Tag Archives: CSR

The Starfish Story: one step towards changing the world

You may have heard this one, but I find that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.  First let me tell you the story, and then we can talk about it. 

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. 

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 
We all have the opportunity to help create positive change, but if you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself thinking, “I’m already really busy, and how much of a difference can I really make?”  I think this is especially true when we’re talking about addressing massive social problems like tackling world hunger or finding a cure for cancer, but it pops up all of the time in our everyday lives, as well. So when I catch myself thinking that way, it helps to remember this story.  You might not be able to change the entire world, but at least you can change a small part of it, for someone. 

They say that one of the most common reasons we procrastinate is because we see the challenge before us as overwhelming, and that a good way to counter that is to break the big challenge down into smaller pieces and then take those one at a time–like one starfish at a time.  And to that one starfish, it can make a world of difference.

 

“A single, ordinary person still can make a difference – and single, ordinary people are doing precisely that every day.”
Chris Bohjalian, Vermont-based author and speaker


Strategies for Change: Bill McKibben on Using Events To Battle Climate Change

Lately I’ve been writing about how event planners can get even more impact out of their events by leveraging the resources at their disposal, in order to help create positive change.  This time I’m going to give you a prime example of how things can also work the other way around: anyone with a cause in mind can use events as a powerful tool for facilitating the change they’d like to see come about.

Bill McKibben lives down the road from me in Middlebury, Vermont.  Bill is the co-founder and global organizer of an organization called 350.org, which is focused like a laser beam on the challenges of global climate change. His latest book is Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet

One of Bill’s talents is that he is a very effective storyteller. And if you listen to what he’s saying, he’s actually a pretty scary guy.  (If you want to see what I mean, check out this Charlie Rose interview from last year.)   And that’s the point, of course.  Bill  and 350.org have built their overall strategy based on assembling groups of people and getting them engaged and empowered to take action to steer things in a more positive direction.  That’s a great example of using the power of events to create change.

I recently had a chance to chat with Bill about EventsForChange.  Here are some excerpts from my conversation with him:

As an activist, what part do live events play in your overall strategy for 350.org?

They’ve been at the heart of our strategy. In 2009 we coordinated 5,200 simultaneous rallies in 180 countries, and in 2010 7,400 in 189 countries. CNN called the effort “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history”.  Our emphasis is on very widespread and beautiful action, that we can then gather images of to make more than the sum of its parts.

 You have talked about the need to “build political will”.  Can you give a couple of best examples of how you have used events to educate, inspire and move people to action?

Well, when we did the earlier domestic version of this–called StepItUp, spring of 2007, we had 1,400 events in all 50 states.  And two days later both Obama and Clinton, then running for president, adopted our goal of 80% emission cuts. It was pretty neat.
 

 While planning 350.org events, how do you incorporate strategies for altering the perspective of people who are largely disinterested in the climate change issue?

Many people do that in their own communities. We don’t exactly plan the events–it’s more like a potluck supper. We set the date and the theme, and people come up with remarkable stuff in their own places. 

What role does storytelling play in the process of planning 350.org events?

It’s more in the aftermath. We tell the stories of these events constantly, in words and in pictures. 

What has proven to be the most challenging aspect of organizing events to support the mission of 350.org?

The globe is a big place.


Why sustainability is not “good”

A couple of years ago, I saw Jeffrey Hollender speak at a Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) conference.  Jeffrey was a co-founder (along with a guy named Alan Newman, who went on to create another Vermont brand, Magic Hat) of Seventh Generation, a company that makes “environmentally friendly” cleaning products and is a leader in the corporate social responsibility movement.  Imagine an auditorium filled with a couple of hundred business people bent on being more socially responsible, and Jeffrey comes out with this: that he didn’t consider 7thG’s products to be good. Because there’s a big difference between “less bad” and “good”. He said that, “as much as I like Seventh Generation products–and I think they’re great–they are only ‘less bad’. All of our products create CO2 emissions, they create garbage, and they use natural resources. They’re better than our competitors, but they’re not good.”

He went on to say that it’s not enough to try to reduce the amount of damage we’re doing to the world—we need to renew and repair the damage that’s already been done, and to work towards positive change.  I figure that if we’re all headed for hell in a handbasket (although personally I’ve never actually ridden in a handbasket), the only thing “less bad” will accomplish is to slow down the ride a little bit.

