BETTER ME, BETTER EARTH

How to grow a successful social movement for sustainable and resilient communities


By Jonathan Quenan


Mariana Ramirez wasn’t always involved in sustainability, in fact, quite the opposite. In 2013, Mariana moved from her home in Venezuela to Houston, Texas to work for a large oil corporation, where she ended up staying for four years. Something about the job didn’t sit right with her. “There was a lot of politics involved,” she said about the company. “It was tough…it was too much.”


In 2017, Mariana decided that it was time for a change, so she moved out to Miami to begin anew.


On her daily dog walks along the shoreline, Mariana noticed that litter would collect into larger and larger piles. She knew this couldn’t continue.


“I decided to switch my entire life….I needed to stop and rethink what I had been doing,” she told.


Using her social media influence as a fitness trainer, Mariana began organizing local community members for a beach cleanup. What began organically as a small group of friends picking up trash quickly became a weekly event that continued to grow in size.


Mariana’s passion for personal fitness instantly became a large component of the movement, now named Better Me Movement. Instead of just having people walk around and pick up trash, Mariana thought it would be more engaging if she added in a workout program alongside the cleanup process.


The idea took off. Now, Better Me has over 12,000 Instagram followers, and the movement continues to grow. Hundreds of people show up each month to help Mariana keep the movement running.


Mixing fitness and environmental service creates a win-win situation for participants; they’re bettering both their health and the environment. Better Me's workout & cleanup events occur twice-weekly all year long, but they also host an annual 5K when runners take a trash bag with them and pick up litter as they run.



REDUCE, REUSE, RE-SHOES


Moe Hachem took a different route in creating his movement, Sneaker Impact.


Since 1967, Moe’s family has been involved in the recycling and resale of shoes. It’s the only job Moe has ever had. “I was born on this, and I’ve never done anything else,” he told me when we met. In 2019, Moe decided to take his recycling program a step further.


Moe’s organization receives old, donated shoes from community members and businesses across Miami. Upon receiving the shoes, Sneaker Impact refurbishes them and then sells the shoes at a heavily-discounted rate to microbusinesses operating in countries with impoverished populations.


Since Moe already had connections in the textile industry, it wasn’t hard getting the movement up and running quickly. Within a matter of months, Sneaker Impact was already spreading its influence across Miami, and soon, Sneaker Impact donation bins could be found in cities like San Francisco, New York, and even across the ocean in London.


Moe’s business doesn’t stop at donating shoes. For every pair of shoes they receive, whether it be from a company or an individual, Sneaker Impact donates $1 to the charity of the donor’s choice.



PARTNERSHIP IN ACTION


Outside of logistics such as acquiring funding, sourcing equipment, or planning events, sustainable leaders have another resource to attend to: people.


“It’s difficult to convince people to commit to giving sneakers to Sneaker Impact. They still tend to throw their sneakers in the trash. It’s the most difficult part of our mission,” Moe told.


It’s one thing to convince someone that there’s a problem that needs to be solved. It’s another thing to convince them to do something about it. For Mariana, the toughest task is getting people to take care of the beaches in the first place.


“If you see trash on the street, eventually it will go to the ocean. People ask me how they can start helping. I ask, ‘Do you work on it at home?”


That’s the reason both Moe and Mariana go out of their way to educate their communities on the environmental impact of litter and waste. Better Me holds 15-20 minute sessions at the end of each event to educate volunteers on how our climate is impacted by unsustainable practices.


Sneaker Impact's approach to sustainable education involves a team of social media experts led by Miami native Alex Cruz. Alex posts on social media, does news conferences, and speaks with local community members, all to help his audience understand how dangerous shoes can be to the climate if they sit in landfills.


Both Sneaker Impact and Better Me Movement intend to help sustain a healthy earth and keep the climate under control, and the leaders of both movements know this can’t be done alone. Moe and Mariana expressed that, while bringing awareness to the issues they attack is key, awareness means nothing without action.


For Sneaker Impact, pairing with local companies is essential to keeping the shoe supply steady. Places like gyms, schools, and local clothing shops are perfect spots for shoe collection bins. Moe’s business partner Alex began Sneaker Impact’s ambassador program. Their main task is to help find business partners that are willing to set up a collection site at their company.


Better Me Movement partners with local restaurants and shops to help set up certain events and treat participants with complimentary food and drinks or parking.




BELIEVE IN THE GOOD


I asked both Moe and Mariana if they had any advice for people attempting to start their own social movements.


“Believe in the good in the world….in whichever platform you use to present your ideas and communicate with your audience, be sure to include how they can benefit from their side, while also being 100% transparent about your project and how it works, says Moe Hachem. “Have fun spreading your message, be creative, and work with others who can see your vision.”


Mariana Ramirez states: “It’s small things that we do in our everyday life. You can inspire by doing little things. You can change, and you can be the change.”


Anyone can see the good in the world. It takes someone with great leadership to see that good and organize it to make its impact more powerful.


What will you do?