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Friday, 11 November 2011

Everyone up and at 'em

There have always been doers and there have always been talkers. The former seldom let setbacks stifle their plans; lack of money, know-how or endorsement puts no brake on an idea once cooked up. They change things.  Talkers may eventually get around to putting an idea into action, but more often than not are content for others to show them the way, particularly if the trail that needs blazing is too steep.  This might be just the way the world is, but it means we miss out on the talents and skills of a whole lot of people just when we could really use them the most. There has to be a way to get more people up and at ‘em?
Everyone knows where we are right now:  we cross one tipping point after another seemingly every week, myriad ecological crises are converging and money continues to disappear into a deep abyss of debt. Whether or not you buy into concepts such as climate change or global warming only the wilfully blind would deny that we’re up to necks in problems resulting from human actions. To be fair, there’s not much the man in the street can do about the latest Middle East revolution but if we could make up our minds to switch to a more sustainable way of life, simple acts and altered choices may be all that it takes to make big differences; as long as this action is collective.   Many actually do want to do something; they just don’t have the faintest idea where to start pushing back against all the bad news. A little direction would be invaluable.
Enter some serious go-getters offering ingenious, online originality. They’ve an infectious commitment to putting something back and their one goal is to make it easy for you to do the same.
The DoNation
Shoulders to the wheel
Back in 2009, after the rigours of University, Hermione Taylor felt like getting away. A keen cyclist and sustainable seeker, she decided on a cycling break; but Hermione being Hermione it was never going to be just any old getaway. Wanting to push her limits, she and her friend Sara hit upon the idea of pedalling from London to Marrakesh, a knee cracking 3,500 miles.
Whilst she was at it, wouldn’t this be an ideal opportunity to raise sponsorship to support the environment?
Realising quickly that none of her friends had any money, she decided that the most useful thing to ask from them was a pledge to action, a promise to try something sustainable for instance. ‘Unlike most other charitable causes, the environment needs our action more than our money’.
Thus, with the help of 216 friends, who promised to do something green if she managed the ride, the concept for The DoNation was born. Hermione completed the journey, her friends changed their behaviour and over 16 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 84 flights from London to Morocco, was saved. Good work.
‘We got tired of listening to all the talk of what would solve this environmental problem or that, so we thought the best thing we could do was build a model to follow for people who actually wanted to do something. You take on a challenge and your sponsors ‘pay’ you in green pledges – the currency is carbon not pounds and pence’.
The results speak for themselves. Since The DoNation went live, 61767 KG of carbon have been pledged - and therefore kept from the atmosphere – and it has cost no one anything besides the effort to go green.
‘Individuals are at the root of the environmental solution, not research institutions or international aid organisations, and we simply need to act’.
Project Dirt
Growing the grass roots
Mark was a green virgin working as a chartered surveyor. Nick, his friend and an economist by trade, was involved with ‘Balham Composters’, 5 or so folk looking, as you might expect, to compost locally. They both knew they could do more so took the ‘composters’ and used them as the first project on their website designed ‘to make environmental change happen’. That was in 2008. Today, has over four and half thousand members comprising 605 projects throughout the greater London area.
‘Our motivation for creating the site was pretty clear right from the start’ says Mark, we wanted to connect people who were already out there making change happen, help those who, like us, wanted to do something green but didn’t know where to start and to provide real life case studies that others could use to build their own initiatives’.
Anyone can join the site and find out what’s going on in their neighbourhood. Alternatively, if they have a bright idea they can use it to get others onboard. Members get their own page, can post events and are free to join any project listed. ‘Transition Towns’, City farms, Beekeepers, Orchard groups and just about any other incarnation of a community group you can think of sit happily side by side. 
‘We’re immensely proud of what we’ve been able to achieve so far, but we know that the heroes are our members. They’re out there every day making a difference to their street, their community and of course, ultimately to the planet. We’ve lost count of the community gardens, the skills shares, the river cleanups but we’re thrilled to be making a difference’.
With a plan to re-launch the site so it’s even easier for people to join in, Mark and Nick now look to take their green band of ‘dirters’ nationwide to further ‘grow green ideas’.

Beetroot Books
The word on the street (and garden)
‘There’s no shortage of places to get books online at knockdown prices and honestly, we don’t expect to appeal to everyone, we’re just passionate about the positive stuff in life so the aim is to focus on providing a thought-out collection of books - hand-picked - and giving back wherever possible’.
Having instigated a community garden in south London, becoming involved with various environmental groups and maintaining more than a passing interest in the leftfield ideas of Consciousness writers like Daniel Pinchbeck and Terrence McKenna, Dan O’Neill found himself frustrated at having to source the books he wanted from ‘corporate owned commodity sites’. Unsatisfied at the practices and generic, nature of stores that wouldn’t care if they sold you philosophy or fabric conditioner, he figured the needs of progressive communities and those interested in new ideas, would be better served if there was an alternative place to get all the right titles. If there were others who shared similar interests: environmentally savvy, free-thinkers with open minds and the need to get out in the elements from time to time, surely it was also crazy for them to use sites so thoroughly at odds with their professed ethos?
Just by buying from Beetroot Books, named for something else earthy and interesting, customers can take the opportunity to contribute to children’s literacy and disabled gardening charities and even buy trees to pay back the planet some way for the resources used to produce the books. But it’s not only eco-warriors, mothers and seekers who’ll be into it.
‘When I go visit some of the well known independent bookstores in the US, your Left Bank books in Seattle or your City Lights in San Francisco, I’m always stuck by their collection of titles. It’s like someone there instinctively knows what you’re going to like before you’ve even heard of the author or the title, browsing is a pleasure and you seem to always end up with a treat, no matter what you originally went in for – that’s what I wanted to achieve with Beetroot Books’.
The site also promotes and sells works by unpublished authors and writers looking to work with a more authentic purveyor, something offered by the few when money is the bottom line for many.
‘There are lots of people out there looking for a change. We’re concentrating on people who enjoy making differences to their lives, the lives of their families or to the wider community. That’s why we’ve picked out books for all ages that can point the way. Books can connect all the dots, but they should connect us to each other and the planet too’.

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