NPR’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” on fonts
Great show including an interview with Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, who created the font Gotham, recently popularized in the Obama campaign (and incidentally the font I use for my new site design, although I chose it before Obama’s team did). Also an interview with Matthew Carter, who designed Verdana and Georgia, two of the most prevalent fonts in the Internet. Listen to an RM stream here, or download the podcast MP3 here.
The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.
In 2007, Velma and I supported worthy causes with a little over 2% of our annual income (here’s the list of charities we supported in 2007). We made a goal of trying to increase that over the next few years to 5%.
Although I took off most of 2008 from paid work, we decided we didn’t want to slacken our efforts to donate to charity. After all, we’re financially pretty stable, we don’t have any debt except for Velma’s student loans, and most importantly, the necessary work done by charitable organizations doesn’t stop just because our income lessened this year.
Since we haven’t done our taxes yet, I’m not sure how much we increased our giving this year, but considering we’re giving to 18 of the organizations we gave to last year, plus we’ve added 16 new ones, I think we’re probably a lot closer to our 5% goal.
An experiment: Our do-not-mail policy Fed up with the amount of solicitations we were receiving every month, in 2007 we sent letters along with most of our donations, asking charities to stop sending us mail. We spelled out exactly what was allowable and what wasn’t, and we made it clear our continued financial support was riding on their compliance. We decided to keep all the mail we’d receive throughout the year, and see who followed our instruction and who didn’t.
We are happy to report that the majority or our chosen nonprofits sent us no mail whatsoever, or only sent us what we asked for (we made exceptions for a few newsletters we wished to receive).
In December, we tallied up the results and assigned grades to each charity, based on their compliance (note: these grades have nothing to do with performance relating to their organizational missions; we considered that separately).
2008 scorecard These are the organizations we supported in 2007 and 2008. Most of them received a letter with our check, thanking them for following our request and explaining that our continued support is conditional on them sending us no mail in 2009. We made a few exceptions for some of the orgs whose newsletters we like to receive, and we tell them all they can send us one (but not numerous) renewal notice when our membership expires.
Here are the orgs and their 2008 grades:
American Civil Liberties Union The ACLU fights to protect the freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, a document that's in more peril seemingly every year. They are campaigning to close Guantánamo, working against HIV/AIDS discrimination, to reform discriminatory drug laws, and more.
Grade: The ACLU got a C because they sent us more mail than we’d asked for in 2008. We considered dropping them from our ongoing support, but instead decided to give them another chance and sent them a donation with a new letter, again explicitly asking them to send us no mail. Update: On December 31, while I was compiling this list, an ACLU canvasser showed up at our door. Even after I told her three times we’d just sent them a nice, fat check, she kept pushing for a donation. After that, I had to fight the inclination to give them an even lower score. Sheesh.
Amnesty International USA Most people know a little about Amnesty International, but did you know how broad their focus really is, and how many worthwhile campaigns they have? Human rights violations in China, protection of refugees, corporate accountability, prisoners of conscience, and the crisis in Darfur are among their many campaigns.
Grade: AI got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Committee for Green Foothills CGF is one of our favorite environmental organizations, in part because Velma used to work there and because Mark designed their logo and website. But mostly it’s because they have a 40+ year history of successful grassroots citizen campaigning to keep the farmlands, open space, and hills of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties from being over-developed. If it hadn’t been for CGF’s work over the past four decades, the South Bay and Peninsula would look more like the LA basin today.
Grade: CGF didn’t get scored this year because we never sent them our do-not-mail letter in 2007. However, they got one this December, and we’ll be watching them to see how they fare.
Earth First! Journal Mario Savio, on the steps of Sproul Hall, said, “There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can't even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
When the law won’t fix the problem, Earth First!ers put their bodies on the line to stop the destruction. Some of the Earth First!ers I’ve met were the bravest, most noble people I’ve ever known.
Grade: The EF! Journal got a B+ this year for only sending us one plea for a donation when their funds had run dangerously low.
