Sep 16, 2011

On June 6, 2011 EGA, the International Human Rights Funders Group, and Grantmakers Without Borders hosted a webinar focusing on the connections between environmental issues and human rights arising from proposed and current dam construction in the Amazon. The proposed Belo Monte Dam allows a case study though which grantmakers may view efforts to promote human rights and protect the environment. Although the Brazilian government has already approved the dam’s operating license, the project has come under serious scrutiny by civil society. The result is an increasing need for grassroots action with respect to human rights and environmental policy.

The Accelerated Growth Program has shown that projects are being pushed forward by interested parties such as the Brazilian Development Bank. Efforts to bring the matter to national courts have been rather ineffective. However, in many of these cases human rights and environmental issues transcend political boundaries, creating an opportunity to address them in a recognized international forum such as the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), which can both set a positive precedent with regards to international human rights and environmental norms as well as increase public awareness.

The energy produced by the dams largely would be allocated to energy-intensive products such as aluminum, which are often exported to nations with higher manufacturing capacities like China. The actors who benefit are completely removed from impacted peoples. Dam projects such as the Belo Monte divert upwards of 80 percent of the river, meaning huge impacts to both biodiversity as well as the local population. While protests by locals have been effective in the past, the hierarchical structure of investment and construction employed today renders these small-scale protest measures ineffective. The lack of participatory democracy and transparency is indicative of the close relationship between the dam industry and senior bureaucracy; therefore it must be a key goal of funders today to aid grassroots organizations, allowing them the ability to disseminate information that counters the propaganda that is currently being spread throughout both rural and urban populations. Further, the power of interested parties in international bodies such as OAS indicates a need to support national NGOs and implement a coordinated strategy that focuses on strengthening an overall respect for human rights, which would ideally translate into the delaying or cancellation of many dam projects.

For Foundations The ability of foundations to make resources available on short notice is key. Often times, funding goes directly to democratic participatory efforts such as translating complex information to local organizations, which then are able to mobilize communities. The central lesson is the importance of grassroots organizations and education, as they both allow for the population to be informed of current events and potentially speak out against them. Other lessons include, but are not limited to:

1) Increase resources available for development of communication strategies and exchange of experiences among organizations.

2) Support independent research, which is has in the past refuted the findings of environmental impact assessments and delayed construction of dam projects.

3) Aid organizations that utilize a variety of legal tools to promote human rights and hold key players accountable by investigating human rights or environmental violations.

4) Support the development of a viable alternative energy strategy to show that more efficient ways of producing energy exist.

5) Support local organizations comprised of members directly connected to the issues; work with indigenous people and groups who possess in-depth knowledge of the region.

Sep 16, 2011

On May 26, 2011, EGA and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund co-hosted an event that brought together funders, leading environmental lawyers, and NGO representatives to discuss a new approach towards taking action on climate change: litigation. Possible solutions are to use existing state to state strategies in which one country can sue another for damages by climate change (i.e. Article 14 of the UNFCCC or the dispute mechanism of UNCLOS). Another is for climate change to be heard in human rights cases in which the rights of affected populations are being threatened (i.e. threats to freshwater in the Americas or indigenous rights like the Inuit). Lastly, climate change issues can be further used in claims made in both US and EU courts (i.e. Micronesia vs. Czech Republic).

The ultimate goal is to effect policy changes and further energize the climate movement by exposing and publicizing efforts made towards mitigating and/or adapting to climate change. Some challenges from using international litigation are that decisions are not always binding for countries or individuals under UNFCCC or UNCLOS and actions are under consent. Often times, international bodies such as UNCLOS and the ICJ (International Court of Justice) have long processes in order to get two countries to even reach an agreement in a case, again, not always binding.  In addition, it is very difficult to find plaintiffs for cases; how does one make a case against large, powerful industrial states that dictate trade and aid relations? Antonio Oposa, an international environmental lawyer, advocates that children should be used more as plaintiffs because they are the ones that will have to inherit the changed earth. The effects of climate change are becoming more apparent, as there has been increase in human rights cases and coastal and island countries’ economies are being threatened.  Climate change litigation may prove to be a very effective action tool.

