22 June 2010

Reinventing Ourselves

Posted by Admin under: Events; Forum; Leadership .

The path to a more sustainable future is likely to have as many setbacks as successes, and we’ve been having plenty of both lately. The opening of the “Greenable Woodbridge Museum of the Future,” at the Woodbridge Center mall, on June 11 and 12, was certainly a success, and was in many ways a triumph of pure imagination. Nothing like this has, to the best of our knowledge, ever been tried before; a year-long community outreach and engagement project focused on green initiatives located in a mall.

To separate oneself from it, at the same time as it is being born, has the sense of  abandoning a child—in the case into the hands of two young people, Ashley Strain and Kelly Reidy, who are serving as interns to the Mayor this summer. The Museum remains a living asset, a canvas for possibility, a venue that will gather steam with a wide range of events, programs, movies, displays, and other uses. Of course, it needs to be widely advertised, scheduled, and staffed by volunteers from all of its supporting organizations.

But it surpassed our expectations as an innovative opportunity, allowing us to plant a seed of green consciousness in the midst of that monument to America’s consumer culture, the shopping mall. Is it possible to visualize a time when malls will be taken over by people using them to grow things, to educate themselves, to recycle and reuse, and to hold organizing meetings and social events. It still has a long way to go, but the idea struck some people as one with potentially national implications, if it’s done right over the long term.

For a photo album of the opening, click here.

To say that this achievement was bittersweet is something of an understatement. I learned a couple of weeks before the opening that our team, representing the newly-created Center for Leadership in Sustainability (about which more later), had not been selected to manage and develop the Woodbridge Green Technology Incubator (itself the first element of the Woodbridge Green Technology Park), and a week after that there would be no funding to continue my work with the Museum. For us these are pretty major setbacks; but at the same time they have opened up some other opportunities, and given us a breather to rethink our mission and its execution.

The most important of these opportunities is the Haiti initiative, which has now grown into a partnership with UNA-Haiti and other organizations to mobilize the private sector to implement a sustainable-development reconstruction strategy in Haiti. In partnership with the UN Global Compact, the Clinton Foundation, The Association of Private Universities in Haiti as well as FDU and the International Association of University Presidents, The Diasporan Touch, the Soros Economic Development Fund, and a wide range of other well-established organizations, the Sustainable Haiti Coalition which Doug Cohen and I launched at the Sustainable Haiti Conference in Miami in March, is now helping to plan a “side-event” at the Global Compact’s 2010 Leaders Summit, a gathering of more than 1000 people from socially-responsible companies, governments, and NGOs around the world, and follow-on activities to establish a Haitian-International Development Fund as a coordinated effort to bring significant private investment to the reconstruction of Haiti.

The Coalition will eventually get it own web site; in the meantime I continue to provide occasional updates on our work for Haiti at

A Sustainable Future for Haiti

A Sustainable Future for Haiti

The Global Compact event is intended to solicit commitments from funds and companies to work together to ensure that (a) some portion of the donor capital provided for aid is actually leveraged to ensure greater private investment in Haiti, (b) that investment is focused on long term sustainable redevelopment of the country at all levels, from agriculture, to energy, to tourism, to higher education, to export, and to cultural and community restoration.

Another major focus is our work on community energy aggregation with another NJ nonprofit, Cooling America thru Local Leadership (CALL), which is pretty well described at NJCCEA.org. It seems that responsibility for sustainable development is increasingly shifting from the federal government and the states (which are essentially bankrupt) to more local governments. These local governments are also economically constrained, but they are more accessible to control by the community, and at least potentially more responsive to the needs of their immediate constituents.

Unfortunately Americans have drunk deeply of the snake oil of right-wing ideology, and having convinced themselves that the solution to all problems is not better government but less government, have thereby largely eviscerated the very institutions that alone are capable of addressing the systemic problems we now face—the degradation of the commons, the irresponsibility of public and private corporations, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the deterioration of social infrastructure and so on. America is, literally, in decline, its erstwhile commitment to raise up the poor and huddled masses now largely forgotten, and its community-oriented culture now drowned out by a cheapened media, a degraded educational system, and a fractured political discourse that has either misread or forgotten its intellectual history.

This brings me, finally, to this month’s Sustainable Leadership Forum program:

This Saturday, June 26, from 1-4 p.m. at the Morris County Library, the Sustainable Leadership Forum will be offering a program whose elements combine deep reflection, interactive problem-solving, and late-breaking news. Please bring friends and colleagues, and note the location change, which will be our home for the next year. Please RSVP to let us know that you’re coming.

1. Matt Polsky, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at FDU, will present:

“Sustainability Change-Making Over 30 Years: Barriers and Opportunities.”

As he describes it, “It’s basically what I do, how I do it, my philosophy, some of the projects with which I’m involved.”

Matt has been an advocate, a researcher, a provocateur, and a change agent in multiple venues in New Jersey for more than 30 years, standing up for the environment in policy and program action against a range of forces and outcomes.

Currently the Director of the Land Trust for the Passaic River Coalition, Matt has extensive sustainability and green economy experience, as well as unique cross-sector experience working in government, for environmental groups, business, and as an adjunct professor. He was the Sustainability Team Leader at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, led an interagency sustainability work group, and advised sustainability initiatives. He has taught sustainability courses at Cook College, Kean University, Montclair State University, NJIT, and Ramapo College. He was a marketing manager at AT&T Microelectronics. As Director of the Land Trust for the PRC, he has bought and preserved 251 acres of land for the environmental group. He volunteers for many environmental and sustainability groups at all scales, ranging from some in his town (Cranford), the State, to internationally, helping NGOs and students in South Africa, Brazil, and Europe.