Earthjustice Earthjustice began as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and has provided legal assistance on environmental issues for almost 40 years, representing citizens groups, nonprofits, scientists, and others. “Environmental litigation has been key to preserving threatened natural resources and protecting people’s environmental rights. Lawsuits have protected millions of acres of wilderness and hundreds of endangered species. They have helped improve air and water quality and have forced polluting companies to clean up their discharges.” And I love their slogan: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”
Grade: Earthjustice got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Electronic Frontier Foundation The EFF uses advocacy and lawsuits to preserve free speech rights in the context of today’s digital age. Among its many activities, EFF has participated in lawsuits in support of the college students who published information about the major security flaws in Diebold Election Systems, and against corporate and government infringement of the First Amendment rights of individuals, artists, journalists, bloggers, and others.
Grade: EFF got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Environmental Protection Information Center The Environmental Protection Information Center has fought for the North Coast in the courts for years. Headwaters Grove probably wouldn't be standing today if it hadn't been for organizations like EPIC.
Grade: EPIC got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Good magazine Good is a magazine, a website, and a collaboration of people, nonprofits, and businesses who give a damn. I enjoy its’ focus and coverage a lot, and I even love looking at it, as it’s very well designed.
Update: When you subscribe, Good lets you choose a nonprofit to support, and that nonprofit gets 100% of your subscription fee. Last year I chose 826 National, which is the umbrella for 826 Valencia (also known as the Pirate Store) in my neighborhood. Many people who have been to the Pirate Store don’t realize it’s actually a nonprofit that teaches students creative writing skills.
Grade:Good got an A+ in 2008. We received the magazine of course, but no solicitations other than the normal renewal statements.
A Permanent Mark (and Film Arts Foundation) A Permanent Mark is a documentary film being made by our friend Holly Million about the effects of Agent Orange on Americans and Vietnamese who were exposed during and since the Vietnam War. The Film Arts Foundation is an independent media arts training facility and acts as Holly’s fiduciary agent for contributions to the documentary.
Grade: We didn’t assign a score here because we never sent Holly or Film Arts our do-not-mail letter.
KQED We donated quite a bit to KQED in 2006, 2007, and 2008, so we were pretty disappointed that they didn’t follow our do-not-mail request. Especially since we listen to KQED FM every day, and we love the programming a lot.
We love KQED so much that we decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves. In December we sent a letter to KQED’s development director, explaining that our request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them a check. To bolster our point, we enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. It’s only been a few days since I sent the letter, but I’ll post an update here if we get a response.
Grade: KQED failed with a D. Of the three organizations that utterly failed to follow our do-not-mail policy, KQED was the second worst offender, sending us many renewal notices and multiple requests for upgrade donations.
Update Dec. 31: We received a very prompt, hand-addressed letter from KQED’s chief development officer, to whom we addressed our letter. She was very good about explaining what steps would be followed to complete our request: They would “code your account in our computer system to just send you one renewal request and the occasional invitation to an event” (which is exactly what we asked for), and “merge your two accounts...so the renewal request you receive in the future (next year) will be addressed to both of you” (since Velma and I apparently had separate accounts in KQED’s system). She also included a few facts about KQED’s efforts toward sustainability (she said they have been carbon-neutral for two years and recently installed solar panels on their building), and, of course, she apologized for the confusion. I was very satisfied with her response and we were happy to send their check in the next day’s mail. If all goes well in 2009, KQED should get high marks next December/January.
National Public Radio Even though we support three local radio stations around the U.S., I love NPR’s programming enough to send them a separate donation. Shows like “All Things Considered,” “Car Talk,” “Fresh Air,” “Marketplace,” “Talk of the Nation,” and “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” keep Velma and I both stimulated and entertained.
I just wish they had a better T-shirt so I could get one for our donation : )
Grade: NPR got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Northcoast Environmental Center I really love the NEC and try to visit when I go to Humboldt County. They do fantastic education and grassroots work on all sorts of environmental issues, from species, watershed, and forestry advocacy to organizing the local Coastal Clean-Up events. Plus they present a local radio show, the “Econews Report,” and publish one of my favorite monthly newspapers, the Econews.
Grade: The NEC got a B- for two reasons: They sent a bit more mail than I’d prefer, but more importantly, they messed up our names on all our mailing labels last year and it took them several reminders before they got it right.
Pachamama Alliance Pachamama Alliance works with the Achuar, an indigenous group living in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, to develop a sustainability and economic plan that will protect and manage the two million acres of their tropical rainforest territory.