Information for Foundations

  1. Using environmental law to take action towards climate change is still a very new and developing field. Current opportunities for Foundations include and are not limited to:
  2. Fund campaigns around climate change cases. It is often very difficult for lawyers to be campaigners themselves, especially when court orders restrain them from being able to publicly share information about such cases.
  3. Build capacity and support NGOs and other organizations that have a litigation department. Examples include Greenpeace International, Earthjustice, and Earth Rights International.
  4. Back research and fact-finding initiatives in order to build cases.
  5. Support and help to create a network amongst international environmental lawyers, other legal bodies, communities, NGOs, and members in different governmental levels to open communication, support and strengthen one another, and coordinate efforts.
Sep 16, 2011

On August 10th, 2011, the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, and Stormwater Funders Group held a webinar regarding stormwater regulations and low impact development (LID), and how the relating economic aspects may influence developers’ decisions. The idea, especially given trying economic times, is that costly redevelopment programs in urban areas can potentially drive developers into pristine areas, which lack the constrictions of pre-existing infrastructure, allowing them a higher level of access, control, and freedom. While environmental conscious redevelopment in cities is noble, the expansion of development outward from cities would cancel out the gains made by urban sustainability initiatives.

There are few regulations for controlling non-point polluted runoff, and the EPA is currently developing new rules that would yield stricter stormwater standards. As one of the few regulatory tools organizations have to work with, the Clean Water Act is rather insufficient with respect to urban runoff. However, as a one-size-fits-all solution the Act limits flexibility, one characteristic vital to (re)development which is not only site-specific but also incorporates a variety of other factors, from transportation infrastructure to zoning and finance rules, making each situation unique. These local factors often times tilt the playing field towards new development rather than redevelopment. Thus, given potentially stronger regulations and economic incentives, one question that this webinar sought to answer was, “how do you get the [urban] areas cleaned up without inadvertently increasing new development?”

A combination of strict standards and green infrastructure seems to hold the key, but without data to back it up, any environmental advocate’s arguments are unsubstantiated. Thus, ECONorthwest conducted a study seeking to answer the research question, “would more stringent stormwater regulations have the unintended consequence of shifting development to ‘greenfield’ sites from already-disturbed redevelopment and infill sites?” The results of the study conducted hold several vital conclusions, and remind us how imperative it for like-minded groups to organize so that they may take on the challenge of shaping regulations and incentives.

Among the findings presented by ECONorthwest’s Senior Economist Ed MacMullan was the observation that developers were not abandoning their redevelopment projects because of stronger stormwater standards. Compliance with stormwater regulations is one of many economic and regulatory factors that developers take into account. In fact, green development, especially in urban areas, may actually be more profitable (in addition to being more sustainable) because of its ability to influence buyers’ desires. Green amenities such as rooftop gardens or LEED-certified buildings generally let both developers and the engineers charge a premium for their products, encouraging more sustainable redevelopment by developers. Further, it has been noted that these economic factors may complement the current regulatory weaknesses.

The major take-away message is that “cost-effective responses to stronger stormwater standards require a more collaborative approach.” As materials and technologies become more widely available and less costly, there is a market incentive for redevelopment. Funders may work with organizations to educate engineers on LID and the relevant permitting processes, as it is still perceived as somewhat new and economically risky in many areas. Fast-track permitting seems to be the most common incentive, while direct subsidies would also offset costs and make LID even more palatable to developers. Therefore, it is also important to support those who seek to work with government agencies in order to streamline – but not detract from – the permitting process. Proper regulation coupled with market incentives has the ability to drive redevelopment and low-impact development, and if done correctly, it can significant reduce our impact on the environment.

Sep 16, 2011

Originally posted on

"When is comes to controversial issues, population is in a class by itself. Activist working to reduce global population growth are attacked by the Left for supposedly ignoring human-rights issues or glossing over Western over-consumption. They are attacked by the Right for supposedly favoring widespread abortion and promiscuity. Others think the problem will be solved by technology.

One thing is certain: The planet and its resources are finite and it can not support an infinite population of humans or any other species. A second thing is also certain: The issue of population is too important to avoid just because it is controversial."

Thus begins a fantastic, and chilling, chapter entitled "Population: The Multiplier of Everything Else" by WIlliam Ryerson of the Population Media Center in a must-read book entitled The Post-Carbon Reader, edited by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch. Heinberg is well-known for popularizing the Peak Oil concept and is Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute.

The Post Carbon Institute has gathered 29 of the world's leading experts to point the way to a more resilient, just, and sustainable world. The Post-Carbon Reader is a comprehensive, in-depth examination of the inter-connected sustainability crises humanity now faces. Rather than just being a gloom and doom book representative of the genre, each author brings forth solutions and positive trends affected the issue about which they write.

It can be challenging to bear witness to the enormity of the challenges associated with providing food, water, and energy to a growing worldwide population. Sustainability advocates can veer towards pessimism and hopelessness in the face of so much discouraging news. On the other hand, there are many smart and passionate communicators, policy analysts, futurists and activist remind us that positivity is a renewable resource; the mass transformation we are seeking will come from a positive view of the future, not from fear.

