An Environmentalist Who’s Not Depressed?

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

While many are struggling with post-election blue , there’s an environmental professional who is not depressed. That’s right.

We woke up on November 9th, and the world had changed. Environmental leaders– and Democratic campaign staffers, people whose rights are fragile, concerned citizens, among others–have been reeling. Worried. Depleted. Overwhelmed. Disoriented.

But Brad Warren— my brother, Director of Global Ocean Health, who was featured in the June, 2016 Spheres of Influence Virtual Round Table— is not depressed. Concerned, absolutely. But not depressed.

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What’s his secret?

First, he practices meditation. Shortly after the election, he told me that meditation allows him to feel whatever there is to feel. Anxiety. Fear. Dread. Anger. Helplessness. Sadness. Whatever there is to feel. It doesn’t need to be squelched, or drowned, or avoided by leaping into premature action for the sake of action alone in this time of existential crisis.

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“The leader has to recognize when negative emotions like frustration, impatience, anger, lack of self-confidence, jealousy, greed start to influence his thought processes… These negative thoughts and emotions not only can lead to wrong decisions but also waste mind energy.” The Dalai Lama

Brad’s meditation practice allows him to regroup, to restore himself for the work ahead, to reflect on what has happened and why, and to ground his recalibration of his strategy in reflection rather than reaction.

His use of meditation allows him to get out of the reactive mode we’re in when we are driven by fear– when our minds our constricted–, and shift into reflection, which sets the stage for thoughtful analysis and strategic, considered response. Reflection also sets the stage for collaboration, including collaborating with others with whom we may differ.

Second, Brad has found his purpose. His clarity about his direction allows him to harness his emotions, his mind, his energy towards a strategic end. He is very clear about his role as an advocate for the stakeholders whose interests are threatened by of the unregulated waste stream that is CO2 pollution — the largest of any source of pollution, ever. An unregulated waste stream that holds the potential to disrupt every aspect of our lives, from our economy to national security to our health.

And so he continues to work with tribes along the Pacific who rely on fishing for their food and their livelihoods, to serve as a translator of science so that non-scientists can understand what’s at stake for them–especially on the policy front– and to convene seafood industry magnates whose businesses will die without fish to sell — to restaurants, to grocery stores, to us.

Occasionally I speak here as a psychologist.  This is one of those moments. As we prepare for the road ahead, we can all benefit from grounding ourselves before we jump into action. For Brad Warren, his purpose was already clear. For many, that purpose remains unclear, and the process of sorting out how to make a contribution is ongoing. There is much to do, on many fronts. Inner clarity can help wisely discern our course and inform the strategies that we adopt in this unprecedented time.

Zen and the Art of Strategy. How’s that for a book title?

 

 

November 28, 2016 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment

Love, Responsibility and Voting

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

Since I realized in the summer of 2006 that global warming posed a threat to my children’s — all childrens’ — health and well-being, one of my most rewarding discoveries has been that our voices and votes really matter to our elected officials. This has been the most transformative aspect of becoming an unlikely environmentalist.

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propublica.org

To recycle, or to vote, that is the question

I’d thought that we just needed to make “green” lifestyle changes, like recycling. I’m still a committed recycler, I do buy organic produce, and of course, I drive an all-electric car, AKA TheSilverLEAF, whose adventures are chronicled here.

Over time I came to appreciate that the scale and urgency of the climate crisis is so great that the only way to effectively tackle the problem is to change our polices. Our elected officials make those policies that will make or break the effort to ensure our kids a viable future.

I’ve always voted, but that new-found understanding of the key role of policy reform led me to meet with elected officials, to talk about the urgency of the climate crisis, and its implications for our children.

What I now believe is that it’s far more important to vote (and easier!) than to recycle.

Even one voice counts

Here’s what I’ve discovered about the power of our voices as voters.

