Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Shedding light on why the Web went dark

In Advocacy, Best practice, Communication, Methods, Online, Policy, Politics, Public Opinion, Tools on January 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm



Wondering what drove all those popular websites such as WikipediaInternet ArchiveReddit, and Boing Boing to “go dark” recently?  I didn’t really get it myself until I watched this presentation.

Leave it to Kahn Academy to figure out a clear, straightforward way to explain the near-unexplainable…in this case the cryptic sub-textual issues fueling the current brouhaha over the Stop Online Piracy Act – affectionately known as SOPA.  The simple hand-drawn animation elegantly amplifies the key points made by the narrator in a way that enables the audience to understand them without getting mired in sideshow minutiae and demagoguery.

All I can say is that we need a lot more of this clarity where the social sector meets public policy.  The Web seems to be the ideal venue for it.

# # #


The “B Corporation” gains traction

In Best practice, Civics, Nonprofit law, Nonprofit management, Policy, Social enterprise on September 6, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Despite the impression given by media puff pieces, Corporate Social Responsibility is hardly a new thing. Since the industrial revolution, there have been businesses with a core sense of responsible public behavior.  Lots of large corporations and smaller ventures have put those values into practice, either in the interest of good citizenship, an abiding sense of ethics, or simple public relations.

It’s all been largely voluntary, however, and subject to the whims of senior management and governing boards.

Now there is way to integrate a social role into the structure of a business, in essence making it a formal part of the corporate charter: The B Corporation. (Benefit Corporation) 

This business model extends the concept of social enterprise into the greater for-profit sector. By achieving certified “B Corporation” status, a business commits to using the power of free enterprise to solve social and environmental problems.

Unlike the majority of social enterprises, B Corps are not neccessarily in business to address specific problems in the public interest (although the model does make good sense for a nonprofit or social enterprise.)  Instead, the B Corp certification is for any business — regardless of the products it makes or the services it provides.  It is a new way of addressing impacts and ethics in a world of constrained resources, changing climate, and humanitarian mandates.

That’s quite the challenge in this day and age, so it’s logical that certification is much more than just making a paper committment. To distinguish itself as a B Corporaton, a business must put formal programs in place to meet comprehensive – and transparent  – social and environmental performance standards and implement legal accountability practices for those standards.  Moroever, the business must strive for a like-minded consituency across its supply chain, partnerships…and even its customer base.

A tall order, indeed.

In the US, the B Corporation designation is implemented at the state level.  So far only Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia and Hawaii have passed legislation for it, but a number of other states have proposals on the table.

There’s a lot happening on this front. To learn about it, check out the B Corp website. 

# # #

A week for water…a model for global conferences

In Best practice, Conferences, Environment, Growth and Development, Policy, Sustainability, Water on August 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

World Water Week (WWW) is underway in Stockholm.

On the world affairs calendar, there are few events with the rare combination of gravitas, content, and social charm offered by this annual happening in Sweden’s beautiful capitol city.

Full disclosure: A few years ago, I was part of SIWI, the organizer of WWW, and I can tell you that much of the organization spends a good part of the year making sure that the week is filled with high caliber programming, meaningful discussion, and continual opportunities for networking that are as enjoyable as they are rewarding.  SIWI has been staging this amazing event for many years now, and their experience shows in the attention to detail and finely tuned cultural nuances.

In the spirit of imitation as the best form of flattery, it’s not surprising that the organizers of certain other conferences have taken some cues from World Water Week.  Indeed, there are facets of the event that really are models of excellence.  Here are three that come to mind as the week kicks off:

A diverse global audienceThe movers and shakers of the water and international development sectors have made World Water Week a priority on their annual calendars. This is not incidental; SIWI has carefully cultivated the event as the time and place to meet, talk, and get things moving. Attendees come from government ministries in developing countries, global NGOs, research institutes, advocacy organizations, corporations, national funding agencies, and the full gamut of United Nations leadership.It’s a blue-chip crowd.