Many current media stories about the financial meltdown have asked the question "How could this happen? Why didn't anyone see it coming?" However, many people did see the warning signs arise as early as 2005 and started asking pointed questions about the sustainability of the housing boom and sub-prime lending. The contributors to the Post Carbon Reader are in a similar position. While it may be easy to dismiss their warning about upcoming shortages of all the basic materials upon which modern society is based, we would be wise to heed their cry and study their solutions. The Post Carbon Institute is doing great work to popularize realistic solutions to the world's biggest problems.

Sep 16, 2011

By Jim Jubelirer, Sustainable Futures

My friends Pete May and Joel Makower at GreenBiz have produced their fourth annual edition of the State of Green Business report. The report continues GreenBiz's efforts to measure the environmental impacts of the emerging green economy. This year's report shows a continuing shift in mainstream business: Companies are thinking bigger and longer-term about sustainability. Despite the recession, many companies increased their sustainability investments and publicly made bold commitments.

The State of Green Business report makes the good point that progress in sustainable business has occurred in a hostile political environment and despite poor coverage from mainstream media.

"The general lack of political leadership and will — due in large part to a misguided notion that we can’t afford to consider sustainability during tough economic times — is a stark contrast with the far more enlightened, proactive leadership of some corporate leaders. Much of the greening of business remains an untold secret largely ignored by the mainstream media and, in many cases, not widely discussed even by companies."

To conduct their research, GreenBiz combed through 2,200 news reports, blog posts, opinion pieces, and podcasts they published during 2010. Here are the Top 10 Sustainable Business Trends of 2011:

Consumer Giants Awaken to Green
Without much green marketing, the world's biggest brands are setting bold sustainability goals.

Companies Aim for Zero
Large polluters are earnestly finding ways to reduce their footprint.

Developing World Yanks the Supply Chain
The rare earth crisis and conflict minerals are finding their way into mainstream media and public discourses.

Greener Transport Makes its Move
For more than just the Prius and Volt, greener technologies are emerging for cars, trucks, boat, trains, and planes.

Sustainable Food Becomes a Main Course
Sustainable agriculture is now a mainstream concern - Michelle Obama as First Mom and Gardener-in-Chief adds a boost of credibility

Metrics and Standards Become the Rule
Growing requests from numerous stakeholders is increasing the demand for metrics, despite the lack of uniform standards for reporting.

Toxic Concerns Spur Greener Alternatives
Toxics are increasingly unacceptable and the new field of green chemistry is growing rapidly.

Water Footprinting Makes a Splash
We will learn to live without oil (hopefully sooner instead of later) but we cannot live without water. Water-intensive industries like semiconductors and beverages have already been focusing on their water use and now a wider circle of businesses have become aware of the vital nature of water.

Companies Learn to Close the Loop
Closing the loop means reusing, repurposing, and recycling and companies are getting increasingly sophisticated in their closed loop processes.

Bioplastics Become Material
Did you know that coconut husks, mushroom spores, corn byproducts and others are being used to create replacements for paper, plastic and steel?

Sep 16, 2011

By Jennifer L. Sokolove, Program Director, Compton Foundation

Why is it that so many people know we’re facing multiple environmental crises, but so few people are actually doing anything about them?

This question has been asked in multiple ways, about many topics having to do with the environment, and increasingly about climate change as it becomes more apparent and urgent. EcoArts Connections (EAC), one of the Compton Foundation’s grantees, is trying to address this question head on, girded with the findings of social and behavioral sciences, by linking artists, scientists, and nonprofit organizations.

Studies have observed that to generate effective action, intellect and emotion must be engaged simultaneously.[1] Yet most attempts to address environmental problems focus on cognition—“We have a problem, let’s come up with a solution.” While this has resulted in lots of solutions, without emotional engagement there is little will to put the solutions into practice. Nor can great passion stand alone. Without scientific underpinnings to ground it in meaningful action, affect dissipates relatively quickly, and the lack of rigorous science or ‘facts’ can make solutions less credible.

EAC’s founding director, Marda Kirn, has a lifelong background in the arts, and has paid particular attention to creativity as a catalyst for both social change and personal transformation. Historically, the arts have been valued not only as entertainment, but also for their ability to inspire people to ponder, question, and reflect, and their affective power to nourish, attract, and move people to action.