For the Spheres of Influence Virtual Roundtable, I interviewed a former legislative assistant to a state Senator who told me that five or six voters speaking out on an issue is often a significant number for many elected officials. Just five or six constituents? That’s you and a few members of your extended family, or a few of your friends, or some moms from your kids’ school. I thought our votes were just grains in the sand.

The former legislative assistant also shared her observation that just one voter’s story— if it’s a compelling story— can tip an elected official’s vote. One person’s story.

My unexpected encounter with then-Senator Obama’s office

Understanding the importance of policy— and advocating for policy change— also led to my most powerful experience on my path as an unlikely environmentalist.

I’d never written a letter to an elected official before. But global warming— and my love for my kids— gave me a reason to write to then-Senator Obama when he represented Illinois.

I got a phone call from his environmental legislative assistant. We had several conversations. I was amazed. It was perhaps the most empowering moment in my life.

To Vote, or not to Vote?

Lots of people aren’t excited about our presidential candidates in this acrimonious election. Some are thinking about sitting this one out.

However, there is a great deal at stake in this particular election. Many climate experts see this election cycle as our last chance to avert the worst possible impacts of unchecked global warming.

If you don’t want your kids and grandkids to be suffering from ravages of wild fires and floods, food shortages, droughts, numerous wars over increasingly scarce survival resources such as water, and new diseases we’ve never heard of… vote your eco conscience. Even if it’s an unenthusiastic vote, it’s a vote that matters to your kids’ future.

Love and responsibility

I’m a self-employed, divorced parent with two special needs kids. I don’t have time to run around being an advocate.

But I’ve made time. Because I love my two tween boys, fiercely.

Talking to our elected officials is an act of parental responsibility. Voting is an act of love.

 

 

November 3, 2016 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Tales from our Chicago Staycation: The SilverLEAF Chronicles 10

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

This year on our family summer vacation, the SilverLEAF got to join us– on our staycation. The SilverLEAF happily brought us to downtown Chicago, to the streets of the south side of Chicago, and to the Skokie Lagoons. Usually the all-electric SilverLEAF gets left behind while we rent a conventional gasoline-powered SUV for a road trip, or take a plane. But the SilverLEAF served us well on this year’s urban adventures.

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Our plan this year was that each of us— the two dudes, my mom, and me— would plan a day, including the all-important meals. My 11-year-old dude chose a trip on the Chicago Water Taxi to Chinatown. We’d done the trip some years ago and enjoyed it, so it was time for a reprise. I chose kayaking. My 13-year-old dude chose a history tour.  My mom chose an outing to see the new-ish Stony Island Culture Bank, created by the great designer and urban thinker, Theaster Gates.

Here are some photos from our ride on the Chicago Water Taxi to and from Chinatown. The pagoda that serves as the entrance to the park where you get off the water taxi in Chinatown:IMG_8487

We really enjoyed the dim sum at Three Happiness. We way over-ordered, and ended up bringing home about 10 pounds worth of leftovers. No pics, sorry!

I personally really like this artistic rendering of a map of the Chicago river on the river-facing side of a downtown building as we rode back from Chinatown:

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The coolest thing— in my opinion— about the water taxi to Chinatown? You get to see parts of the city that you literally can’t see from anywhere else.

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The 11-year-old DudeSter’s assessment: “10 out of 10. Would do it again!” Spoken like the tween he is.

My mom’s pick— a visit to the rundown South Side bank that urban re-designer Theaster Gates’ turned into a lovely cultural center— was preceded by a meandering trip in pursuit of soul food. With Yelp as our guide, we decided to check out Five Loaves.  Our trip was so circuitous that we got there just after it closed. Thanks again to Yelp, we found our way to Daley’s, where the dudes loved the fried chicken and the fries, and my mom enjoyed the chicken noodle soup so much that we took extra home for her.

We then made the short hop over to the fabulous, rustic-yet-classy Stony Island Arts Building.  Very accessible from Lake Shore Drive, not far south of my old stomping ground, the University of Chicago campus.

