Tuesday, March 31, 2009

California finally moving ahead with EPR

State legislation, if enacted, will finally hold product manufacturers accountable for wasteful, unnecessary packaging.

It has been an ongoing source of frustration to me that manufacturers can package their products as excessively as they want. Consumers can exert what pressure we can by making our purchases accordingly — but only to the extent that these choices are available through the selection at local stores.

I was writing back in 2002 about “Extended Producer Responsibility,” which holds corporations directly responsible for their products’ environmental impact (“The Big Stick Approach” by Joel Bleifus, In These Times, April 17, 2000, www.inthesetimes.com). EPR policies have been in place for years in Canadian provinces and the European Union.

The U.S. approach, in contrast, has been to hold manufacturers, retailers, consumers and waste management agencies “equally responsible” for products’ environmental impact (“What is Product Stewardship?” by the Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov). The result, however, is that by purchasing a product, consumers become responsible for disposal of its packaging. Local governments face costly penalties if they fail to divert enough materials from California landfills.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board recently cited the City of Clearlake for failing to comply with a state-required 50-percent diversion rate for materials that are going to the landfill. The city could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day. See www.ciwmb.ca.gov/Agendas/ for information.

Watching our local governments — the two municipalities and the County of Lake — struggle to meet diversion mandates, it seemed a no-brainer to me that responsibility for disposal of packaging should be shifted to the producers that created it in the first place.

Thankfully, somebody else has been acting on this principle.

After being termed out of the California Senate, State Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro served in an appointed position on the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), which voted in January 2008 to support an EPR Framework. Now in the elected office of California Assemblymember, Chesbro has introduced Assembly Bill 283, which uses these framework principles.

While products that are to be covered are yet to be determined, effective July 1, 2012, those products shall not be offered for sale or used for promotional purposes in California unless the its producer or a product stewardship organization of the covered product submits a product stewardship plan to the CIWMB.

AB 283 has the support of the California Product Stewardship Council, which is made up of local governments and other partners (www.CalPSC.org). Supporters believe that this framework legislation will streamline the process to include other products over time.

While waste diversion remains a valid goal, it is clearly not enough. CalPSC points out that even with new recycling programs, California still generates 40 millions tons of waste annually.

To follow AB 283 on its way through the California Legislature, visit www.legislature.ca.gov/.

You may also want to consider legislation identified as top priorities by Californians Against Waste (www.cawrecycles.org):

  • AB 479 (Chesbro) — Would set a statewide diversion goal of 75 percent and a local diversion goal of 60 percent. It would also require commercial recycling and increase the landfill tip fee to help fund local recycling programs.
  • Senate Bill 25 (Padilla) — Requires the California Integrated Waste Management Board to adopt policies, programs and incentives to increase statewide waste diversion to 75 percent.
  • AB 1358 (Hill) — Bans the use of expanded polystyrene food packaging and other non-recyclable plastic food packaging.
  • AB 68 (Brownley) and AB 87 (Davis) — Requires that consumers pay a 25-cent fee for single-use bags distributed at large grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores.

Published March 31, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Monday, March 30, 2009

‘Skillful Means’ at Nyingma Institute

Jonathan and I missed church yesterday but in the early afternoon, we drove from Lake County to the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. We took part in dharma chanting that is offered free from 5 to 6 p.m. each Sunday. Afterward we stayed for the weekly lecture.

This week’s speaker was Dave Abercrombie, an entrepreneur and computer programmer, speaking about “Skillful Means” concerning work as a vehicle for personal development.

Jonathan and I read Skillful Means aloud together some time ago; I found the book very accessible and would like to read it again, as well as some of the other books that Mr. Abercrombie recommended.

In the meantime, I found an intriguing book at the Friends of the Library sale shelf: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam Books, 1995). It promotes emotional literacy, better understanding your emotions. Seems that whenever I go to to the library, I always find interesting books!

Jonathan wants to attend more classes at the Nyingma Institute. Maybe we can take a course in “Skillful Means” together; it has a practical value that I like. As Mr. Abercrombie put it, you’re taking your meditative practice off your cushion and into the workplace.

Transcribed from a personal journal

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Name badge obsessions

You wouldn't think name badges are at all controversial since they're so utilitarian and practical. And yet, I've encountered such obsessive behavior that surrounds this mundane practice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

MakeBeliefs Comix: What Coach says and means

Two-panel comic strip. In the first panel, the caption reads, "What Coach Says ..." A sad, human-looking frog, shoulders slumped and hands in pockets, asks, "Will you still love Jesus if he doesn't give you any children?" In the second panel, the caption reads, "What Coach Means ..." The frog asks, "Will you still love me?"

People often say one thing but mean something completely different. A person like myself, with Asperger’s syndrome, can have difficulty looking beneath the literal meaning of the words to decipher what is really being said. This comic strip, created with MakeBeliefs Comix, offers subtext for a line of dialogue from the movie, “Facing the Giants.”

The comic strip’s title, “Honest Answers,” is taken from my confusing encounter with a woman who got angry when I honestly answered her question.

