Tag Archives: advocacy

Sustainability: Challenges and Risks

“Ideally, however, no institutions in modern society are better situated and none more obliged to facilitate the transition to a sustainable future than colleges and universities…”

This quote is from David Orr’s book, The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention. He is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and is also a James Marsh Professor at large at the University of Vermont.  What caught my attention in this book was Dr. Orr’s question that followed the above statement :

“What would it mean for educational institutions to meet this challenge?”

Sustainability advocates working throughout the system might find his observations in terms of higher education applicable to other institutions. Here is his summary of the needs and risks with a few of my off-side comments in parenthesis.

– Dialogue
For one thing it would mean fostering in every possible way a broad and ongoing dialogue about concentrated economic power and the changes that will be necessary to build a sustainable economy.

(Nearly everyone I talk with cites “silos” as a major barrier to dialogue, collaboration, and the cross fertilization of ideas. In Universities they are called departments. Non-profits can be special interest silos.  In business silos are formed around functions e.g. marketing or business units or even geographies.

I know of no safe way to conduct that conversation that would not threaten the comfortable or risk losing some of the institution’s financial support, a sensitive topic when the average cost of college education is becoming prohibitively expensive.

(This should sound familiar to folks in non-profits, organizations relying on advertisers, politicians, political parties…)

– Systemic Thinking
Furthermore, colleges and universities ought to equip students, by every means possible, to think systematically, rationally, and, yes, emotionally about long term technological choices and how such decisions should be made.

(Here “students” can be expanded to include customers, employees, shareholders, partners.)


That discussion, too, would raise contentious issues having to do with the meaning of progress and economic growth. And it would implicitly challenge the unbrideled freedom of inquiry, if the extreme exercise of that freedom undermines biological order, democratic institutions, and social sustainability that give rise to it in the first place. Issues of “who gains and who loses” from unrestricted inquiry will press heavily on the university and cannot be dodged much longer.

(I haven’t heard any one discuss the unbrideled freedom of inquiry and extreme exercise of that freedom which undermines biological order, but my guess is that GMO and the patenting of seeds might fall into this category.)

Finally the cynical view, pawned off as “objective” social science, that humans are only self-maximizers must be revealed for what it is: half-truth in service to the economy of greed. Increasingly the young know that their inheritance is being spent carelessly and sometimes fraudulently…

(Think economics and the free market then read Raj Patel’s book, The Value of Nothing and give a listen to Raj on EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability.

What they may not know is where we, their teachers, mentors, and role models stand or what we stand for.

(This is where we have focused our efforts by creating EarthSayers.tv, the voices of sustainability: the unfiltered voices.  It’s time for leaders to step up to the plate and give voice to their views.)

The Sustainability Language Barrier

FIRST and foremost, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about the democratic use of language. This is extremely important when it comes to educating our citizens about sustainability.

What matters is not how the advertiser (you or academic or activist or advocate or consultant) likes to talk about its products (services, ideas, concepts, processes, mission, cause, objective), but how customers (citizens, students, clients, users) actually talk about them.”


One example of search on the term, sustainable development and the associated keywords and phrases:
sustainable developmentThe yellow indicates terms that present an opportunity to develop what is called, search directed content, and create webpages with appropriate titles and links.

Feedback on what is being used in search has become all the more important because search engines are also contributing to the poverty of attention that advertisers, educators, well, nearly everybody is complaining about.

poverty of attention

Adapted from a blog post Why SEO Doesn’t Translate by Guy Gilpin , Monday, August 9, 2010

Sustainability Advocate

Letter to the Editor of the New York Times by Aliza Wasserman

As a member of Generation Y who has spent my adult life downloading individual songs and listening to them on shuffle, I appreciated Matt Bai’s take on President Obama’s detour from the linear governing style of past presidents as particularly relevant to younger Americans.

I wish Bai had gone a step further in this trajectory, instead of continuing to silo the problems of health care, climate change and economic crisis. While the author views these issues as competing for the attention of the president and the public, the story that is waiting to be told is the one that unites these issues as symptoms of our decades’ long failure to create moderate, forward-thinking systems that are built on concepts of sustainability and prevention. None can be solved on its own; led by the “shuffle” generation, we must take the leap — a paradigm shift toward sustainable, systemic solutions to all of these problems together.

Cambridge, Mass.
July 30, 2009

I can do that.

Today I submitted a proposal to Google’s “Project 10 to the 100th,” which is a call for ideas to change the world, in the hope of helping as many people as possible. They are funding up to five ideas selected by an advisory board and have committed $10M to the program. I asked for help in building out a collaboration platform (community) on EarthSayers.tv. Community is one of eight categories.

According to the Website, “A selection of Google employees will review all the ideas submitted and select 100 for public consideration. The 100 top ideas will be announced on January 27, 2009, at which point we will invite the public to select twenty semi-finalists. An advisory board will then choose up to five final ideas for funding and implementation. We plan to announce these winners in early February.”

Here are some of the answers I provided on their entry form:

What one sentence best describes your idea (150 characters)
Increase sustainability awareness through community collaboration and with Web content that inspires people to say, “I can do that.”

What problem or issue does your idea address (150 words)

Low awareness.

Presently a Google search on sustainability yields over 31M results, up form 15M in 2007, a good sign. However, the U.S. is sixth in search activity according to Google Trends, behind Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and Canada. This is the measure of low awareness.

Where to start?

On the video search engine, Blinkx, there are over 73,000 sustainability search results, up from 20,000 in 2007, and for the prototype we aggregate our content via a database connection to Blinkx. The sheer volume of the results and the heavy duplication of content begs for further organization and clear direction to the question, “where to start?” As one business leader once exclaimed: “Searching is one thing, finding is another.

If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how (150 words)

The sustainability learning cycle begins for millions of people with a Google search on the term sustainability.

“The most important problem in the world today is not global climate chaos or violence. It’s people’s feeling of powerlessness. It is the problem beneath all the problems.”
?Frances Moore Lappe at the World Future Council.

They deserve to hear and see the people actually involved in the sustainability movement so they can learn by example and be moved to believe, “I can do that.”

Only recently has an educational resource appeared on the first page, Wikipedia, and we see EarthSayers.tv as a video-based companion resource with greater inspirational power.