2. Michael McMillan, Senior Vice President responsible for Young America’s Client Services and Contact Centers, will facilitate a discussion that seeks to create innovative ways that businesses can leverage what they are doing in sustainability to benefit their customers and the planet, while generating higher returns to be reinvested in sustainability.

Cause-related marketing creates situations that consumers and companies feel good about: giving back, while driving sales. Research has revealed that a resounding 79% of customers would switch brands to one that contributes to a good cause. Michael is interested in better understanding sustainability in order to create new Marketing Programs for businesses. He is looking forward to hearing everyone’s input and finding ways to grow sustainability awareness, value and results for his business clients and their customers. This is a chance for you to learn about marketing while influencing how companies use marketing around sustainability to make a difference on the planet.

Young America creates Marketing Solutions for businesses to acquire, grow and retain their customers. Mike has over 26 years of telecommunications leadership experience in sales, marketing, wholesale and retail operations, quality and process management and sales training. He holds an MBA in Management from Xavier University and a BBA in Marketing & Management from the University of Cincinnati.

3. Finally, I’ll report on our whirlwind effort to pull off a “side-event” at the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit in New York on Mobilizing the Private Sector for the Sustainable Reconstuction of Haiti, which has earned the endorsement of the Clinton Foundation and other major players from around the world, and catapulted the Sustainable Haiti Coalition, which Doug Cohen and I launched in Miami in March, into the spotlight as a vehicle for providing new directions in the rebuilding of this still-devastated island nation. The event is this Thursday, so it’s too early to declare it “a success,” but the very fact of its existence is already a triumph of vision, commitment, and cultural collaboration.

Please join us for this meeting at our new location, the Morris County Library, at 30 Hanover Avenue, Whippany, NJ 07981. Here’s a Google Map. It’s about 10 minutes from the Morristown train station, and we’ll arrange to pick you up on the way if you’re coming by public transit (please email Victoria Zelin, <mailto:[email protected]>[email protected] or call her at (908) 306-0272 or (908) 507-3150 cell, for assistance). The program runs from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Conference Room.

Members and first-time guests are free, attendance is $20 per session or annual membership starts at $25 with volunteer time, up to $195 for twelve monthly meetings. (Fees waived or reduced for those with extenuating circumstances.) Please RSVP to let us know that you’re coming — thanks.

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Past Events

Correction: We'll be hosting this year's holiday potluck — "Bringing Solar Power Home for the Holidays" — on Saturday, December 15, from 4 to 9 p.m. Click here for more details. RSVP to [email protected].
Saturday, November 17, 2012, 10 a.m. Eastern: Sustainable Neighborhood & Community Conversations (III).
Saturday, October 13, 2012, 10 a.m. Eastern: Transforming Neighborhoods and Communities II.
Saturday, September 8, 2012, 10 a.m. Eastern: Transforming Neighborhoods & Communities.
Saturday, June 16, 2012: SLF Potluck June 16: Sustainable Living Communities.
The Sustainable Haiti Conference took place April 23-25, 2012 in Miami.
"Inside Job" Movie Party. Saturday, February 11th, 6:00 PM, Liberty Ridge, The Hills, Bernards Twp, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920.
2nd 'Buy Haitian, Restore Haiti Conference', January 26, 2012, Karibe Convention Center, Petion Ville, Haiti
Dec 11 SLF Potluck: "Bringing Sustainability Home for the Holidays" Basking Ridge, NJ. RSVP to [email protected].
Saturday, July 9, 2011, 4 p.m. Open House Party & Potluck, Saturday, July 9, 4 p.m., Basking Ridge, NJ.
RSVP to [email protected]
Saturday, May 21, 1-4 p.m. EcoCenter Update. At the Morristown EcoCenter, 55 Bank Street, Morristown, NJ 07960.
Saturday, April 16, 1-4 p.m. "Haiti & Us: The Leading Edge of Sustainable Development." At the Morristown EcoCenter, 55 Bank Street, Morristown, NJ 07960. A copy of the update presentation has been posted here.
Saturday, March 19, 1-4 p.m. "Creating the Morristown EcoCenter." Held at 55 Bank Street, Morristown, the site of the proposed EcoCenter.
Saturday, February 19, 1-4 p.m. Monthly meeting, ""A Profound Transformation in Consciousness," Morris County Library, Whippany, NJ. Click here for details.
Saturday, January 15, 1-4 p.m. Putting Idealism into Practice: Tour of Half Moon House. Click here for details.
Saturday, December 18, 1-4 p.m. Challenge & Strategy Session: "Reinventing Wealth," followed by our annual "Potluck for the Planet" from 4 to 8. Click here for details.
Saturday, November 20, 1-4 p.m. Challenge & Strategy Session: "How Do We Measure Sustainable Value?". Click here for details.
Saturday, October 16, 1-4 p.m. Challenge and Strategy Session: "Toward a Sustainable Growth Strategy for New Jersey".
Download the slide presentation here, and the discussion paper here.

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Leadership Quotes

"Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged."
(Thomas A. Edison—thanks to Regan Caton)

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” (G.B. Shaw)

"There is the true joy of life: to be used by a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; to be thoroughly worn out before being thrown on the scrap heap; to be a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that life will not devote itself to making you happy." (G.B. Shaw)

"Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal greed." (Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya - thanks to Christine Comaford, Rules for Renegades)