A growing number of entrepreneurs are realizing that personal success is interconnected with healthy communities. According to career counselor and author Melissa Everett, many have started their own businesses with broader goals in mind, such as protecting the environment or supporting the arts. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, those entrepreneurs are making a living and an impact, close to home and around the world.
While many problems on this planet seem too complicated to be solved by a single person, individuals can always be part of positive change.
"I think a lot of people can make a really important difference in every line of work," career counselor Melissa Everett says.
"You work for a bank [for example]," she explains. "You are a commercial lending officer. You have two businesses that are asking you for funds. One is building homes in a conventional way. One is building highly energy-efficient homes using local materials in a very careful, well-managed way. That might be more risky, but you can choose to put the money where the benefit is higher, in the greener way of doing business."
In her book, Making a Living While Making A Difference, Everett shares personal stories of people who turned their everyday work into a vehicle for positive change.
Ken Geizer, who created the Toxic Use Reduction Institute in Massachusetts, is one of the people profiled. "The impact he wanted to have was to identify a list of toxic chemicals and see them removed from commerce," Everett says. As an expert on environmental and occupational health policy, Geizer focuses on safer technologies and cleaner production.
Everett points to Wendy Brawer as another example of someone whose work makes a difference. "She created something called the Green Map System," she says. "And what impresses me about her is that she came up with this as a way to empower other people. It wasn't a platform just for her to do something virtuous."
"We create tools that help people create maps of their local environment from a green living, natural, cultural and social perspective," Wendy Brawer says. Communities across the United States and in 50 other countries are using her software to create more than a guide to local roads and public facilities. They are mapping the locations of farmers markets and 'green' businesses, public art, shaded boulevards and great places for stargazing or bird-watching.
Green mapmakers in Victoria, British Columbia, plotted trees. "They charted all the fruit trees in the community where the people who owned them didn't want the fruit," Brawer says. "And these fresh apples, pears, cherries ended up in the food baskets for low-income people. So it was a great way to make sure that people had healthy food, that nothing was wasted, and it kept people more connected with what was going on in the community."
Moreover, Brawer says, Green mapmaking creates jobs and raises public awareness about the environment.
"There are many, many people who have paying jobs because of Green Map projects, whether they're the coordinator, the designer or somehow involved with the team making the map," she says. "And this making of maps really creates a debate about what is a green business. So it helps local businesses do more to become greener in order to get on the map."
There are many ways to make a positive impact, and author Melissa Everett stresses that they are not limited to entrepreneurs or business owners. Everyone, she says, can be a force for change.
"If you're working in a less-great organization, don't lose heart," she says. "There are often little important things you can do. You can persuade your management that reducing waste is good for the bottom line, that being a good corporate citizen is going to expand their market share, is going to reduce their risk exposure. There are lots of ways."
Everett says it all starts with realizing the kind of workplace you would like to create or be part of, and the kind of impact you want to have in the world.