Sustainability (and such)

Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

CSR is dead.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on December 6, 2012

Admit it:  We’ve been hearing the “CSR” death knoll for awhile now, that bleak march of an outdated effort.  And, according to a bevy of global experts at today’s Global Washington conference, it’s being replaced by PERSONAL Social Responsibility to better recognize our individual and collective interest in human rights and values.

I love this rebranding. (After all, corporations aren’t people, yeah?) We should be thinking of the actual faces attached to supply chains and such. Plus, increased corporate transparency is extinguishing smarmy greenwashing and other token efforts. Simply, the movement has expanded beyond slick reports to actual narratives, ranging from Northern consumers to the poorest of the poor who must survive beyond foreign aid.

Free of the corporate framing, we can more easily get to the nitty-gritty discussions of socially-oriented cultural, social and environmental business impacts.  Today, some of the best CSR insights came from a panel featuring Amir Dossal (Founder and Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum), Raymond Offenheiser (President of Oxfam America), and my newest hero, Joe Whinney (Founder and CEO, Theo Chocolate).

“Companies aren’t just asking ‘How can we make profits?’,” says Dossal, but also, “How can we do good at the same time?” For Oxfam, it means a philosophical shift to trade show discussions and “quiet dialogues” with companies eager to move forward but not ready to go public with new social practices in “Globalization 2.0.”

Educate your consumers, argues Whinney, and they’ll pay higher prices for higher quality.  (In fact, he goes so far as to suggest USAID budget should be partially used to educate the global north in terms of responsible consumerism to pull future investment.)

For a great example of the new corporate leadership in terms of individual social responsibility, check out Theo’s Eastern Congo Initiative for organic and fair trade chocolate and vanilla.   It’s a daring business model for the private sector; that is, transparency and consumer engagement reigns supreme. And next time you hear about the latest CSR campaigns, smile just a little bit, because you’re already part of the cultural shift toward real change.

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Conferences, meh.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on October 1, 2012

Today I’m polishing a presentation for the upcoming AASHE conference and I’m wondering why, this time, I’m dreading it.  Do I fervently believe in the mission of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education?  Yes.  Have I benefited from previous AASHE conferences?  Yes, again.  Don’t I want to share my research, which is about food sovereignty and sustainability in American Indian tribes?  Oh, yes.  So why aren’t I looking forward to the upcoming get-together in Los Angeles, exactly?

I’m conferenced-out, especially with national/global meetings, especially about sustainability.  In this era of Google circles and hang-outs, plus the question about whether big conferences are becoming obsolete, why are so many of us still spending thousands of dollars and tromping with huge carbon footprints into far-flung cities like Godzilla tourists, albeit well-meaning?  (Plus, a POSTER SESSION?  Seriously, hundreds of paper posters, at a sustainability conference? Really?)

A few years back I studied how the World Social Forum was creating smaller, regional events so that more people could afford to network and make incremental progress about common issues.  While the Seattle version fell flat and is an excellent case study in organizational communication, the idea still burns bright:  Short of the comfort of face-to-face interactions and the excitement of new venues and reunions, why aren’t we relying more on virtual sharing rather than continuing this practice of photo ops and per diem elitism?

If I’m gonna stick with AASHE, I’ll need something different next time. What if some of our $200-$600 registration fees went toward actual college projects rather than vendor booths with swag?  How about holding several smaller meetings on college campuses rather than “North America’s largest campus sustainability conference” at the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center?  And maybe we academics could suck it up and stay in college dorms off-season rather than at the gorgeous Westin Bonaventure?

Yes, I’m dragging my feet because it seems hypocritical to travel the planet on other people’s dimes in the name of sustainability.  HOWEVER, I must confess that this whining is selective, because I’m also  winging my way to Orlando next month to the upcoming National Communication Association conference.  Yes, I’ll pay my own way to learn stuff I either already know or can easily access, given the convention’s archive.  But I pinky-swear to do a knowledge transfer when I get back, okay, just as soon as I take off my mouse ears.

