Harnessing The Power of Dialogue from Your Desk

June 8, 2011

By Fuzz Hogan, Executive Producer, Planet Forward

(This article appears in the June, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

What if you could start an ongoing dialogue from your office, connecting top scientists, industry leaders and policy makers with your students, administrators and faculty? A 24/7 sustainability seminar, where you could hear what’s on the cutting edge of research, help spur implementation of the best ideas and motivate critical stake-holders to take action.

That’s what we’re creating here at Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the George Washington University. Created by Frank Sesno, who will keynote the ACUPCC summit in June, Planet Forward is a dynamic public square that allows citizens from diverse backgrounds to engage directly with experts, decision-makers, business leaders and each other. We’re leveraging the power of new media platforms and user-generated content, challenging the conventional top-down format of traditional media and rewarding contributors by giving their ideas increasing levels of public exposure, including broadcast television.

What does that mean? It means we’re creating that dialogue — to help bring solutions from the innovators to the decision-makers, to connect the enthusiasm of our youth with the expertise of top industry leaders.

How does it work? Let me give you two examples.

First, Jamie Hestekin, a Chemical Engineering Professor from the University of Arkansas, and his team of faculty and students have been building an algae-to-butanol machine for 3 years. They heard about Planet Forward through the EPA’s P3 competition and uploaded a video. They then revved up their social network to vote their piece on to the Planet Forward PBS show, and were featured as Nominees for our Innovator of the Year. Did they win? Well, before we get there, how about what happened along the way? First, their video was featured in middle school science classes around the state, providing curricular support and helping motivate students toward both science and sustainability. Their participation earned them media coverage from their local newspapers, radio and TV stations along with a few energy trade publications and a mention in the New York Times. They’ve also won awards (some from PF process, others not). And, by being featured on the site and in the show, Jamie and his students have connected with the Chief Innovation Office from DuPont, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and New York Times’ Dot-Earth blogger Andrew Revkin and students and faculty from Arizona State University, Columbia University, Caldwell College and others. So, they won already, right? But they also won our online voting competition that followed the show’s airing on PBS. So, for the next year, we’ll be following Jamie online and on TV to see if his team’s algae-to-butanol invention gains traction.

Second, Victoria Riess was a junior journalism major here at The George Washington University when she produced a video on a local farm in Washington, D.C. Her video was featured in a discussion with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who gave Victoria direct feedback on the ideas in the piece (as well its production value). Victoria won a Gracie award for the video and has since been hired here at Planet Forward.

Those examples show the power of dialogue. Whether it’s your on-campus scientists like Jamie and his team, or your on-campus communicators like Victoria, Planet Forward is a way to connect great ideas to those who can put them into action, through dialogue. We’re proud and pleased that you chose to bring your conference right to our doorstep. We encourage you and your sustainability teams to log on to PlanetForward.org, share your best ideas and help us all move the Planet Forward!

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