Passion and Purpose in the Boardroom
|by Theresa Kennedy
The title of CEO might conjure up the image of a larger-than-life Donald Trump and his patented "You're Fired." But a new breed of executive isn't just trying to build a better portfolio he's working hard to get people, fired up."
Meet Ruben Aronin, Director of Communications for Global Green USA, where he continues to follow his calling to inspire people to envision what the world could be, one eco-improvement at a time. Prior to Global Green, Aronin was the Executive Director of the Earth Communications Office and oversaw the development and dissemination of more than two dozen environmental public service campaigns seen by more than one billion people worldwide. Currently he is responsible for marketing and media relations for Global Green USA, including their annual Red Carpet/Green Cars Oscars campaign to promote smart climate solutions, their efforts to rebuild a Green New Orleans, and their green building initiatives for schools and affordable housing.
Global Green works to foster our connection to the environment in order to create new solutions to the world's most pressing environment challenges, including stemming climate change, eliminating nuclear and chemical weapons and improving access to clean drinking water.
Both Global Green and ECO use the power of communication to improve the global environment. As Aronin describes it, "ECO touches people in a profound way with simple messages that say the natural world is elegant, interconnected, worth protecting, and that you're the person who can make a difference in ensuring we have a world for our kids and future generations." Recent efforts centered on the Californian initiative called eRecycle that you can help support by responsibly disposing of electronic waste: TVs, computers and more.
THIS WAS THE PATH IN LIFE I WAS SUPPOSED TO FOLLOW
Ruben's enthusiasm brims over on this early Saturday morning, and we take that as our cue to jump right into the heart of the matter: how he knew that environmental work was right for him."I can't say that the clouds parted on high one day and I figured out what I needed to do with my life", Aronin replies. "But as I look back, I realized that there was a path that I was following. It probably first started when I was a Scout. I rose to the rank of Eagle Scout and was very active in my troop as a kid: every weekend -- rain, shine, snow -- we went out camping, out in the woods. It taught me a profound connection and love for the natural world around me. It kind of soaked in over time."
INSIGHTS, MENTORS AND A NEW DAUGHTER LIGHT THE WAY
Aronin readily admits he has looked to several inspirational people over the course of his professional career. "Larry Kopald, chairman of ECO's board, has been a real mentor to me in learning how to creatively use mass media to get people emotionally involved in issues," Aronin says. "He's been in advertising for 25 years, so his skill set is to motivate people to do something."
"Ed Begley Jr., who walks the environmental talk and invites people to follow his example, taught me a very important lesson," Aronin continues. "He's very humble in saying he doesn't have all the answers, but he works with and knows a lot of people who do. And I take heart in that, that I don't have to have all the solutions, but I can point people towards those that have them. Bobby Kennedy, Jr. inspires me tremendously, by speaking truth to power more articulately and powerfully than anyone else in this country."
More than anything, what keeps Aronin fired up these days is someone newer to this planet. "Lately, my daughter helps me sustain a lot of my passion," he notes. "All of a sudden, the perspective I have is, 'I now care about the world 20 or 30 years from now, about it being a different place for my kids than for me." Ironically, that's the epiphany I had as a parent: that it's really important that I not overlook the impact I can make today even if I don't see the results today or tomorrow or seven years from now. That's a really important piece."
HIKING: THE ENVIRONMENTALIST'S GOLF GAME
"I do find that I can sustain and rejuvenate my passion by going out into the natural world" Aronin says."I always come away from that feeling recharged. With all the terrible things that are happening to the environment, there are still pristine places that help reinvigorate my spirit."
It's easy to talk with comrades who think like you when you're out on a hike. But what happens when you're back at your desk and you're dealing with forces outside your circle, when you have to persuade or talk to someone who doesn't agree with you? "I just tell them that they're wrong!" Aronin laughs. "Actually, as a bridge builder in my personal and professional life, I always look for points of commonality. And I have to say that one of the areas that you find common ground with everyone on is when you talk about the health and well-being of their kids."
STORYTELLING IS KEY
At (it) magazine, storytelling is an integral part of breaking down barriers and relaying messages. Ruben agrees that the power of celebrity and story is key. "It's the oldest way that humans communicate: through stories. And that's what Hollywood does tremendously well," he says. "Ed Begley Jr. told me: regardless of the cause, if the story isn't compelling, it doesn't matter. Finding a way to connect with people is really about the power of your story."
He continues, "And amazingly, even in 30 or 60-second sound bites, there is an opportunity to tell a small vignette, a small story, that can reach and touch the hearts and minds of people. And so, you are absolutely right. That is the way you are going to make people care."
WHAT IS E-WASTE AND WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Part of Ruben's work with ECO was to build awareness of one of several steps the state of California has taken in protecting environmental health: the eRecycle campaign. This initiative was the first of its kind in the nation and has been creating jobs while creating resources for the public to recycle their old electronic devices.
E-waste, including packaging, is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream heading for our landfills. The EPA estimates that by 2007, 500 million computers will begin to become obsolete, and many of them will sit in garages and attics because the general public doesn't know what to do with them. ECO has built a web site for California devoted to the questions and issues surrounding the eventual disposal of the very computer monitor you are looking at now: www.erecycle.org. (If you live outside of California, go to the Electronic Industries Alliance site at www.eiae.org to find erecycling resources in your state.)
This issue has international implications as well as local ones. While there are valuable commodities such as plastic, metal and glass in these products, there is also hazardous waste that requires proper disposal. Currently, many of these used products are shipped to China and India where they are taken apart by children who may be exposed to toxic chemicals as a result.
BUILDING A GREENER WORLD... LITERALLY
But why stop with wha's on your desk...how about the homes, schools and offices those computers are in? By the year 2010, it's estimated that another 38 million buildings will be constructed in the United States alone. Few people realize how much energy and climate pollution result from construction and maintenance of our buildings -- 40% of U.S. energy use, 30% of wood and raw material use, generating 30% of U.S. CO2 emissions. A typical 1700 sq. ft wood frame home requires the equivalent of clear cutting one acre of forest.
Global Green USA has established itself as a national leader in promoting sustainable and green building practices by working with local governments, the affordable housing community, and with schools boards via their Green Schools Initiative. "Building healthy green buildings creates healthier and more productive living and work environments, saves money on electricity and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. For more than a decade, Global Green has pioneered innovative efforts to promote and build green affordable housing and schools throughout the country. Recently, we opened offices and a green building resource center in New Orleans as part of our initiative to rebuild a green city that can be a model for the country. This includes building the first green affordable housing in the Lower 9th Ward and rebuilding green schools in New Orleans."
MEASURING SUCCESS ONE CONVERSATION AT A TIME
With many public education initiatives, green construction projects and legislative battles still to go, what allows Ruben to end each day, feeling he's made a difference? "True success would be a transformed world where no corporate polluter would think of polluting, where political leaders would be standing up for our kids and the environment," he says."Not because there's a law telling them what to do, but because it's the right thing to do. We'd be using the skills, technology, education, innovation, resources and passion that we have in this country and around the world to fix a lot of the problems the industrial age brought us. We're moving forward, but we're not there yet."
Aronin is excited by the current public attention to the environment which is driving significant media coverage and political action at the local and even national levels. However, "if we can't translate this unique moment into lasting institutional change at the political and corporate levels, then we'll have missed a historic opportunity. Fortunately, change can happen through the ripple effects of one person, one company, one organization or one visionary leader. That's how we're going to see the power of one inspire change, motivate action and heal the planet."
We bet he sleeps pretty soundly at night.
* (it) *
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.