Sustainability is such a buzzword these days. It’s one of those words that reflect a way of thinking about the world. It evokes renewable resources, carbon-neutral living, eco-friendliness, and organic food. Conservative talking heads hate the word because it implies a move away from big agricultural subsidies, mono-farming, and corporate globalization. It’s about getting back to basics—growing your own vegetables, shopping locally, and composting. But the word has academic implications too. It calls for a cultural shift away from blind consumerism and towards accountability. In many ways sustainability is anathema in the United States. It seems that way to me. I grew up in a generation of consumers: plastics, Styrofoam, and waste. When I was a kid, I wasn’t conscious of the damage my consumer habits were causing. I think many of us have had a rude awakening in the past decade or so.
When I was a little girl (like many dreamy-eyed little girls) I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was fascinated by whales: their enormous bodies, buoyed by undulating ocean currents; their ultrasonic songs, traveling hundreds of miles through the water like whispers with wings; and their mysterious lives, hidden from the prying eyes of researchers, lived deep beneath the shimmering surface. To me, nothing was more beautiful, more magical, or more exciting. Then I learned about whaling and the bloody history of commerce on the open water. I learned about strandings, the result of sonic pollution, and saw pictures in the newspaper of hundreds of glorious humpbacks drying to dust in the noon sun.
For the 30-something traveler and volunteer (me), there is something so nostalgic about college-age adventure. It wasn’t that long ago and yet, I remember the idealism and excitement as if they were things of the last century. It’s so easy to become jaded—to let the terrible things about the world into your heart. I don’t think of myself as cynical, but reading about the subject of today’s article has inspired me to take a good hard look at my tarnished optimism. There is no reason for it! Optimism is the product of positive change. It’s the result of standing up for something, of doing things yourself to get them done right. I spend a lot of time reading about volunteer companies. It’s a wonderful thing to read about because so many of them are designed to make the world better. Still, just like in any marketplace, there is often a very thinly veiled profit-incentive. This is fine, so long as the programs are well run, sustainable, and responsible, but it is refreshing to see a company that openly addresses this obvious and pervasive ethical quandary.
As we’ve explored here before, attracting volunteers to your organization can be a challenge. It seems like new organizations emerge every day, and so many of them have solid, responsible infrastructures that support worthy causes. There are a lot of volunteers out there, and chances are, if your organization is sound, some of them will find you. But how do you cultivate a volunteer base? What is the best way to draw volunteers to your organization, like bee pollinators, ready to spread your message and nurture your cause?