Since Earth911 started as recycling hotline back in 1990, we’ve met countless individuals and families who are making the Earth a better place – by starting green businesses, leading environmental campaigns or making significant changes in their daily lives to lessen their impact on the planet.
To celebrate Earth911’s 20th birthday tomorrow, we’ve rounded up the top 20 people we’ve profiled who have not only made a difference in the world, but also inspired our readers and staff to live more sustainably.
#1-4: The zero-waste family
While the average American throws away 1,000 pounds of garbage each year, the Johnson family in California produced only one handful of trash in six months. This family of four aims to send zero waste to the landfill by reducing their waste at the source – not just by recycling.
In this story, mom Béa Johnson walks Earth911 readers through her daily routine – buying in bulk and using reusable shopping bags and containers – and gives her top three tips to go beyond recycling.
#5-6: Two young eco-inventers
We profiled Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre back in 2009: The two recent college grads invented a technology to use mushroom roots, rather than petroleum, to bind agricultural waste like seed husks into compostable alternatives to plastic products – such as polystyrene foam packaging or building insulation.
So you can imagine how proud we were to see Bayer and McIntyre’s company, Ecovative Design, land a big client earlier this year: Dell signed on to use Ecovative’s mushroom-based compostable packaging foam to cushion its servers during shipment.
#7: An upcycling fashionista
Marisa Lynch started her New Dress a Day blog as a creative outlet: She’d use her sewing skills to upcycle 365 thrift-store finds into fashionable outfits – in 365 days for $365. Little did she know, her project would garner a wide following and inspire readers to save money and resources while revamping their wardrobes.
#8: The neighborhood recycler
What would you do if you didn’t have access to curbside recycling collection?
Tired of hauling recyclables to a local drop-off center while waiting for Chicago’s “blue cart” program to come to her neighborhood, Rachel Dooley and a group of her neighbors decided to take matters into their own hands, hiring a local nonprofit recycler to pick up recycling in their Humboldt Park neighborhood. To keep program costs low, she launched a campaign to recruit households to join the subscription service, setting up a Facebook page, holding meetings in a local coffee shop and hanging up posters.
#9: The green jeweler
Artist Tia Kramer says that she didn’t intend to be a jeweler; jewelry “found” her.
While creating a sculpture that featured her interest in papermaking in college, her professor and classmates said they thought the design would make for great earrings.
Kramer began making jewelry for her friends and classmates, using recycled sterling silver and natural materials to incorporate her environmental values into her art. Her designs became so popular that she was eventually able to open a full-time jewelry business that she tries to run as green as possible.
Her designs are now featured nationwide at museums and galleries, and she says she has truly found her green dream job.
#10-13: A family of locavores
After the closure of their favorite local restaurant, the Levitch family in Arizona embarked on a mission to boost their local economy: For one full year, the family of four will buy everything from local businesses only. That means no Starbucks, no Wal-Mart, no Walgreens and – most challenging for the family’s two young boys – no Toys’R’Us.
The family started their locavore adventure this year on Jan. 1 and has been chronicling their trials and triumphs on their blog, One Local Family.
#14: A thrifty traveler
Jenna Isaacson made the most of the economic downturn: When work slowed down for the independent photojournalist, she decided to combine her love of thrifting, travel and photography for the documentary project, “All Thrifty States: A Visual Journey through America’s Collective Closets.”
Raising funds for the project through Kickstarter and securing Goodwill as a sponsor, Issacson set off on a road trip through America’s thrifts stores this summer, raising awareness about buying secondhand – as a way to conserve resources and save money during the recession.
#15 – 20: Six eco-entrepreneurs
In “Green Ideas That Made Millions,” we featured six individuals who were not only able to do something good for the planet, but also make a living from their green schemes.
Kyle Berner discovered all-natural and recyclable rubber flip-flops while vacationing in Thailand and upon returning home to the U.S., started Feelgoodz to distribute the unique sandals to eco-minded Americans.
Margarita McClure turned her talent for sewing her son’s cloth diapers into her own business, Swaddlebees, while Eric Hudson established Preserve to transform difficult-to-recycle plastics into toothbrushes, razors and kitchenware.
Not satisfied with just 20 inspiring profiles? Check out these articles featuring even more exceptional eco-minded individuals:
Moms Who Made a Difference
How Kids Are Saving the Planet
Couples Travel the World Without Planes, Cars
Grow Your Own Mushrooms with Coffee Grounds
Michigan Mom Starts Recycled Shoe Line
How One Man Started a Recycling Program