Earth Charter International Communications Coordinator Douglas F. Williamson conducted an interview with new ECI affiliate Valerie Elliott in November 2014.
D) I am here today with Valerie Elliott from iD2 Communications from Victoria, British Colombia Canada, who is a new ECI affiliate. And first of all, this interview is a welcome to you to the Earth Charter community. We’re really honored to have you be a part of our efforts as well as the larger global network. You are very welcome and we are very happy to have you.
V) Thank you, Douglas.
D) You’re welcome. Let’s jump right into it. What is iD2 Communications? What do you do?
V) We are a small high performance sustainable communications firm. We provide services that are sustainable in stakeholder engagement, in branding, in media relations, and graphic and web design and other online design work. Sometimes people glaze over when they hear the term sustainable communications. What the heck is that? Sustainable communications looks at the whole life cycle of products and services and commits to strategies, processes, procedures, and materials that consider and value the environmental, cultural, social, and economic impacts that those entail. But we are small, I guess that is probably the difference between us and some of your other affiliates. We don’t believe that that diminishes our potential for contribution.
D) Nor do I. We actually have a full range of affiliates of different sizes. Some of them are quite large and some are smaller organizations. The quality of the commitment is more important than the size of the organization, for sure.
V) For me it’s important to comment on that because many with big corporations and in some of the larger organizational structures there’s often no room for the small business. Small businesses in British Colombia account for over 90% of all business, so it’s significant that small businesses can make those contributions as well.
D) How did you find out about the Earth Charter?
V) Following along with climate action and climate summits and knowing about the Earth Summit, I knew about Maurice Strong and knew that he had worked with Mikhail Gorbachev and created this citizens’ charter. In 2001, when I began looking for ethical documents to help me build our own ethical policy and sustainability statement I continually referred back to the Earth Charter. And every time I found another source, it would refer me back to the Earth Charter because it’s so concise.
D) I think that leads to the next question. What does the Earth Charter mean to you?
V) I am a values-based person. It’s in my being and it’s always been first and foremost. What’s important to me is how people communicate, how respectful and how meaningful the communication is. So, I have a great interest in the values of others because they aren’t necessarily the same as mine. It’s very important to me that a declaration exists when I’m in discussion with others, when I’m working with others. Something that can be put in writing and can be agreed upon, that we can say this is the basis of our work, or this is the basis of our friendship. The expectations that we might have. The Earth Charter to me isn’t always about business or about social development. It’s sometimes about the real one-on-one basic connection that we have with other humans. I think the Earth Charter can be looked at from that perspective, from a smaller perspective. So, to me if we have that basis and know the values that we are drawing on with each other and share with each other, then it helps us determine how we can best move forward with each other as human beings. That’s what it means to me.
D) To go back to what you said before to how the EC influenced your company’s policy tell us a little about that, about how the Earth Charter was a reference to you. Tell me in your day-to-day work or in your larger business plans and operations, how does the Earth Charter affect that?
V) Sometimes you need to have the guiding principle when you’re challenged. We were first challenged with a situation when we are asked to work on a project that had to do with cancer research. And they were testing on animals. Now, testing on animals is ubiquitous, particularly in North America where it’s performed by almost every university. And there are certain animals that aren’t even considered living beings, such as rats. So when we took on that client, we were going to do a video about their procedure, and how their research has worked. We discovered in the process that they were able to purchase synthetic cells but were choosing instead to test on animals. This started our whole deep dive into the Earth Charter, because we recognized we had certain values but we thought, “Is it fair to impose those values we have on others?” So, we were looking for writing, for principles that had already been vetted and considered appropriate for everyone to adopt. That was the first kick at the can, and by the way, we did not deliver to the client, we explained our reasoning behind it, and we quoted the Earth Charter in doing so. We did not leave the client hanging, we found them another contractor to work with, to maintain our reputation, and be respectful of where they were at the time.
The next incident was with a government. We were asked to do some stakeholder engagement. It requires time to do that kind of engagement, and it was for the oil and gas industry. We were given a total of three weeks to do the work. I indicated to them it was impossible to perform meaningful dialogue with a stakeholder group as large as the one they were discussing, and so we indicated that it wasn’t possible. They threatened us by telling us that if we didn’t perform this work and take the contract that we would be removed from the preferred vendors’ list, and so we requested to be removed from that list. Once again, we quoted the Earth Charter and several other sources to back us up.
So, we were starting to feel pretty good about our position. But what we weren’t feeling good about was that we weren’t providing the clients the information in advance, for them to know what our principles were and what they would be coming up against and what we were asking them to agree to, so we recognized that we have to agree with our clients on these principles. Now before we work with any clients we provide them with our ethical principles, which are guided by the Earth Charter and our own staff’s writing and interpretation of wording. It’s very close I have to say without verbatim stealing, and we do of course refer to the Earth Charter in our principles. They know exactly and they agree to work under these principles. From our perspective, it helps us challenge our own industry, to look beyond pretty pictures and award-winning advertising. So, we can perform work that we believe serves society in a beneficial way. And the elders have taught me that what has heart and meaning is what we need to cherish and respect, and I can’t imagine a better way to do that than implementing the Earth Charter values in our work.
