minimize its impact. So, I bought a used van instead of a new one, use it as efficiently as possible by pre-planning loads and routes, started purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize the environmental impact, and run the thing on natural gas.

Natural-gas-powered vehicles are rare on the streets of Toronto, and places to refuel are in short supply. Often, when I’m filling up the tank, I end up chatting with someone who is either refueling their own natural-gas-powered vehicle, or who wants to know what I think about the stuff. What with rising petroleum prices, supply issues and increasing awareness about emissions, most people I talk to are really interested in learning about alternatives to using “regular” gas.

But a few months back, a guy filling up his van from the same pump looked at me and said, “It’s not really worth it, huh?” He kept talking and told me he thought having to use a natural-gas-powered van was useless and inconvenient (it was his employer’s truck), and we would both be better off driving petroleum fueled vehicles. I said I wouldn’t go that route, because even though petroleum and natural gas are both non-renewable fuels, natural gas burns much cleaner and pollutes less. I told him I actually sought out a natural-gas-powered van for the lower environmental impact. He thought that was pretty funny, told me I wasn’t making a difference, my contribution was so miniscule that it wasn’t worth it, etc. I said I figure we should always be looking to make the most environmentally responsible choices possible. Seriously, I wasn’t looking for an argument, but I get really frustrated when I talk to people who refuse to see their own potential, or the power they have to inspire others through their actions.

So I took a deep breath and smiled, and asked him if he had kids, or grandchildren – and he said he did. I asked him if he thought maybe it was a good idea to try to lessen his impact on the environment – if only for his grandchildren. I told him I honestly believe the thoughtful actions of individuals can add up to major environmental improvement. Didn’t matter -- he was just as firm in his belief that there is no way one person can make any difference at all.

This exchange lasted maybe 5 minutes, but it stays on my mind. I wanted to share this story, because I know a lot of you probably wonder from time to time if your efforts to live more sustainably are making a difference. I don’t know how to measure it, and I don’t know how to reassure you, but I do know this: you will never make a difference if you don’t try.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead


sarah said...

i love this blog!

Anonymous said...

That's too bad you weren't able to convince this guy about the merits of biodiesel. It's easy to feel like we're not really making any difference, but choosing not to bother is like choosing not to vote -- and if everyone thought like that, we'd have total anarchy. I feel like, sure, in the long run I may not make a huge impact myself, but if I live my life as green as possible, that's going to affect the people around me, who then might make a couple changes to their lives and affect the people around them, and so on. Plus Grassroots has had an enormous affect on the entire city of Toronto -- as an ecopreneur, you've done way more than most people will for the environment in their lifetiems...