What We’re Seeing: Promising Trends for the Future

These are tough times to be an optimist, especially if you care about the planet and are concerned about climate change. But it’s in my nature to be an optimist, so here are some encouraging movements afoot that we can build upon:

Revival of Activism

Increasingly, many Americans are feeling like they can no longer stand on the sidelines as our planet warms and as we pollute more of our water and air and destroy more of our remaining wild areas and open space. It is inspiring to see that more Americans are engaging in acts of civil disobedience to make their voices heard (which is harder and harder when corporations and big business have unparalleled ability to influence the political process). Three of our Board members, Betsy Taylor, Liz Barratt-Brown, and Gus Speth, stood up to be arrested recently in Washington, D.C. as part of the protests against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline; Tim DeChristopher is facing two years in jail for disrupting an oil and gas auction; and two young women are sitting in trees in West Virginia protesting mountaintop removal. Let's hope these bold stances are an inspiration to others.

Beyond Ownership 

New Dream has long promoted models of re-use and sharing, so it’s exciting to see a strong trend emerging toward creating a sharing culture and economy. Essentially, the point is: why do we need to own things in order to get utility out of them? There are astounding statistics about how often we use some of the things we own—for example, our cars: 8 percent on average; power drills: 15 minutes on average over their lifetimes!

Why waste both our natural and financial resources to own things that we really don’t need to keep in our possession all the time? Not to mention the space we fill up storing the things that we don’t use nearly as often as we think we do!  

I think it’s exciting to see not only multiple sharing nonprofits arise, like Freecycle and TimeBanks, but also the new generation of businesses that are being created based on utility rather ownership. Netflix is one of the most well-known examples, but others include Zipcar for car sharing and ShareSomeSugar for everyday stuff. See our Collaborative Communities program as well as wonderful sites like and the Collaborative Consumption Hub.

Re-envisioning Work and Leisure

Another fundamental tenet for New Dream is to value our time and re-envision how we work, live, and play. This is one of my favorite ideas to promote as I think it has real potential to improve the quality of our lives while also helping to solve some fundamental issues that plague our society and economy, such as unemployment and excess consumption.  

Why must we have a 40-hour workweek? Why don’t we reinvent the workweek to better serve ourselves, our families, our communities, and our economy? There’s a wonderful report worth reading by the New Economics Foundation, 21 Hours. Also, check our new short animation featuring our Board member, Juliet Schor, talking about ideas in her recent book Plenitude. Also, take a look at the project Take Back Your Time, which aims to “challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling, and time famine.”

Re-Localizing Movement

New Dream helped promote and design various Buy Local campaigns during the past decade, and these efforts are even more important now with our struggling economy. Not only is buying local important for the local economy, but these campaigns bring the additional benefit of better connecting and restoring communities, bringing people together face to face, and building long-term relationships that can help foster resilience. 

For instance, we strengthen our feeling of community when we meet the owner and producer of our local honey, milk, meat, vegetables, and so on, or when we join a bike tour to visit local farms, backyard gardens, or solar co-ops. This movement is also being felt in the burgeoning efforts to reform school lunches, as parents and educators partner with local growers to create new avenues to provide fresh and whole foods in school cafeterias and classrooms. 

Reskilling & Homesteading

The trend toward urban homesteading, do-it-yourself, and reskilling is really taking off. Just witness the explosion of Maker Faires around the country. The feeling of satisfaction you get from being able to grow your own food, build your own things, make your own repairs, or even generate your own energy is fundamentally inspiring.  

These days, the economic imperative to hone your own DIY knowledge is much more present. The loss of basic skills such as carpentry, sewing, and cooking-from-scratch over the last few decades has made us all more reliant on the mass marketplace for just about everything. This in turn makes us less secure and less empowered. 

The burgeoning movement for self-reliance is one that cuts across ideologies: the desire to be more self-sufficient appeals to many Americans, regardless of whom you vote for at the ballot box. Neither my husband nor I are fixer-uppers or green thumbs by nature, but we’ve tried our hand at smaller projects, like a garden, herb pots, a patio, and a compost bin.

When our kids jump up and down because they’ve spotted the kale peeping up in our garden, I love it—I feel a sense of accomplishment and freedom. However, we do have two large plants of hot red peppers growing in our garden because my husband bought them thinking they were sweet peppers! 

Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.

« Back to Blog


I am right behind you guys. I have a belief that I have answers and have 3 steps to show this. Problem is funding. The University of Wollongong has belief in me but do not give funding….

Please read my page at

The world needs change and I am willing to put my life towards achieving this goal. Greed breeds greed which is what our cash based society is causing.

The western world is losing jobs to China. China develops and wages go up and then we just exploit the next country. The Chinese will lose their jobs (like us) and then be left to rot – is this the life cycle we want for the future of our kids?

Posted by ralph at November 6, 2011 at 1:44am

Love the article. Tons of useful links, Thanks!

Even the old: Recycle-Reduce-Reuse phrase is a great reminder of how little effort it takes to make a difference. I love flipping off a light my roommates left of, it fills me with so much pride. Not only am I helping the planet just a bit, but I’m saving us money at the same time. I’ve also began saving the plastic packaging food store items come in: breads, english muffins, and reuse the bag (and little plastic clip) for food storage. Why buy a box of zip lock bags, when I am throwing away that same contraption. A little rinse out, and its ready for reuse. I love it!

After working the normal 40-55 hour work week for my first 3 years out of college, I got laid off, and then picked up a 20 hour a week job, and have never been happier in my life. It has forced me to life frugal (whickh Im learning is a beautiful thing in itself). With the internet and netflix, I have had the time to expand my mind in ways I never thought possible.

Posted by Erik at October 10, 2011 at 8:46pm

Other great nonprofits are the local area bike advocacy organizations, bike commuter mentoring organizations and ReCyclery orgs that recycle bikes. In Charlotte, NC we have all 3 – Charlotte Area Bike Alliance, Bicycle Commuters Mentor Program, Trips for Kids Charlotte/ReCyclery. Atlanta, Boston, DC and most major cities have these as well.

Posted by Pamela Murray at September 19, 2011 at 8:14pm

Very nice post. Please continue sharing such good knowledge with us.

I have a quote for you:

Dreams are only thoughts you didn’t have time to think about during the day.


Posted by Brett Eliot at September 10, 2011 at 6:02am

Speaking of hopeful coops, there’s a new kind of consumer cooperative that’s about creating and co-owning renewable energy assets. Coop Power leverages its members’ shares with grants, expertise, and loans to capitalize renewable energy businesses that the members then own:

It also buys solar hot systems in bulk for its members, who help each other install the panels. The coop owns or co-owns several businesses already and its model is being copied elsewhere, including in Maryland:


Posted by Erik Hoffner at September 9, 2011 at 4:55pm


Connect with Us