Take a look at these photos of the current exhibit and the building which convey the roughness of the old structure while capturing its renewed elegance.

For backstory on this exciting urban culture project, see this article in Slate.

In a non-urban vein, my 11-year old and I went kayaking at the Skokie Lagoons, off the North Branch of the Chicago River. We got really up close and personal with a gray heron who was slowly, slowly stalking a fish.

When my 13-year old dude’s day came, instead of touring historic sites in Chicago, like the site of the Haymarket riots— his original idea— he just wanted to hang out with us, and mostly with me, so he said. He can be a little excessively sincere at times— which makes me doubt his sincerity— but I took it at face value. On his day, we did hang out, mostly at home, he rode his bike quite a bit (per usual), and we ate pizza— his pick.

We spent one night at The W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive. The decor was a little too “Las Vegas” for us, but there was a great view from one of our rooms:

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We didn’t make it to the National Mexican Museum, which had been on our tentative wish list. Next time!

My take on the staycation concept. This was our first. One challenge was that as a self-employed professional, it was a bit hard to fully disengage from work. The calls and emails kept coming in… However, I really liked not having the stress of hauling ourselves over some long distance. And of course, as a committed eco mom, I loved how low our ecological impact was. Oh yeah, and it’s a lot to cheaper do a staycation. We’d do it again!

 

August 6, 2016 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

Protecting Our Hot, Sour, and Lawless Oceans

Contributed by Julia Sanders

A meeting of the minds occurred June 1, 2015 between Ian Urbina and Brad Warren, addressing some of the most serious threats facing the ocean today. In an hour-long discussion moderated by Dr. Sarah Warren, Founder of Spheres of Influence, participants learned about the lawless world on the seas, and were offered a new way to tackle some of the ocean’s biggest threats.

Ian Urbina is an investigative journalist for The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of The New York Times series “The Outlaw Ocean.” In the series, Urbina witnesses and reports on the savage lawlessness of the high seas, where slavery, human trafficking, abuse, murder, deliberate pollution, and many other shocking abuses happen daily — with impunity. He describes the rural men of the Philippines who are drawn in by false marine recruiters promising high wages working on foreign vessels, and instead find themselves facing grueling 20 hour days, constant beatings, and sometimes death. Even when they survive those conditions, and complete a lengthy “contract,” they find themselves unpaid, often deep in debt, and abandoned in a foreign port. Other stories follow stowaways thrown overboard by ruthless captains, scofflaw ships that dump oil slicks 100 miles long, and floating armadas of armed men and weapons caches, ready to come to the aid of ships facing what have become commonplace attacks from pirates, spawning an industry of on-call armed protection.

Urbina’s work paints a picture of a jurisdictional mess, in which a ship buys a country’s flag, and that country is nominally responsible for policing the vessel, while other agencies or countries who may want to investigate criminal activity are legally denied access. Responsibility is handed off in a circle, with each agency (the flag country, Interpol, the International Maritime Organization, etc.) passing responsibility to another — while long-time sources within maritime law enforcement admit that there is no person or agency capable of truly investigating and punishing these often horrific crimes.

On the other side of the discussion was Brad Warren, Executive Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, a non-profit devoted to helping people understand, adapt to, and mitigate the changing ocean conditions caused by climate change — especially by man-made carbon emissions. About 25% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, lowering the pH and creating a crisis for many marine animals. This is known as ocean acidification, and it has already had a devastating effect on the West Coast oyster industry, causing wild baby oysters (known as oyster seed) to die in the first 72 hours of life, because the calcium carbonate they rely on to build their shells has become unavailable, transformed by the absorbed carbon emissions into bicarbonate. Since about 2008, Northwest oyster growers, many of them deeply multi-generational family operations, have been unable to rely on wild oyster seed from the ocean, but instead must buy it from hatcheries. And the harm doesn’t stop with oysters: all shelled organisms and many other types of ocean life have proven to be vulnerable to ocean acidification: mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster, coral, finfish, and countless others are under threat. That’s food we eat. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of the ocean has already experienced a 30% change in acidity, at a speed the world has never experienced before.

