It’s time for New England’s longest river to come clean.
The dry summer and low water levels exposed thousands of plastic bottles, cans, and food containers along the 407-mile long Connecticut River. However, after annual "Source to Sea Cleanup" sponsored by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC), the waters will be running a little cleaner.
On Sept. 29 thousands of volunteers are expected to fan out across the 11,000-square-miles of the Connecticut River watershed.
This year the cleanup has an international flavor. TransCanada Corporation, based in Calgary, Alberta, but operating hydropower plants throughout New England, is a lead sponsor. It’s also the first year Source to Sea will be registered under the umbrella of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), considered the largest one-day volunteer effort to haul trash from streams, rivers, and oceans.
This kind of involvement is important because it “gives the cleanup context,” says Andrew Fisk, executive director of the CRWC, a nonprofit organization based in Greenfield, Mass.
Volunteers work individually or in groups. Clubs and businesses form groups too. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to join the effort, on foot or by boat. They will clean the river itself or one of its historic tributaries, Mr. Fisk says.
If people don't want to scoop up Styrofoam themselves, they may donate supplies or sponsor a group, Fisk says.
“We have Brownie troops and volunteer firefighters. We have large groups and small groups, each of them responsible for 200 to 300 yards of river. Smaller groups cover even less ground. So registering with ICC helps people understand they are part of something bigger,” Fisk says.
TransCanada donated $10,000 to the cleanup effort because it operates several hydropower projects throughout the northeast. The Connecticut, New England’s largest and longest river, starts flowing from Fourth Connecticut Lake in New Hampshire, just 300 yards from the Canadian border. It eventually defines the border between Vermont and New Hampshire, crosses central Massachusetts, and pours into the sea on the Connecticut coast.
“We stepped up our sponsorship this year because we feel the health of the Connecticut River is very important,” says Matthew Cole, community relations specialist for TransCanada Hydro Northeast.
The watershed council wants volunteers to track the trash they find.
“We use this information to advocate for policy,” Fisk says. “If you are making product stewardship laws, whether it's bottle bills or deposits on tires, [the information] helps inform policy decisions. We can see whether we should be doing something different.”
For example, the CRWC will use the data gleaned from the cleanup to help support an expanded bottle-deposit bill in Massachusetts, Fisk says.
In the past 15 years people have pulled more than 707 tons of trash from New England’s longest river, according to CRWC. Volunteers picked up 7,000 beverage containers in 2011, down from 12,000 in 2010, says CRWC cleanup coordinator Jacqueline Talbot.
“There are similar cleanups all over the world because, unfortunately, there is trash everywhere,” Ms. Talbot says. “Inland debris pollution of rivers is a huge community problem, and we appreciate all cleanup efforts that bring attention to this issue as well as helping hands to our natural resources. Our effort, like all local efforts, is important because we are cleaning up our waters that contribute so much to our communities. “
In addition, the CRWC is asking residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut to report trash sites. In 2010 a tip led cleanup crews to a massive illegal tire dump in Hadley, Mass.
Even without tips CRWC knows where to go.
“The way river hydrology works, there are places where stuff always collects,” Fisk says.
Last year tropical storm Irene toppled numerous trees throughout Vermont and Massachusetts. Water flow remains partially blocked in places along the river and its watershed, creating conditions for large deposits of debris.
Some of TransCanada’s hydro division storage reservoirs are still recovering from Irene. Last year workers filled 11 20-yard dumpsters with man-made debris, including insulation and plastic water bottles, Mr. Cole says.
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Working at a business incubator in San Francisco, I see incredible social innovations springing up from nonprofits, start-ups, and small businesses everyday. But the truth is, the big guys down the road in Silicon Valley are setting a fierce pace by sharing their core technology for social good.
Here’s what they’re doing to lead the field and how your social enterprise can benefit.
For decades, corporate leaders have been dabbling in philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, with mixed results. We all know that once Corporation X earns Y amount of money, they ought to launch a foundation and start giving back. Right?
Well, luckily, we now have a strong wave of corporate intrapreneurs that understand the business case for sustainability. Instead of making money from polluting and then giving a few dollars to re-plant trees, corporate leaders are paying attention to planet, people, and profit within their business. However, finding the right recycled paper, solar-powered servers, fair trade makers, and so on, can be daunting!
Certainly companies with a well-rounded corporate social responsibility plan are to be applauded and encouraged. But all of corporate America can take a lesson from high tech leaders such as LinkedIn, eBay, Salesforce.com, and Facebook and start by maximizing their core product (and strength!) to make a positive impact.
Sharing Powerful Tools
LinkedIn is leveraging its professional networking platform to connect professionals (all 160 million of them) with nonprofits and social causes. Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact for LinkedIn, and her team are working with the companies’ developers and designers to make small platform modifications that have a big impact.
By allowing and encouraging users to list their favorite causes, nonprofits, and pro bono experience, it will be easier for nonprofit leaders to find quality support and easier for corporate hiring managers to find the best employees. Meg’s team has also developed a resource center with free tips and tricks for nonprofits and social enterprises.
- Add your volunteer experience and favorite causes
- Check out LinkedIn’s Learning Center for Nonprofits
eBay, the world’s largest online marketplace, boasts more than 100 million active users and $68.6 billion in goods sold in 2011. In addition to running a cutting-edge foundation and engaging top-notch employees committed to green economic development and social entrepreneurship, the company is also empowering a social innovation team to utilize their marketplace as a sales platform for green, socially-responsible, and cause-driven products.
eBay’s Sustainable Commerce and Green Teams united with Patagonia to launch the Common Threads Initiative to resell used gear and keep it out of landfills. The eBay Giving Works provides an easy way for sellers to donate 10-100% of product sales to a charity of their choice. Since their launch in 2003, consumers have responded and Giving Works has sent over $250 million to US nonprofits.
