Like many other forms of social justice, environmental activism is changing. Organizations are sharing knowledge globally, and using simple technology to connect social movements. In the 21st century, activism is all about bringing people together across distance and experience.
In the Arab Spring, the primary "weapon" used was the telephone.
Conference calls live at the very heart of the new communication technology. For environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the questions are not so much "do you" use teleconferencing, but "what features" do you use.
And also that great question, "Why?”
The three main reasons Environmental NGO's use conference calls are to save money, to be more effective, and to walk their own talk. Like so many organizing strategies, the three are complementary, and help with achieving short, medium and long-term goals.
But all three, in their own way, help reduce the number of grants you need to write.
1. To Save Money
Large businesses use teleconferencing to save money. They have money, and they choose to reduce their costs by saving on travel budgets. Corporations can save so much on meetings with teleconferencing that they can measurably increase profit margin and see it on the bottom line at year-end.
It must be nice.
Most ENGOs however, don't actually have any money in the first place. When your travel budget is $0, you can't very well save much more than, well, $0.
Luckily, conference calls aren't just cheap—they are completely free. You can even Video Conference for free. Web Conferencing is free. You can set up Recurring Calls for free.
Even Desktop Sharing is free. Share the plan. Work on it collaboratively. There is no catch, and you don't even have to download anything.
Most ENGO's use conference calls to save money by cutting down on wasted staff time. Staff costs are not only the highest proportion of a budget, but they are the hardest things to convey in grants.
2. To be more effective
The medium term benefit of teleconferencing for ENGO's is that conference calls can make meetings possible where they weren't before. Conference calls can make participation possible where it wasn't practical.
By saving staff time for more important things, and by putting organizations right where they need to be at the right time, conference calls make an ENGO more effective by extending their reach and impact.
Only your grant writer need know how little you spent on conference calls, and how much presence they brought you.
Call Record is a great feature to remember when thinking about efficiency, too. With one click, you can have an MP3 record of the call emailed to you within two hours. You can use the MP3 file as meeting minutes, or material for newsletters and social media posts, and you can have calls transcribed into Word files.
Such records can be critical when your call includes industry and government players and making commitments.
In the old days, if you asked government officials or citizens to participate by conference call, the impression would have been "These people don't have much money, are they very organized?" ENGO's got brushed aside if they couldn't afford the airfare to "sit at the table" with the "big boys."
Nowadays, communication technology is the table, and organizations using conference call technology are exercising leadership.
3. To walk the talk
The third reason environmental organizations use conference calls is to reduce their organizational footprint.
There is a lot of talk about "being carbon neutral," trading "carbon credits," and establishing carbon taxes. On a global scale these tools can encourage corporations to take positive actions they wouldn't have before. But for an ENGO, "carbon offsets" like planting a tree to make up for an airplane flight are simply not good enough.
A tree takes 40 years to put on any size, and 80 years before it has soaked up much atmospheric carbon and starts pumping out significant amounts of oxygen.
A mid-size airplane flight from New York to San Francisco burns about 7,000 gallons of aviation fuel today.
Once that fuel is fought over in a geo-political resource struggle, pumped out of the ground, refined, and burned for something as ephemeral as moving a body around a planet; no matter how well meaning that person is, no matter what their strategic goal was; those 7,000 gallons of high-octane "oil" are gone forever as a resource, and the global warming expense is immediate.
Black feminist activist Audre Lorde once said, "The Master's Tools will never dismantle the Master's House." Flying around the world in airplanes isn't going to "Save the Planet." But we do need to keep making connections, building consensus, and bringing people together.
Conference calls are the best way for ENGO's to make global connections.
Being the Change we want to see
Every year, environmental conference after environmental conference asks, "What can we do to be more environmentally responsible?" Perhaps the answer is to put the "call" back in the "conference" and have these conferences over the phone. Proposing intelligent globally responsible environmental systems is great, but why don't we start with "being" those systems?
The Power of Face to Face
People who have never teleconferenced think that there is something special about going to a place, and meeting people "in person." There is, but it is a lot more efficient to engage the power of "face to face" with Video Conferencing.
Video conferencing is very democratic too, because everybody "has the microphone.” Organize this with Moderator Controls in your Personal Online Meeting Room.
Just like an Occupy rally, anyone can speak. If anyone can speak, you never know who will pipe up with a good idea. And you never know what will come of a good idea.
(Note: avoid the tech glitches and robotic voices involved in Skype Calls. Real telephone-based conference calls are free, easy to set up, and they deliver the audio quality you need to truly communicate.)
Choose your solution
Each organization will feel the pull of the three main reasons ENGOs use conference calls, at a different time, in a different way.
Perhaps history will look back and say "Walking their own talk" was the most inspiring, at the end of the day.
Fundraisers will enjoy not having to write conference calls into grant applications, and the considerable savings on staff time. Leaders will appreciate the way conference calls extend the reach and effectiveness of their organization.
And the dolphins, newts, redwoods, polar ice caps, hummingbirds and prairie grasses? They will appreciate the quiet skies, cooler planet and clean air that conference calls promote.