Green Across Cultures

Inspiring green solutions from communities around the world.
illustration of people wandering a large abortorium
Source: Illustration by Yunyi Dai for Green America

The Earth is a place of incredible resources: powerful winds, rich soils, strong currents, and resilient life. When it comes to fighting climate change or investing in a greener future, our most crucial asset may be each other. For every harmful policy or practice, there’s a green strategy or innovation to make our society better and heal our planet. This issue celebrates those solutions that abound from across cultures and around the world. This issue chooses hope.

For a more just and sustainable world, we have looked around the globe for innovation and inspiration, to expand the conversation, and learn from our neighbors near and far. We hope you will find inspiration from creative thinkers and activists across the continents and know that we are in this together. We will find our way into a green future, together.

South Korean Music Brings Fans Together for Climate

Devotees of Korean pop music are excited about making change in the world. Supporters of the mega-group BTS raised over $1 million for Black Lives Matter in June 2020, matching BTS’ own donation. K-pop enthusiasts globally have come together for numerous social justice and political causes, and climate change is no exception.

KPop4Planet is a group of supporters seeking to raise awareness about the climate crisis, with its biggest campaign, No K-Pop on a Dead Planet, speaking directly to music labels. They’re demanding green album purchase options, low-emissions concerts, songs about the climate crisis, and artists themselves encouraging climate action. The campaign has collected over 10,000 signatures so far and hosted an in-person action about sustainable album releases, including CDs, in front of music company headquarters, according to Dayeon Lee, a Korean university student and leader of the campaign. In August 2022, JYP Entertainment became the first K-pop music production company to release an ESG report, thanks to supporter pressure.

“It’s not only that fans are showing interest in social issues. They’re concerned about political movements in the name of K-pop fans, such as raising money for Black Lives Matter and the Save Papua forest campaign [an important land to Indigenous people of Indonesia], which are all fan-driven campaigns,” Lee says.

She also points to Blackpink, a K-pop group with 23 million monthly listeners on Spotify, being appointed goodwill ambassadors for the COP26 summit in 2021 as “an example of how idols have encouraged K-pop fans to become engaged in taking climate action.” —Eleanor Greene

Taking Inspiration:

  • Mobilize in your community, whether it is in person or online. Could your knitting group put pressure on yarn companies to source sustainable fibers? Could your book club talk to book publishers about recycled paper? Be specific about what you’re asking for and create a campaign, whether it’s social media, email, or letter-writing.
  • Find green actions to bring together your community, like Kpop4planet’s “Fandom 4 Forests” which maps fan-led tree-planting projects globally. Share your actions on social media to gain momentum. Check Your Green Life for other ideas—from creating community gardens to free food pantries!

Protecting Land Is Protecting Culture in Puerto Rico

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated human and natural communities in Puerto Rico, including sand dunes, which are important natural barriers to weather and for archaeological sites, where important cultural artifacts have been found and continue to be threatened.

In the DUNAS project (Descendants United for Nature, Adaptation, and Sustainability), local communities in Puerto Rico have been using their knowledge of the environment to help bring back ecosystems and heritage sites.

With Para la Naturaleza, a Puerto Rican environmental organization, the project is incorporating citizen science and engaging community members on climate change and conservation techniques, like staying on trails. Isabel Rivera-Collazo, assistant professor at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography, says protecting cultural identities by preserving Indigenous languages, passing information down, and recording the knowledge, are important steps in protecting local ecosystems.

“The idea of the project is to recover cultural heritage and use that link to the land to stimulate climate action and to support restoration of damaged ecosystems,” she says.

The project also included creating 3D images of pottery and artifacts found in archaeological sites in the dunes, which can be viewed online and printed with a 3D printer. Museums can more easily create exhibits this way and the actual artifact gets to remain with its original community. DUNAS printed these artifacts and gave them to elders in the community whose ancestors may have created the original pieces. —Aja Hannah

Taking Inspiration:

Clean Cars, Even in the Oil Country of Norway

Norway’s biggest industry is petroleum exports, but it’s also the country that has the highest percent of electric vehicles in use in the world (23%). The country even has a 2025 target for 100% of vehicle sales being electric. One way it does that is through tax savings—instead of offering rebates, Norway taxes electric cars at 4% (or 12.5% if the car is over $95,000 USD), compared to a 25% tax for non-electric vehicles. Along with monthly savings, electric vehicles end up being cheaper than gasoline-powered for many consumers.

“Tax incentives work. And once people drive an electric vehicle, most of them like it,” says Auke Hoekstra, founder of ZEnMo Simulations and senior advisor of smart mobility at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, another country with very strong electric vehicle policy and usage.