Grade: Pachamama Alliance got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Planned Parenthood Planned Parenthood is a vital resource in a country that’s incredibly backward about sexuality and where most people are hopelessly uninformed and misinformed about health and reproductive issues. They provide health and sexuality info to teens, women, and men, contraception, HIV/STD tests, pregnancy tests, and much more.
Grade: Sadly, Planned Parenthood got an F for sending us too much unwanted mail in 2008. Velma decided they didn’t get a second chance. We sent their development director a letter explaining the reason why, and telling them we were switching our support to NOW for 2009. Let’s hope it makes an impression and starts some internal discussion about donor requests.
Save the Redwoods League Velma may work there, but that doesn’t stop us from giving them money. Save the Redwoods League was founded 90 years ago to acquire and protect what’s left of the redwoods. You probably think there are a lot of redwoods left. If it hadn’t been for SRL’s work over the last 90 years, there wouldn’t be any. Most of the redwoods in state and federal parks were originally bought by SRL and transferred to public ownership.
Grade: We didn’t assign SRL a score, since we never sent them our do-not-mail letter. They have an interesting policy, however, of not sending mail to any of their staff.
Trees Foundation Trees is an umbrella support group for scores of small and medium regional groups in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. They offer centralized support services for their member organizations, including GIS, marketing, fundraising, computer repair and tech support, web development, and graphic design. Our pal Scott Lamorte works there.
Grade: Trees got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and “This American Life” This has been my absolute favorite radio program for years now, and I hate missing even one episode. While we listen to it on KQED, I feel strongly enough about the show to support it with a direct donation each year.
Grade: WBEZ and “This American Life” got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
WNYC and “On The Media” “On The Media” is my other favorite radio program, airing Sundays on KQED. Like NPR, WNYC creates a bunch of other great programming (“Radio Lab,” “Soundcheck,” and “Studio 360”) and I feel strongly enough about those shows and especially “On The Media” to send them a direct donation each year.
Grade: WNYC got a D grade as one of the worst offenders in 2008, sending us multiple donation requests and other such junk. Like KQED, they got a letter explaining that our prior do-not-mail request was ignored and asking for a personal note assuring us that it would be followed in 2009, in return for which we would gladly send them each a check. We also enclosed all the mail they sent us in 2008. We have yet to receive a response.
Wikimedia Foundation Wikipedia is truly one of the world’s greatest resources, and truly one of the world’s greatest ideas. I use it almost every day, and even though the slogan is “free knowledge for everyone,” last year I decided we should pay for the privilege with a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation.
Grade: Wikimedia got an A+ in 2008 for not sending us even a single piece of mail.
Conclusions Our do-not-mail request may seem somewhat pretentious to some: How dare we expect nonprofits to cater to our whims? They’re not set up for special cases, their systems and databases just spit out automated lists and mailing labels.
True enough, too few nonprofits are set up to make exceptions for donors who ask for “special treatment.” However, I suggest that there are several strong reasons why more nonprofits should take the few small, easy steps to allow for such donor requests as our do-not-mail policy. And before the harrumphs start coming from the gallery, let me remind you that Velma and I speak from a position of significant experience in how nonprofit fundraising works. Velma was development director for a nonprofit for 2.5 years, and I was a board member for another nonprofit, including a year as chair of the development committee and several years as one of the the primary liaisons between the organization and its members.
Now, let us address some of the reasons why nonprofits should take seriously special requests such as ours...
It’s not rocket science, and we’re paying them to do it Nonprofits aren’t stupid, they send out a lot of appeals because it works: It gets them donations. However, most nonprofits know that taking care of their donors also yields results too. Just like a for-profit corporation can build brand loyalty with consumers, a nonprofit that really listens to the requests of its members can count on that donor probably giving continually, and probably increasing their donations over time.
Velma and I communicate this to the nonprofits we support. Our year-end letters, sent with our checks, explicitly praised those organizations that followed our request of the previous year, explaining that was part of the reason we were sending another check. And in most cases, each of those nonprofits got more from us this year than last year. Those that didn’t follow our instructions got an explanation as well, with the hope that it would serve as impetus for a change in the organizations’ behavior, or at least would elicit some internal discussion.