- Sell a product and donate to a cause on eBay using Giving Works
- Buy reused, green, and socially-responsible goods
Salesforce.com, a cloud computing company with a flagship Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product used by over 100,000 customers, has pioneered the 1/1/1 philanthropy model. The aim is to “donate 1% of salesforce.com’s resources to support organizations that are working to make our world a better place.” They work to share the company’s best resources: employee time, product, and equity.
How does this break down?
First of all, employees are offered six paid days a year to volunteer for causes they care about. Secondly, founding equity is given out in the form of grants to youth, technology, and employee-inspired projects. And lastly, the Salesforce CRM, the company’s core product, is donated and/or discounted for nonprofits and mission-driven companies.
Salesforce developed a special nonprofit software package and offers 10 free Enterprise Edition licenses to qualified charitable organizations. Sound like a freemium version? Well, yes. But can you blame them? With over 15,000 nonprofit customers, the company has a tremendous reputation and social organizations, large and small, are flocking to use their software for contact, fundraising, and relationship management. Salesforce.com offers sliding scale pricing for small businesses and a discount to for-profit B Corporations with a strong social and environmental commitment.
Facebook proved its worth in the social sector from the very beginning. The site has been used to share updates, photos, and information during crises such as Joplin, Mo.’s recent tornado. It offers a free, easy way to organize, engage, recruit, and educate fans and followers.
Some may argue Facebook got lucky with this good press and usership. But their platform is social by nature, and good things happen when we’re allowed to connect to each other. Facebook has attracted use from 89% of all nonprofits (2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report).
Libby Leffler, Facebook’s Strategic Partner Manager noted in a recent Forbes interview, “the goal for our team is simple: provide causes and nonprofit organizations with the tools that they need to best utilize our open platform to engage with supporters and inspire advocacy.”
Facebook’s recent effort to register new organ donors in partnership with Donate Life America was a remarkable win and underlines the company’s ability to make a huge social contribution. They tweaked their platform, started spreading the word on the Facebook Timeline, and will be saving lives for a long time to come.
Moving the Dial
Whether you believe these companies are making change for positive brand management, customer engagement, new market access, or because there’s an army of activists within their ranks – these corporate leaders are making a tremendous impact and redefining corporate philanthropy.
At the same time, many corporate social innovation, social responsibility, and green teams are still understaffed and under-resourced. Each year they need to make a strong business case in order to maintain, if not increase, their internal resources.
These innovators depend on public support and customer feedback, so I encourage you to share their good work as they share theirs.
(Editor's note: Although this piece was written independently, we want to disclose that Salesforce.com donates financial support as well as CRM licenses to CommonSource, the publisher of Shareable Magazine.)
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For those looking to make a social impact with their investments, life just got a little easier. Stock exchanges serving only socially oriented companies will soon open in Singapore and London, with others to follow.
The first social investment "exchange" was born in Brazil in 2003. The Bolsa de Valorous Socioambientais (BVSA), or social and environmental investment exchange, operates more like an online crowdfunding platform, such as Kickstarter or Donors Choose, than an actual investment opportunity. BVSA screens projects, whose solutions must be aligned with UN Millennium Development Goals, for quality. Donors can choose what to "invest" in, but the return is social, not financial. According to the Daily Beast, one of the first projects to be listed and funded – an informal small-claims court for favela residents – later became public policy in 14 Brazilian states, showing that up-front funding can spark further investment in long-term projects.
Shortly after Brazil's experiment in targeted philanthropy began, South Africa launched its own social investment exchange operating along similar lines but calling donations "shares," and adding a project risk and organization rating scheme to its offerings.
While these social investment exchanges are useful as intermediaries between well-meaning donors and charities, and have undoubtedly focused attention and funding to worthwhile projects, neither offer an investor any direct financial returns.
The Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) of Asia pushed the markets a significant step forward through its private platform for investment in social enterprises, launched in 2011. The IIX's "Impact Partners" team is like an investment dating service for do-gooders: they vet social enterprises seeking investment capital and match them with investors seeking a social and financial return. IIX plans to launch its public platform in 2012. "Impact Capital" will run more like a traditional stock exchange, allowing investors "to purchase and trade shares issued by for-profit social enterprises and bonds issued by either for-profit or not-for-profit social enterprises." Despite the direct financial returns, the company is still careful not to call itself a "stock exchange" or "securities exchange."
A partnership between the stock exchange of Mauritius and Nexii, a social business and advisory firm focused on impact investments, produced the Impact Exchange Board (iX) in 2011, the first fully regulated social stock exchange. The board allows social businesses to publicly list debt or equity securities, and claims to provide "all the benefits, efficiencies and opportunities that large listed companies enjoy" because of the partnership with a globally recognized stock exchange.
Nexii's achievement has yet to be replicated elsewhere. However, the London Social Stock Exchange (SSE) hopes to accomplish the feat by the first quarter in 2013. The initial focus will be on enterprises with market capitalization of less than $15 million and broker-led initial public offerings.
"We’re not talking about big companies with a good CSR record, but smaller ones that specialize in providing goods and services explicitly for a social purpose," Pradeep Jethi, SSE co-founder and chief executive, told the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the feasibility study in England that led to the exchange's creation. "That could be anything from a company working in the health care or education field, to green technology businesses, fair trade enterprises, and any of the ethical consumer companies out there. But this is not for start-ups – it’s for the more mature companies that need to raise significant amounts of money for growth and expansion."
