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Change Takes Time

Four years after Miriam Massen proposed replacing the carpet in the social hall it was finally time to approve the project. But before a vote could be taken, a member of the Executive Committee had one more question about the new flooring: “But is it green?” Looking back, Miriam realized that her decision to talk about the congregation’s commitment to Jewish values of environmental stewardship at every opportunity had changed the culture. The leaders of Temple Israel of White Plains were now on board.

Miriam, the Executive Director and Greening Fellow at Temple Israel, shared her story as part of a workshop on Leading Change at our most recent JGF training day. Influencing the culture of an organization takes time, and it can feel painfully slow when you are aware of the urgent need for change. In the workshop the Fellows made timelines of their greening journeys to enable them to reflect on how change is happening in their organizations and to recognize the progress they have made.

In preparation for the workshop I spoke with several Senior Fellows about turning points in their organizations’ greening journeys. Their stories illustrate that you can only identify a turning point in hindsight. But if you keep making green decisions, some of them will turn out to be turning points that take your organization’s commitment to greening to the next level.

Lisa Feinman told me that in preparation for the 2011 day camp season she decided not to buy any art supplies for the JCC on the Hudson. Instead she asked parents to collect packaging waste that could be used for crafts projects. When the camp staff began to plan for the summer she ushered them into a room full of trash and asked them to create activities based on what was available. With no other choice, they rose to the creative challenge. Looking back, Lisa realized that her decision was a turning point in the JCC’s greening journey. It set a precedent that change was possible, and could even be fun.

In 2009 the staff of the JCC of Staten Island was not ready to adopt a green cleaning policy. But when a local vendor asked the JCC to test some new green cleaning solutions, JR Rich persuaded the staff to give it a try. After 6 months not a single member had noticed the change, so it was easy to make a decision to adopt green cleaning on a permanent basis.

In 2011, four years after joining the JGF, the 14th Street Y began planning an Open Green House. Wendy Seligson sought out vendors to participate, and was introduced to IESI, a waste hauler that offers collection of organic waste. This networking eventually resulted in the Y’s signature Community Composting Pilot Program, which has collected thousands of pounds of waste contributed by hundreds of households.

Creating a timeline of your organization’s greening initiative is a great assignment for your Green Team. Reflecting on the turning points in your story can help you understand how change happens in your organization. And displaying the timeline in your building and on your website are ways to share and celebrate your story of change with everyone in your community.

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