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We are making long strides with sustainability, all thanks to the collective efforts, both big and small, of individuals, organizations, and companies. In this episode, we have someone responsible for saving 65 million acres of trees! The Executive Director of Stand.earth Todd Paglia joins Corinna Bellizzi to share with us the amazing things they have done, especially when it comes to transforming the paper policies of multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies. He also deepens the conversation on the fossil fuel treaty, confronting the oil industry, and working on forest protection. Todd then calls upon the gauntlet of philanthropy, putting forward the importance of companies that are authentically making a change in the world. It is time to make even bigger efforts to find solutions to pressing environmental issues. Join this episode to learn more!
About Todd Paglia
When Todd Paglia joined Stand.earth in 1999, he had a vision of transforming the environmental impact of something so ubiquitous that it’s often forgotten – paper. He saw that major corporations in the office supply and catalog industries were purchasing and selling millions of tons of paper with no accountability for, or even knowledge of, the environmental devastation that paper caused. As Executive Director of Stand.earth, Todd can be credited with transforming the paper policies of multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies, including Staples, Office Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Dell, Victoria’s Secret, 3M and many more. Under Todd’s leadership, Stand.earth has saved more than 65 million acres of endangered forests. In addition, recycled pulp mills have seen major companies requesting more sustainable fiber as a result of Stand.earth’s campaigns. Todd led the organization to take what it learned moving international forest product markets and applied and expanded upon those lessons in the climate sector, where Stand.earth has led on campaigns to defeat major oil infrastructure projects (pipelines, oil by rail terminals, fracked gas projects, and more), shifting markets away from dirty fuels like tar sands oil, moving the shipping sector (exempted from Paris) toward climate awareness and reform, and beginning through campaign pressure and negotiations the start of a “race to the top” on climate issues in the apparel sector.
Show Notes (RAW)
07:48 – Status of forest protection in the United States
14:08 – The gauntlet of philanthropy
20:29 – How to take action
26:22 – Why is big change more difficult with larger NGOs than smaller ones
27:54 – Making changes in fashion
34:47 – Why we need disagreements to make real change
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A Call For Big Change: Forest Protection, Philanthropy, And NGOs With Todd Paglia Of Stand.earth
One of the questions I often hear from readers and from my community as a whole is, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” I want to echo something. Your activism doesn’t have to look like that of somebody else’s. It doesn’t have to look like marching in the streets. It could be as simple as sharing this show with people you think need to read the message we’re espousing in this episode or bringing up a difficult conversation about climate or the social issues you’re concerned about with your loved ones over dinner. It doesn’t have to look like the activism of anybody else.
Talk about climate change. Talk about social unrest and inequality. Connect with other people who care in your local community. Consistency is the key to success here, and you can build your own activist path, one that feels authentic to you. I have brought this show to you since February 2021. As with my own activism path, it doesn’t look like that of necessarily everyone else’s.
With this show, we have connected with incredible thought leaders from many different categories that similarly don’t give up. They champion something specific that really matters to them. They keep showing up each week to get their messages into the world. They’re fighting for what they believe in, and they’re pushing for positive change too.
Even when I don’t make it to an in-person event to connect with people like my prior guest, Matt Schlegel, who attends his city council meetings each and every Monday, I can still feel good about the contribution I’m making. As we dive into this topic, I ask that you remember that you are a part of this movement.
As a reader, you are pushing for social change in your own way and a sustainable one. Your voice matters. You matter. A few weeks back, you got to meet Tzeporah Berman of Stand.earth as we introduced you to the idea of a fossil fuel treaty. Now, we get to deepen this conversation even further as you meet the executive Director of Stand.earth, Todd Paglia.
As Executive Director of Stand.earth, Todd can be credited with transforming the paper policies of multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 companies, including Staples, Office Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Dell, Victoria’s Secret, 3M, and many more. Under Todd’s leadership, Stand.earth has saved more than 65 million acres of endangered forests. This is in addition to their important work confronting the oil industry and even work in apparel, which will dive more into this episode. Todd, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Corinna. It’s great to be here.
