Putting Principles into Practice

So I came up with principles to guide this new website. Accessibility, scalability, open source, yada, yada, yada.

Principles, like goals and mission statements, can often seem like something people spend a ton of time coming up with and then they get written down somewhere and eventually people forget what they are. Forget even where they were written. We know we have some lying around somewhere…

So what does it look like to come up with principles and then see them in action. Here are a few examples.

We campaign on different issues. So, as often is the case, designers suggest that we have icons for each campaign. A drop of water for oceans. A tree for forests. This sounds nice. But how does it scale? It doesn’t. If we start a new campaign next year – do we have to go back and find the designer to draw us a new icon? If not, it won’t look like the others. It’s just a simple example of designing yourself into a corner. Scalability means no corners. The answer to this question: no icons.

It can look cool to have images with text on them. For example, on our current website – you have a big image and put words on it in the image file. You have buttons with words on them as images, “Read more. “Take action.” When thinking about accessibility and scalability this is a total fail. What if you want the site in other languages? You have to re-create all these images. What a pain. Everyone has to have Photoshop. What an expense. On our new website all wording will be editable text.

What fonts can we use? Do we have a few hundred bucks to buy a font. Nope. Doesn’t sound like much but all fonts will be open source. No licences, no purchases.

When setting up the server, how do we plan for access. Do we give it to just Greenpeace staff? Nope. Do we give it to the one vendor we’re working with? Well yes, but we don’t set it up as if they’re always going to be our only vendor. Scalability, accessibility, open source. They become the answer to everything.

Putting Principles into Practice

Trust people to do their jobs

During this process I’ve felt empowered and supported. I’ve felt trusted to do my job. We could have spent a ton of time and money doing a huge discovery process. We didn’t.

I hired smart people. I spent a few days answering their questions and telling them everything I know. Where I didn’t know things – I invited others in.

Trusting myself

Having worked at Greenpeace for 16 years if I don’t know what I’m doing by now or what I want in a website – then what am I here for?

We don’t trust ourselves enough to know what we’re doing. We hire consultants to tell us what we already know. Or to tell our bosses so they’ll believe us. I feel fortunate my boss already believed me.

Trusting others

I also trusted others to do their job. I told designers what I wanted and when they suggested solutions – I went with them. The designers often seemed surprised I wasn’t pushing back or second guessing them.

When I asked others for their thoughts, I listened to them. I never asked someone what they felt so they would feel “included.” I asked because I wanted to know. And including their input made things better.

Trust people to do their jobs

Simple like a fox

People who don’t know what they’re doing make things really complicated. Websites that don’t know what they’re doing make things really complicated.

More words don’t make things more clear. But taking away words can. As can choosing the right words.

It takes a lot of expertise and experience to make things really simple. Simple goals, simple execution.  Simple doesn’t mean easy. But ease is the ultimate goal for building, using and visiting the site.

While walking home today I was thinking of Homer Simpson’s “____ like a fox” saying. I’m building a site that is simple like a fox.

Simple like a fox


A new website is in the works for Greenpeace. A website built with principles of the collaborative commons:

Accessible:  A site that looks great on desktops and mobile, for people with high and low bandwidth.  Internally, an admin that works for people of all skill levels and budgets.
Scalable: A site we will continue to build, translate and keep pace with technology.
Open source: A WordPress site that benefits from a robust global open source community.

I’m building an open framework, not an end product. A site built for its users:  the people who update it and the people who visit.

Accessibility means inclusivity. Scability means thinking about the future. Opensource means we all take part – we all benefit and we all give back.

This month marks 16 years that I’ve been at Greenpeace. I’ve worked on every Greenpeace website since we were first figuring out what a website was. This website is the culmination of everything I know. About communications. About websites. About Greenpeace.

It puts into practice Greenpeace’s new operating model. It’s as simple as it is bold. As clear as it is new. It’s exciting!