In addition to this threat, there are several others caused by CO2 emissions. Hypoxia — at lack of oxygen— causes vast “dead zones” such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico where all life dies, and harmful algae blooms (which thrive in today’s higher temperatures) become even more toxic in a high CO2 environment.

In the discussion, Urbina focused on the perilous “blue/green” divide that exists among organizations working to combat environmental human rights problems, while Warren focused on the largest waste stream in human history, and how to tackle it.

Want to learn more? Listen to the archived discussion and see the webinar slides below!

About Julia Sanders
Julia Sanders, Deputy Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, also serves as Editor and main author of the Global Ocean Health program’s Ocean Acidification Report, a quarterly email publication of unique Ocean Acidification content which reaches over 7,500 subscribers across the globe.  She also writes on ocean health and seafood sustainability in other outlets.

June 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm Leave a comment

Our NissanLEAF has been “tested.” So have we. The SilverLEAF Chronicles 9

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

The SilverLEAF got tested. As did I. As did my kids.

We were displaced from our home for 3-1/12 months by a neighbor’s construction dust. (Yes. It’s true.)

We have an outlet at home that allows me to charge every night when I get home from work. When you have to evacuate your home, you grab a few things and find a place to stay. Fast.

If you’re me, you don’t necessarily think about where you’re going to charge your all-electric car.

The first hotel we checked into didn’t have any charging stations or outlets available.

About a day in, I realized I had to move us. To a place with a swimming pool (for the kids), and access to a charger for The SilverLEAF.

Thankfully, I found a hotel that offered overnight parking in a lot with a charging station. Problem solved.

If the parking lot with charging stations hadn’t been an option, I would’ve had to rent a car. Which have been an additional expense, but would still have been cheaper than owning and operating a gas-fueled car year round. Glad I didn’t have to go the costlier, polluting rental car route…

While in the hotel, we did our best to live green.  IMG_6819-1

We recycled. We didn’t use paper plates or plastic-ware– where is that photo of the pile of dishes I had drying in the bathroom?? We declined to have our sheets and towels changed for as long as possible–there is an outer limit when you’re in cramped quarters with two tween boys.

After three weeks of expensive hotel bills, we moved into an apartment close to our permanent home. This solved the problem of unsustainably high living expenses. It also got my kids out of a cramped hotel room, a way of living that rubbed their nerves raw. It was especially hard on my struggling, introverted 13 year-old. And it solved the problem of being able to charge the car–I could park at home and charge overnight as usual.

After 3-1/2 long months of displacement, sharing a bathroom with two messy boys, and day-to-day creative problem-solving, we finally got back to our permanent home. Our patience and resilience was tested.  My empathy has grown for the many refugees from natural disasters and political unrest. We had it easy by comparison. But it wasn’t easy. Phew. Onward.

 

 

May 1, 2016 at 9:31 pm Leave a comment

The SilverLEAF Would’ve Made Friends in CA: The SilverLEAF Chronicles 8

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

Our SilverLEAF would’ve been right at home among all the Priuses and all-electric Teslas and NissanLEAFs in charming Ohai, CA. But alas, our the SilverLEAF had to stay home while we flew to sunny Southern California for spring break.

My sister recently moved her family from the shores of the Atlantic to the desert of California to take a position at (super-green retailer) Patagonia’s headquarters. So I took the kids to see their cousins.

This was our first chance to see them in their new digs.  And it was my kids’ first trip to CA.

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These palm trees in their back yard are amazing to eyes that are habituated to life in the north.

