To provide a glimpse of what a sustainable Wisconsin might look like, we’ve sketched out ten encouraging scenes:


  • Consumption. In a sustainable Wisconsin, we consume enough to meet their needs and lead meaningful, joyful lives without undermining the life-support systems of the state, nation or the planet.  We choose to consume energy and materials responsibly, conserving, economizing, and recycling where possible. Conspicuous consumption becomes a thing of the past. Residents (yes, residents, not consumers) recognize the culture of materialism as a poor path to happiness that has run its course. We forget about trying to accumulate ever-more stuff and focus on more worthwhile pursuits (creation, family and friends).
  • Population.  As population stabilizes, costs of living decline and competition for resources decreases. Frenzied competition subsides as each person is able to obtain sufficient resources for a high quality of life. Urban sprawl, consumption of farm land for development and price inflation become curiosities for historians to study.
  • Families. In their households, Wisconsin families emphasize healthy lifestyles and relationships. With a shorter workweek, family members can spend more quality time with one another and explore personal development. We might pick up a musical instrument, learn a new language or spend more time with friends.  Children and aging parents receive more attention, and the lament “I wish I’d spent more time with my family” is rarely heard.
  • Community. As we change our economic focus from the global to the local, Wisconsin communities become more connected, more resilient, and more neighborly. A vibrant local economy supports local businesses and keeps wealth circulating within the community. The layout of the community is designed (or redesigned) for the human scale, allowing people to more easily navigate from one location to another and develop a strong sense of place.
  • Business. Entrepreneurial businesses provide valuable services not just to earn a profit, but to improve social and environmental conditions. As workplaces adopt democratic structures, employees find that they have more opportunities to use their creativity and explore innovative ideas. With a greater sense of purpose driving them, Wisconsin workers feel more content and more energized in their jobs. Employment in unsustainable and destructive industries are phased out in favor of more healthy and sustainable work opportunities.
  • Cities. Redesigned cities in Wisconsin have smaller populations working and living in more compact land areas. Buildings and advanced transportation networks become much more efficient and require less energy. Natural areas and gardens are reintegrated into city landscapes. At the same time, local cooperative enterprises, businesses, and regional trade activities generate good prospects for employment. Revamped urban landscapes provide both improved livability and a smaller ecological footprint.
  • Agriculture. Elimination of the need for constantly increasing food production lightens the impacts people have on the landscape, with land use devoted for food and crops stabilizing at current levels. The Wisconsin agricultural sector decentralizes into local systems of production, distribution and consumption, resulting in fewer large-scale agribusiness operations, lower fuel inputs, less application of chemicals, less reliance on long-distance transportation and less unnecessary packaging. Advanced and sustainable biofuel crops are grown in an effort to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels. Consumers of food (all of us!) can expect increased food security, healthier production, and a stronger connection to farmers and other people who produce and sell food and biofuel crops.
  • Nature. Without a continuously growing economy crowding out natural areas, our lands and waters enter a new era of healing. People enjoy more opportunities for outdoor recreation in shared, permanently undeveloped wild areas. Wildlife becomes abundant again, and restored ecosystems are more capable of providing vital services such as climate regulation, food and game production, and water purification.
  • Energy. Energy conservation becomes a high priority as Wisconsonites seek ways to accomplish our goals while minimizing energy inputs. Wisconsin phases out most fossil fuel consumption, and instead favors energy sources that use solar income, such as photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, advanced biofuels, and hydroelectric generators. Businesses and households retrofit structures to be more energy-efficient and eliminate machines that consume wasteful amounts of energy.
  • Money. Expectations about money and investing are adjusted to match reality. Wisconsin leads the Nation (and the world) in re-imagining our collective addiction to unsustainable growth fueled by massive stimulus.  “Get-rich quick” schemes are replaced by investments in real wealth that earn modest, steady returns. Investments are used to build low-carbon infrastructure, restore ecosystems, improve social conditions, and develop innovative and useful technologies. We climb out from under the unsustainable heap of debt as we learn to restrain borrowing within the bounds of savings. As gaps in income and wealth are reduced, no one is left behind.
Adapted from “Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources,” Dietz, Rob and O’Neill, Dan, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.