February is here!  Love is in the air so let’s focus our love on this month’s featured member.  Oh how I love the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Let me count the ways… They’re smart, and strong, and caring. Oh yeah, and their gorgeous eyes!  All jokes aside, NRDC’s Senior Resource Specialist, Darby Hoover sat with me this month to tell us all about the great work they’re doing for the world from all over the globe.

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SB:  Darby, you really know your paper stuff!  You hail from a rich passage through the world of energy and resources, recycling, and all that comes with it!  I’m sure you’ve seen some incredible advancement in the production, purchasing, and recycling of paper over the course of your career.  Are there any developments or changes in the paper recycling industry that particularly stand out for you?

DarbyDH: There have been a lot of changes in the realm of recycling, and recycled content, since I started advocating for recycled paper as Executive Director of the Recycled Paper Coalition back in the 1990s. Probably the biggest change has been the increasing globalization of the paper market, with more and more of our recovered fibre heading overseas, and recycled papermaking capacity being reduced in the U.S., and so forth. But what actually surprises me is how much hasn’t changed: that we still need to combat myths about recycled paper, that we are still worried about contaminants in recovered fibre, that we still need to prioritize working with consumers to explain why it’s important to buy paper with recycled content and other environmental attributes. I would have thought we’d be farther along the road by now – which is why it’s still critical that EPN and other organisations are out there promoting and explaining environmental papers.

SB: How does your specific work for your program now correlate with NRDC’s work as a whole?

DH: NRDC is a comprehensive environmental organisation with many different arms: we’re comprised of over 350 staff, of which about a third are attorneys, about a third are scientists, and the rest of us are policy experts or other professionals. As such, we can and do use many different approaches to advance environmental issues, including working on legislation, working with community groups, and working with businesses. I focus on paper, waste and recycling issues, as well as on collaborative organisational “greening” initiatives; these issues overlap with much of NRDC’s other program work. Paper is one of the places all environmental issues intersect: for example, making paper from paper instead of from trees reduces global warming pollution, saves energy and water, reduces reliance on landfills and incinerators, helps protect biodiversity, etc. So in the course of my specific work on recycling, or paper procurement, or greening, I’m collaborating with other NRDC programs like energy and public health, and advancing our institutional goals like curbing global warming, defending wild places and reducing pollution.

SB: You work to “green” sports and entertainment organisations.  Those are two of the most revered (and highest paid) professional avenues in the U.S.  What a great arena to implement environmentally conscious awareness. Your blogs do a wonderful job at describing how you do this.  Have there been any stories from building the program to the level it’s at today, working with Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL, US Tennis Association or other professional sports leagues?  Any bad or exhilarating first dates?

game-changer-thumbDH: Actually, the best summary of our sports greening work is included in our recent report, Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment, at http://www.nrdc.org/game-changer. We included specific stories of how we connected with and developed greening initiatives with each of the major U.S. pro sports leagues, as well as case studies from many different teams and venues that have implemented greener practices. I think these initiatives are succeeding because there’s support at the highest level – the league commissioners are all involved and interested in greening – coupled with meticulous on-the-ground work by facilities managers and others who see the importance of adopting better environmental practices. One of our goals in this work has been to unite the individual players into a team effort, where each team/venue can learn from what others are doing and improve their own game. (There’s really no way to avoid the sports metaphors in this work, so might as well embrace it.)

SB:  I might have a couple friends who’d love to volunteer at the next Seattle Seahawks game.  Can I give them your number?  How can people help.

DH: It never hurts to check with your local team and see if there is an opportunity to get involved! But probably the best thing fans can do is to let their teams know that they appreciate the environmental initiatives, and that they’d like to hear more about them. If your favorite teams have online presence (Facebook, Twitter, webpages devoted to their greening efforts, etc.), follow them online and like, repost, retweet, or comment on anything they post about their greening – it does make a difference if teams and leagues see there’s a positive fan response to what they’re doing.

SB: What sort of inside info do you have about the Greening of the GRAMMYS and why is it important what an event like that does in terms of recycled paper and other green efforts?  Did you get to attend and if so, why wasn’t I your date?

DH: Didn’t you get my voicemails? I did get to attend the GRAMMY Awards a couple of years ago, and it was a blast. When you watch it on television, you don’t really get what a huge well-produced concert it actually is. Or maybe I just need a better television. But back to the important part: when the GRAMMY Awards or the Academy Awards buy better paper, and adopt other greener practices, the benefits are threefold. First, buying better paper (etc.) has direct environmental impacts. Second, publicizing their paper purchases and other environmental achievements sends the message to fans and others that being greener is an important part of how these organisations do business. And when you’re a culturally influential institution like entertainment or sports, I think it also sends the message that greening isn’t just work, it’s play. Ideally, fans will get accustomed to and start to expect recycling bins and greening messages at their local stadium and other places they go for entertainment. Finally, when sports and entertainment organisations adopt greener practices, that sends a powerful message up the supply chain that greener products and services are a priority – and this often means that those greener products and services become available to other customers too.

SB:  We are very proud to have NRDC as a part of EPN.  What are some of the benefits your organisation reaps from this relationship?

DH:  As I mentioned before, it’s sometimes surprising to me how critical it still is to have advocacy around environmental paper – and I think EPN is the best way for organisations working on paper issues to come together to share information, develop strategy, and combine resources. EPN documents like the State of the Industry report are very useful in developing our own paper advocacy. And I’m a big fan of the Paper Calculator – it’s a great straightforward way to demonstrate how one comparatively small change – buying recycled content paper – can have a measurable and significant impact. Paper is something everyone understands – everyone uses paper, whether it’s copier paper, boxes, publications, or tissue paper. So it makes tangible sense to people that using less paper, buying better paper, and recycling your paper are all things they can and should do to help the environment. That’s why paper is a critical cornerstone of any comprehensive environmental initiative. And being a member of EPN helps me access (and sometimes help to create) great tools and strategies to advance those initiatives.

SB:  Thanks for all the work you contribute to making the world a better place, Darby.  It makes me want to go out and get you a box of chocolates!

And thank you for getting to know NRDC.  Please keep an eye out in March for our next featured member, ForestEthics.