When I worked at Acterra and served on the board, we used a Filemaker Pro database for our donor/membership list. In it we had fields for all kinds of information about each individual or family, like which of our programs they liked to support, how long they’d been members, who their contacts were on the board and staff, and many more. We also had checkboxes for “No mail,” “No newsletter,” “No phone calls,” and “No email.” Hundreds of members preferred to get their news from us via email, so the only time we would mail those people would be once a year, to tell them their membership was expiring.
Let’s face it, any organization can add a new field to their database. And if they can’t or won’t, I’m not inclined to send money to the lazy or incompetent. And just to be clear, it’s not piddling change we’re sending these nonprofits. All of the orgs Velma and I support yearly get between $50 and $500 from us, with most of them above $100. If an organization thinks our $50 or $100 isn’t worth a half-hour of their time to make a minor change to their database, I’m of the opinion that organization’s staff is overpaid already, and they obviously no longer need our money.
It’s better for the environment, and it saves them money Many of the worst offenders sending out tons of junk mail are environmental organizations. I have declined to support the Sierra Club for years because they send so much junk mail. And worse yet, their mailings always contain things that are difficult or downright impossible to recycle! How many of those static stickers can I use? I like a lot of things about the Sierra Club, but I detest the hypocrisy displayed by their membership department.
Let’s consider the cradle-to-cradle cost of a typical year’s worth of mailings: First, paper must be made, so that’s forests cut down. Even if it’s partly recycled content, it’s never 100% recycled, and therefore some virgin pulp must be manufactured (BAA and Acterra were the only organizations I’ve ever known to have a policy of always using 100% recycled or tree-free paper for their mailings; and guess who urged the boards to pass those policies?).
Then there’s the bleaching of the paper (highly toxic and highly polluting to air and water). Then it must be trucked from a mill halfway across the country to a city. Then it’s trucked from the paper distributor to the printing company (diesel fumes are highly toxic). Then there’s the printing of the letters, calendars, newsletters, envelopes, etc. (the printing industry uses many toxic solvents et al).
Then all those mailings get sent out in all directions, to probably tens of thousands of households all over the country. That’s a lot of planes, trains, and US Postal Service trucks trundling around (more fuel consumption, more air pollution) to deliver little individual pieces of junk mail to various mailboxes.
And what happens to it all? Over 95% goes in the recycling bin, or more likely the trash.
Of course, the alternative is a lot less wasteful of oil, energy, and natural resources: By checking a little box in their database entry for Mark & Velma, all those nonprofits can prevent a lot of waste and pollution, and they even save the cost of printing and postage!
New charities Along with the above charities which we decided to continue supporting from 2007 through 2008, we decided to support a few new ones last year. Below are the new causes we supported in 2008. They also received a letter instructing them to not send us mail in 2009. I’ll be sure to write an update about how our continuing experiment goes at the end of 2009.
American Institute of Graphic Arts The AIGA is America’s premier organization advocating for the rights of artists, participating in critical analysis, and advancing education and ethical practices. I decided this year to renew my long lapsed membership.
California Academy of Sciences The old Cal Academy was one of the coolest places we’d go on field trips back in elementary school. Early in 2008 Velma acquired a family membership for us and we were among those members who got a sneak peek the week before the new facility opened in September. While I was disappointed that the two-headed snake has long since expired, nothing else disappointed. Quite the opposite.
Clean Water Action Clean Water Action is a national organization that utilizes policy research, political advocacy, and grassroots organizing to enact environmental protections and hold elected officials accountable to the public.
Courage Campaign The Courage Campaign is one of two nonprofits we chose to support because of our outrage over California’s unconscionable assault on marriage equality.
Democratic National Committee When a canvasser came to the door early in the campaign season, I was reluctant to give anything to the DNC. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and frankly I think both parties screw up pretty bad often enough. Plus I was still pissed about how poorly the DNC handled the 2004 election. Velma, however, gave the canvasser some money. I told him I’d think about donating to the DNC after I’d done some research. Many months later, I surprised myself by being impressed enough to support the DNC.
Equality California Equality California is the other nonprofit we chose to support because of Prop 8.
Global Lives Project This nonprofit was founded by former BAA Schools Group member David Evan Harris. It’s an interesting video and art project that will bring viewers in contact with a taste of the diversity of the globe.
