Tuesday, 17 Jun 2003

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Today’s to-do list looks alarmingly familiar. There is a list of people to call, lots of project tasks like “finalize brochure language” and “outline book promotion strategy,” an area with “ideas” that I want to research (framed with lots of blue and red doodles), and my most dreaded, yet fixed, line items: “deal with pile of reading material” and “clean up email inbox.” Luckily the calendar is pretty clear with only one scheduled phone call and a staff meeting at 3:30 p.m. There is a good chance the priority items will get done.

The staff meeting should be interesting. Our executive director, Catherine Gray, and senior scientist, George Basile, are currently in Stockholm at a biannual meeting of The Natural Step’s international board. We are in the midst of ratcheting up our international body and I’m eager for an update from the field. I’m particularly interested in hearing about progress made on formalizing channels to facilitate better international communication.

My job requires that I keep up with all nine Natural Step offices so that I can talk knowledgably with journalists, like Katherine Ellison, coauthor of the book The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable. [Editor’s note: Here’s an excerpt from the book.] She is calling today at 11:30 a.m. to talk about The Natural Step’s biggest successes and challenges in working with multinational companies, a very popular question. I need to be able to talk about everything from the Australia office’s work with Toyota to the U.K. office’s new research on polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and biosolids.

For the six years I’ve been with The Natural Step, trying to keep pace with the growth and activities of an international organization has proven quite challenging. Not to mention keeping pace with the interest our work is generating around the world.

In addition to my daily dose of U.S.-based inquiries and requests, I get emails from people in other countries — Argentina, Mexico, Germany — wanting to launch initiatives and open offices. The energy and enthusiasm are inspiring and keep me focused on seeking creative ways to finance the growth of the communications department. There are just so many great stories to tell and new ideas to capture.

The Internet is easily the best tool we have right now for sharing our international work with the public. It allows us to showcase global efforts like the sustainability assessment our Japanese office performed for Matsushita/Panasonic and the New Zealand office’s upcoming conference. Which reminds me that I need to contact the New Zealanders to make sure I get event details on our website by the end of the week!

Many of today’s to-do’s relate to implementing the outcomes of our branding project. I spent the last year and a half examining and refining The Natural Step’s brand, focusing in on the U.S. teams’ immediate needs with the ultimate goal of sharing the outcomes internationally. The project took four different consultants and almost a year to complete — partly because our brand is so tightly tied to the word sustainability and the word sustainability is so poorly understood and defined. But that’s a whole different diary entry!

Regardless, we made significant progress in finding new ways to talk about our work with different target audiences and most of the project results are being shared internationally. I’m working with the Swedes on modifying the structure and design of the new U.S. website, sharing policy documents with Japan, and in August I’ll spend a week in England offering new communication tools and ideas to the U.K. team.

As our efforts expand internationally, we are witnessing the different needs and priorities of each country and the true flexibility of our sustainability principles. As an organization with a global mission — to accelerate sustainability worldwide — it is imperative that we have a strong international presence and focus. Every day we learn from each other, strengthen our team, and aim for more cross-country collaboration.