Physicians taking the Hippocratic Oath agree “to do no harm.” Green hotels reduce their negative environmental impact by conserving energy, composting and reusing sheets and towels. Seventh Generation works hard to formulate products with far less undesirable chemical byproducts. And while producing special events may seem a whole lot different than manufacturing laundry detergent or treating patients, Jeff’s point about going from “less bad” to “good” still applies.

Don’t get me wrong; sustainable measures aren’t just good–they’re a great idea.  It’s fairly common practice to incorporate at least some sustainable practices into events these days and that’s definitely moving in the right direction, but we can do better than that. There are many opportunities to use The Power of Events to leave the world a little better place than before—and that’s good!


6 Event Power Tools for building positive change

What’s in your toolbox when you’re planning or executing an event?  It doesn’t matter what kind of event—it could be a conference, music festival, product launch, sporting event, trade show, or celebration.  As the builder of the event, you’ve got valuable resources at your disposal that can be used as effective tools for enhancing the overall impact of your event.  I call these Power Tools because, well, they give you the power to make a far bigger difference than what you could ever hope to accomplish on your own.  Here is a set of six power tools you have available for your use in the process of planning and executing any event:

PLACE – the site you select can have a significant effect on the surrounding area.  After Katrina, many planners considered holding events in New Orleans as a way to bring more economic activity back to the city.  Far-away destinations have become less attractive because of the significant carbon footprint from participants traveling to get there.  And wherever an event is held, there are people or organizations nearby that could be offered assistance or support. 

PEOPLE – events bring together LOTS of people: participants, volunteer or paid staff, vendors and service providers, exhibitors, sponsors, performers…and each one of them has the potential to contribute.  Within each of these groups, you will find people with specific experience and expertise that can be shared: helping to build something, teach or advise, or solve problems.  Your board of directors, hotel or food & beverage staff, contractors—they can all be invited to channel their talents and ideas to assist a disadvantaged population or provide a benefit to the community in some way.  You’re bringing them together; now make the most of it!

PROGRAM  – as you design the entire experience for participants, weave in opportunities to educate, inspire to action, or create a physical change that leaves a site or organization in a better place. Connect a cause with an audience by giving them the stage for at least a few minutes or, better yet, involving them in an interactive activity.  And while you’re at it, offer all participants the opportunity to contribute time, money or ideas to a cause during the course of the event.

PRACTICES – certainly group events are excellent opportunities to model and employ sustainable business practices.  Mandate recycling, composting, bulk water stations, printing stations…all measures that will reduce your lasting footprint.  Buy local.  Offer healthy menu selections.  Wherever it makes sense, convert printed materials to electronic. Specify your expectations in your RFPs to influence venues, vendors and service providers to meet your standards.  If they want your business, they will deliver.  Want some great practical examples? Check out this MPI Sustainability Report.

POSSESSIONS –
this one is about “stuff”, and events have lots of it! It’s just a matter of getting things organized.   The traditional fundraising approach would be to simply make a direct contribution of a portion of revenues from the event.  If you’re a vendor or exhibitor, you might consider donating a percentage of your sales: that benefits the company by promoting sales and also the consumers, who get to contribute to a cause “for free”.  Venues and service providers can donate space or services at no or discounted charge.  Targeted populations can be granted free or reduced-price admission.   Participants can be encouraged to donate money or unused possessions (discarded cell phones, used clothing) to the cause. 

PROMOTION – most events employ a number of promotional messages during the process of building attendance and communicating information people will need in order to participate.  In your messages, provide causes or non-profit organizations with the same kind of exposure that you would for any paid sponsor.  Whether it’s media ads, printed programs, social media campaigns, radio interviews, whatever…each message offers you the opportunity to work towards positive change by increasing awareness and concern for social causes, supporting behavior change campaigns, or inspiring others to action. And while you’re doing this, you’ll be making people feel even better about your event and the people behind it.

Of course, you always need to keep your focus on accomplishing the original objectives for each of the stakeholders, or the event won’t be a success.  But skillfully used, these power tools can get big jobs done.  How have you seen these tools used to build positive change through events?  And do you have any others in your own toolbox?

Toolbox for Change


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