Log in / Register
Medien und Kommunikationswissenschaft
Home arrow Communication arrow Strategic Communication for Sustainable Organizations
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

1.2 What Are Organizational Actors Doing?

Repeatedly, my interviewees told me there are no road maps for what they are doing. One of them, Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, writes in his book, Getting Green Done (Schendler 2009), about how visionaries say humans can achieve true sustainability where waste and pollution no longer exist, energy comes from wind and light, and ecological catastrophes like climate change and fisheries destruction no longer occur. “The only thing is that nobody knows how to get there. Or rather, some very smart people have drawn maps, but we don't know the quality of the roads. Or if there even are roads.” However, even without road maps, people are taking action.

In 2013, more than 500 businesses including giants like General Motors, Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, and Unilever signed a Climate Declaration launched by the business network BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), which is coordinated by Ceres, a group focused on mobilizing investors, companies, and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions. The 500 businesses which signed the Climate Declaration generally supported the National Climate Action Plan President Barack Obama articulated on June 25, 2013. This climate action plan involved ways to cut carbon pollution in the USA, better prepare the nation for the impacts associated with climate change, and lead international efforts to address global climate change (President Obama's Plan to Fight Climate Change 2013). Acknowledging that climate change poses a serious threat to business, those who signed the Climate Declaration urged US policy makers to capture economic opportunities associated with addressing climate change (BICEP 2013). Embedded in the preamble to the Climate Declaration (, we see multiple persuasive appeals:

Tackling climate change is one of America's greatest economic opportunities of the twenty-first century (and it's simply the right thing to do). What made America great was taking a stand. Doing the things that are hard. And seizing opportunities. The very foundation of our country is based on fighting for our freedoms and ensuring the health and prosperity of our state, our community, and our families. Today those things are threatened by a changing climate that most scientists agree is being caused by air pollution. We cannot risk our kids' futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong. But just as America rose to the great challenges of the past and came out stronger than ever, we have to confront this challenge, and we have to win. And in doing this right, by saving money when we use less electricity, by driving a more efficient car, by choosing clean energy, by inventing in new technologies that other countries buy, and by creating jobs here at home, we will maintain our way of life and remain a true superpower in a competitive world. In order to make this happen, however, there must be a coordinated effort to combat climate change—with America taking the lead here at home. Leading is what we've always done. And by working together, regardless of politics, we'll do it again.

Public sector organizations also are responding. Cities emit a substantial portion of global greenhouse gases related to their energy consumption, building design, transportation infrastructure, and land use (The National League of Cities 2013). Frustrated by partisan gridlock on environmental policy at the US federal level, but concerned about the implications of environmental issues such as global warming on their communities, many local governments are stepping forward. As of 2015, over 1,060 mayors representing a total population of almost 89 million citizens had signed the US Mayors Climate Protection agreement to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement which sought to establish binding carbon emission reduction targets. On the global level, 12 megacities, 100 supercities and urban regions, 450 large cities, and 450 smalland medium-sized cities and towns in 86 countries joined the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) network. ICLEI helps cities develop climate action plans and implement sustainable development. In the USA, over 528 cities are members, accounting for nearly half of ICLEI's global membership.

Clearly, the time has passed for incremental actions based on short-term pragmatic considerations and for listening to climate change skeptics. Larger actions need to be taken by individuals as citizens and by the organizations they work within. Organizations are realizing that business-as-usual is no longer sufficient.

Preparing for climate change presents both opportunities and challenges. In this section, I share what five of my interviewees said about the need to go to scale: Aspen Skiing Company; Heifer International®; the City and County of Denver, CO; the Arbor Day Foundation; and ClearSky Climate Solutions.

Aspen Skiing Company The Aspen Skiing Company owns Aspen/Snowmass, an expensive winter resort complex, in western Colorado. It includes four ski areas (Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass). The complex includes two hotels, 13 sit-down restaurants and 11 cafeterias. The company employs 1,000 people in the summer and 3,400 in the winter. Their leaders signed the Climate Declaration.

The Aspen Skiing Company's guiding principles stress humanity (treating

people the way they'd like to be treated by modeling authenticity, transparency, courtesy, respect, and humility), excellence (in business, quality, craftsmanship, guest services, and athletic achievement), sustainability (of people, profits, the environment, and the community), and passion (living our core values, embracing life-long learning and meaningful work). Their main goals are to stay in business forever by remaining profitable; solving climate change; treating their community well; and operating in a manner that doesn't harm their local environment. They embrace activism because:

Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity, not to mention the ski industry. Because the problem is so big, the fix won't come from changing light bulbs. That's why our #1 priority is using the snow sports community as a lever to drive policy change (

Auden Schendler, their Vice President of Sustainability, told me:

Our mission initially was to reduce the environmental impact of the company but it's changed to helping protect the Earth and enabling us to stay in business forever. So we are very focused now on climate change, solving climate change at a policy level, big scale. Corporate greening (e.g., eco-efficiencies, recycling) isn't going to do it. If you face a challenge like climate change you have to think differently, on a different scale.