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Launch of our new nonprofit: GLOBAL SPARK!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on August 6, 2012

New Nonprofit to Aid in Issues of Equity, Education, and Environment

(August 6, 2012)   Global Spark, a new nonprofit organization with three founders in California, Massachusetts, and Washington, is now working with higher education and other charitable groups.  And, as the first step of its soft launch, the organization’s website is now live:

“After teaching and researching together as academics, we’ve formed Global Spark to help other groups that need hard and soft skills,” said Deniz Zeynep Leuenberger, Ph.D. and public administration faculty member at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. “And, with this launch, we’re also looking for other practitioners, scholars, and community members to help us offer a strong menu of services.”

Leuenberger is joined by Danielle Newton, M.F.A. and English faculty at Bellevue College, and Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. and Communication Studies faculty at Bridgewater State College.  Coming from three diverse fields, the three leaders have decades of successful non-profit, educational, and corporate experience in:

  • Strategic planning and capacity building
  • Marketing and communications
  • Grantwriting and fundraising
  • Program evaluation, data collection and analysis
  • Community development, outreach, and mentorship

“One of our first goals is to start sharing information, so we’re sending out a call to students and others who might like to be published on our blog,” says Newton.  “Our website offers many ‘spaces’ for people to discuss issues and for plans to move forward.”

Awaiting formal designation of its 501C3 status in early fall 2012, the organization is already working with American Indian tribal colleges as well as educational and charitable organizations in China, the United Arab Emirates, and across the United States of America.  For instance, the group is aiding with food security initiatives in tribal colleges such as the Oneida Nation’s exemplary program.

“We are also a landing space for resources such as fact sheets and links for others,” Van Leuven noted.  “Right now, groups can find how-to tools for grants development, marketing, and organizational planning.”

For more information, contact Global Spark at, via Twitter  (@Global_Spark), and Facebook.

Posted in Corporate Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Development, Marketing, Public Administration, Social media, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Food and independence at the tribal level

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 15, 2012

(Part of the continuing Food 2.0 series)

One of the brightest success stories about American food security comes from the Sovereign Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and I’m honored to be part of that tribe’s upcoming Food Sovereignty Workshop.  I already love how this program combines the best of so many public campaigns, such as buying locally, supporting small businesses, and increasing sustainability efforts while connecting with the land.

Simply, the Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems works to integrate “local food and resources, improve the community’s quality of food, educate the people of diet-related health risks, increase employment and youth opportunities, and assist in bringing all people closer together”.  This replicable model centers on recovering food systems that don’t destroy social and natural communities with specifics such as:  visioning and planning programs; importance of cultural considerations; “how-to” operate canneries and raise poultry and (Black Angus) cattle; plus garden and greenhouse production.  In addition to this nuts-and-bolts approach, the Oneida tribe considers food an important part of a community that regularly celebrates, harvests, and gives thanks.

Want second helpings?  You can find more info via social media that dovetails with your personal interests.  For instance, the #SahelCrisis Twitter group spotlights an ongoing African drought and famine for millions who live on what they can grow.  Within the gender lens, there are increasing links between women’s economic opportunity and access to safe, affordable food. And technology is an important tool to assess a situation before interceding:  at a global level, food security is often analyzed using VAM (Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping) methods that include GIS, satellite imagery, and Personal Digital Assistants. And, of course, you can always tie sustainability and food security to other social justice issues of poverty, economics, trade, inequality, public policy, and immigration.

While my research has focused on food security within American Indian tribal colleges, such actions are part of the larger findings about culture and sustainability.  The 2008 economic and financial crisis caused an eruption of hunger within this country that continues to escalate for nearly 49 million people, which is 1 in 6 of the U.S. population and more than 1 in five children. It’s a part of our community that needs more research, corporate involvement, and volunteers.  To that end, I’ll post more in early August after the workshop and please let me know if you’d like to join!

