Archive for the ‘Event’ Category

Social Learning Summit 2011: Going Green on the Social Web

This past weekend, The Social Media Club of American University hosted a profoundly educational event on my (alma mater, American University’s) campus, the Social Learning Summit. It was the first of its kind to take place at a university and ended up being hugely successful, in my opinion.

When Alex Priest reached out a few months back to see if I would be interested in speaking, I was honored. I joined a panel focused essentially on the question, “How can social media be used to communicate science with the public?” or…simply put,  “How can social media make science cool?”

Fellow panelists and I (@ProfRubega, @GreenAU, @starfocus, @JLVernonPHD) ended up touching on some fantastic points, from the non-profit perspective, to the professor’s perspective to the agency perspective.

While jotting down some notes during the panel, I found the following to be the most interesting which stood out to me as the ways different groups/organizations/individuals best utilize social media in their communications around science :

  • The viral nature of the Internet: Good vs. evil – The ability for things to go “viral” on the web is exactly what some companies are looking for, particularly nonprofits that don’t often have the means for the paid media to get messages out there. But for some, particularly pharmaceutical companies, this can have a negative edge in that in can keep companies from engaging with certain groups, e.g, if a biopharma company doesn’t want to put out a message that could be misconstrued by investors, so they end up avoiding all outreach with advocacy groups in general, for fear that one message might spread very quickly, to the wrong audiences.
  • Just try it and see if it works vs. baby-step approach – It should be obvious where pharmaceutical communicators fall more often than not: definitely in the baby-step approach category. But for (some) nonprofits and most educators, the idea of diving right in and trying a novel way of using social media to get students engaged (Professor Rubega actually assigned her students to “tweet about the birds around them” and ended up encouraging them to connect dots and explore their environment in ways she had never seen before), is actually the best way to get over the hurdle of fear and see faster results. Sometimes success can come in a sprint, and sometimes in a marathon.
There are definitely some ways that nonprofits, agencies and educators alike can all learn from one another. For example, all science-based organizations, from biotechs to nonprofits advocacy groups to universities, need to use approaches that make the science more personal and relatable. They also should remember that at the end of the day, the earned media that can often result from social media outreach is outstanding from an economic standpoint. However I thought the points above were important reminders that the reality is, the blanket approach cannot and will probably never work if you really want to accomplish your intended educational or communications-related goals.
In the meantime though, it’s inspirational to learn from each other, because perhaps it’s just the kind of insight we need to overcome our own stumbling blocks in the future.

What many environmentalists haven’t learned: economics says personal action drives change

Lester Brown, if you ever read this, it is not meant to be a personal attack. I find you to be an exceptionally influential person in the field I care so deeply about. However, I felt compelled to use what I noticed about your visit to AU to talk about an issue that I have wanted to express for a while, and that is the importance of personal responsibility and individual action and how those coincide with one’s future aspirations.

I wrote this blog entry a couple weeks ago

…but never posted it because I wanted to cool down and look back on what I wrote a little later to see if I was just fired up or if I was maybe on to something.

And I think I was on to something.

The purpose of the following entry is not to bash the Baby Boomer generation, although it does hint at that in places. It is not to say, “Hey! You got us into this mess! You help us figure it out!” Far from this, it is meant to serve as a way to empower members of my generation, it is meant to help us understand that we each, in our own lives, hold more power than any corporation and any politician does. We have a wallet, we have knowledge, we have the freedom to use both as we wish. But most important of all, and forgive me for sounding trite, but we have each other.

As Barbara Kingsolver said in her commencement address to Duke in 2008, during what I consider the greatest piece of advice that someone could give our generation:

“You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be, if you don’t attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world.”

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And so this a variation of what I had written that night, when I came home downtrodden and–I’ll admit, almost near tears (OK, maybe I was just having a rough week…):

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Lester Brown and the Dasani bottle and why I got so mad

Last night, I heard Lester Brown speak on campus. For those of you who don’t know who he is (I didn’t until the event) he’s the author of over 50 books on global environmental issues, he’s the founder of the Worldwatch Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, and basically the inventor of the term “sustainable development,” (evidently, a legacy he wishes to renounce, saying that we have a “language problem” in this movement and instead should use the phrase, “saving civilization.”)

And guess what? He’s 86 years old, which is pretty impressive.

But here’s a couple other things about his talk:

  1. He drank from a McDonald’s cup during the first half of the presentation.
  2. He drank from a Dasani bottle the second half.
  3. He quietly slipped away to take a cab home (he lives in D.C.) after answering three questions out of swarms of students who were dying just to shake his hand.
  4. He appeared to have done so partly because his books, which were meant to be at the reception after for people to buy, never arrived. (Which appeared to have been some sort of dealbreaker?)

(First, let me just say he isn’t the first environmental activist who I have seen speak who does all of these things, so I’m not singling him out. I am merely using him to make a point. And yes, I am sure he was just given the Dasani by someone at KPU or whoever. But if you were speaking on such a topic, wouldn’t you have said, “Sorry, I have my own bottle–mind refilling it at that water fountain?”)

These four seemingly innocuous actions stood out to me more than anything he said throughout the hour he spoke.