In Getting Green Done, Auden talks about how, even if global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, Aspen will warm by 6 oF by 2100, resulting in a climate similar to Los Alamos, NM, and thereby ending skiing in Aspen. The ski industry and its suppliers, communities, and customers face enormous changes, and the long-term outlook for skiers everywhere is bleak (Seelye 2012). As temperatures rise, scores of ski centers, especially those at lower elevations, will vanish. In 2012, snow-based recreation contributed approximately $67 billion annually to the US economy and supported over 600,000 jobs. Those economic contributions will vanish.

Aspen Ski Company is a Platinum member of the Protect Our Winters (POW) advocacy organization which was started in 2007. Mobilizing like-minded partners is a Best Practice. The POW website ( reads:

We represent the global snow sports community—there are 23 million of us in the U.S., alone. Clearly, it's time for us all to step up and take responsibility to save a season that fuels our passions but is also the foundation for our livelihoods, our jobs and the economic vitality of our mountain regions. Protect Our Winters is the environmental center point of the global winter sports community, united towards a common goal of reducing climate change's effects on our sports and local economies. POW was founded on the idea that the collective power of the winter sports community is massive, and if we can all work together, the end result can be revolutionary.

Heifer International® Since 1944, the mission of this nonprofit organization in Little Rock, AR, has been to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. Their target audience is the poorest of the poor. Rather than provide one-time aid, they have provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to people in more than 30 countries who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. They have placed 22.6 million families or 114.9 million men, women, and children on a path toward prosperity by giving them the tools and training they need to sustain their lives.

Key to their program is something called “Passing on the Gift®.” Families share

the training they receive with their neighbors and pass on the first female offspring of the livestock they receive from Heifer International® to another family. This extends the impact of the original gift, allowing a once impoverished family to become donors and full participants in improving their communities. Their 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development include accountability, sharing and caring, sustainability and self-reliance, improved animal management, nutrition and income, improving the environment, full participation, training and education, spirituality, gender and family focus, and genuine need and justice. These cornerstones result in a model that seems to work in diverse settings for people with various levels of education. It is highly participatory and emphasizes local owners in the decision-making process; commitment of local resources; participation of people regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion; and the use of traditional knowledge. Heifer International® positions itself on the cusp of capitalism using three communication strategies: perspective by incongruity, dissoi logoi/kairos, and the art of illusion (Clair and Anderson 2013). Best Practice: Build resilience within the local communities your organization touches.

I interviewed Steve Denne, Heifer International's® Chief Operating Officer, who

described how they had recently made a strategic shift so that they could operate at scale. Despite the good they have done, he said:

our success has been fragmented and small scale at the village level involving 200 families. In a 45 day period a few years ago we saw a shift in food prices that moved 100's of thousands of people in the wrong direction. We saw that at the rate we were going it would take an unimaginable long time to end poverty.

Now when Heifer International® undertakes a project, they work with communities of at least 1,000 families, build partnerships, link farmers to markets, and build a critical mass of stakeholders. They are scaling up to increase their impact by partnering with the private sector. Creating partnerships is a Best Practice. They work with organizations like Danone, Elanco, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “develop high impact partnerships that strengthen value chains, engage employees and enhance brand value while building the knowledge, business skills and social capital of our project participants” ( The farmers they work with, both in the USA and overseas, are in marginal communities often operating outside the market, so “We work to get the farmers ready for market. They learn to save, manage money, organize into coops and farmers associations, trust in relationships that can withstand market forces, and get a strong value chain underway.” Empowering others is a Best Practice.

City and County of Denver, CO This metropolitan region ranks among the top ten US cities for having the most energy-efficient buildings, best public transportation system, and best overall green living performance (Bushwick 2011). The City and County of Denver governmental organization has 11,000 employees and serves almost 650,000 people living in a 155 square mile area. It includes 21 agencies working under a mayor. As of 2014, it was a member of ICLEI.

In 2013, their Office of Sustainability was created and their 2020 sustainability goals were set. They have multiple specific and measurable goals addressing air quality, climate change, energy use, food, health, housing, land use, materials, mobility, water quality, water quantity, and workforce development. They gathered baseline data related to each of the sustainability goals and identified current initiatives associated with each goal. From there, they evaluated current initiatives, developed strategies for reaching the goals, and measured progress. They display Best Practices by measuring existing resource use and practices to develop a benchmark, researching effective change alternatives, implementing the selected change, measuring resource use and practices against the initial benchmark, and adjusting as necessary.

Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City and County of Denver, told me:

The model we are trying to foster here, we call it sustainability at scale. You have to produce numbers that are big enough to address the real challenges as best as you can project them for your city or your region. So that is the first challenge we are dealing with, getting people to think in terms of that scale.. .. We can't afford to compare ourselves to other cities, we have to compare ourselves to the uncertainties of the future that are peculiar to our own city and region.

The Arbor Day Foundation Deforestation is a serious global problem with implications for global warming, agriculture, and freshwater availability. In 2013, a global map of deforestation was developed by the University of Maryland, NASA, and Google, a map which revealed that 888,000 square miles of forest vanished since 2000. Deforestation causes approximately 15 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon sequestration—the process of absorbing carbon into living things so that it stays out of the atmosphere—is a powerful tool against global warming. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 50-year-old oak forest could sequester 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre. It would take 40 acres to counter the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 109 average cars based on 2007 emissions. Trees are part of the solution and the Arbor Day Foundation exists to help us enact this solution.

The Arbor Day Foundation was founded in 1973 to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. They have 70 employees at their home office and 200– 300 seasonal workers at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE. The foundation runs ten programs including Trees for America, Tree City USA, Replanting Our National Forests, Nature Explore, Rain Forest Rescue, Tree Campus USA, Celebrating Arbor Day, Conservation Trees, Energy-Saving Trees, and Arbor Day Farms. Woodrow Nelson, Vice President of Marketing Communication, described one of the Arbor Day Foundation's core values saying:

We build programs that are high-impact, and we define high impact programs as being life changing, large scale, partner-engaging and sustainable. And the way we define sustainability in that context is we want to build programs that create environmental impact that happens by itself. It doesn't need an annual budget, it doesn't need an annual influx of grants or donations. We want to build programs that manage themselves, that are sustainable unto themselves.. .. Our vision currently is that we will be a leader in creating worldwide recognition and use of trees as a solution to global issues.

Designing high-impact, self-managing systems is a Best Practice. Woodrow used their Tree City USA program to illustrate how the Arbor Day Foundation can reach 3,500 communities, with more than 140 million residents. The foundation established four core standards for a city to become a Tree City USA. Communities take ownership of their urban forest management and receive Arbor Day Foundation recognition when they achieve these standards. Approximately 3,500 towns and cities in the USA are doing forestry work, and the Arbor Day Foundation is “inspiring them to get onboard, but once they are onboard, they are in it and they believe in it,” Woodrow said. Partnerships are important to the Arbor Day Foundation. In 2012 alone, the foundation planted nearly five million trees in America's forests in partnership with the US Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. Tree Campus USA with financial support from Toyota reached 152 colleges and universities in 2012. Enterprise Rent-A-Car pledged to plant 50 million trees over the next 50 years, a gift totaling more than $50 million. The Arbor Day Foundation is like other organizations you will read about. They provide road maps forward by providing standards and certification processes for others to follow. Best Practice: Develop, identify, and/or deploy a road map.

ClearSky Climate Solutions This professional services company located in Missoula, MT, provides consulting services to develop land-use plans to protect or develop forests. Services include forest carbon project design and development, strategic climate change consulting, carbon footprint assessment and reduction, and carbon credit brokering. Organizations concerned with offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions can purchase forest carbon offset credits. Despite its small business status, ClearSky has supported projects in more than 40 countries. A member of the UN Global Compact and UN Environment Programme's Caring for Climate Initiative, Keegan Eisenstadt, CEO and owner of ClearSky Climate Solutions, has pledged to fully offset his company's greenhouse gas emissions each year. The company was named the 2009 Sustainable Business of the Year by the Montana Sustainable Business Council. Keegan said:

For us to really talk about sustainability and have a meaningful and significant impact in the next short term, 40–50 years, the only real choice we have is to embrace the fact that the capital markets are the deciders of natural resource use.. .. There is not enough public will frankly to address this problem on a global scale.

As we sat together in the Mustard Seed Asian Cafe in Missoula, MO, Keegan went on to discuss the current global warming challenges humanity is facing. He said:

The classic problem of capital is that the externalities are not internalized. One of the externalities that we did not know about is greenhouse gas emissions. It's my parents' legacy. They did not know. I cannot fault them. But now we know. We are wasting time. It's the challenge of my generation to try to begin to address the problem former generations caused without knowing.

In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit which affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. Externalities can include environmental problems resulting from how something is produced which are not reflected in the price of goods, materials, or services. Best Practice: Be aware of the externalities associated with your organization and act now to offset them.

So now, you have met five individuals whose organizations recognize the need to adapt and get to scale so as to better manage impending challenges due to global warming. They represent groups working in the posh ski town of Aspen, empowering the poorest of the poor, providing services to the citizens of towns and cities, promoting the planting of trees, and working with greenhouse gas emissions and carbon offset credits. In the following pages, you will learn more about how each uses communication to enact sustainability-focused initiatives.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science