Shannon O’Donnell on Making Ethical Choices for a Sustainable World

Action is the foundational key to all success.

– Pablo Picasso


In the first part of our interview with volunteer expert Shannon O’Donnell, she talked with us about mindful volunteering. In addition to writing a book on the subject, Shannon also runs a website based around this premise called Grassroots Volunteering. But the site covers more than just volunteer-related offerings; it’s equally devoted to promoting ethical businesses and teaching us ways to support sustainable companies and products around the world. By listening to her intuition, Shannon has created a life centered around her passions for giving back and living ethically. Today, she offers us further insight into what it means to be mindful consumers, making ethical choices on a daily basis, and her future aspirations for helping others to live sustainably.

K: I often speak about mindful consumption here. What does that term mean to you?

SO: Mindful consumption means understanding that everything you purchase and use in your daily life can be traced back to another place on earth; a place that is filled with people, communities, and ecosystems. We don’t often think of the impact that purchasing something simple, like our groceries, has on the rest of the world, but mindful consumers think about the chain of industry and business-practices they are supporting by spending their money with specific companies and brands.

K: I’m passionate about taking lessons learned from travel and relating them to our lives at home — I think this is essential, as we need to be able to nurture and give back to our home environment. Do you have any tips for choosing volunteer opportunities or charities mindfully at home?

SO: Bringing a service mindset back into your home communities can often be a slightly different process than volunteering overseas. Whereas you may bring your decade of experience in finance to an NGO in Ethiopia on an international project, back home you have the chance to perhaps support organizations and causes that more immediately impact your life.

Think of an organization that has positively helped you or your family in some way — this could be your local Hospice, an animal shelter, or even the Salvation Army. Look into your current life for the things you value — early childhood education? Skills training for the homeless? Start with the causes and organizations you are already aware of, and by forming that connection you will more likely make the time to regularly volunteer on a weekly or monthly basis to support their cause.

Socially powered enterprises such as Akha Ama thrive on sustainable agriculture. Educating ourselves about where our products come from is beneficial to everyone involved.

Photo courtesy of Shannon O’Donnell.

K: Likewise, what are some ways that we can seek out ethical businesses to support in our own cities?

SO: Caring enough to research your options is the first step. In a world where convenience trumps many things, taking the mindful approach takes a few extra steps and a bit more time. For the US market, I love the work Social Impact App is doing. They use the same concept I have for social enterprises internationally and maps the United States with a range of social enterprises you can support from food to retail, and everything else in between.

K: Can you share with us your future vision for the site — both volunteering and business aspects? What else do you hope to achieve in the future that’s related to ethical business and volunteering?

SO: Down the line I would love to map the world and have a team of GV Ambassadors actively adding more causes and communities to the database. We are also planning to develop a mobile application for the social enterprise database, and are looking for Angel donors on that end so we can expand the site’s reach and usefulness to encourage more people to easily support the places they travel at the grassroots level.

Exploring local, sustainable businesses in our own cities will help connect us to our community at a grassroots level. It can be really fun to find mindful, eco friendly products and companies that we can tell our friends about, and support.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

We really appreciate Shannon sharing with us her ideas about ethical living and mindful consumption, and divulging her sustainable plans for the future. Meeting people who inspire us to live bolder and brighter is an invaluable motivator for giving back to our earth. Whether its choosing an eco friendly Soma water filter, or supporting a local sustainable business in our hometown, our choices as consumers can help to create waves of positive change. Seeking out new ways to connect with others through sustainable choices and ethical living is a wonderful way to welcome in the new year.


Nothing is unthinkable, nothing impossible to the balanced person, provided it arises out of the needs of life and is dedicated to life’s further developments.

– Lewis Mumford