28 July 2013

Grass Roots Action

Pittsburgh Environmentalists 12.0’s (PE12.0) events have been well attended, engaging, and effective at fostering deep social connections rapidly. Our diverse group of event participants were asked to think about three things that they have personally done or are thinking about doing to reduce their carbon emissions prior to our first meeting.  

At the first event I shared with the group my joy in knowing that there are others out there who share my passion for the environment and willingness to become more active in working to reduce carbon emissions. The event began with a brief “meet and greet" and was followed by a short hike. We then sat down at an outdoor café and began our shares over a cool drink beside the beautiful Allegheny River.  As a facilitator my goal is to assist members to connected with each other, to the group as a whole and to share what personally moved them to become members. They were asked what they are doing to reduce their own environmental footprint. The conversation was lively, yet controlled enough to stay on track.  Active listening  and  facilitating techniques helped reveal the following:

Short list of things our group members have done in the past year to reduce carbon footprint:

1. Exploring sustainable construction methods such as “Earth Bag” construction.
2. Driving an efficient electric car, motorcycle bicycling or walking.
3. Organic gardening and permaculture restoration.
4. Joining non-profits that promote sustainability of the earth’s resources such as the Sierra Club.
5. Downsizing and moving closer to work to reduce carbon emissions and increase time outside as we walk or bike to work.
6. Continuing education in the fields of sustainability, environmental science, etc.
7. Becoming more self-sufficient and less reliant on modern conveniences and consumer driven lifestyle.
8. Exploring possible sociological connections between the disconnect with nature and greater societal problems.
9. Using social media to share with friends new ideas we have to live sustainably, reduce toxins and shrink our carbon footprint.
10. Bringing sustainability into our workplaces by finding alternatives to harmful, wasteful and unsustainable tools and habits.

I began to develop a short list of action projects that the group expressed interest in initiating. Our meeting offered several ideas and I posted a discussion online to generate more ideas from group members who were unable to attend. My goal is to gather this list prior to the next meeting where we will will prioritize the ideas into 2-3 initial action initiatives.

1. It was suggested that the group present an educational presentation at the upcoming (Sept 6-8) Pittsburgh Encounter to be held at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning.
2. It was suggested that the group might be interested in working to combat mountain top removal. Several of the group members are also members of the local chapter of the Sierra Club where this as a major issue on their agenda; this connection may provide some local opportunities to act.
3. GMO was mentioned at the meeting. The group is interested in developing a list of resources where folks can find non-GMO food items in our area.
4. We also discussed developing a public school presentation on Climate Change. This could be piloted at a local school that one of our members has a relationship with.
5. A bike collection, repair and distribution project was suggested; we would collect unwanted or broken bikes, repair them and distribute them free to inner city kids.

Finally we discussed the “Challenges to Change.” As I just shared, change is largely an inside job. I shared with the group that I have been personally examining my own roadblocks to change and actions. This process is not only is self-revealing, but also enlightens me to the internal roadblocks that may be in place within those I want to reach.

Here is a list of challenges or roadblocks to change that our group came up with:

• Convenience
• Disinformation: active effort to dis-inform
• Incentives are not there for change
• Inertia (or lack thereof)
• Lack of Community
• Structure of Society
• Consumerism
• Lack of Nostalgia: forgetting the shoulders that we stand on
• Lack of feeling of personal responsibility
• Feeling that others will offer technological advances to deal with major problems
• Feeling of being seen as not sophisticated and social pressures to just fit in with the norm

The question was asked: How do we translate the mission of PE12.0 to a larger audience? Here are some ideas we came up with:

1. Governmental Actions: Taking actions such as calling community groups, speaking with local representatives , polling, lobbying
2. Write letters to the editor on one topic from different viewpoints to reach more people.

Three references were shared and recommended at the meeting:
Documentary: “Who Killed the Electric Car”
Documentary: “King Corn”
Book: “They Fired the First Shot 2012”

I have been posting discussions on the page in order to generate social interaction. I have also asked other members to post discussion topics, and directly requested that several members become more involved as a “Changemakers.” I reached out to two members that expressed interest at the first meeting in working on social media and educational programs are now more active and we are moving into the Transitional stage.