“Norway is the biggest supplier of fossil fuels in Europe, but in-house, it’s almost 100% clean energy,” says Hoekstra, noting the country is not part of the European Union and relies on petroleum as a national source of income. Experts call the country’s reliance on oil as it strives to become a climate leader a paradox, and many activists and climate experts are striving to align policy with ambitions to lead on climate.

Besides creating tax incentives, Hoekstra says governments must provide good infrastructure, like charging stations that are easy to find and connect with most vehicle types. Governments can also make data available to citizens that help them make choices clearly—he looks to the US’, which helps car-buyers to compare vehicles side-by-side with prices and fuel economy, including all cars, not just EVs. —Eleanor Greene

Taking Inspiration:

  • Show policymakers what’s working. In Norway and the Netherlands, significantly lower taxes are put on electric vehicles, then those rates are slowly raised again as uptake becomes more common and the prices of the vehicles themselves come down. US lawmakers have recently passed tax credits for electric vehicles, but cities and states also need to take note and take action to create infrastructure to support the transportation transition, like accessible charging stations, says Hoekstra.
  • Cities like Oslo and Amsterdam have great cycling and public transit infrastructure. Advocating for infrastructure for cycling, walking, and clean public transit will benefit urban and ex-urban communities and people of all income levels.

Australia Is Fighting Fire with Fire

Fighting fire with fire sounds counter-intuitive, but for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia, it’s a way of caring for and protecting the land. For over 60,000 years, cultural burnings have been practiced by First Peoples as an essential part of life, livelihood and wellbeing.

These intentional and controlled burnings help wildlife thrive—key in Australia, where 30 species have gone extinct since European colonization, more than anywhere else in the world—by providing various vegetation patches in different stages of regrowth, which increase the variety of habitats. According to The Nature Conservancy, they also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating dry brush that can worsen wildfires later in the season.

“Following the principle of ‘Right Fire, Right Time,’ fire is applied to specific places at times of the year to heal Country. This is an obligation and an active and empowering way of responding to climate change,” Rodney Carter, CEO of Dja Dja Wurrung Group says. As part of the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan through 2034, Dja Dja Wurrung people would be contracted and compensated to practice cultural burning.

“It puts First Peoples’ knowledge at the forefront, creates economic opportunities for First Peoples, and builds community resilience.” —Anya Crittenton

Taking Inspiration:

  • Learn from and respect the practices of Indigenous peoples across the world and the long histories stewarding their lands.
  • Research where you live and volunteer where help is needed, like a fire unit or wildlife protection group. These exist across the world, including in the US where Indigenous peoples also practice cultural burning.

In Switzerland, Residents Rule Recycling

In the last 50 years, the volume of Swiss household trash has doubled, with the average person producing roughly 1,550 pounds of waste per year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is just 150 pounds less than the average American, according to the 2019 Verisk Maplecroft report, and yet in Switzerland, where recycling is mandatory, half of that waste will be recycled, according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), compared to less than a third of American waste.

Swiss recycling depends on the everyday citizen. In Switzerland, there is an elaborate yet clear sorting system, separating paper from cardboard, PET bottles from plastic, even green, blue, and purple glass from brown and clear. Drop-off sites are detailed online, and door-to-door collection is available for the majority of recyclable materials in certified, color-coded garbage bags. Recycling etiquette is enforced through fines and “garbage detectives”—municipal workers who check garbage bags for rule violations.

“Like Santa Claus, they check who was naughty and who was good, at least on their home turf,” says Dardan Shehu, a writer for Study in Switzerland, who explains how foreigners and visitors may be scolded, lectured, or reported by neighbors when discarding waste in “un-Swiss” fashion.

Swiss consumers recycled 94% of their cans and glass bottles in 2018, according to the SBC. In the US, aluminum cans were recycled at a rate of 50%, with glass bottles resting just under 40%, according to 2018 EPA data.

Whether this success rate is due to higher social and community expectations, more intense accountability systems, a diversity of resources, or all of the above, American recycling has room to grow by comparison. —Olivia Liang

Taking Inspiration:

  • Know the rules. Wash any liquids or food residue from recyclables and double check whether they can be added to your curb-side recycling or require special drop-offs. Read up on your local facilities (by searching “local recycling rules”) to stay informed about what is recyclable in your area.
  • Speak up. Whether it’s in your schools, neighborhoods, or workplaces, not everyone might recycle properly and not everywhere may offer the option. If you feel comfortable, speak up to educate those around you or vie for clearer instructions or better recycling infrastructure.

Argentina Toasts the Planet with Eco-Wines

A glass of malbec, a taste of chardonnay—they all taste better when they’re made ethically. Wineries straddle numerous industries, from agriculture to cuisine and tourism to communications. The vastness of viticulture leaves plenty of room for waste and mistakes.