Kirn wondered, “Could we bring together the cognitive power of science with the affective power of the arts to co-create performances, exhibits, and other events? In that hour that the marketing people say we have, between when people are deeply affected by something and then go back to their stressed out, busy, doing-the-best-that-they-can daily lives, could we capture their imaginations—engage their minds and hearts—and then offer them practical, non-partisan things they could do (from recycling to running for office) that would close the gap between awareness and action?”

She created EcoArts Connections to bring together science and the arts to advance understanding of climate change and speed the shift to a sustainable future, in essence combining cognition and affect for greater effect. Since 2006, EAC has produced three festivals based in Boulder, Colorado involving as many as 28 collaborating organizations that have presented, co-created, or linked their efforts. EAC activities have been a great success, generating widespread local and national media attention, three to four times the attendance typical for festival events, and new and increased funding for many of the collaborators.

Inspired by EAC in 2006, Jason Neff and dancer/performance artist Michelle Ellsworth team-taught a course called “The Art and Science of Climate” at the University of Colorado. Neff reports, “The students learned the science more quickly, more thoroughly, and more accurately than at any other time in my history as a teacher.” In 2007, EAC initiated a collaboration between the Curious Theatre’s youth playwriting workshop and scientists from CIRES (the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences). After seeing the 10-minute plays written by high school students and performed by professional actors, one audience member commented, “I’ve been reading about climate change for months. This is the first time it’s affected me personally. What can I do?”

Boulder, where EAC is headquartered, has the highest density of climate scientists in the world due to the international labs and research centers based there (among them EAC collaborators: National Center for Atmospheric Research, NOAA, Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, and Denver Museum of Nature and Science), and the news about climate change grows worse every day. Due to the urgency of the problem, EAC has recently shifted from producing local festivals to working nationally to help others explore the opportunities generated by new combinations of art and science.

EAC has inspired innovative organizational and funding partnerships along the way, from small to large. These include a major exhibit that designed and presented with the American Meteorological Society called “Forecast: Communicating Climate and Weather,” which will hang at the convention center hosting the Society’s annual conference and will remain in place for several additional months

Blog of the American Meteorological Society; an EAC-inspired NOAA grant to an arts/science project called FLOW, spearheaded by Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology with artist Mary Miss and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, that will work to make sustainability personal, visceral, tangible, and actionable on the White River in Indiana; and the EAC-initiated national Arts-Science Working Group, which brings together people working in more than 15 national associations and federal agencies in the arts and in the sciences to explore the possibilities for collaboration on climate change and sustainability.

Environmental Education and Attitudes: Emotions and Beliefs are What is Needed,” by Julie Ann Pooley and Moira O’Connor,Environment and Behavior, September 2000; Online version available at: “Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change,” edited by Susanne C. Moser (UCAR) and Lisa Dilling (CIRES), Cambridge University Press, 2007. The Affective Domain: “Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009: An Audience Segmentation Analysis,” by The Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, 2009. “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aids, and the Interested Public,” Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, Columbia University, 2009, CRED.COLUMBIA.EDU/GUIDE

Sep 16, 2011

At the Environmental Grantmakers Association Fall Retreat last week I tried two “stage gimmicks” that I derived directly from reading Nick Bilton’s new book, I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works.

First, since we were at Asilomar, I got a 10 gallon bucket and filled it with sand. I dribbled a few grains of sand into my hand and said:

“This is how much information an 18th Century professional would have dealt with in his lifetime.”  I filled a small bag with sand and said, “This is how much information is contained in a week’s worth of The New York Times.”  I tilted the entire bucket toward the audience, and said “This is the amount - 4 exabytes (10^19 power) of unique information created each year nowadays.”

Turns out I was wrong about that last bit—I should have used Bilton’s quote about how “American households” collectively consumed 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008” A zettabyte is, of course, 1000 exabytes.

That’s why your head feels like it is going to explode after being at a conference nowadays.

Then I held up a paper roadmap of California. Pointed out that when you use one of these maps you have a clear picture of the roads in the state and the first thing you have to do is locate yourself in that picture. However, when you use a map online or on your phone the first thing the software does is zing a little pin onto the map. That pin shows you where you are. That pin is you. The map is oriented around you, not around the state of California.

The session at EGA was on “Tools that Move the Needle.” We heard from Bradford Smith of The Foundation Center, Jon Cracknell of The JGM Foundation and Environmental Funders Network in the UK, Rachel Leon speaking on behalf of the Gulf Coast Fund, and Rick Reed talking about the REAMP project. These are great examples of using data and data visualization to make sense of existing information, using technology to see information in new ways, and using technology to involve new voices in decision making conversation. We saw the world premier of “Bridging the Gulf” a fabulous 3 minute short on the Gulf Coast Fund‘s community data project.