The collaborative commons

As someone who has been at Greenpeace for a long time, I’ve been wondering lately what are we doing? What am I doing? What is this all adding up to? Are the victories we send all-staff email about really meaningful? It doesn’t always feel like it to me anymore. I know the organization is trying to decentralize but sometimes it’s hard to remember what that’s even about anymore.

In a meeting with Kumi, our international ED, this year he said that overall we aren’t winning. And the approach to tackle each issue one by one isn’t working. We need to take a step back and look at what’s behind the issues we work on. Look at consumption. Look at capitalism. Our monetary system. This was the first time I’ve really heard a leader at Greenpeace speak to this. This seemed like a really important shift. And excited too to hear Annie, our new US ED, echoing these themes.

So the title of this conference (and the list of speakers) got me – “Where do we go from here?” What are other people in our movement saying about where we’re going? And what exactly is the “commons”.

I think Greenpeace has been dancing around this. But we’ve lacked the vocabulary and context that ties it all together and tells you what the internet and the ocean have in common. A guiding principle that all staff understand and can use.

So what do they have in “common”?

It starts with the knowledge that everything is connected. And not in a trite way. But really. This is how biology, ecosystems and the world really works. When David Bollier talks about about how everything is connected, words like “equitable, humane, well being, open, relationships,” start getting used.

You start seeing how air, water, culture, soil, knowledge, the internet, human genome, mathematical formulas and seeds are all part of the commons. None of us as individuals (or corporations now defined as people) should have rights to patent or privatize these things – to say “mine” and exclude other people (or other life forms). It’s everything that we create and inherit together. We all have a part in it – and we all have  responsibility to it.

This responsibility means no one gets to check out. And this is where citizenship comes in.

What happens when you “enclose” in the commons?

Vandana Shiva will tell you that when you patent a seed for example, you stop evolution. You interfere with the process that has brought about life for thousands of years. There’s a downside to this! You lose resiliency, you hamper natural intelligence.

Seeds must be kept “open source.” You see parallels with open source software. Open collaboration leads to expedited development. Things move freely and quickly. Things change – and that’s the nature of well, nature.

The collaborative commons

Jeremy Rifkin will tell you that the shift is already underway. Capitalism is giving birth to a new sharing economy built on the collaborative commons. Younger people don’t want to “own” things anymore. They want access to things. Things like cars, homes, music. Everyone is more connected than ever – 45% of the planet has access to the internet and China is about to release a $25 smart phone – so this is only growing.

(And no, Uber, is not the model of the sharing economy. Corporations like to jump on the sharing bandwagon and try and capitalize on it.)

With the maker movement and 3-D printing you see that distributed knowledge getting everyone in on production.

The last big stranglehold is on energy. Oil companies fighting the shift to distributed renewable energy. But as he kept saying – check out Germany! They’re showing us how it’s done.

How does this apply to my work?

Greenpeace must articulate and demonstrate a commitment to open source platforms.

We must manage these systems in the same distributed and collaborative ways that we expect our users to use them.

Everything must be scalable.

Everything must be accessible.

Other tidbits

Winone LaDuke is a badass. She was on the board of GP when I started. It was great to hear from her and how a lot of indigenous knowledge bypassed the whole colonial, corporate-owning mentality that we’re now trying to get out from under.

I had high expectations for Van Jones and he exceeded everything I thought I was in for. He’d just come from Ferguson and gave a very emotional talk about that, about what it’s like when the Koch Brothers take you down, and about still having hope. Green jobs is still a good idea. Don’t let Fox news fool you.

The term “self organizing” kept getting used. And I like looking at the force that got particles in the universe to get together to form life – as a model. Two forces at play: entropy and self organizing. If it worked to form the universe – probably a concept we can learn from.

We started every session with a 5 minute meditation. The conference being at Omega – there was a lot of talk about change having to start from within. I really liked doing this. It seemed to shift the energy of myself and the whole room to have these mini meditation/ yoga sessions sprinkled throughout.

Here are more details on the conference:


The collaborative commons