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, Food sovereignty, Sustainability | Leave a Comment »

Sustainability screenage and me!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 5, 2012

Consider me PUMPED!   Next Wednesday, June 13, I’ll be the featured speaker for a discussion via Telepresence with employees of the U.S. General Services Administration.  And let me tell you: It’s exciting to step outside the higher ed bubble of free and low-cost technologies (such as Voicethread) and experience how larger public and private groups are reducing carbon footprints while having conversations in the cloud.  Here’s the abstract, and if you have any thoughts to add, I’d love to include them!

From Conservation to Ecology to Sustainability — A Brief History of the Global Conversation

The shift from a top-down view of the natural world to a consensus view has changed the way we think about the planet and how we define and discuss the environment, with conversations now tied to poverty, equity, governance and business in ways that were unimaginable just a few short decades ago.

Research shows that in recent years, public policies and messages about sustainability have shifted from normative, top-down mandates to more “democratic,” horizontally-derived and consensus-driven discussions.  The discourse about environmental issues has switched from a focus on programming (such as recycling and conservation) to more complex debates about the scientific process, how we know what’s happening in complicated natural systems, and how we should respond to known and suspected ecological dynamics.

How we talk about (and reimagine) natural systems matters and the mental models we use certainly influence how we respond to changes in global conditions.  From the conservation efforts of the early 20th century, to the ecological movements of 1970’s through today’s sustainability initiatives, this session will cover a brief history of humanity’s relationship to the environment as it conversations continually to adapt to meet cycles of awareness, scientific discovery and public debate.  Specifically, we will focus on identifying case studies for sustainability, best practices and strategies for culture and leadership change, and an interactive Q and A session to share ideas and next steps.

Posted in Corporate Communication, Development, Public Administration, Sustainability | Leave a Comment »

Food to Grow On 2.0

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on May 6, 2012

NOW I can see the need for sabbaticals:  Taking this break from teaching is recharging my brain and helping me build a better teaching philosophy and research agenda.   When I start again in the fall, it will be with renewed confidence and optimism about how to best juggle that slippery slope of delivering valuable content versus student-managed curriculum. 

To that end, I’m sharpening my immediate research agenda to focus on issues of sustainability and hunger.  As many of you know, I wrote a book (Food to Grow On, 1988) about healthy eating when my children were little; from there, I stepped away from an Earth Mother phase and am now looking at the effects of and solutions to empty stomachs in higher education.  Specifically, I’m studying how colleges (especially impoverished tribal colleges) are dealing with the hidden hunger amidst dorms and dining halls.

Yes, the grim statistics of “Third World” countries are happening here.  While the UN has global school feeding campaigns tying food to education and sustainable development, our own students are struggling with low food security.  The recession, increased competition for work-study positions, and fewer services/resources are accelerating the rates of hungry students and diminishing our learning communities as a whole.  And we’re talking beyond “typical” broke-student behavior of living off noodles and grubbing for free snacks; several colleges, including a four-year institution in Montana, report increased student attendance at lectures because those refreshments are their one-meal-a-day. Alternately, at a community college in Washington State, faculty approached the college foundation to ask what to do with students who come to them and say they are too hungry to do their work.

So, how is your college dealing with this?  Is Student Services taking the lead with a food closet?  Are individual faculty and staff donating peanut butter and apples in scattered efforts across campus?  Do you have ways to tie into local food producers?  And how are you dealing with student shame and privacy issues amidst perceived greater needs?

Working in education is a way of public service, and the essence of public service is to solve the issues that ail our society. My goal then for this effort is to develop enough strong research to satisfy grant funders who in turn may help colleges alleviate the issue of campus hunger with one-time or long-term funding.  Nourishing our college communities is nurturing our communities, our workforce, our future. Join me, and Global Spark, in this effort, in any capacity you’d like to join.

