NASW Takes Environmental Action

 Elizabeth J. Clark, Ph.D., ACSW, MPHFrom the Director

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Alaska to attend a meeting. There wasn't much free time, but we decided to fit in a boat tour to see the Portage Glacier. I had been to Alaska two years ago and had visited the glacier then. I was shocked to see how much the glacier had shrunk in such a short period of time. It was a tangible reality check — visible evidence of the effects of global warming. It somehow felt personal. I realized that future generations — my grandchildren among them — might never get to see the natural beauty of a glacier.

We have been hearing the message, and the debate, about global warming for a long time. Many Americans have seen Al Gore's film about climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth." Most of us are required to recycle at our homes, and we have grown used to doing so. We've watched technology advance. We've moved from letters to faxes to e-mail to text messages. Our phones, computers, and cameras have been combined. The small devices we now carry can store music, access the Internet, and provide directions. Instead of carrying laptop computers, we carry flash drives. When we attend meetings and conferences, we are given a CD of the program proceedings or instructed to visit a Web site for downloads instead of receiving printed materials. We book our travel arrangements online and now have to pay extra for paper tickets and returned checks.

The rising cost of gas has made us rethink how, and how often, we travel. People are using more public transportation, are enjoying "staycations" at home, and are planning for ways to reduce winter heating needs.

All of these activities can be loosely grouped under the heading of "going green." We now hear phrases like carbon footprint, tonne, eco-consciousness, and global sustainability. As a nation, we must change the way we think and act. For decades, NASW has had an environmental policy statement. One sentence in the policy seems particularly relevant. "Social workers need to become more aware of the reality of our current environmental situation, to educate others to become aware, and to take action."

The leadership of NASW has asked staff to take action and to find ways we can contribute more positively to our environment. They recognize the importance of going green. Several changes have already taken place. For example, we recently held our first virtual Delegate Assembly. Usually, for a Delegate Assembly, we bring almost 300 people to Washington, D.C. Members travel from all over the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, and from places as far away as Guam and Europe. The virtual model eliminated the need for such extensive travel. In addition to being environmentally friendly, it was also a more responsible use of membership dollars.

There are several similar steps that the association is taking this year. Almost all committees will meet by teleconference instead of face-to-face, and the April meeting of the Board of Directors will be done virtually.

One future change will be particularly noticeable to members. Starting in January, our flagship journal, Social Work, will no longer be sent to members in hard copy, but will be available online. This is one of the most significant changes that NASW can make to help protect the environment. Each year, we print over 600,000 copies of the quarterly journal. If each issue averages 50 double sided pages, that means that 30,000,000 pages are printed and shipped annually. Printing requires ink as well, and shipping a journal requires packaging and physical delivery. Think of the impact of these combined factors on NASW's carbon footprint.

We recognize that we may have some members who do not have electronic access or who require hard copy for some reason. We will continue to accommodate those members. Before requesting a hard copy, however, we ask members to carefully evaluate if hard copies are really needed. How often do you go back to look at old articles? Couldn't you find a reference as easily online? If you needed a reprint of an article, couldn't you just print that one article? That would be much more eco-friendly.

Some of you will say that you have retained all copies of the journal since joining NASW. Many of us have. What do we intend to do with these collections when we retire? College libraries don't want to house hard copies anymore. Neither do local libraries. And our children and grandchildren read everything online. Each year, members call the national office and offer to donate their complete collection to us. They are always surprised when we are unable to accept their offers. We, too, have a storage problem, and we already possess several complete sets.

We ask all of you to assist NASW at the national, state and local levels in finding ways to become more environmentally responsible. We have always taken pride in our unique perspective of "person-in-environment." It has never been more important that our definition of environment encompasses the natural as well as the social and economic realms. Action in support of our environment must be central to our profession, to our association, to our practice settings, and to our lives.