MoveOn.org Velma donated to get me a Barack Obama T-shirt as a gift. I approve of MoveOn, especially some of their video/commercial campaigns, but I’m a little sick of getting so many emails.
National Organization for Women Velma Decided we should switch out support to NOW since Planned Parenthood sent us so much unwanted mail in 2008 and we still wanted to contribute to a charity that works on reproductive rights.
Obama campaign What else can we say? Barack got a few more bucks for his campaign, Velma got a T-shirt.
San Francisco Women Against Rape SFWAR provides resources, support, advocacy, and education to strengthen the work of all individuals and communities in San Francisco that are responding to, healing from, and struggling to end sexual violence.
Slow Food USA Slow Food USA envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it, and good for the planet.
Tuolumne River Trust The Tuolumne River Trust promotes the stewardship of the Tuolumne River and its tributaries. Most people don’t realize that much of our water in the Bay Area comes from the Tuolumne. Our pal Peter Drekmeier works at this org.
Women’s Temple Women’s Temple is a place where women believe in the healing powers of coming together and sharing the wisdom of their embodied spirits with each other. Velma was one of the organizers who took Women’s Temple to Burning Man in 2004.
From the website: “In 1999 filmmaker Jeremy Gilley decided to try and establish the first ever Day of Peace with a fixed calendar date. In September 2001 the Member States of the United Nations unanimously adopted the first-ever annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence — Peace Day, 21 September.”
I found this email I sent out 11 years ago about a Bike To Work fundraiser I did for Bay Area Action, and I thought I’d archive it here in the journal. I did survive the 42-mile ride. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how much I raised.
A little personal spam from your friend Mark don’t-hate-me-it’s-a-good-cause Bult...
In celebration of Bike To Work Week 1997 and as a fundraiser for Bay Area Action, I am asking my friends to participate in what I’m calling Mark’s Annual (Maybe If I’m Crazy) Bike To Work To Raise Money For My Favorite Environmental Nonprofit Organization Day, otherwise known as MAMIICBTWTRMFMFENOD.
There is no obligation to participate, and I promise I’ll still speak to any of you who decline, but I can’t promise that you’ll stay on my holiday card list (hey, wait, I didn't send out my holiday cards from LAST year yet).
I’m going to set off on a 42-mile round trip bike to work and back this week or next (depending on how many of you respond right away with huge pledges), and I’m asking friends to pledge a certain amount of money for each mile I cycle.
The cause is a good one. Some of you are undoubtedly familiar with Bay Area Action, the environmental nonprofit of which I am a member. In case you aren’t familiar with some of the great things we do, you can find out more on our website (go to www.baaction.org [edit: that archived site is non-active], then check out the projects pages), or I’ve included a brief description of our projects below.
But first the pledge!
Anything you’d like to donate would be greatly appreciated, but obviously the more you’re willing and able to pledge, the more Bay Area Action can do to better our community and our environment. All donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by our gracious IRS, and I pocket nothing (100% goes to BAA).
Pledge levels (or make it up yourself): (Round trip Los Gatos to Palo Alto = 42 miles) 42 miles @ 50 cents/mile = $21.00 42 miles @ 75 cents/mile = $31.50 42 miles @ $1.00/mile = $42.00 42 miles @ $1.50/mile = $63.00 42 miles @ $2.00/mile = $84.00 42 miles @ $2.50/mile = $105.00 ...or surprise me!
If you’re interested in pledging a donation, please email me back with your pledge amount, or call me at my office [old phone number removed].
The trip will take me on a slightly hilly journey through the western side of Silicon Valley and up the Peninsula. I’ll be leaving from my home in Los Gatos and heading up Highway 9 into Saratoga, where I’ll continue up De Anza Boulevard into Cupertino. I’ll skirt around De Anza College and pass some of the more interesting high tech companies most of you would be familiar with — Apple Computer, Symantec, Power Computing, etc. Then it’s up Stevens Creek and a rather steep but short hill, where at this point I should be thoroughly drenched and in possible need of bypass surgery. If I’m still alive I’ll pick up Foothill Road, heading toward Los Altos Hills, where it becomes Foothill Expressway, then from there it’s all up and down little hills until I get to Arastradero Road in Palo Alto. Then I head toward the Bay, cross Alma and the CalTrain tracks, head north parallel to Middlefield, and then into destination Midtown Palo Alto, where my office is located. Once there I might collapse and need resuscitation, but Stanford Hospital is not far. The return trip, should I live, is much the same route (but in reverse — and I don’t mean I’ll be biking backward!).