Posted in Development, Sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Go Green and Go Home!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on April 28, 2012

As part of Sustainability Week at Bridgewater State University, I recently spoke about how public officials are grappling with activists about sustainability issues; specifically, I look at how administrators are talking with Occupy Wall Street and Tar Sands Action protestors.  These two movements are toppling traditional, top-down mandates by combining face-to-face interactions with tagging-based media and live-streaming.  The result:  A myriad of social justice issues, including sustainability, are molded into cross-issue discourse that is reshaping guerrilla government and leadership.  This presentation – “Go Green and Go Home!  How Public Officials and Activists are Grappling about Sustainability” – is presented in through different presentation formats.

Part One:  A Sliderocket overview of the project

Part Two:  A Slideshare Ignite talk about research findings

Part Three:  A Prezi about the broader discussion

(References are posted below)


As always, any good research project is collaborative!  Thanks to those who’ve helped with thoughts and insights, including; Deniz Leuenberger at Bridgewater State University; Danielle Newton at Global Spark; Amoshaun Toft at the University of Washington;   and Amanda Ravenhill and Ryan Kushner , who continue to be catalytic leaders about how activism can enhance sustainability goals.  To that end, I thank you all for lighting the torch that ignites public imaginations.  And, to the inspiring MPA Cohort 2 at Presidio Graduate School, I hope you continue your passion in changing the landscape of how public administrators can enhance social justice actions!

For future reading….

Blewit, J. (2008).  Understanding sustainable development.  London:  Earthscan.

della Porta, D., & Tarrow, S. (2005).  Transnational Protest and Global Activism.  New York:  Rowman & Littlefield.

Delli Carpini, M. (2004).  “Meditating democratic engagement:  The impact of communications on citizens’ involvement in political and civic life.”  Handbook of Political Communication Research.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hiwaki, K. (2011.)  Culture and Economics in the Global Community:  A Framework for Socioeconomic Development.

O’Leary: R.  (2006).  The Ethics of Dissent:  Managing Guerrilla Government. Washington D.C.:  CQ Press.

Roseland, M. (2005).  Toward Sustainable Communities:  Resources for Citizens and Their Governments.  British Columbia:  New Society.

Sandoval, C.  (2000).  Methodology of the Oppressed.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Scheufele, D. (2002).  Examining differential gains from mass media and their implications for participatory behavior.”  Communication Research. 29(1).

Spitzer, R. (1993).  Media and Public Policy, Westport, CT:  Praeger

Tocqueville, A (1835/1973). Democracy in America.  New York:  Washington Square Press.

Turke, S. (April 22, 2012).  Opinion: The Flight from Conversation.”  New York Times.

Wilkins, K.  (2000).  “The role of media in public disengagement from political life.”  Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.  44(4).

Wuthnow, R. (2002).  “The United States”  Bridging the privileged and the marginalized? “  Democracies in Flux:  The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

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Water, transparently

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on March 30, 2012

It’s been quite a news month for water activists, given the celebratory news that 89% of the world’s population had access to safe water sources at the end of 2010.  THIS IS HUGE – that over 2 billion people have improved water supplies since 1990 –and, according to the United Nations and WHO, this also means that the  Millennium Development target on water had been reached ahead of schedule.

WAIT…Not so fast.  Some activists declare that these numbers are as flimsy as bubbles, implying that the simple installation of pipes automatically ensures the flow of clean water. “I worry that a report like this makes us feel the problem is on the way to being solved when, in fact, it is the exact opposite,” said Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, and former senior U.N. advisor on water.

It’s a story worth watching, especially as people nervously watch so many MDG’s not met by the target year of 2015.   It makes me nervous, because any spin that’s put on such critical world issues might cause potential activists/funders/key leaders to think it’s resolved.   Another weird fact:  Where’s the U.S. media interest in such stories?

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