Mobilizing People to Care about the Environment | Designing for Sustainability


– At TNC these days we’re thinking a lot about how we can get
more people on our side. The people who are on our side, we love them, God bless them. We think they’re the
best people in the world. We have a million members, and that number’s growing very
fast all around the world. We raised an extraordinary
amount of money. I’m not bragging when I say that, I’m saying it out of great respect for the many people who
choose to support us. We raised almost $800
million this past year, so we have a lot of people on our side, and they’re generous, and
that’s allowed us to do a lot. But it’s not enough. We need majority coalitions at a minimum, everywhere we work, so that we can get the policy that we need and we can change the behavior we need. So how do we do that?
That is the question. We have a couple of strategies in mind. TNC, over most of our
almost 70-year life now, did projects in the
great, beautiful outdoors far from where most people live. But today, half the world’s
people live in cities. Soon 3/4 of the people will
live in cities around the world, and so we said, gosh, we should be doing more
work where the people are. And so we did some analysis,
it’s kind of obvious, but we proved it: cities
really depend on nature and we environmentalists, we depend on all those
people who live in cities. So we now have a very ambitious program to bring nature back into cities to provide protection from
storms, to protect watersheds, to address heat challenges,
stormwater runoff challenges, health challenges. One example of new work for TNC in a city is in Lousville, Kentucky. We want – it’s a city where there are
some real health challenges, from pollution, air pollution. So we’re doing massive
reforestation in the city, with very rigorous testing, in order to demonstrate,
we hope, persuasively that among other benefits
nature provides cities, trees can absorb particulate pollution and improve health outcomes. So, how do we get more people on our side? Do work where the people are, and they can understand
the benefits of nature. Second thing we’re trying to
do, better use of social media. What a tool available for
non-profits to tell our work. We’re doing all this
extraordinarily inspiring work around the world, but we’re not telling
that story well enough, or making it easy for people to follow it, and to follow it the way they want to, so we’re doing that kind of work. On the people front too,
we have another challenge. We wanna serve the world
in diverse communities, but we ourselves are a kind
of homogenous group of people, if you look at us. We need to become more diverse, and look more like the
communities we need to serve, so we have really cool programs now where very young people can
work for us on the summertime. Sometimes these are urban residents, young people from cities who never before have
experienced the great outdoors. They work on TNC projects in the summer under the guidance of scientists, so it’s a structured environment. They learn a lot, these are often life-changing summers, and we’re geeks, we monitor this stuff. More than a thousand high school kids have now participated in
those summer projects. About 90% of them have gone
and graduated from college. 1/3 of them have majored in STEM subjects, way above the norm, and many of them are
going to graduate school in the environmental field, or joining organizations like TNC. So we’re really thinking
hard in every way we can of how to reach more communities. One last example I’ll
give, in America right now, you’ll know there’s been
a lot of discussion about, have we forgot about the
heartland in this country, where so many good people live, and economic conditions have been tough. We’re redoubling our efforts
to do conservation projects in those parts of the country, ’cause we want those
folks on our side too. So it’s thinking creatively, and I guess the last
thing I should say too is, showing respect for all communities. I think environmentalists make a mistake when they’re quick to criticize people who see the world differently. There are bad actors out there who ultimately need to be criticized, but more often, I think, we’ve got people who have
a different way of life, a different perspective. We need to hear where they’re coming from, respect their values and
what they care about, share our views, find some common ground, and build from there. We’re really trying to do that these days. – As a person who’ve
done this for so long, and having gone through law school, having passed a bunch of policy, here’s what I know. I know where I failed and
where I made the mistake, is not having had spent
the time that was needed to change hearts and minds. I think we have ignored the need for us to really translate this issue of climate change and environmentalism beyond climate change
and environmentalism. We have to talk about
it as a security threat. We have to talk about it as an opportunity to build a new economy. We have to talk about it as opportunities to build
new products and services, to be able to look at actually how do we invest in areas
that have been underserved? I think there’s a huge
amount of opportunity there. I think we also have
to educate people about what are the impacts
around their pocketbooks? I think if we do this right,
we can broaden the tent, so it’s not just a progressive
left-leaning Democratic thing but it’s a thing that all of
us should and can care about, because of the potential threats, but also want to invest in because of the huge amount of
opportunities that we have. I think if we do that right, we can actually unlock and
open up so many other doors. I don’t think we have done that yet, and I think in order
for us to do that well, we have to tap into the networks
of our diverse communities. We have to tap into new
partnerships with media, influencers, artists, celebrities. We have to tap into new
sectors of national security, of affordable housing, of
our bricks and mortars folks. We have to talk about this being an ability to
diversify our energy grid, and the opportunity that unlocks
for local wealth creation across the country. So I think there’s a huge
amount of opportunities there if we want to continue doing this work. Things that have been
noted as opportunities, but I don’t think people have yet really fully grabbed and seized that. – So when we did our environmental
life cycle assessment, we realized that consumer behavior, consumer use of our product,
washing and drying it, consumes a lot of water
and a lot of energy and has a carbon
footprint, uses chemicals. So we said, how can we address that? One of the first ideas that we had was to let the consumer know what
good behavior looks like. So we literally changed the care tag inside each pair of Levi’s, there’s a little tag that says
how you care for the garment, and we changed that to
be wash less, wash cold, donate when no longer needed. And that message is on
every one of the products that you buy from our company. The other thing that happened in a somewhat serendipitous way is, a few years ago our CEO Chip Bergh was on a business program on television, and he was being interviewed and he let the interviewer know
that to be more sustainable, he never washes his Levi’s. That remark was picked up
and went, as we call it, went viral all throughout the internet, and so now he is known as the CEO who never washes his jeans. But that remark and that mindset, I think is what captured
people’s imagination. The fact that the CEO
of a big apparel company was himself taking a personal step to reduce his impact on the environment.

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