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RE: An Open Letter to the Board of the National P2 Roundtable



I attended a NPPR Board meeting in Boston a year or so ago when this
same issue was raised.  Not being a board member, I was hesitant to
speak up, but my feelings at the time were, "what are you doing?"  I
thank Scott for posting this open letter to allow more of us who only
participate quietly on the sidelines to have a voice. 

This new proposed name just doesn't cut it for me.  Keep NPPR.  Like
Tammy Allen implied, it is almost a brand name.  Lets spend more time
practicing P2 and less time naming it.

Sincerely,

Kay Sommers
Broward County Environmental Protection Department


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-p2tech@great-lakes.net [mailto:owner-p2tech@great-lakes.net]
On Behalf Of Butner, R Scott
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2005 3:23 PM
To: p2tech@great-lakes.net
Cc: Butner, R Scott; KZARKER@tnrcc.state.tx.us; jeff@p2.org
Subject: An Open Letter to the Board of the National P2 Roundtable

An Open Letter to the Board of the National P2 Roundtable

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

To whom it may concern:

I was fortunate enough, in this ever-shifting and uncertain world, to
spend this morning relaxing amongst old and certain friends, at the
National Environmental Summit meeting (aka the NPPR Spring Meeting) in
Chicago.  And, as part of the morning's activities, I enjoyed listening
to two people who I have great respect for -- Ken Zarker and Ken Geiser
-- help to frame the debate over the future of the National P2
Roundtable, and indeed, the whole idea of P2.

And at the risk of putting words in someone else's mouth, I was
intrigued by the proposal to rename the NPPR to something that better
reflects the frontiers of pollution prevention, now that we find
ourselves (some of us, somewhat begrudgingly) in the year 2005. 

As chair of the Roundtable, it fell to Ken Zarker to put forward the
strawman for the rest of us to assail or embrace.  And, in what I
imagine, in retrospect, was an inevitable step, Ken bestowed upon his
strawman that holiest of Holy Grails, the "S" word itself --
"Sustainable."

Actually, what I think he said was something along the lines of "The
Sustainable Production and Consumption Roundtable" but by this time I
had already found myself in the midst of a vivid flashback to the late
1980's, to the time of the great "definition wars" when, seemingly, more
time was spent defining pollution prevention, than was spent actually
doing it.

Younger members of the NPPR Board may not remember those days -- but we
older folks do.  To quote Dylan (as we older folk are wont to do),
"There was music in the cafes at night, and revolution in the air."  Or,
at least, drinking in the bars at night, and Joel Hirschorn besides,
which was almost as good as revolution.

Now, it's true, I was, effectively, a conscientious objector during the
"Pollution Prevention Definition Wars."  Or perhaps, to mangle the
metaphor even more, I was in the equivalent of the P2 National Guard --
ready to fight if called upon.  But not quite ready to throw myself into
the fray.

But make no mistake -- I was there.  I remember it as vividly as I
remember anything with this addled brain of mine.  

No matter what Dan Rather says.

The definition wars were long and bloody, and like most wars,
simultaneously changed everything and yet changed nothing.  The wars
changed those who survived them, by forcing us to examine closely what
we meant by "pollution prevention" and perhaps more importantly, to
decide what we didn't mean.  The wars did little to change human nature,
which drove most of us, over the nearly two decades that have followed,
to use that definition more as a beacon than an anchor -- guiding our
work, but not tying us down.

In any event, the wars were nothing I would want to repeat; even in the
1980's I often found myself thinking -- "I'm getting too old for this
@#$%!"  And now that I really AM too old for that @#$%, the thought of
seeing our community spend another 5 years debating semantics is just
depressing.

And make no mistake, there are plenty of semantics to be debated.  

You see, I originally started my career in the sustainability field.  In
the mid-1980's, when I was a young research scientist fresh out of the
University of Washington, I went into renewable energy research out of a
sense of calling.  Specifically, I worked on biomass energy systems,
especially those designed to turn food and ag waste streams into energy.
Then, as now, one of the foremost challenges to achieving sustainability
is finding renewable sources of energy.  Then, as now, biomass appeared
to have a role to play in meeting that challenge.

But it didn't take long for me to drift into pollution prevention, as I
realized that many of the waste streams that we were turning into
energy, embodied intricate chemical structure that was
(thermodynamically and economically) far too valuable to turn into
simple one and two-carbon molecules like methane and ethanol.  So I got
more interested in finding higher valued uses for those wastes.

And like a salmon swimming back up stream, I found myself drawn steadily
to the source.

Once there at the source, I felt compelled to reduce it.  

Like so many before and after me, I had found a home in P2.  