A question these new exchanges have been asked is why social businesses wouldn't simply list on traditional stock exchanges. Aggregating mission-oriented businesses on a separate exchange, but one which uses the same functionality and transparent vetting process as traditional exchanges, drives down transactions costs for all, including corporate brokers, market-makers, and social impact investors. It becomes a one-stop-shop for those interested in double- and triple-bottom lines.
In their 2011 book, "Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making A Difference," Jed Emerson and Antony Bugg-Levine (former Rockefeller Foundation managing director) comment on the role of impact investing in solving major social problems:
"The 'bifurcated’ world is built on two fundamental beliefs: that the only purpose of investing is to make money and that the only way to solve social and environmental challenges is to donate money to charities [through philanthropy] or wait for government to act.
"Impact investing’s sweet spot is exactly where the limits of traditional philanthropy and governmental programs begin. Especially now, government and traditional philanthropy lack the resources to solve social challenges alone. Impact investing is not a replacement for government action or philanthropy, which will always be necessary to provide true public goods and push the frontiers of social justice. But impact investing can be a powerful complement to government and philanthropy."
Impact investment still suffers from the problems faced by an adolescent industry: a lack of consistent data and regulation, the need for mission-oriented businesses to gain greater visibility, and a scarcity of mature enterprises to absorb available capital from interested impact investors, all of which lead to low investor confidence. Through their vetting processes and borrowed standardization techniques from traditional exchanges, social impact exchanges fill in some of these gaps.
In 2013, stock tickers will start following the ups and downs of companies out to make a positive impact on their communities, countries, and the world. Now would be a very good time for the return of a bull market.
The Global Impact Investing Network
The Global Impact Investing Rating System
Social Capital Markets: At the intersection of money and meaning 2012 Conference, October 1-4, San Francisco
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First introduced to the area in 2008, pitcher irrigation – in which buried clay pots release water into the soil – has expanded to 14 villages. It has provided a fresh source of income for more than 200 families who previously thought it impossible to farm vegetables on these dry lands.
“It is amazing to cultivate vegetables with less water and labor,” says Soomar, who has installed 20 pitchers on the land outside his hut in Rano Junejo village, near Chotiari freshwater reservoir.
Farmers have been unable to take advantage of the reservoir as there is no canal network to distribute water for irrigation. And even if there were, it would likely prove ineffective, as the water would simply be soaked up by the sand before reaching its destination.
“All we did was plant pitchers [in the soil] and sow different vegetable seeds, and it feels as if the vegetables are growing on their own,” adds the exultant 34-year-old.
Ibrahim Mangrio of Padhrio village grows a range of vegetables, including cucumbers, okra, and eggplant. Some go to feed his family and the rest are sold at the local market in Sanghar, a bustling town some 260 km (162 miles) northeast of Karachi.
The 45-year-old’s main source of income is cattle farming, but diversifying into vegetables has generated extra money and better economic conditions for his household.
Around 400 families in Padhrio and other villages scattered nearby rear livestock for a living. But their pastures turn into dry lands and rain-filled ponds evaporate during the scorching summer days from May to July, causing livestock deaths and hiking poverty in the area.
Drinking water also becomes scarce, leading to a rise in water-borne infections and skin diseases.
Poor sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water, coupled with depleting underground water reserves due to insufficient rain, have made life miserable for local people, particularly women and children.
The desert district, bordering India to the east, receives sparse and erratic rainfall, averaging only around 125 mm (5 inches) per year. Heat waves have become longer in the last several years, with the temperature hovering above 49 degrees centigrade (113 F.) from May to July.
In this harsh climate, which could become even more extreme as the planet warms, villagers have had no access to canal water, ruling out crop cultivation in the past. But pitcher irrigation has made agriculture possible, ushering in a new era for local farmers.
Also known as sub-surface micro irrigation, it is an efficient method, delivering water directly to plant roots rather than spreading it more widely across fields. The ancient technique has been used in arid and semi-arid regions of China, India, Iran, Mexico, and Brazil to grow a wide range of plants.
An unglazed, porous clay pot with a wooden or clay lid is sunk up to its neck into the ground next to a seedling. Water poured into the pot seeps out slowly, providing the roots with a steady supply of moisture.
The water oozes out of the pot due to the difference in moisture content between its surface and the surrounding soil, until the two reach equilibrium.
The number of pitchers required per hectare differs with the type of crop. Creeping vegetables like cucumber, okra, eggplant, and bitter gourd need 2,000 to 2,500 pitchers per hectare, whereas upright and canopy crops, such as beans, tomatoes, leeks, and melons, need up to 4,000 to 5,000 pots per hectare.
Saleh Mangrio, executive director of the Pakistan-based Center for Rural Change, has conducted successful experiments with pitcher irrigation at community level in Sindh’s eastern desert under a project funded by the Dutch government and managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan.
The rate of water seepage from a pitcher depends on the type of plant and soil, and climatic conditions, he explains. Once the surrounding soil becomes saturated, water will soak back into the pot, filling it again. “The system is self-regulating and water losses are negligible,” he says.
This method of irrigation is ideal for sandy to loamy soil with good porosity. For small farmers, the system costs around Rs 4,500 (nearly $48) per acre – about 80 percent cheaper than drip and sprinkler irrigation. The yield per acre is around 60 percent higher than with furrow and flood irrigation, which many farmers continue to use, Mangrio says.
The pots are readily available in Pakistan, where they have more traditionally been used to keep drinking water cool in hot months.
