5 questions about
Communications director, Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG)
1. How does the environment fit into Rotary’s areas of focus?
Any project in any area of focus will benefit from having environmental sustainability as one of its watchwords. It’s a lot harder to supply clean water to people if your watershed is compromised— if your river is full of industrial, human, and animal waste. Basic education and literacy is a challenge when kids are sick because the school well is contaminated. Health is affected when insects carrying diseases expand their geographic range due to changing climate patterns. Water wars and climate refugees will make achieving peace and conflict resolution more complicated. Economic development is slowed when there’s not adequate energy. Rotary would do a huge service to the world if it moved every water project from a diesel pump to wind or solar. That’s a project that’s scalable.
2. Why did ESRAG publish a handbook with environmental project ideas?
A lot of people say they’d like to do an environmental project, but they don’t know where to start. Or they may already be doing something in their community that they didn’t even realize was an environmental project — like adopting a highway or organizing an electronic waste recycling drive — and the handbook, which we worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to create in 2019, helps educate them about the broad range of projects that help the environment. Other people say they need an idea that will inspire their clubs. I was astonished at the wide variety of project ideas we were able to gather and present in the handbook.
3. Can you describe some of the project suggestions?
We looked to address topics that we thought were important, topics that fit well with existing areas of focus, and topics that expanded Rotary clubs’ reach into the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Six of the 17 goals don’t currently fit under one of Rotary’s areas of focus — things like affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production. The back cover is a sample press release. It’s a reminder that sharing our story builds the brand and creates momentum for more service.
4. What inspired ESRAG’s collaboration with UNEP?
In 2018, Rotary Day at the United Nations was celebrated in Nairobi, Kenya, and UNEP, which is based there, helped host the event. Rotary and UNEP decided to work together to create a handbook for Rotary clubs that want to participate in World Environment Day, which is 5 June. ESRAG worked with UNEP on the handbook. It starts with a joint statement from former RI Presidents Barry Rassin and Mark Daniel Maloney. We were thrilled to have that endorsement and hope this can be the start of more collaboration between Rotary and UNEP.
5. Are Rotarians getting more involved in environmental projects?
I was invited by Rotary staff earlier this year to help put together a survey to gauge interest in environmental projects throughout the Rotary world. We had some input from the Climate Solutions Coalition, which is a youth movement within ESRAG. We sent out the survey link in a newsletter on 23 January. We had to get all the results in by 31 January. In that brief time, we got over 5,000 completed surveys back. I think that shows there is a lot of pent-up demand. People interested in environmental solutions could go out and work with other groups, and many Rotarians do. But what we’re seeing is a real desire to do their environmental work within the Rotary framework. That’s a valuable future asset for Rotary. We have no idea of the members it will attract, the purse strings that will be loosened. With the people who will be the next generation of Rotary, the future is clear.
— DIANA SCHOBERG
• Download your copy of the ESRAG-UNEP handbook at esrag.org/esrag-unep-handbook.
• Illustration by Viktor Miller Gausa
• This story originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.