03/02/2015 01:21 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Why Connection Is a Key Piece of the Sustainability Puzzle


I'll never forget the day I biked down Scenic Caves Road near Collingwood, Ont. Flying down the escarpment at breakneck speeds, I was all too aware of every pebble, bump and turn in the road. I remember the chattering song of cicadas emanating from the cedar trees around me. A mix of sweat, sunscreen and hot pavement filled my nostrils. I reached the bottom exhilarated and happy to be in one piece.

A year later, I was back in the area -- this time in a car. I know I drove down the same road (most likely with the music blaring and the air conditioning blasting), but nothing stands out in my mind about the drive. Why? I think a big reason is because I felt far less connected to the experience than I had on my bike.

Facebook, international trade, the ability to hop a flight to virtually anywhere -- in many ways, our globalized world is connected like never before. But in other ways, we've never been more disconnected. From the food at the end of our fork to the clothes on our back, a lot of us have no clue of the stories behind the things we consume.

And it goes beyond what we eat and wear. Not knowing the name of your next-door neighbour, spending date night with your eyes glued to your smart phone or commuting solo to and from the office in your car are all symptoms of a world that's increasingly cut off from each other.

Connection matters.


Problem solving involves identifying a solution and then having the resources to execute that solution. To fix a flat bike tire, you need to know how to patch it, and you need the patching supplies to do it. But you also need to be motivated to solve a problem or take action. And nothing fuels the motivation to tackle an issue quite like feeling connected to it.

In the case of the flat tire, that connection is obvious. I'm motivated to patch it up because I need my bike to get home. But what about problems less immediate to us? Connecting the dots between our driving habits and shrinking polar ice caps or our smart phone and war in countries thousands of miles away isn't always as clear.

From climate change to social inequity, today's sustainability challenges are massive and complex. To effectively tackle global problems, we need to understand and embrace our connections to them. But how do we foster meaningful connection with people and planet in an age of cubicles and concrete jungles?

Pedalling with purpose.


For The Otesha Project -- the Canadian youth-led charity I work for -- connection happens on many levels. Each year, we organize sustainability-focused cycling tours in different parts of Canada. Teams of passionate youth travel from community to community, delivering presentations to thousands of youth about how our consumer choices connect to each other and the world around us, and how each of us has the power to contribute to a sustainable future.

But the tours are also an opportunity for the participants themselves to make some profound connections. Touring by bike is about more than using a sustainable form of transportation. Like my bike ride near Collingwood, traveling by bicycle connects riders more deeply with the physical world around them than a car or plane can.

Otesha tours are also designed to build strong and meaningful community connections. Tour members get to know each other in an intense and empowering adventure that forges bonds that last a lifetime. Living in a mobile, intentional community creates authentic interactions that go far deeper than a Facebook Like or text message.

Finally, the two-month cycling tours give participants the chance to connect with themselves. In the frantic busyness of our lives, it's tricky to find time for self-reflection and personal growth. Oftentimes, we need to step away from our day-to-day routine to reconnect with ourselves and wrestle with our place in the world.

We do it with bike tours, but there are countless ways you can foster connections in your life. Connect your kids with nature by taking them camping more. Get in the habit of having friends over for phone-free dinners. Research the products you consume. Shop at your local farmer's market to meet the people growing your food. Get your hands dirty and start a garden. Practice active listening. Join a sewing circle, book club or rec sports team. Volunteer. The list goes on.

Connection matters, and it's often the missing piece in the sustainability puzzle. By deepening our connection with people and planet, we set ourselves up for a more compassionate, understanding and sustainable future.

Josh Martin is the Development Coordinator with The Otesha Project. To learn more about Otesha's sustainability and social justice cycling tours, please visit