However, in Argentina, the world’s seventh largest producer of wine, sustainability in the vintner’s world has been a priority for many years.

In 2010, the Bodegas de Argentina, the business chamber for wineries in the country, established its Sustainability Commission, aimed at providing wineries and the larger Argentine wine industry with education, tools, and resources that encourage successful sustainability, resulting in certification. This helped set the benchmark for the world, with Argentina leading the way. In its second year, the Commission co-created the Sustainability Self Assessment Protocol, which outlines goals for wineries and tools to achieve them.

Many wineries in Argentina have already received certification from the Sustainability Commission with successes spanning all areas of business.

For Bodega Argento, a winery in Mendoza, now a global leader in organic winemaking, agricultural progress is vital.

“Soil health is reviewed and assessed annually,” Bodega Argento sustainability leader Andrés Valero says. “We utilize agronomic management and throughout the crop cycle, cover crops are maintained which, in addition to having a role in promoting surface and underground biodiversity, helps keep the soil alive and protects it from erosion.” —Anya Crittenton

Taking Inspiration:

  • Transform agricultural practices to be regenerative-focused, both on the macro and micro levels with Green America’s Soil and Climate Alliance and Climate Victory Gardens.
  • Vote with your dollar. When presented with numerous options, like wine at grocery stores, put your money behind an option that’s sustainably and ethically made.

Ghana Is Fashion Forward

Toxic chemicals, water contamination, miles upon miles of waste—the fashion industry is rife with sustainability and labor problems. In Ghana, people in the fashion industry and those concerned about climate change are dedicated to revolutionizing fashion. This is especially crucial as US exports of used clothing to Africa decimated several African countries’ apparel sectors.

Over a year ago, the World Sustainability Organization (WSO) partnered with Ghanaian media personality, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and model Natalie Fort, to increase sustainability awareness and offer certifications across the country. Fort runs a firm, Fort Group, which is dedicated to improving the lives of Ghanaians from healthcare to financial aid. Since 2019, she has been the Patron of the Ghana Philanthropy Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening CSOs, NGOs, community foundations, and other third sector networks in Ghana.

This partnership directly impacts Ghana through two areas of focus within the fashion industry: production of clothing and treatment of models.

WSO offers the Friend of the Earth Sustainable Fashion certification, which looks at prolonging the life cycle of materials, reducing the amount of waste, and reducing harm to the environment. In order to receive the certification, Friend of the Earth standards for Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Farming, and Sustainable Textile Processing must be met. Some of these standards include keeping an inventory of vulnerable wildlife and flora, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and more.

“Africa and Ghana’s fashion brands represent an important potential added value for clothing’s export, as well as work opportunities for local communities,” WSO founder and director Paolo Bray says. “WSO’s task is to highlight those sustainable African clothing brands and help them enter new markets, which are always more demanding for environmentally friendly products.” —Anya Crittenton

Taking Inspiration:

Japan Is Making Sustainable Development Goals Fun

In 2015, the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at enacting a plan for people, planet, and prosperity. As part of this plan, the UN created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 goals for each country to achieve, addressing things like poverty, hunger, clean energy, and more.

Every country in the UN is pursuing the 17 SDGs in their own way. In Japan, it’s become a nationwide trend, with SDGs playgrounds appearing, as well as SDGs trips offered by travel agencies and an SDGs Center at the popular amusement park, KidZania.

For one Japanese company, Imacocollabo, the SDGs presented an idea: a brand-new multiplayer, in-person, card-based game, the 2030 SDGs Game. Takeo Inamura of Imacocollabo explains the inception of the game on its website ( “The SDGs are ambitious and can seem overwhelming … While dramatic in their potential impact on the world, approaching them can be daunting.”

The 2030 SDGs Game is meant to give people practical and accessible ideas for helping create a sustainable world.

After gameplay, players engage in a facilitated dialogue, called kizuki, a uniquely Japanese term indicating a transformation to awareness.

“Participants share and examine their discoveries and observations, personal and collective, about assumptions, cultural lenses and biases, and how these influence the world that was created,” Aya Matsuyama, also of Imacocollabo, says.

The game is taking off globally and Inamura and his team have created an English version. On the game’s website, you can read past case studies of facilitated events, find worldwide online events, and even become a facilitator or host yourself. —Anya Crittenton

Taking Inspiration:

  • Play to your strengths. Look at your own interests, hobbies, and skills—what can translate to sustainable efforts? Create art to get a message into the world or make and donate food.
  • Create your own local gaming event, like a nature scavenger hunt or competition to identify native species.
From Green American Magazine Issue