I want to open the door and learn a little bit more about your journey. Saving 65 million acres of trees is a big deal. Also, you have a long history of working with Stand.earth. Tell us about your journey and why you are so passionate about being here.
This story goes way back, so I’ll just tell you the short version of how I got started on forest protection, which is where Stand.earth started. To cut our teeth, we moved around a lot when I was growing up all over Upstate New York, living a different version of the American dream. Each time my father got promoted, we would move. I was in a new school and new situation every 2 to 3 years for my entire youth.
The thing that was consistent every time we moved is there was always a forest nearby. That grounded me. I was an avid hunter and fisher. It was a stabilizing force in my life, and it’s no coincidence that I ended up growing up becoming a lawyer and wanting to dedicate myself to forest protection. That was the beginning of my career.
Forest protection is almost a battle at this point, even with some local forestry services, as we’re finding in spaces like the Pacific Northwest where it seems they’ll take old-growth trees out simply because of fire hazards and things along those lines. I wonder if you could provide us with a brief status for where we are now as it stands with the topic of forest protection in the United States.
There have been big wins. It’s always important for people who care about the environment, and the effects all of the various industries and governments have. It’s easy to see the cup as half empty, but there’s been a lot of major strides on the Canadian and the US side of the border and internationally to protect big swaths of forest. We’re in a moment of grappling with more of the reality. I live in Washington State. We have a progressive governor, Governor Jay Inslee.
Despite quite a bit of progress on a lot of different issues, forests and climate-related, if you fly over Washington State, the thing that is most remarkable that you see is incredible clear cuts all across our state and British Columbia, Oregon, and elsewhere. When you look at forests and what they do for salmon, for climate, and for water quality, we have to start changing the way we treat these places. That debate is getting more real. Little parks and little strips of the protected area near streams aren’t cutting it anymore. I’m looking forward to getting into that debate as we grapple with necessity, not just wanting to change things.
You’re speaking to my heart here. I believe that we have to get to a space where we’re able to also prioritize what we choose to work on as individuals because it can seem very daunting. I published an episode with Matt Schlegel where he says, “We all need to do everything.” I thought, “How overwhelming is that singular thought? How can we approach things a little bit differently so that we prioritize what counts first to us personally so that we can make the impact that we hope to make without completely driving ourselves to burnout?”
Understanding how overwhelming it can be to think that there are so many things with regard to climate and protection of the earth that we have to do, I would love your perspective on how you prioritize what you do at Stand.earth so that it’s not so overwhelming and also so that we can learn from that.
We are always scanning forests and climate issues in North America and around the world, trying to find these neglected issues like, “Where is it where people are not piling on where there’s something important at stake, but there’s not a lot of people and organizations working on it? Where are there big controversies, conflicts, and battles over environmental issues, where our particular skills around campaigning, research, and communications where we can make a big difference happen?” That’s what we’re always looking for. It’s like, “Is there a place where we can bring something special to change the dynamic, empower local people, and make big change happen?” That’s what we do every single day.
We have a great example to look to in the consumer product space, which you mentioned on your intake form, which is Patagonia and the philosophy that their founder has had, which ultimately has driven the company to champion open spaces in a way that most companies would never dream of committing to a particular cause, so much so that they even became somewhat political and were willing to lose out on potential customers as a process of that too.
They’ve been in the news because he took the entire company, and essentially, not-for-profit long term. They are not going to profit from their own dollars. Their dollars will go into operational costs, and then they’re funding a foundation. That’s it. It’s taking it out of control and out of the heritage of even having the one-day idea of potentially the company going public, which they could have done many times over the years. I wonder what we can learn from what they have done from your humble perspective.
Yvon Chouinard has always been a pathmaker and an innovator. What he has done here has laid down the gauntlet for all philanthropy. This is real giving. This is not making billions of dollars and giving thousands or hundreds of thousands away. That is not getting us where we need to get. A lot of the big philanthropy that happens in the world, in some cases, is people who have invested heavily in destructive and detrimental industries.
They give a portion away to philanthropy, while the net effect is bad for the planet. What Yvon Chouinard is doing is saying, “We’re going to give it all and give it to groups that are cutting edge and are asking for fundamental change, not incremental change.” It’s an incredible example. I hope it shakes up philanthropy and changes the way foundations and that whole sector operate.