Here’s another way of looking at the amount of data we deal with daily. (from GOOD Magazine)

Having milked Bilton’s book for my role in moderating this panel, its only fair that I share some broader thoughts on the book. First, let me note that I’m writing this book review while watching Giants/Braves game #4, cooking dinner, and checking on the progress of the City’s 4-day, 24-hour-a-day trolley track replacement project that is happening within 50 feet of my front door. I just finished Bilton’s book, which, contrary to the research he cites on multi-tasking while pleasure reading, I was able to finish with the ball game on the TV.

Bilton is the lead technology writer for the New York Times Bits column. He’s engaging, funny, clear, and significantly less arrogantly tech-savvy then many in his position. His book is more than a book. Each chapter opens with a QR Code (that black and white box thingy at the top of this post, click the link to learn how to use it) that leads you to online content, discussions, and other community oriented tools related to the book. This is cool, though not as cool as the book app that Stephen Elliot developed for his memoir, The Adderall Diaries or The McSweeney’s App for the magazine. I read the book on the Kindle app, so theoretically you can read what I highlighted online here.*

His book, I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works, is one of those rarest of rarities these days—a business book that is a good story. Bilton takes us from the porn industry to classrooms, from Gutenberg to MRI research, to surgical theaters and data visualization hubs. He has a penchant for making up terminology—consumnivore and technocondria are both self-explanatory and useful.

As he weaves together his observations from his own life, his work in the New York Times Research Labs, all sorts of other research (sociological, psychological, medical, and anthropological) he keeps an important perspective in place—technology changes things in creative ways, we don’t change as fast as technology does, and, “Paper is still gadget number one for reading content.”

He also points out that it is experience we are after, not just content. Now that everything is digital, we may not even be aware of the original source of the information we’re reading. I have Flipboard on my iPad and know just what he’s talking about. Flipboard deliberately pulls tweets and blog posts, news stories, and Facebook posts all into one place and makes it all look good. The professionally curated and the amateur curated all swirls around me as I organize these feeds to include only what I want. This may be one of the snazzier tools with which to do it, but essentially we all do this all the time now when we set up a Feed reader, Twitter lists, or iGoogle homepages.

The more the sources of the content fade to background, the more “I” get the ability to organize it all, and the more mashable content becomes, the more we seek a unique and powerful experience. The more we are relying on our own selected filters for information, whether that be the people we follow on Twitter or the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal. Storytelling—using all of the tools at its disposal in whatever time period we find ourselves—still reigns supreme. In this moment, that storytelling needs to account for screens, click-away alternatives, video, other voices, game structure, and our ability to multitask.

After presenting a wide range of examples and scientific research about our brains on technology, Bilton flips the unexpected card and points out that “most of the scientists I’ve interviewed agree that the brain’s thirst for stimulation drives the technological advances of each innovation.” In other words, we’re dopamine fiends bringing this rapid change on ourselves because we can. We can dream it, we can adapt to it, we can keep up with it. We always have.

While Bilton thrives on technology, he doesn’t claim to read tea leaves. He won’t predict the future of newspapers or other content providers. He does offer up some insights for the workplace of today and tomorrow:

  • Most of the generations that are fully native to digital environments have not yet joined the workforce. Watch out—the changes are just beginning.
  • People will do the right thing (pay for content and experience) if you make it easy for them. If you don’t, they won’t.
  • There’s no going back.
  • Companies will have to take the leap of eating their seed corn in order to thrive. He points specifically to Apple’s transformation from a computer company to a music distributor.

I think Bilton’s insights are right on for every workplace. His insights about the malleability of data and the need for stories and filters (trust and anchor communities in his parlance) are as relevant to those in the social change/philanthropy sphere as they are to car salesmen, reporters, film makers, and fiction writers.

  • How do we know what we know?
  • How do we determine who will get to define the problem?
  • How does that, in turn, shape how we define the solution?
  • How do we interact with all the information around us?

These are key questions in shaping how philanthropy works. The technological infrastructure on which those questions are being answered and the cultural assumptions of the generations using today’s digital technologies are fundamentally different than those of “command and control, broadcast television, movie theater” generations. The “future” Bilton describes explains the difference between Kickstarter and Network for Good, between Ushahidi and the AP and between The Extraordinaries and a Volunteer Center.

Read it.

Lucy Bernholz is the founder and president of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc, a strategy consulting firm that helps philanthropic individuals and institutions achieve their missions. She is the publisher of Philanthropy2173, an award winning blog about the business of giving and serves as executive producer of The Giving Channel on

Cross-Posted on the Stanford Social Innovation Review