Mapping a Greener Future

Since the time of the ancient Babylonians, maps have played pivotal roles in human history—they’ve been used to chart voyages of discovery, find buried treasure and fight wars. Now, maps are being used to chart a path toward a greener, more environmentally sustainable future.

Green Map System

Communities and regions around the world are using an innovative tool called “green mapping” to promote ecologically sustainable ways of living. Unlike conventional cartography, green maps point users toward natural food shops, green businesses, community gardens, bike paths and other landmarks of sustainability.

It’s an idea that’s quickly catching on. Wendy Brawer, one of green mapping’s founders and director of the New York-based nonprofit Green Map System, notes that by the end of 2001 more than 155 green mapping projects from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Jakarta, Indonesia were completed or underway, spanning 36 countries. More than one million green maps have been printed worldwide.

Green maps range from small neighborhoods to large regions—a statewide map for Rhode Island promotes the state’s greenway system and eco-tourism industry. “I get calls from local tourism groups, bike stores and state agencies requesting copies,” says Rhode Island map project leader George Johnson.

To Brawer, green mapping’s progress since the idea’s first inception in 1991 is heartening. “The expression in the maps is amazing to see,” notes Brawer, who eventually hopes to sell maps from around the world on Green Map System’s website.

Green mapping’s real success depends on its grassroots, community-oriented approach. Each participating region chooses what to include on his or her map through a hands-on discovery process, typically involving schools, neighborhoods and community groups. According to Amy Kapp, coordinator for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s green map, more than 120 groups and individuals constantly contribute data to the web-based version of the city’s green map to keep it updated. “It gives a sense of community ownership to the map,” says Kapp.

Although green maps are locally developed, a globally shared set of 125 visually catchy icons unites all maps, making them easily recognizable worldwide. “The icons are beautiful, simple images for complex ideas,” says Matthew Groshek, leader of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s green map project.

Since 1991, green maps have spread to 36 countries.
More than a million are in print.

Green Map System

Green maps are also creating a dynamic global exchange of sustainability concepts, often leading one community to implement ideas from other map projects across the world. For example, green mappers in Bangkok, Thailand are deciding which green businesses to include on their map using criteria gleaned from Oakland, California’s project.

Above all, says Groshek, green mapping is encouraging the re-discovery of communities. “People don’t think that all of the little things going on add up to much, but green mapping shows that they do,” he says. “It’s helping us to understand and celebrate the fabric of our place.”