Highlights of our trip included:

  • A cerebral #toocoolforthat thirteen-year-old dude discovering that he actually likes hiking. That he likes anything other than his girlfriend is a bit of a miracle.
  • Finding fossil-rocks that had bunches of fossils all fused together.
  • Seeing a sign on the freeway that announced that there was an electric car charging station at the next exit! (#OnlyInCA)

Perhaps the eleven-year-old DudeSter’s favorite moment: Finding hemp cookies in the grocery store. I don’t want to even imagine what they taste like. (#OnlyinCA)

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One of my favorite moments was touring the grounds of my niece’s school, where they have mindfulness classes and eat in this “cafeteria.” Makes me rethink where my kids go to school…

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Here’s what happens when an eleven-year-old DudeSter gets hold of your iPhone while you’re driving:

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Turns out this photo is only a (well composed!) semi-random pic. This building is home to the designers of one of my son’s favorite games. Other photos taken by my son while I drove: totally random.

One last photo. The view from my niece’s bedroom at dawn on our last day. (Think of the window screen in an artistic light!)

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About the emissions we generated by flying instead of driving our zero-emissions SilverLEAF: Sometimes you gotta fly. As Stephen Dubner has said on the Freakanomics podcast, it’s all about trade offs. This is what I call eco reality.

And those emissions from our flight to CA can be offset by purchasing carbon offsets at my favorite source, Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

While we were in CA enjoying the scenery and the camaraderie of so many people “driving green,” Tesla announced it is taking pre-orders for a new model that is priced to compete with the modestly priced NissanLEAF. The SilverLEAF may have some competition for my heart. Stay tuned!

 

April 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

Collective Leadership: A New Way To Lead in the Age of Sustainability

Contributed by Susan Camberis

Just as we’re seeing the emergence of new business models to address social, environmental, and economic challenges, so too are new leadership models beginning to emerge.

One such model was discussed on the Our Spheres of Influence Fall 2015 Virtual Fireside Chat. Collective Leadership: Harnessing “Human Systems” for Innovation featured three global experts who spoke about the model, its origins, and how companies are putting it to use with impressive results.

What is Collective Leadership?

Collective leadership refers to empowering individuals to step forward and lead when their strengths are most needed by the team. Very different from a traditional ‘command and control’ approach, collective leadership is more agile and seeks to connect people through shared purpose.

The original creative impulse for collective leadership grew out of Roelien Bokxem’s experiences in the financial sector in 2008 in the Netherlands, after witnessing government bailouts of institutions that no one ever imagined could need rescuing. Roelien and PresenceAtWork co-founder, Jane Weber (Autstralia), realized that one leader acting alone couldn’t have changed the outcome, and what was needed was a leadership paradigm shift, geared more toward teams and organizations.

As described by moderator Melissa O’Mara (U.S.), Founder of i3Activate and a collective leadership practitioner and trainer, leveraging the strength of the collective is especially relevant for sustainability work – where all functions have a role to play and important ideas can come from anywhere.

Collective leadership is based on three key principles:

1. Balance the ‘Doing’ and ‘Being’ of Leadership. This first principle is really about balance. According to Philippe Wits, former CEO of Ardanta (Netherlands) and current Director of Life Insurance at ASR, a global insurance company and pioneer of collective leadership, balance in leadership “doing” and “being” means bringing out the best in people.

2. Capitalize on Collective Leadership through System Dynamics. According to Roelien, the second principle is about leading from the whole versus the old ‘command and control’ paradigm, which wastes a lot of time. Systems awareness is key. In order for everyone to feel comfortable stepping forward, sometimes the formal leader needs to step back and simply offer support and encouragement. It’s a very different way of leading.

Philippe added, with collective leadership, it’s okay for the leader to say, “I don’t know,” but this can be difficult at first – especially when others don’t want to step forward. What’s critical is creating an environment where people know they matter. “People think they don’t matter. If you think that, you have no impact.”

3. Leading from the Emerging Future vs. The Past. For Roelien this principal is about “connecting the dots together versus being on a straight-line path.” Practically, this means balancing strategy and milestones alongside agile, unattached thinking.

How is collective leadership working in practice?

