Environmental Sustainability

By: Mary Beth Callie, Ph.D. Issue: Energy & The Environment Section: Collaborator ProfileEnvironmental Sustainability In the inaugural issue of ICOSA, publisher Gayle Dendinger describes his vision: the magazine will serve as a forum where those working for positive change can share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; it is a place for case studies, where leaders - with “vision,” passion, and “the ability to pull people together, and do something to make a situation better and to improve lives”- can share how they created that change.

So far, the magazine has provided a space where companies and organizations have showcased their best work and practices. Through free distribution of the magazine to business schools, companies, and organizations across the country, readers of this and past issues have had the opportunity to read about how others have connected and collaborated for social, educational, and environmental goals.

When I was approached to write for this issue, themed around environmental collaboration, I was hesitant about my angle. Everyday, throughout our broadcast, print, and Internet media, major companies communicate their efforts to green their products and services. In this more public relations version of the story, however, we usually don’t hear about the situations that motivated companies to diversify their practices and project a greener image in the first place. Often, the initiating and ongoing interactions — sometimes disputes with community and nongovernmental organization stakeholders — gets downplayed or left out of the story. We may hear about the outcomes, but we don’t know about the processes behind them, nor the perspectives of all those involved and affected.

We may hear about the outcomes, but we don’t know about the processes behind them, nor the perspectives of all those involved and affected. For example, on its website, Kennecott Utah Copper highlights its environmental stewardship, in terms of energy and land use, air quality, and reducing waste. In this issue, Rio Tinto, Kennecott’s parent company, describes its dedication to sustainable development in Salt Lake county, Utah, through “two very diverse businesses” that it owns: Kennecott Utah Copper (KUC, operating the Bingham Canyon Mine) and Kennecott Land (KL, Daybreak residential building), which redevelops, or “repurpose(s),” once active mining land. Rio Tinto details its goals “to assure that decisions are made for the best possible social, environmental and economic outcomes” and laudable efforts in constructing LEED certified buildings, in conserving energy and water in the Daybreak Community, and in joining the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.

Yet, this focus on the partnership of two Rio Tinto companies does leave us to wonder about the involvement and perspectives of other stakeholders, particularly communities, governments, and nonprofit groups. In November, for example, the Salt Lake Tribune explained that Salt Lake county and Kennecott had come to an agreement that enabled Kennecott to search for minerals and possibly mine Rose Canyon Ranch, land that the county had purchased for open space last year. Even though the county had property rights, Kennecott’s mining claims trumped those rights under federal law. In the agreement, Kennecott agreed to restore any land damaged by prospecting and to purchase or provide alternative land if the company goes on to mine the land.

This agreement suggests an opportunity to hear each perspective and to learn more about the processes by which stakeholders came together to settle the dispute. More opportunities abound: at the end of February, for example, the Tribune reported that a new bill could strengthen Kennecott’s mining rights to the Oquirrh Mountains, broadening the company’s power “to grow its mine and places the interests of prospectors above those of homeowners, hikers and horseback riders.” Likewise, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, environmental and community groups, such as Save the Wild UP, are currently challenging Kennecott’s efforts to secure mining permits in the Yellow Dog watershed. Environmental Sustainability

Inclusive Policy Dialogues

As an assistant professor at Regis University, specializing in media studies and public policy, I teach core and major courses centered on public journalism, civic engagement, and common good issues. Inspired by our Jesuit mission of “how ought we to live?,” my students, colleagues, and I have had the opportunity to learn more about the processes by which we can define and make decisions about community well-being and sustainability

Headquartered in Keystone, CO, with offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver, the Keystone Center for Science and Public Policy mediates conflict over core “sustainability dilemmas.” As Keystone’s President and CEO Peter Adler, explains, environmental disputes reflect the struggle over the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability: the health of our environment, the vitality of our commerce, and the endurance of our communities.” In the United States and globally, the Keystone Center facilitates “policy dialogues,” which bring diverse stakeholder groups to the table, to work on practical solutions to complex issues.

From 2005-07, the Keystone Center teamed up with an in-country partner, Tanorama, Inc, to facilitate a need-based negotiation process to address the effects of river contamination by the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua, New Guinea (PNG).

Considered one of the worst environmental disasters in the world, the case also illustrates a “true sustainability dilemma”: while the mine constitutes 20 percent of the country’s GNP, its waste has damaged the traditional food webs and lives of more than 50,000 people. As the report puts it, “vast economic benefits and advantages stand squarely against decades of environmental degradation and perceived injustice.”