Pakistan faces a major challenge in adapting to its fast-depleting water resources. They are coming under increased pressure due to uncertain rainfall, a rising population, outdated and inefficient irrigation techniques, and reliance on water-intensive crop varieties.
The country is now classed as a water-stressed country, with less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita water availability, down from 5,500 cubic meters per capita in the 1950s.
Achieving maximum crop productivity from each drop of water is regarded as essential for the sustainability of the agriculture sector and food security.
But achieving this goal will be difficult unless farmers switch to new methods such as pitcher and drip irrigation, said Altaf Ali Sial, chairman of the Land and Water Management Department at the University of Agriculture in Sindh’s Tando Jam town.
Pakistan’s population is growing at an annual rate of around 2.6 percent, and water use and demand by all economic sectors is increasing.
The Indus River, which provides 80 percent of water for agriculture, is fed mainly by the glacier systems of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges. But global warming is shrinking their snow cover rapidly, which could affect the river’s base-flow.
According to studies by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, run-off into the Indus is predicted to decrease by 27 percent by the year 2050.
Better use of water by farmers could go some way to offsetting that decline in water availability, although low levels of funding for innovative irrigation techniques may well hold back their adoption.
Pitcher irrigation is also being introduced in the western part of southern Baluchistan province, not only to grow vegetables but shrubs to stabilize sand dunes in coastal areas.
“Efficient irrigation water management and its careful use, by promoting water-saving irrigation techniques – such as pitcher, drip and sprinkler irrigations – will help sustain food-production systems in our water-stressed country,” says Pervaiz Amir, an irrigation expert and member of the Pakistani prime minister’s Task Force on Climate Change.
• Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.
The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is a shining example of what can be achieved when countries put their national egos to one side and cooperate to protect their natural assets, says Baldeu Chande, administrator of Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and a former national basketball star.
The tall and lanky Mr. Chande is well known in southern Africa’s Portuguese-speaking nations, not only for his sporting prowess but as a hands-on environmentalist.
“This transfrontier park represents many things, but the key reason was peace with nature and among neighbors,” he tells AlertNet at the Giriyondo border point, where the heads of state of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique signed a treaty establishing the joint park, which crosses national boundaries, in 2002.
In the second half of the 20th century, conservation policies had often had the opposite effect, of creating strife.
Mozambican villagers of the Massingir-Velho area near the Limpopo National Park, for example, often saw their livestock fall prey to big cats and their crops trampled by elephants. And in the 1960s, nature protection schemes displaced local communities, including the Chitsa in Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park and the Makuleke in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
“Managed as separate entities, the parks were a continual source of conflict between communities,” says Chande.
More than 350 km (186 miles) of fence, which marked political boundaries and prevented animal migration, were uprooted, more than 5,000 wild animals were relocated, and a border-control and tourism system set up.
The conservation area, described as southern Africa’s “green lung”, is 35,000 sq km (13,500 square miles) – roughly the size of the Netherlands – and encompasses the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.
There are plans to expand it in the next decade to cover 100,000 sq km (38,600 square miles), which would make it the world’s largest wildlife conservation area.
The first major change observed after the fences were removed was the migration of 1,000 elephants, with the animals reclaiming historic trails.
Conflicts over natural resources have also been alleviated since the park came into being, including latent tensions over water, experts say.
The 1,750 km (1,087 mile) long Limpopo River runs through four countries, forms long sections of South Africa’s northern boundaries with Botswana and Zimbabwe and flows into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. The river basin, which drains an area of around 415,000 sq km, is prone to water scarcity and drought, particularly along its northern bank.
The Limpopo is “a lifeline for the people who live alongside it”, according to Horst Vogel, an official with the German state development agency GIZ ,who works on trans-boundary water management in the region.
“Its water is common property but unequally distributed, and as such harbors potential for conflict,” he says. But the cross-border park is helping to keep reduce that risk, he says.
“A high degree of transparency in the work being done is helping to strengthen the trust of all players in the trans-boundary cooperation, and [helping them] to approach challenges such as water scarcity and the effects of climate change collectively, in this way avoiding conflicts in the long term and promoting peace,” Vogel explains.
On the banks of the Oliphants River, near the Letaba River campsite in South Africa’s Kruger park, Chande’s conservation comrade, Lamson Maluleke, a representative of the Tsonga-speaking Makuleke people, tells how members of his community were forcefully evicted from the northern Pafuri section of Kruger National Park in 1969.
They found it difficult to cope in their new home in Ntlaveni, where the climate was drier and conditions were cramped, leading to malnutrition, social problems and deadly ethnic clashes with the Venda community.
The Oliphants River, which meanders through the transfrontier park and is part of the Greater Limpopo River Basin, holds divine significance for his people, says Maluleke.
“We identify ourselves with rivers. Our livelihoods and survival are dependent on water, and that is why we live near rivers and practice agriculture and fishing at the same time,” he explains. “When we were denied access to land and the river, we suffered.”
In 1996, however, the Makulekes’ fortunes changed, and they won back their land when South Africa’s land restitution laws were implemented.
The legislation awarded the Makuleke people some 24,000 hectares of land endowed with rich wildlife resources. A further 5,000 hectares outside the park is also under the community’s watch.
For their part, the Makuleke community gave a binding guarantee that they would stick to eco-friendly tourism ventures and conservation best-practice. Under the 50-year deal, they were granted rights to enter into public-private partnerships with conservation businesses, but they cannot use the land for farming or residential purposes.
The Makuleke have collaborated with blue-chip tourism entities such as Wilderness Safaris, which runs a 36-bed luxury tourism lodge and is seeking to open another three upmarket lodges soon.