Feedback from the Meetups have been channeled back into future Meetups, for example it was revealed that one of our members is not comfortable with the walking portion of our events. The events have options now for those who are not able to walk; they “meet up” at the café.

The key decisions that have to be made by our Meetup thus far that are important to the project success are:
1.      Group members expressed unanimously that they want the meetup to perform real actions and not just talk about climate change.
2.      The group is moving towards solidifying 2-3 action items that will be our first victories, and is jumping right in to begin the actions. An example of this is one member posted in our discussion forum that there is an opportunity on August 3rd to volunteer or participate in Pittsburgh’s “ReuseFest,” a one day collection and educational event focused on the importance of material reuse. A meetup is being formed by this meetup member for volunteering at the event. Volunteers will:
• Participate in a brief training session prior to the start of the event
• Perform tasks such as set up, directing traffic, handing out educational materials, unloading vehicles

The decision making processes relevant to making this project a success is grass roots community participation.  This bottom up organizational structure allows for members to initiate projects and group discussions.  My role in the project is as active listener and facilitator.  Uncertainties regarding the project are:
1.      Will the Meetup continue to gain momentum
2.      Will members continue to step up into leadership roles
3.      Can our Meetup eventually transition into a more “formal” community organization and would this be beneficial

Our membership mix includes members with diverse skillsets that include marketing, social media, community activism, environmentalism, art, teaching, and gardening. Many of our members already are active in community activism, environmental groups and eco businesses. These connections offer opportunities for the group to extend reach into the community.

One of the members offered to introduce me to the founder of a local group that successfully translated from a grass roots group into a formal not for profit statewide organization.  While the project initially requires a lot of time and expertise in social marketing and there are no initial costs involved with the actions that I have discussed above.  I am confident that we are on the right track and feel energized to move forward.  Thanks for being a part of the process.


Unknown said...

Bonnie, I am glad to read that your first meeting was well attended. I believe any activity related to education at this stage of your program is imperative. It seems like a good idea to have a few group initiatives to engage with each other apart from their own transformations. The climate change presentation is a perfect example of it, together with the bike repair workshop. Knowledge of what is and what is not sustainable, the differences between sustainability and environmentalism or exactly why sustainability is important is not very clear for many. So, if you enable that clarity to permeate your group it will make it only stronger.
It was interesting to see that you were thinking about combating against mountain top removal practices and GMOs. Those potential initiatives confuse me a little since I thought that the focus of your project was a 12 step program to promote “individuals carbon footprint reduction”. I know everything in the world is interconnected by a few degrees of separation but my concern is that those initiatives might take your group too far from the main goal and potentially the purpose of the team is going to be diluted. Instead of the goal being something attainable through your program, the mountain to climb might be getting bigger and bigger. I see it like opening a new restaurant. When you open a new restaurant you want your menu to be simple and good. The more options you provide on the menu, the more complex it becomes.
If your group is not longer addressing specifically individuals’ carbon footprint but local environmental issues overall then all those initiatives might be a fit. I just believe that it is important to have that clarity of the mission for you as facilitator maintain the focus of the group on target and on track for success. Each of us has our own causes and interest and we will promote them when we can. Since you are orchestrating several voices you need to filter and transform those ideas towards a common interest so that your orchestra performs in tune.
Thanks for sharing.
Erica Ocampo

Jim D said...

I believe gaining grass roots participation is one approach to build enthusiasm for your project. In a sense the grass roots approach may raise the level of consciousness to accomplish your plans. It also serves to move the project from the awakening stage to the pioneering stage as you develop enough little victories and engage champions. Moreover, you have established a fun environment to engage the participants. I see this as a win for everyone involved and a great method to spread the word on sustainability.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie, you have a great project here! As I've seen happen with other people who study sustainability at Harvard, you are taking direction from the class to do something amazing, that will have lasting effects. It is a beautiful thing indeed! It sounds like you have a great group of people engaged now. I like your ideas especially about engaging children about these ideas. Getting children to understand these values is essential in the 21st century. The other suggestion about fighting mountain top removal is also very near and dear to my heart. I have a lot of family in eastern Kentucky, where mountaintop removal is ruining the landscape. By using the ideas from the class, we must be change agents, and approach people from the frame of active listening in stakeholder negotiations. I look forward to hearing more about your PE12.0 in the future!