Philippe has led the adoption of collective leadership at ASR. The journey began with his leadership team committing to three 3-day retreats. Initially people were anxious about collective leadership and what it meant, but when leaders really “got it”, people started to realize who they really were and what they could contribute. Some of the biggest benefits of collective leadership are deeper connections, increased interpersonal safety, and greater independence.

According to Roelien, in a recent case study with Ardanta, in which the team interviewed all levels in the organization— including the CEO— implementing collective leadership in conjunction with lean principles has yielded productivity increases as high as 66%. The pervasive feeling expressed at all levels in the organization was a recognition that, “I’m okay and I feel confident stepping forward to lead.”

“Often people have forgotten how great they are,” according to Philippe. It takes a lot of confidence to really step forward. “When you feel okay with yourself, you tend to want to put yourself out there.”

What can sustainability leaders do to begin implementing the collective leadership principles? 

Work with your natural strengths. One of the tools used in collective leadership is a body-based strengths system – a shortcut to think about your own strengths during change. Melissa asked participants to consider the question: What role do you most naturally play in a change initiative?

Melissa suggested looking at that question through the lens of the following strengths:

I pilot ideas quickly
I connect people in a way that’s fun
I energize and inspire
I validate what’s feasible
I analyze all options and facts
I bring the vision of what’s possible (“stir the pot”)
I bring lots of practical ideas
I deliver on time
I keep harmony on the team

We each have skills and strengths in these various roles. When we’re more aware of where our strengths lie, and our environment supports bringing our strengths forward, we can lead more easily when the group needs us to ‘step up.’

Go slow to go fast. According to Roelien, one of the biggest things you can do is to allow yourself to slow down when making connections. The idea is to ‘go slow to go fast.’ For example, you might take the first hour of a 2-hour meeting to check-in and really connect with how people how are feeling, but the hour that follows is much more productive because everyone is present and fully engaged.

Focus on connection. As described by Philippe, “When I come into the office, I take a deep breath. I ask people, ‘How are you? How are you, really?’ I ask with no agenda, just be curious.” Philippe also spends more time just noticing and reflecting what he observes. For example, if he notices someone talking very quickly, he may say something like, “I notice that you are talking very fast. Are you okay?”

From an HR development perspective, I see collective leadership as a compelling combination of philosophies that leaders may recognize from participative and servant leadership models. In a day and age when we need to collectively engage with and solve harder problems through teams, it’s a model that sustainability leaders will benefit from understanding and integrating into their own practices. It also aligns with what employees say they want more of from their organizations, specifically greater purpose at work.

To listen to the full audio— with video for the first time (!)–  of our Winter 2015 global conversation, click here:

https://www.dropbox.com/home/Spheres%20of%20Influence%20-%20CL%20with%20Philippe%20Wits%2C%20Roelien%20Bokxem?preview=Spheres+Collective+Leadership+Dec+2015.mp4

To learn more about collective leadership, connect with Melissa and PresenceAtWork on Twitter @melissaomara or LinkedIn:  http://www.linkedin.com/in/melissaomara/

PresenceAtWork is also kicking-off an Allies training program for Collective Leadership in February 2016. Here’s a link where you can learn more and register: https://registration.presenceatwork.com/.

About the author:

Susan Camberis is a talent management and HR leader, recognized for her passion for learning and sustainability. She currently serves as the Vice President of Learning and Organizational Development for Executive Coaching Connections, a Chicago-based firm specializing in leadership solutions, team development, and organization effectiveness. From 1999 to 2013, Susan held various HR roles with Baxter, whose commitment to sustainability spans more than three decades.

Susan is completing a Leadership in Sustainability Management certificate from the University of Chicago’s Graham School. Her capstone research is focused on ways to enhance cross-functional communication between HR and Sustainability teams.

Susan created and moderates the open LinkedIn Group Leading Talent Sustainability, and her writing has been appeared in GreenBiz, Forbes.com, and PBS Next Avenue. Follow Susan on Twitter @susancamberis or connect with her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/susancamberis

December 16, 2015 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

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