Soon Memorial Day will be upon us. For many people in this country, this signifies the beginning of summer. It’s kicked off with celebratory backyard BBQs, the Indy 500, other social events, and perhaps most grotesquely, Memorial Day Sales.
While Memorial Day was officially established as a federal holiday in 1971, it can trace its roots back to the ending of the Civil War. The intent of Memorial Day is to remember and mourn the men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in defense of our nation. We have a remarkable history as Americans. I believe that this was largely made possible because of outcomes that sadly had to be determined by the loss of life. This year, the concept of that sacrifice is even more poignant for us at Greenheart Partners. Here is the reason why.
One of our co-founders, Andrew Irwin, is an active-duty US Army Captain and former Ranger. He has been deployed overseas in combat roles on campaigns where thousands of US servicemembers have died. Greenheart Partners would not exist without Capt. Irwin. This got me thinking about all the other lost opportunities that we are bereft of because of the loss of well over a million Americans defending our national interests over our history. We are a richer nation because of those sacrifices, but are we a wiser one?
The transformation that Memorial Day has taken from a somber day to a festive one is a pattern that has been very frustrating to witness. I can remember committing to memory Kipling’s Recessional. The very first Latin phrase I recall learning was Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori, which translated essentially means, “It is honourable and befitting to give one’s life for one’s country”. Memorial Day has significance. Or at least it should. At worst, it shouldn’t be a compelling reason to go buy an air fryer at a big box retail store. And yet, here we are.
The intent of Memorial Day and the current outcome are leagues apart. We are potentially going down the same path when it comes to sustainability. Sustainability is significant to everyone. It is actions and choices that are made on both an individual and a collective basis to ensure a path forward that benefits as many people as possible. However, what is occurring with sustainability is that people seem to think that the problem is so large that their own individual actions really don’t do any damage. What is chucking one plastic bottle into the ocean going to do? What harm is one more pickup truck that gets 25mpg going to do? What is the big deal in buying a multi-patty mega burger?
There are vast accumulations of trash, mostly plastic, in our oceans that have become so large that one exceeds the size of Texas. The biggest are the Great Pacific Garbage Patches, (yes, there are two of them!) the Eastern and Western Patches. The ocean has a system of currents, called gyres, that resulted in the gathering of an almost incomprehensible amount of trash in the ocean to these terrible places. That’s just one tragic result of the accumulation of millions and millions of individual decisions that people thought really didn't make a difference.
We are at an inflection point as a society. If we can’t even preserve a day of remembrance for those that fell in service of our nation, how can we ask people to consider that sustainability also includes choices that all of us make in our everyday lives? Just as we have to remember the brave individuals who gave their lives, we also have to retain the original concept that sustainability does factor in all of our choices and actions.
So this Memorial Day, perhaps take some time to research if there any ancestors of yours that paid that awful price. Take a moment during your celebrations to thank those that aren’t among us that certainly should be. And then think about how angry you would get if you heard someone talk callously about how their loss doesn’t really matter. Because they do. That one person mattered. Through your anger, they are still important. The fact that 1,354,664 Americans lost their lives during conflict doesn't minimize the loss of that particular individual. That person is important. If only we could transfer that thought process to our actions regarding sustainability. What you do is important.
From all of us at Greenheart Partners, we wish you a safe Memorial Day. We mourn for the loss of so many brave men and women that allow us to have these moments. They fought for a better world. We owe it to them to not destroy it.