Bay Area Action (BAA) is a 7-years-old environmental action and education nonprofit organization. Among our programs is the Arastradero Preserve Project, a unique public-private partnership with the City of Palo Alto that sees BAA serving as steward and habitat restorer of a prime 600-acre open space preserve owned by the City (and therefore the citizens) of Palo Alto. Our joint High Schools Group and Youth Environmental Action projects focus on teaching Bay Area youths about ecology and preservation issues through in-class presentations, fun and active meetings, an hands-on activities like creek cleanups. The Urban Agriculture Project operates two community gardens in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, where plots are made available to families and community members to learn about organic gardening and raise their own plants and vegetables. As well, we have an Electric Vehicle Project with two battery-powered pollution-free cars, and a Habitat Restoration Project which coordinates hands-on habitat work in creeks, watersheds, baylands, and mountains. We have a number of other worthwhile projects like the annual Earth Day events and the Forest Action Team, but I won’t waste any more space when you can find out more by just asking me or hitting the website.
By the way, if you’re not already a member, any pledge over $25 gets you a full year of our nifty newsletter (designed by yours truly), plus that warm-all-over feeling of having done something material to help protect our environment.
Sincerely, thanks for your time,
Mark Bult Western Front Graphics | Bay Area Action
A few lifetimes ago I was a marketing and communications specialist for nonprofits, most notably for Bay Area Action and its later incarnation as Acterra.
For a few years I wrote and/or edited weekly email newsletters and action alerts. I started doing this for the Headwaters Forest Project at BAA, then created a weekly EcoCalendar of events all around the Bay Area, and later founded Acterra's first general email newsletter.
During that span of about eight years, I also performed a lot of other communications functions, especially surrounding the Headwaters issue. For a few years my website and email list were the best sources for news on the controversies emanating from the North Coast, and I fielded inquiries from small and big sources alike, everyone from elementary school students to the big media outlets such as Time and CNN.
I spoke at events (the Green Party's state convention comes to mind) and universities (I presented to a Stanford law class once, which was a bit unnerving, but then I reminded myself they were just students), I did radio interviews, I fielded calls and emails and faxes from reporters all over the world, and my email list contained addresses from places as far-flung as Japan and Australia and people from the press, government, and even Hollywood.
Copy this, please
This all happened in a time when the migration of such information to the Internet was much, much less frequent, and a lot harder to do. Nevertheless, lots of people copied my emails and forwarded them along to others. Which is what we wanted. Unlike commercial material, for which one might have copy-protection concerns, we wanted this information spread far and wide. Granted, we didn't want people to re-edit the information, so I simply attached a footer to my email template that stated that permission was thereby granted to forward the email in its entirety, for non-commercial purposes.
And people did it. In droves. They forwarded it on to their friends and family, co-workers, whomever. Some maintained their own large lists of concerned citizens interested in environmental issues, and they sent my emails along to them. Others posted my newsletters and action alerts on their AOL and Geocitieshomepages, on university listservs, and lots of other places.
Here are a few examples, still archived in various niches of the 'net:
Later, as search engines became more adept at crawling and indexing the content of the web (this had all occurred before Google existed), I'd be doing Headwaters research on AltaVista or Yahoo! or Dmoz, and come I'd across some of my old emails and articles scattered across the web.
In more recent years I've noticed that Google's algorithm seems to be devaluing these old (nearly ancient in Internet time) posts, probably for fairly legitimate reasons (the HTML of those old web pages would not withstand semantic rigors of modern search technology), so they rarely show up in results, or if they do, they're buried many, many, many results pages deep. It's probably that a lot of those pages are simply gone now too, as people fold their old accounts or Geocities pages get closed down, or whatever.
When I first started noticing this, I must admit that it was a little sad, as it seemed almost as if my contributions were disappearing from the universe. I know this is not strictly true, but in a world where we seem to rely increasingly on Google to provide us with what we want to know (I'm certainly guilty of this reliance), it's disappointing that the content of those older articles is devalued in large part because the method used for archiving them did not use the modern HTML standards.
