A great article was brought to my attention this past week by sustainability colleague and sage Gil Friend (@gfriend) this week. The article by Peter Shallard talks about ditching New Years resolutions and reminding yourselves that you are on a journey- a quest.
“The holidays give you the window of opportunity to do this important thinking – not the date on the calendar. Take advantage of the time you’ve got to review the past and be grateful. Then, think of the future and be excited….Dismiss the date. Embrace the introspection.”- Peter Shallard
For individuals, organizations and communities, sustainability can be a walk in the forest, a chance meeting or a seminal event that jogs the mind, creating an urgent call to action that is transcendent. For me at least, this shift towards sustainability has truly been a quest- sometimes a quiet, almost transparent change, other times a deliberate, “in your face” awakening. Either way, questing for sustainability involves embracing whole systems thinking that allows us to view ourselves and the business relationships that we have with others differently perhaps as a value chain of innovation and creativity.
A few moments come to mind in my journey toward sustainability and my professional path (dates are approximate) that I’d like to share- come along with me please- read on:
1964: My family takes “The Great Western Road Trip”- one month in a loaded Ford Country Squire, exploring the wide open Western U.S., riding horses in Montana, exploring the Colorado back country, and marveling at Yellowstone National Parks natural wonders. I vow to move west one day. I eventually do in 1977 to finish out my college education in natural resources ecology and management.
1969: Memories of recycling glass, plastic and newsprint with my Dad at the huge new recycling center in my hometown (Highland Park, Illinois). I liked the shattered glass sounds.
1972-1976: Camping in Wisconsin’s Northwoods and making a conscious decision while on a “walk in the woods” to pursue a natural resources career. I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ed Abbeys Desert Solitaire and am changed forever.
1982: I developed and unveiled a groundbreaking employee environmental training program that changed the way of thinking for hundreds of coal miners in Utah. Their changes in behavior and proactive efforts led to a stellar number 1 environmental compliance ranking and state-wide recognition.
1983: I watched the groundbreaking movie Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance while I was working for a coal mine in New Mexico. As I saw smoking, exposed coal seams from the surface mining activities, I began questioning if who I was working for was contradictory to my belief in natural systems, conservation and environmental protection. So I reached out to Amory and Hunter Lovins (@hlovins) at the newly founded Rocky Mountain Institute for advice on how to manage my moral and ethical environmental center. Their sage wisdom enabled me to continue my environmental work. I embraced internal change management, policy development, environmental awareness and education, advocacy for proactive compliance management and supporting land conservation and site restoration.
1984-1990: I called this period ” the Tyvek Years”. I had numerous transcendent experiences conducting high profile federal and state-led hazardous waste site investigations and emergency cleanups. It was sometimes very nasty work. The experiences left me wondering how to prevent future environmental calamities like the ones I was helping to clean up. This led me toward developing proactive compliance and environmental management frameworks for clients and take a more active role in community planning groups.
1990: Captain Planet and the Planeteers debuts on Turner Broadcasting. The Captain Planet Foundation still exists to support hands-on environmental projects for youth in grades K-12.
1991: My four-year old son brings me to pre-school as his show and tell project. He introduces me as follows: “This is my Dad- he saves the Planet”. What a better way to spend the lunch hours in enlightening the next generation about environmental issues and the wonders of science.
1993: I participated with an international team in a solid waste facility siting project in Barbados. The political process trumps good engineering and science, and demonstrates lack of value placed on natural parklands and sustainable development. The government ignores all technical recommendations made by the team following years of study and eventually sites the project in the middle of a proposed national park. Really!? I leave the island tanned but disillusioned and even more committed to advance science in effective sustainable development policy-making.
1995: I complete my Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management as a charter member of University of Denvers groundbreaking and pioneering post secondary education curriculum. My Capstone Project, an “Environmental Policy Toolkit” becomes available to hundreds of small to large businesses through the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. While the younger grads are passing alcohol filled bota bags at graduation ceremonies, my professional colleagues and I are passing “Tums” around! My son gets to see his Dad who “saves the planet” walk up to accept his diploma- that was cool.
1996: Recalling my talk in 1983 with the Lovins’, I was confronted by an old time miner while working at my company’s booth at a mining expo in Spokane. He saw that I worked for an environmental services firm and said: “so I see you’re an environmentalist- so, are you ‘fer or ‘agin mining!?” I answered ” I’m ‘fer environmentally responsible mining”. That stumped him but he said he’d “accept that” answer. I gave him trinkets for his five grandkids, and he left happy.
1998: I had the pleasure of planning and developing several successful and industry groundbreaking ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) certifications (the first of more than three dozen I have installed since). Bubble shattered in 1999 by a retired Washington state Senator, who quipped to me on a Washington D.C. street that environmental policy is not science-based. I am dumbfounded (post script: last week the Obama administration finally released its long awaited “scientific integrity” policy statement).
1998-2004: The public sector years. During this time I assisted major water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in implementing award winning ISO 14001 EMS’s, improving operations and saving taxpayers millions in real and avoided environmental liabilities. I knew I could flush, drink water and recycle in confidence knowing that my city operations were “doing the right thing”. After my latest utility client successfully received its ISO 14001 certification in 2004, one of the organizations chief protagonists quietly pulled me aside to thank me “for getting us to do what they would not have done themselves”.
2010: I finally seek out and find the link between my Jewish identity and environmentalism. I become a Bar Mitzvah and find that the Torah and Jewish scholars have taught extensively about environmentalism over the past 5771 years- guess I was a little late to the party!. Many Talmudic themes specifically center around the concept of “sustainability”. Here in the U.S., the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) has helped tens of thousands of Jews make a connection between Judaism and the environment. There are even green tips to have an ‘eco-kosher’ New Year.
A quest is superior to a goal because the journey itself is rewarding. It’s an epic ongoing voyage which will immediately go down in folklore as a story worth telling. Ditch your goals in favor of choosing the journey that you want to go on. Pick a quest that will necessitate the accomplishment of your goals along the way.
So that’s my story….or at least some of the highlights. There’s more to share but that’s perhaps another chapter in this journey. I hope you found this first story worth the telling. As you can see, sometimes its the little things that (when I take the time to think about it) have slowly moved me forward, or sometimes the events have been larger and have catapulted me further .
A Call to Action
Mr. Shallards piece distills preparation for a successful quest as a series of four essential steps.
…focus on equipping yourself for your journey. Ask yourself:
- What kind of person do I need to be to be the hero in this story?
- What beliefs and values do I need to hold?
- What capabilities do I need to develop?
- What habits and behaviors do I need to master?
The suggestions by Mr. Shallard can easily be adapted to an organizational and supply chain level when considering best methods to transform a “business-as-usual” organization into a sustainability-minded one, or instill changes in policy and implementation at the community level. A few other ideas to turn your organization toward a “top-line”, first mover one can be found here as well.
I can’t begin to reel off the names all of the family, friends, colleagues, teachers and organizations that have made such a huge difference in my quest of the past 50 plus years on this planet. Suffice it to say that it takes many wings to fly in this world and I am indebted to each and every one of you who’ve made a small or large contribution to my quest along the way. I will thank Gil Friend though for bringing Mr. Ballards perspective to my attention. Meantime, I’ll just simply say that if you are reading this, I truly appreciate your continued support and interest in my ideas and experiences this past year.
I’d love to hear your stories too and hope you’ll share them in the comments below!
Here’s to a very happy, health, sustainable & prosperous 2011!