State-of-the-art media resources.  When I first came on board at SIWI, I was impressed by the diligence given to the needs of journalists covering water issues.  From satellite feeds to personalized scheduling of interviews with prominent participants, SIWI literally works overtime to make sure that the media can cover things effectively (often way overtime, as my former colleagues can attest.)  The piece-de-resistance is the World Water Week press kit, which actually serves as a year-round reference for the field.  Moreover, each year, the kit just gets better and more sophisticated: Check it out.

A great agenda.  This is a conference that sheds light and understanding on every important facet of a very complicated field. That’s not unusual; a lot of events strive to cover everything in their respective domains. What distinguishes World Water Week is the panache with which this all happens. For example, while most conferences feature recognition of some sort…World Water Week features three professionally judged award programs with international standing: The Stockholm Water Prize, The Stockholm Industry Water Award, and – my sentimental favorite – The Stockholm Junior Water Prize.  The ceremony for the Stockholm Water Prize is really something to behold; a black-tie affair in the renowned Stadhuset – just like the Nobel prize ceremony – with the award bestowed by its patron,  H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.  Très elegant!

There’s more to World Water Week, of course. I’ll cover different facets over the coming weeks.

# # #

For economic growth…add water

In Economic, Government, Growth and Development, Policy, Public investment, Resources, Sustainability, Water on May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

We’ve been hearing a lot about water recently, and for good reason.  It is perhaps the most critical factor in climate change as well as adaptation strategies.  As my former colleagues at SIWI often emphasize,  a changing climate manifests its most important environmental effects through water. They come in floods, droughts, storms and the consequences for human health and quality of life.  Increasingly, the impacts are genuinely dramatic, as illustrated by this week’s dire situation along the Mississippi River.

The urgent climate story has recently overshadowed the strategic facets of the global water crisis, none more important than water’s fundamental role in stable, thriving economies. It’s not easy to understand – especially for anyone not directly involved in IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management), strategic planning, or public finance.

This is where the folks at Global Water Partnership (GWP) have stepped up with a policy brief on the matter.  Full disclosure: I know the people at GWP because they share offices with SIWI in central Stockholm. They do good work.

With this clear, readable policy brief –  Investing in Water for Sustainable Growth – GWP has provided an excellent primer on the topic.

# # #

Public opinion gets erratic on climate change

In Climate, Communication, Policy, Politics, Public Opinion on April 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

There’s good news and bad news for anyone trying to convince the public that we need meaningful action on climate change.

The good news: a new poll conducted by my former colleagues at MassINC shows that a significant majority of people in my home state of Massachusetts consider global warming a serious problem. Then, of course, there’s the bad news: the same poll shows that many of those people aren’t much alarmed by it.  Spin that any way you like  – and we can be sure that the pundits will do so –  but it just goes to show how contradictory public opinion can be.

MassINC parses out the details in a report issued today: The 80 Percent Challenge: A Survey of Climate Change Opinion and Action in Massachusetts.

The report underscores the poll’s findings with the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, which mandates an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions statewide by the year 2050. Widely regarded as “aggressive yet attainable,” the law puts the Bay State at the leading edge of US global warming policy.

Not surprisingly, the poll reveals differences between demographic groups when it comes to climate change.  Democrats, minority groups, young people, and the less affluent show far greater awareness and concern than Republicans, older people, and the wealthy.  The gap is especially wide when it comes to the question of human-caused global warming. Yet, respondents across the spectrum believe that working to address global warming will either help the state economy or have no effect on it; only a handful think that adaptation and carbon reduction initiatives will have negative economic impacts.

“In order to meet the goals of the new law, there will need to be a far greater sense of concern on the part of Massachusetts residents,” says Ben Forman, research director at MassINC. “What is needed in Massachusetts is a real culture of climate protection that fosters action cross all sectors of our Commonwealth.”


In that regard, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seems, once again, to be a bellwether for the entire US.

# # #