In spring 2015, I entered Annie de la Bouillerie Goeke’s apartment, which operated as the office of Earth Rights Institute Living Lab. The volunteer work was about sustainability, which I assumed to be the environment. It’s much more than that. In fact, sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s multifaceted, it’s education, healthcare, gender rights, and economics. I hadn’t realized how interconnected these goals where, and how we could resolve many of these obstacles.  “We have it,” Annie said. “And we can make it work!”

Every week, I took two buses over to Annie’s office and we would type away at her dining room table. A few months later, I walked in to see a group of young men and women on the couch, laptops opened and riveted to Annie and her whiteboard of tasks. Annie introduced the new members—business owners, film-makers, graduate students, and financial planners—all here to donate their skills. “This is starting to become something!” I thought. It’s exhilarating to witness growth, to connect with individuals with common altruistic goals.

The Earth Rights Institute Living Lab (ERI LL) is an ongoing project where local communities learn methods for problem solving current issues in their area for the purpose of a more sustainable lifestyle. While it is developing in many parts of the world, our original established site is in Guatemala where Zachary Towne-Smith, the fellow co-founder, has devoted the last fifteen years of his life working with the indigenous people in remote villages throughout the country. Through his methodology known has HAPI (Holistic Action Planning for Innovation), these local communities in Guatemala have made great strides including permaculture and food sovereignty, recycling and responsible consumption workshops and collection services, the formation of a women's cooperative using appropriate technologies and many more.

I feel frustrated by the current solutions in place. There are numerous committees and educational centers solely focused on sustainability, yet the news reports that the Earth’s temperature is rising faster than we expected. So why are we falling short? ERI LL addresses the problems differently. We can’t simply throw money to an impoverished country and hope things will right themselves. We need a relationship that develops over time. We need to end the exploitation of resources overseas, which leaves the local communities without necessary facilities. We need to be aware of our own actions and how we can make change. Once we start on the local level, we can affect the global level.

ERI LL offers online coursework to learn about sustainability and how individuals can contribute. There are travel programs to Guatemala where people interested in leading their own sustainable ventures can live and learn for several weeks alongside a community, including practicing the HAPI method and developing an appreciation for the local culture.

Back at Annie’s apartment, we sit on the floor because we ran out of chairs. Our task list has gotten quite long. We reach out to any contact we have, making more people aware of the work we do. We are constantly welcoming in new volunteers to help our organization become a more globally recognized agent in sustainability.  The work being done is about interconnecting with each other and experiencing it on a hands-on level.  Earth Rights Institute’s community of volunteers, interns, and partners is carving out a new path in relationships that helps to build a stronger movement in sustainability.  The change comes when each of us actually engages in the process to know more about what sustainability means for the individual to the world.