The community receives 10 percent of turnover from the tourist lodges, and there have been additional benefits in the form of jobs, scholarships, and the construction of schools, clinics, and other facilities.
A joint management board of community representatives and South African National Parks members was set up to govern wildlife in the region. And the Makuleke also have a communal property association with an executive committee elected every two years.
“We are the landlords in that area,” Maluleke beams. “We are custodians of the land and all the resources in it on behalf of humanity.”
According to GIZ’s Vogel, the conservation business model used in the transfrontier park encourages local people to view its land, rivers, and wildlife as assets. It aims to promote peaceful co-existence among the park’s communities, who derive their livelihoods from natural resources supported by its ecosystem.
Chande explains how approaches have changed over the decades. “In the 1970s and '80s, we had this conservation philosophy which was more focused on protection than conservation. A new paradigm emerged in the late 1990s, where it was deemed important to engage communities in conservation,” he says.
“This one has stuck to this day, as it embodies communities at peace with nature and at the same time they see the value of the national parks and rivers.”
Name: Sasha Kramer
Affiliation: Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)
Location: Cap-Haitien, Haiti
Bio: Kramer is the co-founder and executive director of SOIL, a nonprofit organization in Haiti dedicated to protecting soil resources by providing ecological sanitation services and turning human waste into nutrient-rich compost.
How did you found SOIL? Was your organization founded as a response to the 2010 earthquake?
I’ve been in Haiti since 2004 when I was finishing my doctoral research. With my work focusing on ecology and human rights, I came to realize that the most prevalent human rights abuse is the inaccessibility to basic services that we take for granted. I had a previous interest in toilets from a nutrient-cycle perspective so in 2006 we founded SOIL and our EcoSan initiative in Cap-Haitien. After the 2010 earthquake we expanded to Port-au-Prince.
What are some ways SOIL’s efforts have benefited local agriculture?
Right now we’re in the beginning phases of distributing our compost to local farmers and thus far have used it in some small-scale gardens and in our very own experimental garden. Our blog highlights some of the crops we’ve harvested using our compost, like cabbage and corn. We want to show the community how to use it and how beneficial it can be before we market it on the larger scale.
We’re excited about potentially partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture and other organizations to make connections with Haitian farmers and distribute our compost. The average nitrogen use of Haitian soil is about 1 kilogram per hectare compared to 200 kilograms per hectare in the United States so we realize that small changes in the availability of nutrients in soil can have a profound impact on agriculture.
How has the community response been to your EcoSan initiative?
Most of the world is eco-phobic and particularly afraid of human waste because of its potential for disease, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the community has responded. In rural areas people have a sense of the transformative power of nature but in the urban areas where we have installed our toilets it has taken a little more convincing. Our staff has worked very hard to demonstrate the power of compost to the community – once people have seen the final product they understand how truly transformative it is.
How has SOIL implemented education initiatives to sustain compost production?
We are working with the community in Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince to teach individuals how to install the toilets, produce the compost, and use it effectively. We realize that we are a small organization but we would like to have an impact that goes beyond our size. We are working with outreach organizations in other parts of the country and also have several online resources on our website.
What is SOIL’s relationship with the Haitian government? Have you received any support or met any resistance?
We have primarily worked with the Haitian Sanitation Authority, recently founded in 2011. We’ve been lucky to have a good relationship with them from the start and appreciate their support and constructive criticism; they want to see us succeed but also want to make sure we have a strong plan. We agree with their approach and want to make sure we are doing things that are helpful to the community and the environment. We will not try to take on the whole country at once.
What’s next for SOIL?
We hope that five years from now we will no longer be implementing EcoSan initiatives, but will be working primarily as a consulting organization. We are currently developing a household ecological toilet that could be rented for a small monthly fee ($1 to $1.50 per month), which would cover the cost of installation, waste collection, and compost production, which could then be used as a secondary revenue stream. We would demonstrate the household toilet on a small scale and hopefully train private entrepreneurs in the waste-treatment business.
• Olivia Arnow is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. To purchase "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" please click HERE.
In Puget Sound, one of America’s great estuaries, killer whales, seals, and schools of salmon swim not far from more than 3 million people who live in the Seattle region. The presence of such impressive marine life, however, belies the fact that the sound is seriously polluted.
When it rains, storm water washes into the same system of underground pipes that carries the region’s sewage, and 1 billion gallons a year overflow into the sound when area sewer systems contain more water than can be treated. In addition, motor oil, lawn chemicals, PCBs, heavy metals, pet waste, and many other substances run unabated into the sound, both through the storm water pipes and from roads and other shoreline structures. “The biggest threat to Puget Sound is non-point sources [of pollution],” says Nancy Ahern, Seattle Public Utilities deputy director.
Blowhole samples taken from killer whales have revealed fungi, viruses, and bacteria living in their respiratory tracts, some of them antibiotic-resistant and once found only on land. Health officials often have to shut down oyster beds because of fecal contamination. Salmon in streams are killed by torrents of dirty storm water.
To lessen this deluge of diffuse pollution — a problem faced by many regions worldwide — Seattle is looking not at new and expensive sewage treatment infrastructure. Instead it is embracing an innovative solution to storm water runoff called green infrastructure, which experts increasingly say is not only the most cost-effective way to deal with such a large-scale problem, but also offers a range of other benefits. A growing number of places, from New York City to Sweden, are investing in everything from rooftop gardens to pollution-filtering assemblages of trees to reduce tainted runoff.
Gray infrastructure is the system of pipes and ditches that channel storm water. Green infrastructure is the harnessing of the natural processes of trees and other vegetation — so-called ecosystem services — to carry out the functions of the built systems. Green infrastructure often intercepts the water before it can run into streets and become polluted and stores the water for gradual release through percolation or evapotranspiration. Trees also clean dirty water through natural filtering functions.
