These days, we could all use a little inspiration. Welcome to SCH’s Agent for Change series. Throughout the year, we feature interviews with everyday people creating big changes in their little corner of the world. The goal of these stories is to spark a passion, help you set a goal, or move past some frustration as you work to be an Agent for Change in your own system.
This month, we are featuring Ed Cohen, an MVP of sorts in the South Jersey sustainability scene. A computer consultant, Ed began working on community sustainability efforts back in 2008. Facing a steep learning curve, he decided the best way to really understand the issues was to volunteer with local sustainability organizations. Ed quickly stepped up, offering his time and talent to not only participate in initiatives like the Mt. Laurel Green Team and Tri-County Sustainability Alliance, but also to lead. Ed has rallied and inspired many throughout South Jersey to become sustainability advocates in their own right. He encourages others to work with him on planning inspiring and educational outreach events, such as the Sustainability Sips networking night and a variety of films, panels and hands-on community building activities. Ed “walks the walk” by making his personal choices as sustainable as possible. When he’s not driving the family Prius, Ed can be found pedaling his trusty bicycle around town. Always up for a good protest, Ed has helped organize fellow community members with sign making and transportation to rallies throughout the region. An alumni of The Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) and NJ Learns, Ed also lends his enthusiasm to the Board of Trustees of Sustainable Cherry Hill and the Environmental Education Working Group in Camden. Keep an eye out for Ed’s wife and supporter, Karen, at the next program or rally. Ed credits Karen, a serious sustainability advocate herself, with kickstarting his activism by inviting him to a program at the Mt. Laurel Public Library eight years ago. And lest you think Ed is all work and no play, ask him to show you one of his magic tricks— all performed with sustainability education in mind! When he is not giving his all to save the planet, Ed is busy mentoring the local high school robotics team and running an Ultimate Frisbee team.
SCH: What is a typical day as an “Agent for Change” like for you?
Ed: Every day is something new, but many days involve making connections with people via emails, phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Other times are spent setting up meetings, agendas, writing minutes (for Tri-County Sustainability Alliance and Mt Laurel Green Team), and finding information from people and websites. The behind-the-scenes efforts usually results in an exciting program with a large audience. All that ‘work’ has opened a number of doors, enabling me to attend/lead events, write newspaper and magazine articles, and participate in week-long seminars.
SCH: What are some of the biggest challenges or barriers that you’ve faced? How have you dealt with them?
Ed: When faced with obstacles (a.k.a learning experiences), I’ve found that there is always a path forward that exposes me to new (and often better) ideas. Those experiences helped me learn that a positive attitude always trumps dwelling on challenges. I’ve been fortunate that many of the volunteers in my groups have stepped up, suggested, organized, and run events.
SCH: Dream Big! If you had no constraints, what would you like to see happen in five years?
Ed: People will became more aware that our personal and political choices affect our planet’s suitability for life. With such knowledge comes power and the responsibility to act. We will demand legislation and political leaders that work to develop long-term solutions.
SCH: It’s important an Agent for Change stay inspired too. Tell us about an experience you’ve had recently that really energized or moved you.
Ed: While preparing for a Clean Energy Revolution march at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, we scheduled an ‘art build’ at my home to create signs and artwork for the march. While I was expecting a half-dozen people painting signs, we ended up having over 20 people creating all kinds of artwork (thanks to artist Suzy Sherbine) and newspaper coverage that included pictures and an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was amazing how such a ‘little’ event expanded into much more. The march itself was invigorating with over 10,000 participants in a positive uplifting atmosphere.
SCH: How have you connected with SCH in your Agent for Change role? What ideas do you have about how we continue to work together in the future?
Ed: SCH got me my start and helped with my personal growth (including mentoring by Lori Braunstein). Now, serving on the SCH board provides new opportunities for me to grow. Learning and taking action is fun. Watching impotently from the sidelines is frustrating. I’d like to help connect the many valuable organizations working in our region to help multiply our joint impact.
SCH: Thanks Ed. Your path from curious bystander to sustainability leader has been inspiring to watch. We have a feeling you are just getting started!