SXSW Eco Keynote: The Story of Change (with video)

Posted on October 8, 2012


One of the best finales to a series of SXSW Eco Keynotes (Oct. 3-5) was  Annie Leonard’s session titled “The Story of Change.” With a career devoted to improving the environment, Annie is the Director of the Story of Stuff Project and the author of “The Story of Stuff.” This keynote focused on her latest movie release, “The Story of Change,” (click here to watch the short video) which begs the question: “Can shoppers save the world?” That is, instead of buying more stuff in a vicious circle of our take-make-waste system: Can we put down our credit cards and exercise our citizen muscles to build a more sustainable world? She advises that our consumer muscles are strong because we use them a lot, so it’s time that we exercise our citizen muscles and unite to make a broader environmental change for society.

Annie regularly answers emails, phone calls and audience questions, yet there is one question that she hears most often: “I’m only one person – what can I do to change things?” The premise to her Stuff of Change keynote was that we can do more than just buy green products or fair trade consumer goods. We can be the agents of change. As a motivator to people who want to move away from our current scenario, Annie started with the bad news: Globally, we are now using 1.5 planets worth of resources every year; that’s shocking news because we only have one planet. As the Pulitzer Prize winning author/writer, Thomas Friedman, wrote in The Earth is Full, “What were we thinking?” And there are many crisis-driven trends that all point outward and upward like:

  • Income inequality is growing in the United States;
  • More American children are going to sleep hungry every night (1 out of 5);
  • More people are on welfare;
  • More people are becoming obese;
  • GHG pollution is worsening around the world;
  • Global temperatures are rising, etc.

Adding a glimmer of hope for people who are shaping a positive future, Annie shared the good news: “Solutions abound all around us. While there aren’t solutions to all of the environmental problems on the planet, there are solutions to a lot of them.” One of her crowd-pleasing quotes was: “If there are people that think solutions don’t exist, they’re either living in a cave or working at Fox News.” She continued, “Instead of working in a system that rewards us for trashing the planet and each other (by buying more stuff), we can design the planet to be safe, healthy and long-lasting. We can design economic rules to be fair. As Gandhi and others have said: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ ”

Annie’s Keynote and movies serve as a massive call to action; “Yes, it’s good to recycle, buy organic food, change your light bulbs, compost, and avoid buying plastic water bottles; these are like responsible adult hygiene. However, it’s time for us to become changemakers and think of yourselves as changemakers. Focusing on making change as individual consumers misses our source of even greater power – as citizens working together, in our communities and in our democracy, to achieve way bigger change than is captured in any ‘ten simple things’ list.”

What kind of changemaker are you? Take a quiz at the following site ( to chart your own path to exercise your citizen muscles.

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© 2012 by Ed Valdez. All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Eco Leader