Our values: Helping us make the tough calls for our environment

  • February 9, 2015
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  • Mike Harley

If you’ve spent any time around Environmental Initiative over the past twenty-four years, I bet you have a pretty clear sense of our mission. Even if you couldn’t repeat the official mission statement word-for-word (who could?), I would be surprised if you didn’t know that we bring together business, government, and nonprofits to solve environmental problems through dialogue and partnership.

It’s true – that’s the essence of our mission and we have been a consistently mission-driven organization for nearly a quarter century. Our mission is the foundation of our identity and it enables us to do things that no other group can do for our environment and our community.

Without taking anything away from that mission-based identity, though, I would suggest that we are also a values-driven organization.

I began to say this more explicitly about a year ago, mostly in response to our being invited into more and more challenging work. At the same time, we realized it had been a good many years since our board and staff took the time to talk with each other about our values, let alone articulate them to our members, our partners, and the wider community.

Be careful what you ask for. As part of our regular strategic planning process in 2014, we opened a conversation about what core values guide our work and help us make the hard calls about projects, relationships, money, and impact. It was a little shocking how quickly our board and staff coalesced around a set of core values. The process and resulting set of values, which took place over a series of conversations, was a confirmation of our solid foundation, and it was the single most energizing experience of 2014 for me!

Of course, we spent some time wrestling with nuance and tweaking the language (who doesn’t like to write by committee?). My thanks goes to Emily Franklin, our communications director for leading the process and helping us find the words to express our deepest understanding of what matters most to us. I’m proud of what we have to share, and I am even more proud that we are living these values each and every day in the life of the organization. Find our values (and mission) here.

The reason why these values matter is because all organizations face tough choices – even when they are clear about their mission and fundamental purpose. In those moments, it is core values that guide choices and allow an organization to hold to its most authentic self. There can be a natural tension between the most sacred values held by any one organization, and that is certainly true for us as well.

If you know Environmental Initiative, then you also probably know that we don’t shy away from the tough issues. We are not here to work in the warm and fuzzy places where stakeholders already agree. Our projects are generally not a kumbaya experience. We tackle the nonpoint sources, the environmental challenges that run deep into our economy, and we are clear-eyed about political reality. We do this because we know that is what it takes to make a meaningful difference for our water, for our air, for our land, and for our climate. In doing what can be the hardest work in the environmental world, we face conflict and we must keep our values in front of us as we make the necessary tough calls. We are values based because we really have no other alternative.

This reality of what it means for Environmental Initiative to be a values-driven organization has produced many great stories over the years. Let’s be honest – no organization can be in 100% alignment with its values over time. But, it is by keeping our values in front of us, struggling to live them out, and honest conversation about how we’re doing, that values help us find our way in a messy world.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be writing and sharing stories about times when we held fast to our values and about others when we struggled. So, what do you think? Do these values resonate with your experiences with us? Share your thoughts here or contact me anytime.