Environmental Impact and Our Philanthropic Footprint

Alex Steffen suggests 3 new rules of major philanthropy in his article Our Philanthropic Footprint:

1. Practice holistic assessment.

2. Seek transformative impact.

3. Offer utter transparency

Holistic assessment must deal with environmental impact of our investment and here is where I see a storm coming for Christian ministries and Foundations that have not given thought to the larger interconnected processes of what they do or how they go about doing it.

Bigfoot If we took account of the environmental impact of, say, a typical Christian conference, for example, of flying leaders in for a 2 day conference in a hotel and flying them all back again, the footprint would be almost Sasquatchian. It would force us to explore ways to do things differently [see my last post on festivals], to do things more lightly, more locally, more slowly, more relationally, more thoughtfully and to look at the big picture of our philanthropy and/or ministry.

For the coming year, we are being vigorous in determining and measuring how much energy we will use as a family and as a ministry. I see us living much lighter in 2008. Perhaps even chopping our energy bill in half, despite a busier travel schedule. I will let you know what solutions we come up with. Watch this space.

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • brad says:

    A few days ago I posted on foresight “predictions” from July 2007. One of them related to eco-stewardship. Perhaps we’re moving in that direction far sooner than I hoped for …
    It may be ironic that new media and technotools (internet, teleconferencing, etc.) may help us do things in a more old-fashioned process (relationally, slowly, etc.). But I’ve already seen some ministries cut back on travel and only do more regional events in order to help minimize costs. I realize this may have more to do with The Gold Footprint than The Carbon Footprint, but perhaps it’s still at least a half-step in the right direction. Keep steppin’ bro!

  • becky says:

    I look forward to your research – one area where I’ve begun to explore my own carbon footprint is learning multitask when traveling – e.g., make one long extended trip to a destination instead of several quick jaunts, use public transportation when traveling whenever possible, and to really pray about the number of events I attend (like you, I am leaning very heavily in the festival route).
    In addition to being environmentally unfriendly, the traditional author/speaker book tour where one dude jets across the country to showcase their talents versus building a communal vibe strikes me as anti-emerging in nature. Shane’s Jesus for President tour made some interesting inroads in showing us a new way – their tour bus was powered on veggie oil for starters. Also, they created an event that allowed for some members of the local communities to show their talents during intermission as well as displaying materials from local community groups (this way those who attended the event could be plugged into grassroots organizations that would help them put into practice what Shane & Co. are preaching).

  • andrew jones says:

    yeah – i can see that although its better for a speaker to travel around to local groups than demand that everyone flies to a certain city to hear a speaker.
    GO John Wesley!!!!

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for posting about this! I think it’s a really important topic. 🙂

  • becky says:

    Andrew – good point. I am definitely pushing festivals over conferences – there are a few solid ones like the National Pastors Conference, AAR, SBL and the like but we seem to be reproducing conferences like bunnies to the point where you could spend your entire time going from conference to conference talking about reminaging church without ever actually getting one’s hands dirty. (Not to mention there’s only so many times you can hear the same line-up of speakers in a year without dozing off.)
    A few Qs though …
    1. For those of you that travel (me included), I’d ask us to pray if we really need to go on this trip – for example, how many trips to the UK does one really “need” to do in a year? If you find yourself traveling from the US to UK (or vice versa) say 3 times a year or, then maybe it’s time to rethink your total carbon footprint. Perhaps cut down on the travel or maybe relocate for a stretch.
    2. Instead of taking say a 4 week cross country speaking tour that has your butt in a plane more than on the ground some days (the carbon footprint from these trips is astronomical), how about maybe cutting back significantly on the number of cities and spend say a week in four cities? Yes, you’ll sell less product overall but you can learn from the local church communities. Also, instead of doing a quickie talk and then you’re out, really sit and do some in-depth learning exercises. And if you are going to do a cross country multi-city tour, I’d do it the Shane veggie bus way (or come up with your own way to significantly reduce your fuel use) where you’re not leaving a massive carbon footprint.
    3. Given we’re living in a global technologically wired world, how critical is it that a spear appear in person to convey the message (other than of course to collect speaking fees and sell books) especially if the person is going from city to city delivering the same prepared speech?
    4. Along those lines, we’re talking about emerging communities – I’m in Seattle now and the best learning experience I’m having isn’t listening to Karen Ward (though she is amazing) but watching COTA in action. I learned more from seeing emerging communities do their thing at Greenbelt than I ever did from hearing their leader lecture.
    End of rant. Blame it on the Seattle coffee.

  • becky says:

    I meant to say speaker, not spear. That does it, I’ve had too much coffee. Switching to beer.
    Let’s all think about how we can break through the modernist model – the one man traveling salvation show – to explore new models to convey the message of what it means to be the church of the 21st century. My take is unless i need to cover an event (e.g., I do need to cover AAR and SBL), I’monly doing festivals when possible. Much more holistic and healthy for reasons you outlined.

  • “Utter transparency” is an interesting one. I wonder how this translates to our church groups, particularly when money given pays a full time worker. I know that as registered charities finances are open to inspection but does utter mean that we should be going out of our way to present the breakdown to all the members or only those who ask? Perhaps our budgets should be more open to people other than trustees having an input? But is there a danger of going too far? Any thoughts about utter transparency in this context?

  • andrew jones says:

    i am working on greater transparency upfront in letting people know about investment opportunities and getting the recipients to be aware of each other and to start blogging their stories of how they are using the money. Blogging will allow greater crowd wisdom and higher accountability.

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