Advocates say green infrastructure isn’t just about being green — it makes financial sense, as well. Its cost-effectiveness depends on how benefits are assigned and valued, and over how long a time scale, but green has been shown to be cheaper than gray.
A 2012 study by American Rivers, ECONorthwest, and other groups examined 479 projects around the country. About a quarter of the projects were more expensive, they concluded, and 31 percent cost the same; more than 44 percent brought the costs down, in some cases substantially. New York City, for example, expects to save $1.5 billion over the next 20 years by using green infrastructure.
The concept of green infrastructure is hardly new. New York City has long preserved watersheds in the Catskills Mountains and Hudson Valley for the city’s drinking water supplies. Since the 1990s, in order to comply with federal regulations, New York City has committed $1.5 billion dollars for protection of the forests that blanket much of the Catskills rather than build and operate a water filtration and purification plant costing $10 billion.
“We’re at a tipping point,” says Katherine Baer of American Rivers, which is working with communities to implement green infrastructure. “We’re going to see a lot more of these practices that protect, restore, or replicate natural functions, as cities grapple not only with water quality, but with livability and climate adaptation.”
Seattle is one of the early adopters of this new approach, which can begin with preserving existing wetlands critical to cleaning water and storing runoff. Seattle also asks residents, for example, to install “rain gardens” — native plants in special soil mixes designed to hold water and allow it to percolate into the ground. “They are a lot like sponges to keep water from flowing onto streets and sidewalks” with silt and pollutants, says Baer. Seattle homeowners are eligible for reimbursement for their rain garden costs, which average $3,000 to $4,000. Seattleites also are being urged to disconnect their downspouts from storm drains and to re-direct the water from their roofs for gardens or lawns, or to store it in cisterns or rain barrels.
The Puget Sound city of Coupeville, Wash., is experimenting with the use of trees and other plants to clean water — known as phyto-remediation — to scrub runoff from a large parking lot and housing development. The water flows first through a bio-swale, which is essentially a drainage ditch with gently sloping sides and rip rap and vegetation that catches silt and sediment. The water flows to a depression, 250 feet by 35 feet, planted densely with poplar and willow trees designed to capture and hold thousands of gallons of runoff a day.
“Every drop of water passes within an inch of the roots and the root zone reactor cleans it,” said Lou Licht, president of Ecolotree, the company that installed the system. Thanks to a dense community of microbes that live around their roots — the so-called root zone reactor — trees neutralize the nastiest waste coming off streets, including ammonia, nitrates, and the copper from brake linings. Once the roots work their magic, the water is released for irrigation.
Copper, it turns out, is a big problem in the Puget Sound region. As people brake their cars, fine copper dust is emitted and washes into streams. In some streams, 90 percent of coho salmon returning to spawn have been wiped out, in part because of high copper levels from brakes and other sources; the copper can harm a salmon’s sense of smell, interfering with its ability to navigate back to natal streams or detect predators. But, says Licht, copper is an essential nutrient for trees, whose roots and hummus can absorb large quantities of the element.
The largest green roof in the world is the 10.4-acre Ford Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan, a living rooftop prairie with seven species of grass and flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Ford officials say the roof, part of a 600-acre green storm water treatment system at the facility, cost $15 million and eliminated the need for a $50 million water treatment facility. The roof also reduces heat and cooling needs by 5 percent.
Another green infrastructure tool is permeable pavement, which is made of materials that allow water to soak through into the ground instead of running off. In Chicago the city is modifying its urban alleys with permeable pavement and with “cool” pavement that reduces temperatures. One limitation is that permeable pavement can’t be used for regular streets because plowing and sanding damage it.
While green infrastructure is most often thought of as a way to deal with storm water runoff, many urban managers and environmentalists take a more expansive view. “People are recognizing the multiple benefits,” says Baer. “Trees and forests and greening reduce the temperatures in the urban heat island. The other is an improvement in air quality – greenery absorbs pollutants.”
Edmonston, Md., is a good example of the multiple benefits of green infrastructure. The city uses rain gardens along Decatur Street, its main thoroughfare, to keep 62 percent of the runoff from the Anacostia River and permeable pavement to divert another 28 percent — an example of what is known as “living streets.”
“We also wanted to improve the streetscape, provide local jobs, and reduce traffic flow,” said Neil Weinstein, executive director of the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville, Md. “Green infrastructure is really about livable cities.”
Stuttgart, Germany, realizing that the city’s heat island effect was contributing to badly polluted air in summer, analyzed weather patterns and enacted a plan to restore “wind paths” to encourage breezes from the surrounding hills to naturally clean and air condition the city. That means prohibiting new buildings that block these streams of fresh air, protecting existing green space, and creating open areas.
In New York City, Tyler Caruso and Eric Facteau head up a project called Seeing Green, which studies the impacts that the rapidly growing phenomenon of urban farming can have beyond producing food, especially its water management role. Instead of washing off rooftops, water is used to grow crops. A rooftop farm holds as much as 70 percent of a one-inch rain storm, said Caruso, and slowly releases it through evapo-transpiration, which compares favorably to traditional green roofs.
The natural filtering ability of trees and plants has led to some innovative uses. In the prosperous farming town of Enkoping in central Sweden, sewage sludge used to flow through a sewage treatment plant. But in recent years the city has turned to phyto-remediation. Sewage containing high levels of nitrogen is pumped onto about 190 acres of coppiced willows, which filter out pollutants. Then the willows are harvested, chipped into small pieces, and used as a biofuel to generate electricity.