But I've always kept one foot involved in the sustainability camp,
participating in such groups as the World Business Council on
Sustainable Development, and the AIChE's Institute for Sustainability.
Indeed, just two months ago,  I was lucky enough to participate in a
workshop sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on the topic of
"Building a Sustainable Chemical Industry."

Let me tell you something, folks.  In the field of sustainability, the
definition wars may be between battles, but their outcome is far from
decided. 

The NAS meeting was hardly a gathering of novices.  Many of the folks
who attended were veterans of sustainability conferences dating back to
the early 90's.  I know because I was there, too.

And yet, as has been the case at nearly every sustainability conference
or workshop I've attended over the past 12 years -- and I've attended a
lot of them -- much of the discussion revolved around defining what
sustainability "is."  

I contrast that with the NPPR meetings, where very little time is spent
on such issues any more, and all that energy gets used instead to look
at new ways of doing pollution prevention.  And discussing what works.

There's a place for both kinds of meetings.  But should NPPR decide to
become "The Sustainable Products and Consumption Roundtable," make no
mistake:  we will not be the ones framing the debate; we will not be the
ones in the lead; we will not make the first page of Google.  We are too
late to the game, too many competitors, too much institutional momentum
to overcome; and too little focus, for a mostly volunteer organization
like NPPR to stand out in this field.  

It would be like heading to Oregon to homestead.  

In 2005.

In the suburbs of Portland.

The new name may, in fact, better reflect what many of us who identify
with NPPR actually DO, but I don't think it will serve the organization
well at all.

On the way out of this morning's session, I found myself recalling Joel
Hirschorn's paper in Pollution Prevention Review, "Why the Pollution
Prevention Revolution Failed, and Why it Will Ultimately Succeed." (P2
Review, #7, Vol. 1, Winter 1997).  At the time of Joel's paper, I
remember taking issue with what I thought was a too dogmatic approach to
pollution prevention.  Joel's argument seemed to be that the
introduction of such emerging ideas as industrial ecology, environmental
management systems, and yes, as I recall, even sustainability -- 
threatened the P2 "movement" by co-opting the term and dissipating the
revolutionary zeal of its proponents.  As a proponent of many of those
emerging ideas (although, I never really have fully bought off on EMSs),
I found myself disagreeing with Joel because I felt these ideas were all
compatible with P2. 

I still believe that.   

And yet, here I find myself in a similar position, arguing that NPPR
should hold onto its core identity, to the familiar purple "P2."

I guess the difference is that, unlike Joel, I never fashioned myself a
revolutionary (OK, well yes, there was a time in the late 60's -- but I
was only 10 years old, and besides, EVERYONE was doing it then!).  

Rather, I've come to view myself as an Evolutionary.  To trade in Che
Guevara for Charles Darwin, if you will.

What's the difference?

Revolutionaries throw out everything, in hopes of rebuilding from
scratch.  One of their most powerful weapons is a design for something
better than what exists.  When the design is inspired, divinely or
otherwise, the results can be extraordinary and robust.  But all too
often, the design is merely untested, and the finished product ends up
broken down on the side of the road, relegated to the dustbins of
history.

Evolutionaries, on the other hand, retain what works, and throw out what
doesn't.  There IS no design, but somehow something functional emerges,
because if it doesn't work, it doesn't survive.  Survival, rather than
original vision, is what defines success for an Evolutionary.

Pollution prevention is important.  And while I respect the original
vision, survival of the P2 community -- which I see as synonymous with
the NPPR -- is what defines success in my mind.  

So, finally (whew!), I think it comes down to this:

The NPPR -- institutionally, and as an aggregate of it's members -- IS
the heart and soul of the pollution prevention community, however far
flung we have become.  It has played a role from the beginning in
framing the debate over what P2 is; it has demonstrated leadership in
moving P2 forward.  

Ask that ultimate arbiter of all things semantic, Google, to search for
"pollution prevention," and the top 4 web sites are (in order):
EPA-Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics; the National Pollution
Prevention Roundtable; the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention; and
North Carolina's P2 Pays web site.

There's a certain historical "rightness" about this.  And a certain
connectedness as well.  

Hopefully, this strikes a chord with some of the board members.  

And now, it's time to return to the meeting.

regards,

Scott Butner
Wearer of many hats, but one of them will always have a purple "P2" on
it

p.s. -- I've sent this open letter via the P2TECH mailing list, because
like NPPR, it's one of the oldest (and arguably, the most democratic) of
P2 institutions.  Not all of us are able to be in Chicago this week, so
I thought I'd bring the debate to the list, and encourage replies and
rebuttals.  To my colleagues on P2TECH, I apologize for the overly long
missive.  I'll make up for it next time.




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