What he’s doing, too, is ensuring that his company doesn’t become something that’s been completely bastardized from its original concept and love for the planet in 1 generation or 2. He’s safeguarded that future, understanding that he doesn’t necessarily have control over what his grandchildren would choose to do.
It’s a powerful example. We’re seeing it send shockwaves through the world of philanthropy. That is a world that is in need of 1 revolution or 2. I’m hoping his example is followed.
Why is so much philanthropy off base, in your opinion? Why does that happen? Aside from looking at the examples of British Petroleum that they now rebranded Beyond Petroleum, like Beyond Meat somehow, that they are somehow doing the world some good by giving 2% of their money specifically to research and put into place green energy solutions as opposed to fracking and other things that they also do. How do we identify when companies are truly greenwashing, or if you have some key to that, or when they’re being authentic, like the Yvon Chouinards of the world?
It’s hard to tell at times because the spin is so polished. The mark of authenticity is when a company does something difficult, like what Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia did. I don’t know of any other example like it where the entire company is given away with the proceeds the benefit, big change in the world. It’s difficulty and authenticity. We know it when we see it. What is easier to spot these days are things that are not authentic and not real change. You’ll see every year, hundreds and hundreds of announcements about green initiatives that companies are making.
If you read the actual announcement, a lot of times, you can see right through it. Often it is incremental change. It is partial. It is for only some of what they do, not all of what they do. Those easy things are not adding up to the change we need. We need companies and governments to do big and hard things. We’re at a point in history where the solutions are as big and as capable as the problems we have, so we can solve the climate crisis, species loss crisis, and everything else we’re facing if we have the will.
To the point that you and I have also discussed offline, a big change is hardest for big companies and also big NGOs. It’s not exclusive to the for-profit sector. We’ll see this in the consumer product space with somebody like Adidas or Nike coming out with a product that is eco-friendly, printed with algae ink, and made from sustainable materials, as with the Adidas Allbirds collaboration for a single sneaker that had a lower carbon footprint.
It comes in, and it makes a splash. They get their PR payment in a way. It’s like free marketing, and the rudimentary operations of the businesses don’t shift. They don’t change from the extractive principles the company says have espoused because that big change is hard, and it’s hard to steer a big ship. That sets the stage for why it might be possible to make a big change with smaller NGOs, but I’d love for you to speak to that and give us more color.
We were talking earlier about what people should do. If people want to take action, what is the most effective thing they can do? It is to define a small or medium-sized nonprofit that matches your character. In Stand.earth, we’re a little spicier than most. We challenge big companies and governments. Our whole approach is if we have to do conflict, we’ll do conflict, but we really want to collaborate.
We know that we’re more powerful together than when we’re fighting. We want to move from disagreement toward real authentic change. That’s what we focus on. My experience has been having been in this field is that the big foundations and the big NGOs are great people, very smart, and have good intentions, but they tend to move so slowly. They tend to ask for relatively little.
I’ve had forest companies come to me and say, “You won’t believe how little they’re asking us to do in this big fancy NGO foundation collaborative. You wouldn’t believe how little we have to do to stay as members.” As a movement, especially the big NGOs and big foundations, we have to be audacious in what we’re asking for. It should seem impossible. That’s the level of what we should be asking of big companies and governments. If it seems like it’s going to be easy and they’re going to make even more money doing it, don’t bother. That’s not the change that we need.
You’re speaking to my heart here. In my very first episode, I got to interview my friend Kayra Martinez about her NGO, which is a not-for-profit, called Love Without Borders for Refugees in Need. She simply noticed in her time in Greece that the refugees who were coming through Aleppo, and this was their soft landing in Greece, were struggling to even get fed on a specific day. They’d have to wait in line for 2 or 3 hours for a croissant and a cup of orange juice.
When she saw that level of a problem, she started volunteering her time every time that she came to Greece to try and support them, and then realized that the big NGOs, as much funding and money as they brought in, didn’t have the nimble ability to affect change at that grassroots level on location. She chose to take a little bit of that work into her own hands. She showed up one day and brought some crayons and paper, and some of the kids started to draw. Children who hadn’t been speaking started speaking again after the trauma they’d experienced and realized arts could be part of the solution, “I’m going to create a not-for-profit grassroots effort and see what we can do.”