While large cities such as Seattle, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia have adopted rain gardens, green roofs, and other aspects of green infrastructure, it’s still a young field, and much about the approach is untested and evolving. “This is really technology on the move,” says Weinstein. “Five years ago there weren’t any green roofs. Now they are all over the place.”
That means that, in some cases, it’s not known how well these technologies will work over time. And one of the biggest hurdles to more widespread implementation is from regulatory agencies, which have a hard time reconciling the new approach with existing regulations.
“It takes years to change codes and allow new technologies,” Weinstein said.
In spite of the hurdles, experts say, green infrastructure is likely to take off, not only in the United States but across the world. “It pretty much has to,” Weinstein says. In the US, “more than a thousand communities have [sewage overflow] problems. We have tons of urban areas, and the infrastructure is at the end of its lifecycle.” And because of the cost, he said, “You can’t do it conventionally. We need new tools.”
• Jim Robbins is a veteran journalist based in Helena, Montana. He has written for the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and numerous other publications. His latest book, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, will be published in April. In earlier articles for Yale Environment 360, he explored a great forest die-off occurring in western North America and reported on efforts to kill the Keystone XL pipeline.
Yes, says Benson Honig, a professor in the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “There’s a demographic time bomb in the aging Western world,” Honig says. “Where are the young people? Africa.”
Africans already have the right business instincts. “Africa is a continent of entrepreneurs,” he says. “You have no choice. If you need a part, you can’t order it from somewhere else. It might take six months or a year to come. So you make it yourself.”
Honig’s remarks came at “Unleashing Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies,” a conference hosted last week at the Hult International Business School in Boston.
He believes such ingenuity can be tapped and shared across the world. “Micro-credit, cell phone banking. These are African innovations that are just starting to make an impact in Canada and the US.”
Honig is part of a movement in the business school world, a movement that sees local, on-the-ground entrepreneurship as the most effective way to help kick-start the economies of developing nations.
He was joined at the Hult conference by professors from business schools in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Pakistan, Nigeria, and more. “We’re all optimists,” says Joanne Lawrence, who teaches corporate responsibility and social innovation at Hult. “We all see Africa rising.”
One reason why Africa is moving up: access to capital.
“Innovation requires capital, but historically people from outside the US have had limited access to funding,” says Mike Grandinetti, managing director at Southboro Capital and entrepreneurship professor at Hult. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, “the venture industry has turned on its head. We now have an extraordinary opportunity for new ventures around the world.”
“It’s an open question,” acknowledges David Wheeler, Dean of the Plymouth University Business School in England, “whether what happens in a Western business school has any effect on what happens in South Sudan or Kenya or Tanzania.”
“You can’t just try to replicate what’s happening in one region,” agrees Grandinetti. “There’s so much localization required. Every region needs to be clear on what its strengths are.”
Henrietta Onwuegbuzie is on the faculty at the Lagos Business School in Nigeria. She says entrepreneurship is “intrinsic to African culture.” But she’s also worried about the cultural gap between the West and her home. Because of her Western education, she says, “I have begun to feel like a foreigner in my own country.” She stresses the importance of cooperating with African entrepreneurs and learning from them, rather than just mouthing Western management buzzwords.
“Some solutions are African,” argues Honig. “Some are ours. Some African solutions may even work here . . . we can’t say any longer: We’re doing it here, so you should be doing it there.”
One way business may differ for entrepreneurs in the developing economies of Africa: an expectation that they behave with social responsibility.
“The old Western model of divide and conquer and exploit is not acceptable anymore,” Honig says. “We have a responsibility in the globalized world. We’re no longer capable of saying, ‘We don’t care what happens over there.’ ”
Grandinetti points to the work of Jessica Matthews, an entrepreneur and Harvard graduate who has guest lectured to his students at Hult. Matthews, a Nigerian-American, helped found a start-up called Uncharted Play, which has developed the Soccket, a soccer ball that’s also a portable generator.
Grandinetti says that’s just one example of how young entrepreneurs can change lives in resource-poor communities around the world.
“We’re starting to see every corner of the earth embrace entrepreneurship,” he says. “Not just for profit, but for social good.”
Since July 2010, the cooperative’s six organizers (two men and four women) have planted two rooftop gardens at the heart of the metropolis and, through outreach and educational activities, have transferred urban gardening skills to more than 100 people from local communities.
“When people come to the city to look for a job they struggle because all that they are used to [in the countryside] is planting vegetables. The city does not have any land, so we show them how to grow on the roof,” said Tshediso Phahlane, deputy chair of the cooperative. Everything is planted using sustainable, organic methods, and the gardens produce a wide variety of vegetables and greens, including cabbage, spinach, carrots, mustard leaf, and CM Kale (African spinach).
The produce is sold to the rooftop gardens’ local patrons and additional income is secured from the preparation and sale of traditional medicines such as cough syrups, massage ointments, and herbal creams.
At the heart of the cooperative’s skills-transfer program is the organization’s desire to educate people about climate change and empower them to take practical action.
“Not everyone knows about climate change, and it is our responsibility to do something about that. Farmers can see it happening all around them; it is uncharacteristically hot right now, and they are worried about losing their seeds and harvests if October – the planting month – is too cold. So people are very open to listening to ideas and doing something about the problem,” said Phahlane.
The cooperative does much of its teaching in the communities’ own languages, including South Sotho Zulu, Tswana, and Setsign, at the Greenhouse Project, based in Joubert Park, Johannesburg. They teach organic planting methods, how to cook without electricity and prepare traditional medicines, and impart information about the causes and effects of climate change. Phahlane and his team are hoping for a trickle-down effect as they encourage their students to go out into their communities and start similar endeavors.
