How to be a Sustainable Professional

by Arianna Alexsandra Grindrod

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

What does it take for you to be sustain-able? To be response-able; able to respond with integrity no matter the situation? There are many things that tug at our attention.  In this culture of more, bigger, better, faster we are also told, reduce, reuse, recycle. If you are going to be sustain-able you need to learn “first things first”. Identify what is most important in your life and focus your efforts on the best goals that will make you most effective in your professional and personal life. Whatever your ruts, the places in which you get stuck, you need to decide to pause, reflect, and consider how you want to respond.  You need to decide that preparation, prevention, values clarification, planning, true “re-creation”; activities that empower, activities that broadens your mind and increase your skills, activities and actions that invest in your relationships are vital activities to invest your time in. Increasing time here increases your ability to do not just the good thing, but the best thing for a given situation.

The following “Values Clarification Merry-go-Round” activity was quite popular at my Sustain-Able workshop at the 2010 annual conference of the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society. I invite you the reader, to take some time with a friend or colleague and share your answers to the following questions. You may also decide to use this as a journal activity.  This values clarification activity will get your juices flowing and allow you, in a playful way, to access what is truly important in your life.

  • Tell me about one of the roles you have in your professional life and how it affects other roles in your professional and personal life?
  • Describe your work environment as a habitat. What is the landscape or terrain? What are the relationship types and how do they fit together? (Parasitism, mutualism, etc)
  • Tell me about a habit you wish you could break. Have you tried? And if so do you have an idea of what is blocking you from reforming this habit or breaking it all together and replacing it which a healthier pattern?
  • Speak to the statement – “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” How does that statement make you feel? Does it resonate or not? Is it something to live by, if so do you?
  • What do you see as the confluences of environmental sustainability, organizational sustainability, and personal sustainability in your life?
  • If you could any animal besides a human, what would you be and why? What qualities do you see that animal possessing? As a human, could you see yourself with those qualities? How might they play out in your life?
  • Talk to me about your professional life from the lens of you as the hero.
  • Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Why or why not? What does being an environmentalist involve? What are the characteristics of an environmentalist?
  • Talk to me about your personal life from the lens of a comedy. If you feel your life has been a tragedy, how could you tell it from the comedy perspective?
  • Tell me about something you do to invest in an important relationship to you? How do you demonstrate the worth of this relationship to the other person?
  • Tell me something you do to increase proficiency in a skill you are passionate about?
  • Tell me one true value you hold dear and why.
  • Does anyone remember MacGyver? MacGyver could solve a major crisis with a gum wrapper and some household cleaning agent. Pretend you are MacGyver. What crisis would you solve and how could you solve it with limited resources and time? You are welcome to use any crisis situations you have experienced in your own life.
  • Tell me what you believe gives your life meaning?
  • What do you want to do/be when you “grow up”?
  • What is one thing you are truly passionate about? Do you sate this passion? In what ways?

What did you learn about yourself during this activity? Can you find where the confluences of environmental sustainability and your professional and personal sustainability meet in your life? This is the starting place where you can begin to form your own personal mission statement.  This statement you can return again and again, like a mantra to remind you of your core values and how you will live them.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  – Stephen Covey

It is easy to become entrenched in the day-to-day and to forget about why we started on our various paths to emulate and model sustainable living in our work and personal life. We can allow ourselves to forget about what inspired us and focus on what frightens us. At these times it is crucial to return to that well of inspiration to replenish and rejuvenate. As author and educator David Orr states, “hope is an imperative” and without it we are lost. So take the time to replenish your well; retain those playful parts of yourself, those parts that can remember how to solve a problem with excitement and hope. We are each “MacGyvers” with our little upbeat, heroic theme songs running around in our heads as we greet each new day with renewed enthusiasm.  (What’s my theme song, you ask? It’s the first part of the Indiana Jones theme song.)

“We are meant to live as rivers – flowing creative energy into the expression of life, meandering as opportunities arise, branching when conditions allow, leaving behind the rich fruits of our labors as gifts to others.” – Bradford Glass

Resources on the path to the confluences of sustainability:

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill © 1994
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey © 1989
  • “Purposeful Wanderings” by Bradford Glass,
  • The Right Questions by Debbie Ford, © 2003
  • Ask and It is Given by Jerry and Ester Hicks, © 2004
  • The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, © 2008,
  • For more information on building local resiliency and sustainability visit: