How do we create sustainable communities in an already existing older community that doesn’t like change? Part 1 | eePRO @ NAAEE

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How do we create sustainable communities in an already existing older community that doesn’t like change? Part 1

How do we create a sustainable community in an already existing older community that does not like change? What are some positive influences that help older individuals embrace change to help the environment? This is discussion started when I attended a community event to kick off a green program. (see blog:
Many of the individuals were not convinced of the positive factors at the beginning of the conversation. This particular group will continue to meet until they create a plan for their community. What do you think are some positive factors that would encourage them to adopt sustainable ways?

I am trying to become more aware of the options, teaching styles, and pushback of sustainable living and community development. What do you believe to be the ‘peer pressure’ that has swayed people from becoming sustainable? Have you found that there is different pushback from different generations, or have you found a common theme? To me the first and easiest step towards sustainable communities would be to influence and promote people to turn off lights, regulate thermostats better depending on the seasons, saving water, and eating more locally. What is your opinion on instilling an environmental awareness and a form of environmental literacy to promote awareness and compassion/action.

This is the exact problem I've run into in NE Ohio where the majority of the population is the Baby Boomer generation that sees little to no value in using their money or resources to better the environment of their community. We can barely get the communities to vote on school levies let alone implementing environmental policies or changes. My area still has corruption and is economically depressed so it seems the majority of people are always skeptical of any type of change, even if it's improving their community.

It is crucial to determine a common ground that all individuals can advocate for. One reasonable example should be water conservation. Every human being requires water for survival, and much environmental degradation caused by infrastructure and development endangers our water supply. Regardless of class, power, status, every person deserves access to clean potable water sources. The fear of change is at root an issue of perception created by our society. We cannot combat the fear of change as easily as we can find loopholes that subconsciously evoke people to look at change with a different set of eyes.

I think it’s helpful to listen to what people care about first and find the common ground with which to start a conversation. All people care about something, human health, empowerment, having a voice, their kids... I find that messages of what could be done that build community, find common celebration, and are reinforcing are received differently than ones where the message is about what not to do. The message can either be won or lost in the delivery.

I can relate to points made by both Josh and Lucy. Here in Chicago, there's never been much pressure to force the decades-old Democratic machine to protect the environment. So we were the last city in the country to filter wastewater discharges. And plumbers were still installing lead water pipes through the 1980s, which has played havoc children's educational outcomes. With the Great Lakes right here, we are rich in water, so why protect it? Change is hard, and it's not just a matter of which party wins.

I am intrigued by what Lucy calls "loopholes that subconsciously evoke people to look at change with a different set of eyes." Sounds different than just demonstrating the importance of water ecologically or economically. I wonder if it's possible to define how such loopholes work. Are they just a matter of finding locally relevant angles on big issues? Or grassroots thought leaders?

The first thing that came to mind with the original question is....that older folks may be resistant to change because it can go against the supposed "American Dream" of accumulating stuff and having the luxury of having excess of everything...I think that sometimes the changes we ask people to make seem to appear like we are going backgrounds...and not progressing...and some folks may be against this. I do have hope that the younger generations seem to find joy in getting back to the basics, so to speak; by reusing, repairing, and doing things their grandparents used to do to conserve. One starting point or "loophole" in any community is to find a champion to be your messenger. Have one of their peers do the talking/convincing and that may help build trust and momentum.

I have been enjoying this thread, but would like to push back just a bit on framing this as a generational issue. Although each community is certainly different, evidence seems to suggest that - if anything - younger people may be less inclined towards environmentally focused behavior across a number of activities (e.g., recycling, water conservation). You may want to take a look at Yale's Climate Change Communication work as one example:

If you are interested in working with communities, there are a number of resources available. You may also want to look at two NAAEE resources: 1 ) Community Engagement: Guidelines for Excellence ( and 2) our Environmental Issues Forums program ( EIF provides a way of facilitating deliberative discussions of environmental issues like climate change, water, food, and energy.

I'm curious of the definition of "older people." I live in an "older neighborhood." My neighbors (say 70 or older) are appalled at older, smaller homes being torn down and replaced with McMansions. The previous owners of our house raised 4 kids in a two-bedroom home. Their generation was raised to *conserve.* My grandmother's generation (90+) are very in tune with the need to conserve. It seems "older people" could easily get on board with the "reduce and reuse" part of "reduce, reuse, recycle." And convert "conserving" into "conservation."

And I'm super interested in a potential gender-gap suggested by your blog post, esp. "My wife makes me do it." That's worth some serious exploration, IMO. Who is the decision-maker, and what are they choosing, conservation or no? And does that answer split across generations, or gender, or both?

I agree with Bora and Charmin's point about so-called older generations having a lot to offer. I immediately think of Depression-era Americans and small farmers of many past eras as being excellent at thrift, DIY, and creative adaptation. Now we call such behaviors being a "maker." But it was just part of their lifestyle.

At the same time, there are certainly values that have been passed down that are fair game. My grandparents never bought a small car (or even a medium car) in their lives. It was always BIG cars, Impalas especially. They never had reason to think about carbon pollution or smog.

So I'd argue that the key is somehow highlighting and teaching key practices from every era, some old and some new--and avoiding presentism, which can be a real turnoff. It would have been great if people like my grandparents chose smaller cars. But they didn't have the information we have today about climate change. If they did, they might have chosen differently.

So I guess I am arguing for some kind of generational reconciliation. Not sure what that would look like.

After reading a couple of UN articles on sustainable infrastructure in urban areas a year ago (water and sanitation) I am of the opinion that the measures required to make us truly sustainable will likely not make young or old very happy. I like aquatic ecology and natural stream systems and regional treatment and recycling systems may be a necessity and effectively change them greatly.