The world of the 21st century is one of a global civilization in crisis. The environmental destruction that symbolizes this crisis is not limited to physical degradation of the environment but it also refers to social degradation and specifically to social inequality, poverty and human misery—all fruits of the same predatory model of development. Only our active participation in the process of elevating the quality of life on the planet, through our embrace of new knowledge, values, attitudes and behavior, can enable us to bring about not just a new model of development, but the new model of civilization that we urgently need. Working for the secretariat for the environment of the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil, one of my focuses has been the development of socio-environmental plans of action that adopt a philosophy of working with the people, not simply for the people. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 saw the launching of Agenda 21, the most significant global attempt to date to promote, on a planetary scale, a new model of “sustainable development.” Agenda 21 is a process and an instrument for participatory planning that prioritizes local action in recognition of the fact that it is at the local level that things actually happen. It is very difficult to imagine such a participative effort taking place in a city the scale of Sao Paulo. The metropolitan region of Sao Paulo has over 20 million inhabitants, making it the third largest city in the world after Tokyo and Mexico City. The city is characterized by its complexity and by the shifting dynamics of its population and spatial organization. Its boundaries are constantly expanding. Our urban reality is one of numerous distinct areas with their own specific characteristics. The setting up of local Agenda 21s in Sao Paulo began in 2005. It brought into partnership government environmental agencies at local and state levels, the sub-prefectures, other governmental agencies and civil society organizations. We began with a process of decentralization, creating Working Groups for the macroregions of the north, south, east, west and center of the city. In these macro-regions, seminars helped to mobilize and inform the sub-prefectures, the technical experts in different areas of government, and representatives of the private sector and civil society. The next step was to engage the general population and create local discussion forums through a process of exchange and awareness-raising. There are now Agenda 21 processes in almost all 31 sub-prefectures of the city and we have ensured that disadvantaged groups are represented throughout. Our approach is to focus not on what people have, but on who they are as human beings. From this many partnerships have developed, opening a space for dialogue and leading to integrated, effective action. As an example, cooperation in the “Macro-East” region, a peripheral area of great poverty, culminated in a decree by the secretariat for the environment which requires that recycled construction waste be used as aggregates used in public works and street paving projects throughout Sao Paulo. Agenda 21 allows for cooperation between the different branches of government and with the other sectors of society, enabling a paradigm change and stimulating integrated initiatives. It helps end conflicts and increases the possibilities for action. Instead of being limited to a passive role and the presentation of demands to the government authorities, civil society begins to assume joint responsibility for action taken. It makes the concept of the environment workable, enlarging its scope from “green” issues to issues such as housing, health, waste treatment, education and transport. The level of environmental and human degradation is alarming, and to change the direction of events not easy. However, it is our great responsibility as human beings, to contribute to this change.