The project started in 2010 when it secured funding from the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) to create the first garden on a building rooftop donated by the city’s Affordable Housing Company. Now the group is actively looking for future funders and collaborators.
“We are building exchanges with similar projects and greening initiatives in other countries, like with Slow Food International’s Terra Madre network and are particularly interested in working with other youth. We want to know how we can work together to make sure we are growing healthy food that is also helping to deal with climate change” commented Phahlane. “We also need funding as we have a lot of work to do. To train more people to go to the rooftops, we need to expand and buy growing supplies, containers for our medical preparations, and enamel pots for our cooking demonstrations,” he said.
In 1996, Phahlane started a program called Youth Agricultural Ambassadors (YAA) in South Africa’s Gauteng province to re-engage and excite young people about an agricultural way of life.
“Most of the time, farming is seen as being for old people and not for the young. We wanted to change that,” commented Phahlane.
The future of agriculture and making the farming profession more youthful are not the only objectives of the program. “It is very crucial for us to engage youth because a lot of kids are not working, they can’t find other jobs. We need to give them practical skills because they are the future of today and the future of tomorrow,” he said.
YAA has been a great success. It now has more than 300 youth ambassadors who motivate other young people to engage in agriculture and educate communities about climate change. In addition, YAA has provided numerous internships and environmental and agricultural education to more than 1,000 kids in local schools. Phalhane also helped set up the Gata Lenna Youth Agricultural Movement – a similar initiative with around 40 youth ambassadors in the Gauteng and Northwest provinces.
In Johannesburg, the Tlhago Cooperative’s dreams are big. The organization’s founders want to minimize poverty and malnutrition within their community by facilitating subsidiary businesses and initiatives to generate incomes for unemployed people.
The ultimate goal, however, is even bigger. As Doreen Khumalo, one of the coop’s leaders, put it: “We want to make the whole city green!”
• For more information, please contact Tshediso Phahlane directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fresh bluefish: It’s what’s for dinner.
A delicious fish dinner doesn't mean just making a choice between haddock, cod, or some other well-known species.
“We sell fish [that] people didn’t think they’d like, like bluefish,” says Heather Fraelick, a marketing specialist at Cape Ann Fresh Catch in Gloucester, Mass. “People have very strong opinions of bluefish." The key is to cook it while it's still fresh from the ocean.
When it comes to bluefish, and other less popular species, Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC), a community-supported fishery, wants to change people’s minds one catch at a time. That’s why CAFC boasts it offers “local sustainably-caught wicked-fresh seafood.”
The key words here are fresh and sustainable, Ms. Fraelick says.
CAFC is based on same concept as community-supported agriculture, except in this case members purchase a share of a fishing season, rather than a harvest of vegetables. The program benefits local fishermen, the environment, and consumers, who delight in dining on fresh-caught seafood from the Gulf of Maine, Fraelick says.
Because of Gloucester’s proximity to Georges Bank and other rich fishing banks off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland the town remains one of the principle fishing ports in the United Statesas well as one of the oldest. CAFC helps fish populations stay at healthy levels because the nonprofit group promotes consumption of less popular fish species, including hake and whiting.
CAFC benefits from the participation of several nonprofit organizations, including the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, both based in Gloucester. They see CAFC as one more way help preserve the Atlantic Ocean as a food supply.
“The idea is building healthier oceans and working with fishing communities to achieve goals,” says Brett Tolley, a community organizer and policy advocate for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
A community-supported fishery also benefits small-scale fishermen, who have difficulty competing against large-scale industrial fleets, says Mr. Tolley, who comes from a family with four generations of fishermen.
CAFC members purchase shares one season at a time. Distribution points include towns throughout Massachusetts, including West Gloucester, Salem, Ipswich, and Cambridge. CAFC also sells to several restaurants, including Farmstead Table in Newton, Mass., and Turner Fisheries in Boston.
Between 20 and 30 fishermen participate. CAFC averages 30,000 pounds of fish harvested in a season.
Selling underutilized fish species also benefits the local economy. “We’re a buffer for fishermen,” Fraelick says. “The fishermen know they will get a fair price for their fish.”
This matters more than ever to Gloucester fishermen. Whole Foods, which operates a fish-processing plant in Pigeon Cove in Rockport, Mass., on Cape Ann, announced last spring that it will no longer sell trawl-caught Atlantic cod, skate, and gray sole. The supermarket chain said it was following the recommendations of environmental groups such as the Blue Ocean Institute in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif.
But basing seafood purchases exclusively on the type of gear used to catch fish "doesn’t get to the heart of the issue,” Tolley argues. “There is no halo about any [type of] gear". What's needed, he says, is to keep fishing economically viable for the "smaller-scale, ecologically minded fisherman.”
CAFC offers shares of either whole fish, fillets, or a combination of the two. Those who choose a weekly delivery of whole fish receive four to six pounds for $21.50 a week. Or participants can choose two pounds of fillets at $25.50 a week. Some members opt to receiver fillets one week and whole fish the next at $23.50 a week.
In addition, CAFC members can specify the species of fish they receive. Kosher households, for example, won’t receive monkfish or other non-kosher species. People diagnosed with allergies to certain species, such as bluefish or mackerel, can opt out of receiving them.
CAFC is also trying to get the word out that there are more delicious species of fish in the sea that many people think. “I don’t think the seafood industry in New England has done a good job marketing fish [species] that are less popular,” Fraelick says. “It is challenging, but we go to as many events as possible to do outreach.”