Moving the sustainability “needle” at a large corporate is hard. For all the personal sense of accomplishment it brings, having a role that by definition challenges a cultural norm feels, more often than not, like banging your head against a brick wall. A remarkable thing happened over the last few months though–I had fun! I’ve done a lot of traveling, speaking at various conferences, and meeting with scientists, startups and academics. I had my first taste of Silicon Valley, met folks from different industries–Did you know Bridgestone developed its tire tred based on the polar bear paw?–and almost fell off a mountain (long story). In short, I was talking with people. I was talking with people who had related interests and goals and were ready to engage in thoughtful, and sometimes difficult topics. You forget how passionate people can be when you’ve habituated to the corporate routine! Which is not to say there aren’t people at my company who care strongly about the environment–there are many. The difference is that most are engaged in the topic at a personal level, not professional. And there are even fewer who have the same belief in the power of technology to help us discover radical new paths to climate stability.
But I know I’m not alone! I can’t be out and about and on the road all the time, so this blog is my gauntlet–I’m throwing it down. I need to build a community of technology innovators and sustainability thought leaders and practitioners, to be engaged and part of a cohort that’s not afraid to challenge each other and bring us all to new levels of awareness. Idealist? Of course! But doable? I think so. But I need your help. My hope is that these posts will launch an online discussion via comments that will last over time. The challenge for readers is to make a real effort of engagement, not glance over the post as we try to keep up with all of our RSS feeds. And the challenge for me is to keep the topics relevant and engaging (suggestions welcome).
This afternoon I went to hear Scott Heiferman, “purveyor of community, Meetup CEO” speak at The Publishing Point. It was low-key, informal–exactly what you would expect from a newly solvent startup. After so many years in Academia and countless corporate presentations, I generally estimate the value of such meetings to be low. But if you want to build an online community, who better to go to for advice? The interesting thing though is that for a technology company enabled by the internet, he is surprisingly anti-internet. Meetup, he related, was a 9/11 baby, born 9 months after the events of that September. It was the event that changed him from your “average tech guy” who didn’t believe in the relevance of geography, to a deep believer in the importance of community–local community. (So okay, I’m trying to create a geographically-agnostic community here, but stay with me.) “The opportunity is not to get people to turn to your media,” he said, “but to turn to each other.”
It occurred to me that in climate circles, we more often than not point to things: CO2, coal, drought, trees, icebergs, polar bears, etc. We have models and simulations and movies and YouTube videos. But when was the last time you just sat down and listened to someone? I remember how startled I was a few months back when a very smart colleague of mine confessed in a low voice that she just didn’t understand why climate change was such a big deal. That based on what she had read and seen, it seemed more like a bunch of people talking loudly than anything based in fact. Startled, I managed to stutter out a few facts, but our time was cut short. And not working in the same location, we haven’t had an opportunity to continue the conversation. But it was an enlightening moment for me. What if the answer isn’t the visual representation of melting icebergs or the temperature of the planet? What if we’ve been going about this all wrong? What if the answer has always been 1:1 dialogue? No shortcuts. No large-scale presentations. Just good old fashioned talk. And how will we ever be able to achieve such a thing when as a society we become more and more plugged in by the day?