There are two different types of groups, mostly in our movement, those that love governments and companies and want incrementalism. The equally problematic part of this is those that hate companies and governments because there is no change without companies and governments being forced to agree to something new in some cases.
The idea that we’re going to change how people on the front lines are treated, the air pollution, water pollution, climate, everything, but we’re not going to talk to companies and governments, is ridiculous. It’s as ridiculous as thinking that incremental change going to get Microsoft to use 10% less energy is going to change the world. I answered the question I wanted to answer, but I wanted to start over and get into that a little bit because there’s this polarization happening, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
In your estimation, why is big change more difficult with larger NGOs than the smaller ones? How do you think we can do this differently?
There are dysfunctional parts of both the huge NGOs and the smaller NGOs. On the big NGO or foundation side, there is very slow movement and requests for incremental change, which will not get us to solve the climate crisis. On the other side, you have another extreme where you have individuals in smaller groups who are justifiably angry at companies and governments and don’t want to have anything to do with them. Neither side works.
What works is if we challenge companies and governments to do things that seem almost impossible, push them to make commitments and implementation of those commitments that are audacious, and that we work to then get them to agree to these goals and then implement them. That’s the engagement and conflict to collaboration we need to see more of. We can’t have this side being best friends with companies and governments and this side hating them and not wanting to talk to them. We need to all do this together.
Incremental change making 10% less worse of an impact isn’t going to create the goodwill that we would need to succeed. We need people to lock arms, work together, and ultimately do so with intention. How are you specifically able to implement some of this? Do you have a specific example you can bring to mind where you had something like a big company that was perhaps resistant that you were able to tackle and bring into the fold?
I have a great example of this. This goes into our fashion campaign. If you go back a few years and look at the climate commitments that those companies were making, and I’m talking about some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, those climate commitments applied to their headquarters and stores. Let’s look at one company, Levi’s, which at that time was making those commitments.
99% of their climate impact is in the factories and the transportation of the stuff that they make. Their commitments with which they’re putting out press releases and getting kudos from big environmental groups applied to 1% of their impact. It’s a completely ridiculous situation, totally ineffective and dysfunctional. What Stand did is we came into that sector and said, “No more fake commitments. If you’re going to make a climate commitment, it has to apply to your stores, headquarters, and all of your factories all over the world, no matter what.”If you're going to make a climate commitment, it has to apply to your stores, your headquarters, and all of your factories all over the world, no matter what. Click To Tweet
We helped set the science-based target, which was possibly being negotiated to exclude factories as an impact. We made sure that was part of the science-based target. We had then pushed companies like Levi’s. Levi’s made the first commitment that took responsibility for reducing its emissions across its entire supply chain. It’s every store, headquarters, and all their factories. We then push the entire sector to follow that example and set real climate goals.
The trick now is to get them to implement them and to invest in wind and solar on the ground in China, Vietnam, Turkey, and other places where they make their products. It’s happening slower than it should, but it’s happening. We went from a situation where all the commitments were fake to now that we have real commitments, and if they implement them, it will matter for people and our planet.
Were you also able to help them address their usage of water? I understand that making jeans is one of the most water-intensive clothing items that we have.
If companies are allowed to do incremental improvements like, “Let’s use 10% less water for all the jeans we make,” it doesn’t matter. What matters is that as they’re being pushed to reduce their overall climate impact, what’s happening is they’re looking at investing into, “What are ways that you can do this that use less water, fewer chemicals, and less energy?” It’s all of those things wrapped into them accomplishing their climate goals. That’s revolutionizing the industry, not accepting 10% less damage. That is beginning to happen in the sector. They need a lot more pressure. They need a lot more adverse media. They need kudos when they do the right thing. That’s what Stand.earth is all about.
What can we do individually to showcase the successes that are seen and ultimately push for that right change and shine a light when more changes are needed?