We, (and by we I mean the younger generations, say, everyone under forty or so)—we, the ones born into the “Age of Irony,” are the ones that quite literally must change things. We must pick up the pieces of the broken systems our grandparents left us with. Our lives, and most certainly our children’s lives, depend on it, according to statistics. A couple such statistics:

“By 2025, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park.”

“Our population may only stabilize before 10 billion people because at that point the mortality rate will begin rising steadily due rising levels of hunger.”

I could rattle off others, but you’ve heard them all before.

Brown raised a point in his talk about how economists need to learn ecology. He said, “The World Bank uses all kinds of economic models to predict and explain trends. Why haven’t they looked at our growing population and asked, ‘How will we feed these people?'”

I don’t disagree, but there are also way too many ecologists out there who don’t understand basic economics. And I mean, basic. They might understand advanced economic theories. But they don’t seem to understand the concept that communities bound by solid belief systems, even just one, can change things. Living by a principle, when that principle is shared by a group, can change things. We’re currently seeing an example of this in one New Jersey community who is setting a precedent with a group of businesses who are pledging to stop selling and using products that have the endocrine-disrupting chemical triclosan in them (OK, maybe I used this for-instance because I wrote the press release and pitched the press conference that announced this to the media…) But, this is just one for-instance. There are countless others.

We can use a basic law of economics to create social change and influence more environmentally beneficial behaviors. It’s quite simple:

  1. people refuse to buy products that harm the environment
  2. they tell their friends
  3. issue campaigns promote education even further
  4. companies must create products that don’t harm the environment
  5. those that fail to evolve based on consumer demand can’t keep up in the marketplace.

The environmentally-conscious companies thrive, the environment thrives, humans thrive. It’s basic economics and it’s basic environmental morality.

If you participate in the easily avoidable actions that are driving our problems (ahem, drinking bottled water), you are subscribing to the idea that your actions don’t mean as much as some other person’s. In reality, it is the sum of our individual actions that drive change.

It’s easy for people like Lester Brown to stand before an audience of twenty-somethings and say to them, “Look at these problems which were set on course over a hundred years ago! They must be fixed! Here is this puzzle, please solve it and while you do, I am going to tell you about all the statistics of this dire situation.”

And yet, with a Coca-Cola bottle in hand. Talk about taking Ghandi’s everlasting, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and just tossing it right in the garbage.

How can the leaders of this movement expect to inspire us to change if they are still doing the same old messy things? And perhaps more importantly, how can we expect the people who scream, “You’re a crazy fascist for threatening to take away my bottled water” to take this movement seriously when its leaders are drinking bottled water as they speak before us, preaching principles of conservation?

Final point: This wasn’t all just about a Dasani bottle. If you thought that it was, I apologize for not having been able to make my point clearer through this extended metaphor of sorts.

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My take-away message

I submitted a speech to AU’s School of Communication for our commencement ceremony a couple months back. I wasn’t chosen but they seemed to like mine and a couple others enough to have our messages up as runners-up (take a look if you love that mushy stuff…self-promo #2…reaching my limit, aren’t I?).

But, here is what my advice would’ve been more like if my speech didn’t need to be SOC-oriented:

“Don’t think about thirty years from now in terms of where you will be career-wise. Don’t think about which organization you will be working at, trying to fix our broken world. Instead, think of the organizations that will have wrapped up their work because there is no longer a need for them. Dream up a world where there is no Worldwatch Institute, because our commonly held beliefs finally came to unite us, so we were compelled to take up different efforts on our own, to watch out for the world and each other in our own lives, no longer requiring an institute to facilitate. Imagine a world where we don’t need organizations to rattle off statistics. Imagine there were no statistics to report.

Even better, imagine living out these statistics…

  • living modestly, in a neighborhood where you grow most of your food within a few miles
  • being part of a community that is self-sustaining because that is what makes people happiest and because that is what makes the most sense
  • having a child who learns about what your generation endured and how it was able to turn things around
  • writing a book, and then having it available online (or whatever the current technology called for! On the current “iPads”?)
  • being part of a generation, a community, that was constantly learning to evolve.

And imagine how much better life would be.”

I know we’re not there yet, remotely, but these “far-fetched” dreams are important. They keep us positive and positivity restores our faith that what we do, here and now, actually matters. It all matters.

How positively overwhelming that is. How positively empowering, too, right?

Greening Cleveland Park: Organic Gardening for Beginners

Hey! I am just dropping this quick post for those of you in the D.C. area who like to garden and don’t already have plans for today. I won’t be attending because I have about 34 billion things to do today (hence, why I am awake at 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning…) but the executive director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, sent this out and I thought it would be of interest to some of you. It’s free, also, and anyone is welcome to attend.

Greening Cleveland Park: Organic Gardening for Beginners
Cleveland Park Club
3433 33rd Place, NW
Sunday, April 11   2-4 PM
Join us early in the gardening season for an exciting workshop and discussion on growing vegetables, flowers and other landscaping plants without toxic chemicals. Greening Cleveland Park is a subcommittee of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association.
Speakers:
Leslie Gignoux and Scott Fritz, Landscape Architects
Joshua Wenz, Owner, My Organic Garden

I hope to post a little something tomorrow—at some point—after my farmer’s market trip, so stay tuned. :]