I grew up in a somewhat rural suburb of Philadelphia, where a majority of my childhood was spent outdoors. My brothers and I spent countless hours playing in the woods behind the house doing great things like “accidentally” falling into the stream, picking up snakes we thought were dead only to find they were in hibernation mode, helping out in the garden and taking care of the family herd of animals – sheep, a pig, a horse, a family dog and barn cats.
Time of Change
I was a teenager when I started to pay attention to the transformation of our community. Farmers started to sell off their land, so acres of corn turned into housing developments. Our small town became a hotspot for people moving out of Philadelphia and Manhattan, and along with that came chain coffee shops, restaurants and stores that had a damaging effect on the mom and pop shops. High school was a time where social justice issues also started to come to the forefront for me. I joined my school’s Amnesty International group and became more aware of issues like apartheid and unrest in places around the globe.
College brought me out to Arizona, a place I thought I’d stay for a short time then head back east. After graduation I worked in the publishing and restaurant industries and my passion for sustainability lay somewhat dormant. It started to perk up at my publishing job as I noticed how much paper waste was going to the landfill so I declared to my co-workers that I was going to start taking the recycling home. It was at this point that I realized the answer to the “why isn’t someone doing something about this” question meant that I was the person who had to do something.
Putting Local First
When I met Kimber Lanning and learned about the mission of Local First Arizona, I became determined that Arizona should be my home and I could do impactful work here. As the Director of Sustainability Initiatives I am developing programs to help local business owners improve their sustainability efforts, including a Green Business Program and our Towards Zero Waste initiative at events. I’m consistently impressed by the steps so many businesses are taking, both small and large. It’s also inspiring that the culture of sustainability is growing among citizens, which we see and hear firsthand from attendees at our events where we are recycling and composting.
Consistency is the Key
Somewhat of a changing point for me recently was attending a Climate Reality training session in Los Angeles. This organization, led by former Vice President Al Gore, encourages people to educate others about the environmental crisis, and it inspired me to get more involved in local politics. I spent time canvassing for Prop 127 during the last election, and currently am leading a citizen petition to ask the City of Scottsdale to use less hazardous pesticides on city property. Being engaged and active in the community allows me to meet so many amazing people, businesses and organizations that are doing incredible things to preserve this place for future generations.
What I know from my decades of caring about environmental issues is that small, consistent steps truly do make a big difference. Wear your passion for sustainability on your sleeve and strive to incorporate better practices in your workplace. Volunteer for organizations doing things you believe in. Say yes when asked to help – progress depends on all of us rolling up our sleeves and working together.
Helene Tack is Director of Sustainability Initiatives for Local First Arizona, a nonprofit that promotes and supports independently owned businesses across the state. Her work focuses on social responsibility and sustainability in the local business community. She is an avid recycler, hiker, camper and dog-rescuer.