In a time of chaos, uncertainty, and immense environmental, economic, and social challenges, valuing sustainability over traditional ‘progress’ has been a remarkable paradigm shift. But even powerful environmental movements seeking systemic change have left their leaders exhausted and empty, decrying the ways of the world but neglecting their own wellbeing and identity.

A sustainable society is often defined as “one which satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations”. – Brundtland Commission Report, Our Common Future (1987).  But how can we create sustainable communities that can evolve and meet the needs of the current crisis? And how can we create a more holistic and inclusive approach to sustainability that can benefit us all in a greater way?

One first step towards those questions may be found in combining my studies in Environmental Leadership at Naropa University with the framework discussed at the Byron Fellowship of PLACE (Presence, Love, Awareness, Connection and Effectiveness). Maybe these reminders can lead us on the journey of creating sustainable communities.


If you don’t know where you are-

You don’t know who you are-

Wendell Berry


PRESENCE: When I speak about presence, I refer to the act of being and living fully in the moment, embracing things just as they are.  For presence to occur there has to be a connection and an alignment between the body, the mind, and the soul – a synchronization of the three– Everything we create is all in the present moment – “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh. Presence requires an openness to take life experiences as they are, trusting our inner wisdom and allowing our true self to come forth genuinely.

LOVE: As change agents and community leaders, the embodiment of love may be the most powerful answer of all. How can we internalize and externalize compassion and loving kindness for others but also for ourselves? Compassion arises from understanding and acceptance of the “fundamental basic goodness” in all beings meeting people where they are at; letting go of expectations, judgments and beliefs in an unconditional relationship. The world today needs those who can lead from their heart, from within and with humility; leaders who will inspire positive change not just by what they say or what they do, but who they are. In a pool of bleeding hearted young people, self-love is the often neglected foundation of this capability.

AWARENESS: Our brains are being trained to be mindless via ever-present and constant stimulation, which can lead to a lack of attention in everything we do.. The practice of mindfulness offers us the possibility to develop self-awareness by helping us practice being genuinely present by focusing in one thing at a time. Only then we can really share what is meaningful from within and bring forth our authentic self into the world. The blind have lead the blind for too long.?? Should we put this?? Contemplative practices such as meditation, are one method to pursue awareness.

CONNECTION: The world today needs resilient leaders with a strong awareness of the interconnection and the interdependence of all living systems in the planet. We cannot longer think that we a separate from each other, but open our eyes to see we are all one and interconnected. As Vietnamese monk Thich Nat Hahn quoted: “We shall not be, we shall all “Interbe”. As soon as we believe the lie that is our separate fates, we risk creating into a self-absorbed and destructive world.

EFFECTIVENESS: The famous “talk the talk, walk the walk” is still not any far from being true.  We can be very knowledgeable or think we are, but sometimes it is much better to be the “learner” than the “knower”. Effectiveness is now proven to be valued in a much broader way than only by measuring profits, results or success. We can be much effective leaders and change agents, if we are able to be open to change, act genuinely, with humbleness and leading through our values and truth from the center of our heart.

When we forget who we are in the context of where we have come from and where we are now, we are lost and burn out. It’s important as leaders of the sustainability movement to continue to pursue our foundational identities, in all aspects, not just intellectual. We need to pursue interconnectedness grounded in place. Real sustainability starts from within.

Mahatma Gandhi says: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Despite its commonality, its depth still holds true. I cannot guarantee change in others, not the world, but I can pursue intentional change within my own heart. Only then, from that place, I can truly lead by example and help this world become a more sustainable home for all.

Ana Lucía Fariña, MBA

Byron Fellowship 2011

MA Candidate in Environmental Leadership at Naropa University.