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Environmental Sustainability – A World Each of Us Can Help Create:    Using Participatory Methods for Transformational Change

By Jane Stallman, August Theme Host

"Nurture your unwarranted optimism", Dennis Jennings, 2011

Our time here is magic.
It's the only space we have
to realise whatever it is
that is beautiful,
whatever is true ...
it's the only space.
Ben Okri, African author

In 2003 I was on the bus from an airport in Baja, California to a cruise ship that was taking 63 of us on an Oakland Museum tour of the Gulf of California, a John Steinbeck tour. Five Naturalists were onboard and ready to orient us to the unique habitat we’d be exploring.

One of the naturalists walked to the front of the bus to get some water and we began a conversation. At the time I was a “thread” leader on economic sustainability at the ICA’s International Conference in Guatemala coming up the next year. He, Larry Hobbs, was a biologist doing species extinction studies and had just finished doing research and a paper on the human species. When I invited him to the Guatemala Conference, he declined saying that it was “too late”. “Too late for what” I asked. His reply shocked and disturbed me, not only during this trip, my first vacation in a number of years, but ever since.

Larry responded that he felt we human inhabitants of this planet earth had between 25 – 35 years before our death as a species, that climate change was already so far advanced that there was little we could do to turn it around and in fact, it was already 50 years too late for remediation. Other naturalists on board agreed with the general outcome that Larry put forward but felt that we had between 80 and 100 years remaining. Mind you this was not the most relaxing vacation ever.

Needless to say, this impromptu conversation, escalated my already strong interest in environmental sustainability and has shaped my personal and work practices since.

When given the opportunity to volunteer to host a theme month for the ToP Network at our conference last January, I chose Environmental Sustainability both because of the looming crisis we are facing but also because of the amazing organizations I have learned about and some with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work that are working to create a different outcome than Larry forecast.

How does this connect to ToP Methods, the ToP Network?

Many of the organizations that are making a difference are using participatory methods (some using ToP) to build engagement, foster needed collaborations, create processes that go beyond talk to action, and work at a deep individual and collective level to change our underlying images that hold us in a dangerous relationship to a destructive path to the future.

So let’s learn from them, share our own experiences, create ways to let others know about our work and the methods and tools we can bring to change the conversation and do the transformational change needed to have a collective future for our human species

So it is now August. We invite  you to step into a journey of learning and sharing.  We are experimenting with new ways to use our Website and Adobe Connect to build a community of practice that is interactive and powerful. Bear with us if everything is not perfect. Innovation can be messy.

Our focus on Environmental Sustainability brings several efforts together.  We highlight thoughtful and successful organizations that are taking concrete steps to understand and reduce the impact of climate change and showcase how they are using participatory methods to inform and further their work.  As individuals with choices to make about our relationship to our planet earth, our home, we want to see what we can learn from these organizations. Collectively as ToP Network members and friends we want to explore how together we might impact some of the most serious challenges we will ever face as a civilization.

The information to be shared represents a beginning point and invitation for kindred spirits to contribute.  There are several elements for our focus on Environmental Sustainability and ToP:

  • Two Learning Gatherings (virtual meetings via AdobeConnect) on August 16 and September 6, 12:00 pm, Pacific time, each of which will feature 2 of 4 organizations (view list below) who are doing exemplary work in modeling the way toward an environmentally sustainable future and which model and use participatory methods – some ToP, some not.   Preregistration is required for this meeting.  [Registration closed.]
  • A starting list of resources on Environmental Sustainability with all kinds of things on it – books, video’s, articles, web links, etc. You can add to it by going to our forum on Environmental Sustainability and adding your 1 - 3 favorite environmental/climate change resources. We’ll add them to the Resource List. This is a living, growing list and will be shaped by all of our contributions.
  • A starting list of clients who have used ToP Methods in environmental sustainability work.  Here we have another growing, living list seeded by a few environmental clients. We encourage you to add organizations you have worked with using ToP methods – whether paid or as volunteer.  Next time you talk to a potential client, particularly an environmental client, pull up this list as a reference for where and how ToP methods have been used to improve the stewardship of our earth.
  • Periodic quizzes to see what you know about our environment and quotes for inspiration and reflection.  These will be compiled at the end of our theme month and will be posted on a resource page.
  • An On-going Environmental Sustainability Forum where we can have conversations, share successes and challenges, raise questions, and gain inspiration from each other.  Participation in this forum is open to ToP Network members and non-members.  Non-members who have not already done so may register to participate in this forum here.

Join us in these activities NOW and help create more knowledge, capability and connections in doing so.  The conversation will continue at the 2014 ToP NetworkGathering  in Minneapolis this January so there is even MORE to come.   View our preliminary client and resource pages and visit the Environmental Sustainability forum. (Login required)

"Significant and lasting accomplishment will not come from extraordinary people (individuals) but from extraordinary combinations of people who learn to think and work together."
Robert Hargrove, Mastering the Art of Collaboration.

Virtual Learning Gathering Client Participants and Presentations:

  • Earth University in Costa Rica

Earth University in Costa Rica is the first rain forest agriculture university in the world and one of the most innovative and creative organizations you can imagine – wait until you hear how they converted US AID milk and cheese into a university.  Earth’s Mission is to prepare leaders with ethical values to contribute to the sustainable development of the tropics and to construct a prosperous and just society. http://www.earth.ac.cr/   View Victor Sanchez's presentation pptx

  • Alameda County, CA

Alameda County Sustainability – implementing a Climate Change Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions in County operations by 20% between 2010 and 2020 and 80% by 2050 by engaging staff and stakeholders in a series of Initiatives that will change the way we work and live while enhancing residents quality of life.  ToP methods have actively informed the Sustainability Team’s work.  http://www.acgov.org/sustain/    View Carolyn Bloede's presentation pdf and narrative pdf.   Alamada County Sustainability team also offer tips and resources for this work:

Planning to Action: Involving Employees in Your Climate Action Plan pdf
Employee Engagement Resources pdf
Put the "Action" into Your Climate Action Plan: Make the Most of Your Meetings pdf
  • Acterra

Bringing together several thousands of volunteers a year, Acterra focuses on the impact the human element can have in environmental sustainability. Its Mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. It provides people with tangible, hands-on activities they can do to improve the environment and teaches them how to become effective environmental change agents.  http://www.acterra.org/

One of the founders and key leaders of Acterra is a bio-scientist working on an innovative way to turn seawater into fuel. We’ll learn a bit about the idea as well as the long road to bringing technological innovation into a reality available to help change the world.  View David Smernoff's presentation slides ppt.

  • Institute of Cultural Affairs

Who ever thought that an old, 8 story building could be converted into a living green space. Well ICA is doing it and modeling for others how to do it as well. In addition it is aligning other  program Initiatives to have a green focus – the 77 Neighborhood Faire where representatives of Chicago neighborhood brought the best of their environmental work to share with each other to the youth community service programs which include an environmental component. Learn about all that is going on at ICA and be able to proudly share it with your clients and colleagues. As ToP Network members and friends we are a part of something quite amazing and unique.  http://ica-usa.org    View Terry Bergdall's presentation slides: Part 1 pptx and Part 2 pptx.

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