D) It’s heartening to hear someone talk about the integrity that they bring to their work and how much it means to them, so that for me is a beautiful sentiment that you expressed. That is a really beautiful Earth Charter story. Tell me then, how do you feel the Earth Charter affects your life outside of work?
V) It’s continually with me, I am constantly talking to people about how to resolve personal issues within themselves, their work, or their families. I talk a lot about the respectful process, honoring where people are right now, not judging them, and trying to really relish the journey. This is why we are on this planet, to have this life journey. And I can’t imagine why I would go to work every day or have relationships with people, friends, family that weren’t part of a joyful journey. So, to me the Earth Charter is always there and continues to be that solid rock that I know I can count on being there.
I think we are trapped in some dynamics of our social interactions that are challenging us and I think the challenge really is to find that joy inside and let it out so that we can help each other, we can do better things for each other. I’m often called on by friends and family to stop helping so many people. I was taught to help, but the Earth Charter solidified it for me, made it ok for me to be me. I believe that everyone is beautiful inside, but we have bound people with expectations of ownership and power and control and things that take them on a path that is not likely going to bring them on a path of much joy to either themselves or to the people around them. So, that’s why I think the Earth Charter belongs in both our private lives and our work lives.
D) Now that you are an Earth Charter affiliate, how are you going to move Earth Charter activities forward, and including you can talk about the Earth Charter +15 campaign that we were discussing the other day.
V) As part of iD2’s policies based on the Earth Charter about sharing and educating, we took that very seriously. We began speaking across Canada and I perform a self-branding exercise for youth. Youth to me is the future, literally they are the future. So, youth is probably the most important audience that I have, which is often dismissed as ignorant or naïve. I don’t believe that’s true and I think that students are fighting very hard to find their place in the world. So, I began a pro-bono workshop that I provide to students and schools, and it’s to help these students find their uniqueness.
It began with the branding process I use for corporations and non-profits. Participants distil themselves down so they eventually have a grand essence of who they are in a nutshell. I’ve been doing those exercises with students aged 14-17, occasionally we have slightly younger students, and of course I have performed this exercise for adults and designers. This branding exercise gives me the opportunity to see how I can work with the Earth Charter. Once we get the participants’ brand identity down and a strategy on how they’re going to protect their brand identity and make sure that they continue to do the things that they love to do, I’ll bring in the Earth Charter and introduce its principles. Then I want to ask them to start adopting the principles that really feel integral to who they are as a person. So, they can start identifying their own value statement. I think that’s very important, because we can assure students, youth, that they have the right to articulate these values, which might be respectful dialogue, for instance. Now, obviously those values might not be reciprocated. But what I’ve found out is that a lot of youth feel that they don’t know how best to behave, and through the Earth Charter and through the language of the Earth Charter, it would be a way for students to feel right to say that they want respectful dialogue, that they want to treat living entities with respect. I think it empowers them, and that’s one simple thing that I want to do.
I’m quite excited about this. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m anxious to do so. Of course, we don’t take our affiliations lightly, so this is an important affiliation for us, the affiliation with the Earth Charter. We want to continue working with Earth Charter International to see if we can connect, because the Earth Charter is about all of us, it’s not about us in North America, or us in Europe, or us in Asia. It’s about all of us working together. One of my goals for 2015 is to reach out and tie those threads together so we can finally start working together on projects that promote the Earth Charter.
Also, the other day we talked about mailing art pieces, which is called Artist trading cards, or ATC. It’s an art form that has been around for well over two decades. They are a baseball card-sized card with art on it and they are traded all over the world. What if we were to ask people to start ATCs based on the principles of the EC? We could create a seed gallery, send it to different communities as an exmaple and inspiration. That’s exciting to me because it involves any age group, artist or non-artist. It’s not about being an artist, but showing in visuals and texts whatever format of expression someone chooses, to support their values and principles of equality, fairness, democracy, whatever it might be. That’s another thing that I’d like to work on for the EC+15 celebrations next year.
D) As part of the affiliation to Earth Charter International you have agreed to try to help us with some fund raising. Why did you feel that that was important that you were willing to have that as part of the agreement between our organizations?
V) I think fundraising is one of the four pillars of sustainability. The economic is essential in order to ensure that we can continue telling the story of sustainability, of one world, one earth. So we absolutely must have funds coming into the organization, to allow the message to be spread across the globe and also to assist those who need that face-to-face to get down to Costa Rica where the courses are taking place. It is going to be essential that we have those individuals that can go back into their communities and share that information. There’s often no better way of doing that than with that face-to-face, being able to talk, meet with other people, feel the earth we are walking on. So, I think it’s very important that we do that fundraising in order to build capacity for Earth Charter International. It’s going to be important for the future of our world to have strong non-profits whose main focus is on the well-being of our planet. We are talking about trying to change the way people think and behave. There can be no better investment than that in my view.
D) Thanks so much for taking the time today to talk with me, for sharing your inspirational voice, and for your intention to work with us to build a better a future.