Issue 24 - Letter from the Editor

From the Whole Earth Catalog to The Plenty 20

By Mark Spellun

Ever since Noah built his ark, there have been groups of people trying to save the planet. But as a magazine that focuses on the modern environmental movement, we tend to look back only about 40 years. Why? That’s when the ethos of today’s environmentalism started to take shape.

In the fall of 1968, Stewart Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog, and it changed the environmental movement forever. The publication and its contributors helped inspire the creation of Google and the entire blogosphere; the saving of six rivers; and the development of sustainable business practices as we know them today. After compiling more than 30 hours of interviews for our oral history of the publication (page 84), we realized its sphere of influence was so complete it felt wholly necessary to borrow a phrase and dub the legacy the Whole Earth Effect.

The Whole Earth Catalog sought to give us the tools to be free and shape our world as we saw fit. For instance, if you were interested in learning more about solar energy in the late ’60s, the Catalog was where you turned. But many of the ideas first presented in the pages of this cult classic have now gone mainstream.

Today, evidence of the popularity of those ideas can be found in the products, concepts, and leadership featured in this issue’s cover story, The Plenty 20. We came out with our inau gural edition of this list of companies that we thought were going to change the world in our February/March 2007 issue. The honored businesses covered the gamut, from a nonprofit trying to make twostroke engines more efficient in the developing world to some of the largest industrial companies in the process of completely reinventing themselves. This year’s list (page 71) rounds up a new set of companies just as remarkable as the first. But we’re adding a twist for 2008: We recognize 20 people who are impact ing the planet—including our cover star Al Gore—and we highlight ten ideas that have only just begun to shape how we live.

The tools we have at our disposal in the early 21st century have evolved a lot since 1968, but the spirit hasn’t chang ed; we are all still looking for ways to make a difference. If you want to be inspired, check out the 2008 edition of The Plenty 20. Let’s hope the winning people, businesses, and ideas have a longlasting influence well beyond the next 40 years—just like the Whole Earth Catalog.

Issue 25

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