Find a group that matches your character. In Stand.earth, we have a million people on various platforms and channels that work with us to change company and government behavior. If you like what you’re reading, join us. I would encourage people to find a group that is more on the small and medium size end of the spectrum that moves quickly and pushes for a big change that is audacious. That’s where we need to see a lot of growth in our sector and a lot more participation. If you are attracted to the giant NGOs and think everything that’s happened over the last years where we should have more of that, you’re welcome to do that. I just don’t think that’s where big change is coming.You have to find an organization that matches your character and what they want you to do because collective action is always more powerful. Click To Tweet
I’m right there with you. I am at the point where I’m surprised to hear of something great that The Nature Conservancy has done, for example, because I happen to donate to them once, and now it feels like all they do is bombard my mailbox with junk mail that I don’t want or need. I’ve chosen to direct my donations in a different direction partially because of that, because of how wasteful it is and how little it seems to stand with earth if I’m going to be real clear and perhaps give on to not only the naming of the company Stand.earth, but also the intention behind that. When you have an NGO that is focused on earth protection and resource protection, they should also live and walk the concept of minimal imprint.
As we were growing, and Stand.earth has grown a lot in the last several years and even more in the last few years, we were encouraged to start a direct mail program, a junk mail program. Maybe we could have even grown more, but we couldn’t do it. If you want a written report, we’ll send you mail, but we do not send millions of solicitations out every day, which some organizations do. It’s counterproductive and off of the mission and vision of Stand.earth to do that. We’re smaller, more powerful, and better off because of not doing junk mail.
If there’s a question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had, I hope that you will ask and answer it. If not, at this point, I would love to offer you the floor for closing thoughts and what you would have our audience think about as they go on with their days.
This is going to sound a little bit crazy, but I mean this from the bottom of my heart. We are in a weird time. This is a strange and interesting time to be alive, but there seems to be so much conflict, bad news, and other things going on in the world. What I’m about to say will sound a little bit cookie, but hear me out. What we need in the world of change in forest climate, frontline people, and indigenous leaders is we need more disagreement.
What I see a lot of out in the world is either throwing rocks from afar or congratulating people, companies, and governments on a fairly tepid movement. What we need is to grapple with real change to get into serious disagreements, take those disagreements public in campaigns and social media work, and come to a win-win agreement.
Stand.earth has been doing that for many years. There is not one company we’ve campaigned against that isn’t still working with us. It’s okay to get into disagreements if they’re about substance, not about personalities and people. We get into disagreements on the substance and learn from each other. We often don’t get what we were after in the beginning because we didn’t understand the industry or the company fully, but we get something that is a breakthrough and significant. I would urge people to find groups that are willing to get into serious disagreements and adopt real solutions. That’s where we need to go, and that’s what Stand.earth is doing.
I love that. It’s moving from placation to action. That’s fantastic. I want to thank you so much for your time and hard work that you, Tzeporah Berman, and everyone at Stand.earth is doing to stand for the earth. It takes lawyer types like yourselves to stand up, has those disagreements, and show us how it can be done. We need to get to a space where we’re comfortable in discourse and don’t play kick one another just to have the problem swept under the rug, which is everything you’re speaking to.
Thank you. It was awesome to be here. I love the show. We’re fans of you as well, Corinna. Thanks.
Thank you so much. That’s my honor to host this show, and being able to connect with people like yourself is my pleasure. My hope is that we get to do it at some point in the future in person. You’re in Northern California, so it’s not all that far.
It sounds good.
Thank you so much, Todd.
What an interview. If you enjoy this conversation, please subscribe and write us a review so more people can discover the show. I encourage you to visit our page, CareMoreBeBetter.com. You can even sign up for our newsletter and receive our guide to help unleash your inner activist as a welcome gift. It’s completely free. We only send one email a week. I promise I won’t bombard your inbox, nor will I send you any junk mail.
If you have any feedback for this show or questions for Todd or me, you can always leave me a voicemail directly from CareMoreBeBetter.com. There is a microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner. All you have to do is tap it. You can also email me directly at Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, and we can be better. We can even regenerate Earth. Thank you.
- Matt Schlegel – Previous Episode
- Tzeporah Berman – Previous Episode
- Kayra Martinez – Previous Episode
- Love Without Borders for Refugees in Need