It's a little like devaluing the best encyclopedia in the (physical) library because its publishers have not yet made it available online. Perhaps the actual content contained in that encyclopedia is of better quality than anything published on the web, but most people would never know it because they'd never see it.
I'm conflicted about this on many levels. Partly because I believe passionately that people should have access to the best quality information (so I want people to go the library, or wherever they need to go for that single best source), but I also want that high-quality information to be much more widely accessible than that. Let's face it, the researcher in Prague seeking information on West Coast salmonids can't easily get the 700-page document off the dusty shelf of the tiny library of the Northcoast Environmental Center in California, can he? But what if it's the single best source, and it's not available online at all?
Technology will catch up
I believe (nearly) all of these documents will be available online someday. It may be a decade or more away, but it will happen.
And I will do my part. I have archived all my data from the Headwaters Forest years, and all my BAA articles and photos, and while they're not really in any usable order right now, I am confident that technology will continue to advance in ways that make the data easier to sort and publish. It's already been happening, with sites like Flickr making it easier to share photos, and tools like blogs and wikis making it easier to publish and collaborate.
Not all my contributions have faded away
Interestingly, search technology has more recently broadened to include the content of printed books too. Google Book Search began scanning the collections of several leading universities in 2004. While Google's tool is still in beta and it comprises mostly academic works, I was mildly surprised to see my name turn up with a few results. I was cited in Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, by Brian Tokar, and Writing for Real: A Handbook for Writers in Community Service , by Carolyn Ross, Joseph M. Williams, and Ardel Thomas. I'd forgotten that I was also thanked in Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society, by my friend Randy Schutt.
“70% of the world's out-of-school children are girls. Girls deserve better. They deserve quality education and the safe environments and support that allow them to get to school on time and stay there through adolescence.” www.girleffect.org
Updated April 2008: Added ACLU and Save the Redwoods League, which I had forgotten.
Velma and I used to support nonprofits with our blood, sweat, and tears. We first met in a large building full of nonprofits, where we both worked. When you work for an NGO, especially a relatively small, local one, you don't make a lot of money. Sometimes you make very little money (I was making below-poverty-level wages there for a while).
But you don't do it for the money. You do it for the "second paycheck." That's what they sometimes call the feeling you get — maybe it's pride, maybe it's joy — when you get to do work every day that's all about trying to make the world a better place. It's truly a wonderful and fulfilling way of life, if you can hack it.
These days, Velma probably gets that feeling a lot more often than I do (she works for Save the Redwoods League). I mean, I like my work, and I chose CNET Networks partly because I didn't want to work at an advertising agency or someplace where I'd only be selling more useless crap to more people. But while I believe my work's worthwhile, it's definitely not saving the planet.
Getting paid decent wages, however, does have its up-sides. Velma and I are finally in a position these days to save money for our future, and we're even able to give donations to a bunch of organizations we like. Even if we don't get out to Arastradero Preserve to plant native grasses anymore (our own garden gets most of that weekend love), we were happy to be able to support the work of several groups this year with monetary donations.
If any of these organizations sound worthy to you, please consider a gift.
I did some work for Amnesty International a long time ago, and I also donated to them a long time ago, but a new donation was long overdue. Most people know a little about Amnesty, but did you know how broad their focus really is, and how many worthwhile campaigns they have?
Mario Savio, on the steps of Sproul Hall, said, "There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all." When the law won't fix the problem, Earth First!ers put their bodies on the line to stop the destruction. Some of the Earth First!ers I've met were the bravest, most noble people I've ever known. In the old days I used to donate stamps to North Coast Earth First! but this year I finally decided to subscribe to the Earth First! Journal.
Earthjustice began as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and has provided legal assistance on environmental issues for almost 40 years, representing citizens groups, nonprofits, scientists, and others. "Environmental litigation has been key to preserving threatened natural resources and protecting people's environmental rights. Lawsuits have protected millions of acres of wilderness and hundreds of endangered species. They have helped improve air and water quality and have forced polluting companies to clean up their discharges." Plus I love their slogan: "Because the earth needs a good lawyer."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is sort of the equivalent of Earthjustice but for the Internet. EFF uses advocacy and lawsuits to preserve free speech rights in the context of today's digital age. Among its many activities, EFF has participated in lawsuits in support of the college students who published information about the major security flaws in Diebold Election Systems, and against corporate and government infringement of the First Amendment rights of individuals, artists, journalists, bloggers, and others.