Keystone and Tanorama facilitated a Working Group to review and redress criticism of the outcomes of an earlier negotiation process. Nine regional groups, representing 158 villages along the river corridor, selected community delegates to participate in the new 50-member Working Group, which also included representatives from the mining company (OMTL) and its shareholders (including the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program, Inc, owners of 52% of shares), government, and non-government organizations (NGOs), that gave voice to environmental and social concerns, especially pertaining to women and children.

The two-year long negotiations, which included six working group meetings and hundreds of facilitated local meetings, aimed at “trust-building, information exchange, fact-finding, deliberation, and ‘interest-based’ bargaining.” The final deal, or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), called for structural changes to compensate families, increase village level planning; provide for future advocacy, monitoring of environmental and health conditions; and to increase the participation of women in decision-making processes.

Due to the inherent messiness of democratic negotiation, the Keystone mediators focused on establishing an inclusive, transparent process, which included training and including as much stakeholder participation in the design process itself. They also stress the importance of the participation of NGOs and women at the negotiating table.

Democratic Collaboration

The Keystone Center’s Ok Tedi negotiations provide an alternative to the dominant way of dealing with public interest conflict: litigation. The term “adversarial legalism,” as coined by scholar Robert Kagan, sums up that conflict-oriented, expensive, and legalistic process.

Over the past several days, marine biologist Riki Ott has visited our university, to share the experiences of the Cordova, Alaska community in recovering from the 1989 Valdez oil spill. Ott interprets these experiences as illustrative of a “democracy crisis”—in which Exxon, from the beginning, put its own corporate economic interests over human and environmental values.

Through surveys and peer listening groups, sociologist J. Steven Picou has identified the “corrosive” effects of the spill, and Exxon’s litigation-centered response, on the Cordova community (Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Exxon, reducing the once $5 billion in punitive damages to $500 million). Ott and others in the Cordova community, however have begun to collaborate on a core vision for Cordova that meets human/social, environmental, and economic goals.

There are alternative ways to address these dilemmas, however. In “Technological Disasters, Litigation Stress, and Alternative Dispute Mechanisms,” Brent K. Marshall, J. Steven Picou, and Jan R. Schlictmann provide three examples of alternative dispute resolution: court-ordered scientific damage assessment in Livingston, LA (toxic spill); a negotiated partnership between community and companies in Groton, MA (contaminated groundwater); and a “standstill agreement” and mediated settlement between families and chemical companies in Toms River, NJ (childhood cancer and contaminated drinking water). In the Toms River case, Eric Green of Resolutions LLC facilitated the exchange of information and views in a non-adversarial context, as an alternative to complex litigation.

Community Collaboration

Through six in-depth case studies of community collaborations and 46 additional studies, David D. Chrislip and Carl E. Larson have identified elements that need to be built into the process from the beginning. These “lessons of experience” include a sense of urgency and clear need, strong stakeholder groups, broad-based involvement from several sectors (government, business, community groups), and a credible, open process. In Collaborative Leadership, they remind us that the concept of “collaboration” goes beyond communication, cooperation, and coordination. Derived from its Latin roots, the word means “to work together”:

Collaboration is more than simply sharing knowledge and information (communication) and more than a relationship that helps each party achieve its own goals (cooperation and coordination). The purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party.

Shared vision and joint strategies, writes Kettering’s David Mathews in For Communities to Work, necessitate an “engaged public” - “a committed and interrelated citizenry rather than a persuaded populace”. Moreover, high-achieving communities start from a spirit of learning and experimentation: “they are voracious learners, like students who read everything the teacher assigns, go to the library to see what’s there, and then bring two new books to class.”

As a teacher, community member, and citizen, I hope that my students can experience this spirit of learning and engagement, examining and learning from ever-present environmental and democratic dilemmas. Even though we encounter the outcomes of those dilemmas, or may hear about green products and services, we often don’t know the experiences of all those involved and affected, or the processes behind the decisions. The work of Keystone and Kettering, illustrate that alternative paths to the “triple bottom line” of sustainability: through mediating, needs-based, inclusive processes; engaged citizen participation; a sense of shared values and choices; and collaborative leadership.

Thank you to Peter Adler, CEO and President of the Keystone Center for Science and Public Policy, and Paul Alexander, director of the Institute on the Common Good at Regis University, for taking time to meet and talk through these ideas.

Mary Beth Callie, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communication at Regis University in Denver.