I'm writing on New Year's Day, the 1st of January, and as of today, I formally take on a new position, as director of the Earth Charter Initiative. My formal title is "International Transition Director," which underscores that my focus for the year is to lead the Initiative through a transition and expansion of its activities, internationally.
The Earth Charter, for those who don't know it, is a consensus statement on core principles, ethics, and values for sustainability. You can think of it as the sustainability equivalent to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It was written over nearly a decade, in a process that has been often been cited as the most inclusive civil society exercise in consensus-building ever attempted. A very diverse, promiment, 25-member Commission, co-chaired by Maurice Strong (who chaired the Rio Earth Summit in 1992) and Mikhail Gorbachev (the architect of Perestroika and Glasnost) directed the process, which included getting commentary from 5,000 leaders and citizens from around the world, from nearly every walk of life you can think of.
The Charter was finished and launched in 2000, with great fanfare, in Holland, with sponsorship from the Dutch government and support from the Queen of the Netherlands, among many others. It has resulted in hundreds of inspiring projects around the world. It has been formally endorsed by thousands of organizations, ranging from heads of state and major international agencies, to small groups of catholic nuns. But it is still not terribly well known, even in professional sustainability circles.
Last year, my firm was asked to perform a strategic review of the Earth
Charter Initiative, and to make recommendations for the next five years. We
did not know much about the Charter when we started ... and to make a long
story very short, at the end of that process, I was invited to change hats,
from consultant to CEO. This was both a surprise and a "challenging honor"
... and I surprised myself by accepting. During the review process, I had
changed from an Earth Charter skeptic to a fan, based on both the people and
work we found happening around the world, and nudged a bit by watching what
had happened in New Orleans. All the governance processes affecting that
region clearly lacked a deeply held ethic of sustainability; and things
would have at least gone better for the region had a stronger commitment to
sustainability been in place earlier.
I am hoping that by increasing the visibility of, and global commitment to,
the Earth Charter, decisions will be made that will help the world avoid
some of the worst and create more of the best, in terms of possible outcomes
from current global trends. More Earth Charter will help create more
While the Earth Charter work was certainly a high point last year
(culminating in a conference in Amsterdam in November, where the Queen was
actually pulled to her feet to dance at the closing concert of African
music), I had many rewarding professional experiences supporting the
sustainable development work of people in Australia, Asia, Europe and the US
-- and found out about lots of reasons for hope. Just a few illustrative
high points ...
- We helped the Latvian Government with its national planning process, based
on sustainability principles, and I was pleased as punch to watch the
outcome of a workshop we ran go straight into the legislation process there.
- I trained 125 people in SE Asia in the use of my firm's sustainability
planning and training methods, and my colleagues trained many more. Our
tools are spreading, especially in Asia and Australia. I am increasingly
amazed and inspired by what I see happening around sustainability in Asia.
- We supported the government of Victoria, Australia, in the implementation
planning for its new sustainability strategy; and I learned that the city of
Adelaide had implemented the strategies that had emerged from one of our
workshops there, including an elegant program that involved taking the money
that had been going into parking lots for government, and spending it on
subsidized bikes instead, causing an increase in bike commuting from 2% to
For 2006, in addition to working hard on behalf of the Earth Charter (you
can follow our progress via a new set of blogs) and supporting the network
of people using my firm's "Accelerator" packet of sustainability tools, I'm
planning to sing a lot more. Yup, sing. And play the guitar too. I've
finally released a new CD, after nearly a decade ... a set of 12 songs based
on the early poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke. The songs are also part of a
play, focused on Rilke's letters and life. When I'm on the road, I'll be
doing evening concerts or small performances wherever and whenever possible,
and giving the ticket money to sustainability and relief projects around the
Worldchanging continues to be an important channel and community for me, I'm
proud to be part of this great adventure in on-line activist-journalism, and
I look forward to a big upturn in the "sustainable growth of sustainability"
in 2006 ...
Happy New Year, Alan!
I've been a WorldChanging lurker for quite some time now, and a fan of yours ever since I read Believing Cassandra and later participated in your workshop at the 2000 MN Sustainable Communities Network conference. Now seems like a good time to come out of the woodwork and introduce myself, not only to say "congratulations," but also to note an intriguing harmonic convergence.
In my professional life, I have worked with diverse (and sometimes adversarial) nonprofit, business, and government stakeholders to build innovative partnerships to develop solutions to Minnesotas environmental problems. I have a technical background, but collaboration is my specialty (which is why I adore your work). At this time, I choose to be an at-home parent, but I have recently been invited to help out with an exciting new project that combines my three biggest passions
EarthFusion is empowering youth for social change by celebrating a peaceful, sustainable and just Earth through music and the arts. The vision for 2006 is to create the biggest music festival in the Midwest (hip/hop, jam-band, folk/rock, etc.) and lace it with sustainability and social justice workshops, an "ideal career" fair, an abundance of art and movement activities, and organic and natural refreshments.
One of our objectives is to promote and gain support for EarthCharter. We plan to recruit and train EarthFusion Youth Ambassadors who will start projects as socially/environmentally-aware entrepreneurs in their communities, and some participants may choose to work through the Earth Charter Youth Initiative. The festival and resulting youth network will provide an opportunity for tomorrow's movers and shakers to get a jump-start on activating their vision for a brighter future.
Our website is just getting off the ground, so I invite you to visit us at EarthFusion.org.
Congratulations on the new position!
P.S. I'm glad to hear you're singing again, and particularly excited about your new CD's content since I was just introduced (and fell in love with) Rilke only a few weeks ago. Where is the CD available? Will you be growing your hair back out too? ;-)