I've been watching KQED TV since I was a tot and listening since I was in my teens and 20s, and for the past decade or so it's been on almost constantly when I'm at home. I've learned so much from KQED radio that I can confidently say it's made me a better person.
“On the Media” is one of the best shows on radio, if you ask me. The media critics at this show keep a careful eye on world media, and fill in the listeners each week with healthy doses of wit and wisdom. I listen every week, even if I miss the air-time and have to download their podcast later. This year I was happy to contribute directly to WNYC where the show is produced.
Pachamama Alliance works with the Achuar, an indigenous group living in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, to develop a sustainability and economic plan that will protect and manage the two million acres of their tropical rainforest territory.
Planned Parenthood is a vital resource in a country that's incredibly backward about sexuality and where most people are hopelessly un- and misinformed about health and reproductive issues. They provide health and sexuality info to teens, women, and men, contraception, HIV/STD tests, pregnancy tests, and much more. We are proud to support the work of Planned Parenthood.
Velma may work there, but that doesn't stop us from giving them money. Save the Redwoods League was founded 90 years ago to acquire and protect what's left of the redwoods. You probably think there are a lot of redwoods left. If it hadn't been for SRL's work over the last 90 years, there wouldn't be any. Most of the redwoods in state and federal parks were originally bought by SRL and transferred to public ownership.
“This American Life” is the other show I can never miss. A few years ago I learned that Chris Ware had done an animation for a live performance of “This American Life,” and I'd seen a snippet of it online. It was awesome. This year I learned that it's actually available as a DVD/book as a premium for donating to the Chicago station that produces “This American Life” (see the “Lost Buildings DVD” description).
Velma's been interested in this little local org for a while, and she's considering volunteering with them. Urban Sprouts works with San Francisco school gardens "to help youth actively engage in school, eat better and exercise more, and connect with the environment and each other."
Wikipedia is truly one of the world's greatest resources, and truly one of the world's greatest ideas. I use it almost every day, and even though the slogan is "free knowledge for everyone," this year I decided we should pay for the privilege with a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation.
Green Design: Designers, studios, and ad agencies that work with environmental groups and green companies
I have a reputation for working with environmental nonprofits, so I still frequently get requests to do graphic design for green groups or companies. Unfortunately, I’m usually too busy.
Sometimes they ask for referrals. So I finally compiled this list of other designers and firms that have worked with environmental groups. I’m including a few advertising and PR firms too, since green groups can almost always use some expertise in their publicity campaigns, plus those firms usually have designers on staff too, or work with freelancers.
I can’t vouch for all of these. Some of them I’ve only heard of through the grapevine, but some of them I’ve met and really been impressed by. I hope you find one you can have a fruitful relationship with.
UPDATE 11-01-08: I’ve collected some new green design resources over the past year, and I’m adding a few new design firm listings to this post. Interviews with seven of the companies listed below are available at GDUSA’s website, from “Going Green” in the October 2008 issue.
I also thought I should list some organizations and resources for designers (and clients) who are interested in sustainability issues as they pertain to the graphic design discipline:
Green Team size: boutique location: New York, NY and Tasmania, AUS clients include: Environmental Defense, World Resources Institute, National Geographic Society
Mark Bult Design How could I not include myself? size: boutique location: San Francisco, CA clients include: Amnesty International, Anne Frank Center, Bay Area Earth Day, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
Metropolitan Group size: boutique location: Portland, OR clients include: Charles Darwin Foundation, National Park Foundation, The Wetlands Conservancy
Open size: boutique location: New York, NY clients include: EarthAction Network, Not In Our Name, Good magazine, The Nation
Palatal Collective size: boutique location: Kansas City, MO clients include: Pharos Project, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Girl Scouts of Mid-America Council
Public Media Center size: large location: San Francisco, CA clients include: Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace, Foundation for Deep Ecology, Oceanic Society
Ready366 size: boutique location: New York, NY clients include: Ready366 only launched in February 2008, so their client roster doesn’t really include anything indicative of their focus on sustainability. I list them here with the hope that I can update this post again in the future, with real-world examples of their stated mission of helping companies make consumer brands more earth-friendly.