How can we invigorate conversations to find sustainable solutions?

As I noted in my introductory “Sustainable We” column, we are better served by having the educated, aware, thoughtful and passionate individuals we have in Minneapolis who want to do things in a better way than we do now.

But what happens when views clash about what our future should be? What if we don’t know what the better way is? What if doing the right thing is not easy to do, or affordable?

Often, it’s understandably easier to do nothing different. We know that behavior change is difficult to enact around many issues, including the environmental threats most of us have begun to realize are genuine.

And, honestly, it feels more “American” to let choices be made largely based on individual needs and/or whomever has the most voice, resources, or votes.

Pope Francis makes a historic visit to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24 to talk in part about how our individual excesses as a capitalistic society have negative repercussions around the world in terms of climate upheaval, toxicity, reduction of natural resources. He presumably will ask: What are we doing about it? 

Finding consensus can be challenging 

Currently, Linden Hills residents are clashing over the vision of a city block. Other residents are trying to get heard, not simply “presented to,” around air traffic noise pollution.

Others are angry that the Park Board is applying herbicides in public parks. Meanwhile, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of a new pollinator-friendly policy and residents have been voicing concerns that chemical toxins are not known to be safe.

In each of these cases, there is suspicion over whether monied interests are swaying the opinion of decision-makers. We generally gave up trusting leadership roughly 40 years ago.

We have many examples of ways leadership has purposely misguided us — tobacco dangers, Watergate, weapons of mass destruction, investment fraud. So, it can be helpful to remain suspicious.

Sometimes decision makers make blatant mistakes. A new Harvard study reports that there might be a link between kid cancers and pesticide use. A recent U.S. court decision determined that the Environmental Protection Agency was wrong for approving an insecticide they shouldn’t have. 

When I worked with youth on a book about Paul and Sheila Wellstone a few years ago, one of the comments from a student on the team was, “I always thought of politics as high and mighty people looking down on others with haughty expressions.?”

It’s a sad, jaded, pessimistic vision of how our society operates, yes? Raise your hand if you’ve sometimes — or frequently — felt that way. 

How do we create and act on solutions?

As a communications specialist, I am biased in favor of deeper conversations, with multiple perspectives, to find solutions. That’s why I’m convening the “Sustainable We” forum series, Oct. 20, with our first panel discussion focused on “Parks, Pollinators, and Pesticides.”

Yet, I’m also meeting others, in interviews for, like green designer Cindy Ojczcyk of More Beautiful Homes, who believe in the power of imagery. Others believe in music, data, policy change, Tweets and community building as tools of choice to nudge us closer to collective solutions.

I have a friend who has made a career, as a child protection agent, of serving young people in refugee camps and war-torn nations. I asked how she maintains her spirit in the face of such a forlorn view on the human condition. She told me that she usually finds a few children who have the spirit of leadership in them, who she engages to help lift the spirits of others through play in their makeshift community.

For her, finding and enabling those spirits to buoy their community is what her life’s mission is all about. And those are the types of individuals I am looking to convene at these discussions.

Please join me and other Minneapolis residents, in any of the nine “Sustainable We” citywide conversations being planned.

Other topics include: Why do several sustainable home designers have little faith that Minneapolis will reach its 2030 Climate Action Plan goals? What products are being made with repurposed plastics and deconstruction materials? What should we know about developers who want us to subscribe to community solar gardens? Who are the creative re-use artists in our midst?

The goal of each panel is not to find one right answer, or persuade others toward one point of view, but to offer informed conversation and perspectives on complex issues —  in this case about environmental impact. The forums are designed for curious, engaged and/or confused residents who want to separate myths from realities, enable safe discussion on sometimes emotional concerns, and make decisions as individuals who live in an interconnected community.

Mikki Morrissette is founder of, a best practices sustainability resource for Minneapolis residents.