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Onramps

October 26 2007 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

Environmentalism has been a walled city for a long time, housing a small percent of the planet’s population. Like many special interest groups, it had it’s own lexicon, secret handshake, muses and bogeymen. Thank goodness all that is changing…

I was at the Clinton Global Initiative a few weeks back and everything I had felt for the preceding 18 months crystallized as I sat there listening to Jim Rogers (CEO Duke Energy) , Craig Venter (Alternative energy maven) and a myraid of others that were clearly smarter than me. Still, I was smart enough to see that a leapfrog was taking (or had taken) place. To oversimplify the point, there have been three major players; NGOs/non-profits, governments and for-profits/corporations. In the old days organizations like Surfrider Foundation, acted as the conscience, police and fuel for environmental initiatives. Government sometimes tagged along once it was popular and (most) for-profits simply focused on delivering solid results for the upcoming quarter. We all know too many examples in these latter two camps of initiatives that could be considered nothing short of anti-environmental.

What has happened (or perhaps more accurately “is starting to happen with greater meaning and frequency”) is that for-profits (who really have the ability to act as fuel) have woken up to the fact that “sustainability” is defined in the corporate world “what is our business worth more than two quarters from now?”. David Brower summarized this a long time ago with the pithy, visionary quote "no business to be done on a dead planet."

Call me an idealistic capitalist but I sense that America business leaders are finally following thier Euro-brethern in understanding these larger issues. Of course I'm not a visionary... in a sense I'm simply restating what other people figured out a while ago. This point is not the same as the simple green-is-the-new-black trendy, ubiquitous advertorial message we see everywhere. This is about cash investments made with a long-term understanding of the "total cost" of all this stuff we buy. The crisp example of this, again coming to me during a CGI breakout, was a senior exec from Wal-Mart talking about how they worked with Procter and Gamble to ask for Rice-A-Roni noodles to be straightened, enabling smaller footprint packaging... driving down distribution fuel costs for Wal-Mart's trucks.

The essense of this was captured in the cover story of Fast Company last month, uber enviro Adam Werbach "selling his soul to Wal-Mart". To me it's nothing of the sort. Adam understands math. Adam is like Wille Sutton, is simply going where the money is... money is simply a tool.

I'm impressed by Adam's boldness. He understands that the largest impact will be made by those that control the largest onramps. Sure, CGI was chock full ‘o early adopters and visionaries but for me it delivered the simple fact that environmentalism must be an all-hands-on deck subject. And sure, Wal-Mart, Duke Energy and every entity on the face of the planet have a long... long way to go. In fact all of us, regardless of our demographic or psychographic makeup, have a carbon footprint that's not very sexy. I'm simply stoked that more and more we're getting the larger population to understand that concept. Thus my first post is on… onramps.

Onramp = Method of engaging or connecting with people, all people

Think five years back about how electric cars were advertised, the text in the ads spoke to a small, niche crowd. Compare those ads with Chevy’s ego-booster Hummer ads, real or parody. Hummers were pitched as mainstream and thus… went mainsteam. Thus, Hummers were the rage and the electric car was essentially… killed. Fast forward to today and if you’re a true hipster of course you drive a Prius. For me that shift is due to new, appropriate, low-friction onramps being built. The Prius is the current metaphor for the aware, unselfish, early adopter.

You don’t have to be Al Gore to understand that we’ve done a horrible job being a steward of this planet. Even more importantly you don’t have to be a Nobel-laureate to become engaged. You simply need the right onramp. You need the appropriate invitation.

I believe that a) people want to do the “right” thing once they understand what “right” is and b) they won’t stray far from their sphere / habits to do something new.

For me this all says that we, the collective environmental movement, need to create as many onramps as it takes until we literally get the “all hands on deck” kind of participation we need. It doesn’t matter if you make a million dollars a day or a single dollar a day. It doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum. It doesn’t matter where on the globe you live. What matters is that you have an onramp for participation that is tailored enough to you that you change your habits. What matters is that you look at your habits, affiliations and candidates with a set of lenses that truly reflect this global environmental challenge.

Now, build an onramp. Engage someone.
J
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