Jill Rosenblum is director of communications and outreach for the U.S. office of The Natural Step, an international research and advisoryorganization working with corporations, governments, scientists, and academics to accelerate global sustainability.

Monday, 16 Jun 2003

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

It’s a beautiful day in San Francisco, sunny and 70 degrees, and as I write this diary for Grist Magazine I’m acutely aware of how rare it is for The Natural Step to get press coverage. We have an ambitious mission, a 12-year track record, clients like McDonald’s, Home Depot, and Nike, and a radical vision for the future (although to us it seems more like common sense). And we never get any press.

As The Natural Step’s communications director, I understand why we aren’t in the spotlight. Our work is quiet and slow, and for years it has served us to be working behind the scenes. However, what I am constantly struck by is the way the issues our work addresses — dying forests and fisheries, toxic toys, undrinkable water, unlivable communities — get covered in the press. The issues are typically discussed as problems beyond our control. If there is mention of a cause it is usually something being done by “him, her, or them.” We are seldom reminded that the collective “we” equals “them.” There is rarely, if ever, an empowering solution or alternative way offered, and the issues are almost never linked together.

Missing from these stories is hope, inspiration, connection, and information that can drive solutions and new behavior. This is the work of The Natural Step — to bring people knowledge and empower them to become part of a different future. The future we envision is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. It is a future designed to support people everywhere and to nourish and steward the planet.

Every day we make hundreds of choices that have impacts well beyond ourselves. We choose outfits, meals, transportation, and entertainment. Yet, when was the last time you thought about who made your shirt, who grew your dinner, how much or little your commute contributes to climate change, or what it took to produce the paper you read today? This information is not easy to get. But imagine how different the world would be if we could see the whole picture before we made choices, if we felt empowered to make decisions that were in the best interest of the masses.

Now, if you work for a large organization or company, it is likely that you are making decisions that go well beyond your breakfast and your shirt. You might be in charge of selecting a vendor, or designing a product, or choosing a new store location. Just think about the ripple effects these choices will have. What’s in the material your vendor is supplying? Where is it made? How long is it supposed to last?

The Natural Step sees these decision points as leverage points. Therefore, our work is largely focused on helping decision-makers inside large companies and organizations understand the system they are embedded in and make more sustainable choices. We also apply our sustainability framework to issues that are bigger than any one company or industry to try and answer questions like what is a sustainable material and how can the technology sector contribute to building a more sustainable future?

Today, I’ll be working on developing a media strategy for our high-tech initiative, a project designed to engage the influence and ingenuity of the technology sector in designing more sustainable models, materials, and tools. We will need to focus on making the linkages for people in the stories that we pitch. What’s in computer hardware? Where is it sourced and where will it end up? Who is using certain software applications and who is not? How many computers will go to the landfill this month? Can making more sustainable decisions save you money and meet your business goals? We say yes.