Originally posted on Facebook

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MakeBeliefs Comix: Classic hallmarks of bullying

Comic strip in four panels. In the first panel, a fluttering pigeon with the head of a man says, "I find it difficult to feel sorry for you as so many students like you have never really made an attempt to be part of the student body." Listening to him, a human-looking cat thinks, "Wow ..." In the second panel, the pigeon says, "You simply stand to the side and criticize what you didn't understand and never tried to correct." The cat thinks, "Verbal put-downs ..." In the third panel, the pigeon says, "This article ... will reach a lot of alumni and only make it more difficult for you to return for any of our All-Class Reunions." The cat thinks, "And threats of social exclusion!" In the fourth panel, the pigeon says, "The word will get out ..." The cat thinks, "Where'd he learn to bully so well?"

While claiming that bullying never happened at my high school and that I just didn’t make an effort, my accuser exhibits classic hallmarks of bullying: verbal put-downs and threats of social exclusion with victim-blaming thrown in. Created via MakeBeliefs Comix, this comic strip utilizes text from an email sent by someone who graduated from Calistoga Junior/Senior High School 20 years before I did, and objected to one of my newspaper columns about being bullied in school.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Addiction has her in stitches

Some people’s addictions are of the chemical variety; my addiction is yarn. My latest project is a cardigan in my “school colors,” House Gryffindor, that is. Once completed, I’ll embellish it with the official Hogwarts crest.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Get it in writing!

Your local Toastmaster’s club relies upon publicity to help its numbers to grow. There are many opportunities for a publicity campaign in the pages of your local newspaper.

The first step is to research your contacts, matching each to the desired function. For example, you should not approach a reporter with a community announcement that you want to have published in the paper. That function is handled by someone else in the newsroom -- the community news coordinator, say (title may vary with each publication).

You may want to place a separate call to the editor in charge of assignments to ask about covering your event. Understand, however, that newsrooms work with limited staff resources. Be prepared to write and submit articles about your club.

Get names, e-mail and phone extensions for every one of your contacts and keep the list up-to-date.

You should complete this process for every publication, even in situations when papers are produced under consolidated ownership. Don’t assume that everybody in the newsroom of publication “X” will also have direct involvement with production of publication “Y.”

Be sure to consult submission guidelines, which can include the number of words, the desired format or method of submission and -- most importantly -- submission deadlines. Newsroom employees generally prefer e-mail because it requires minimal involvement in preparing your copy for print.

After you have researched your contacts and the submission guidelines, it’s time to plan your publicity campaign.

Calendar of events

Underlying every other avenue is your calendar listing for the regular meetings of your group. The essential elements include time, date, location and any action you desire from the reader. Are guests welcome to drop in on your weekly Toastmasters meetings? Do you want people to RSVP in advance for your open house?

Do you have a club Web site through the FreeToastHost network? Include your club’s URL with other contact information.

Compose your announcement consistent with the format and deadlines that the newspaper requests; be sure to verify if sending it once will be sufficient for each week's listing, or if you need to resubmit a new listing for subsequent appearances.

Newspaper articles

Newspaper headlines can grab readers’ notice and increase exposure for your club. “Let the World Know” and your club officer’s manual include several ideas about the types of occasions you can publicize.

The two main types of stories are "hard" and "soft" news.

"Hard" news is written in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important information at the top. It is generally time-sensitive so if reporting on an event, you should submit your article promptly after the fact. The longer you wait before submitting your article, the less relevant it becomes.

If writing an article to promote an upcoming event, be mindful of newspaper deadlines. Allow enough time for the paper to get your article into print.

"Soft" news or feature articles can be published as space permits and are not time sensitive. One example could be a profile of one of the members of your club. Interview that person and then write a story about how Toastmasters changed that person's life.

In both cases, stories should be written in third-person. Be sure to stick to the facts. Claims and opinions must be attributed.

Letters to the editor and guest commentary

When you react as a Toastmaster to a current event, you are giving readers another opportunity to become acquainted with the benefits of your club.

The recent election provided skilled Toastmasters with timely opportunities to dissect the candidates' speeches. Read the articles that appeared in Toastmaster magazine and then imagine the possibilities if an evaluator from your club had submitted a letter or opinion piece to your newspaper along with a one-sentence biography that included a reference to your club.

Newspaper editors generally accept letters with no advance inquiries. It may be useful to ask in advance if submitting longer commentary.

Even with the election behind us, there are ongoing possibilities to evaluate high-profile speeches. "Different by Design" by David Brooks, DTM in the March 2009 Toastmaster compared Barack Obama's inaugural speech as U.S. president to his speeches on the campaign trail.

Perhaps your club can plan ahead for the next State of the Union Address or your state governor's State of the State. Arrange for an evaluator to submit his or her commentary within hours after the speech.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Photographs add visual excitement and offers a way for the reader to be present "at the scene" you are writing about in your article. A columnist's "mug shot" allows readers to put a face with the opinions you are expressing in your commentary. Each type of publicity comes with its unique needs.

Depending upon how you hold the camera, photographs are shot in either "portrait" or "landscape" style. A columnist's mug shot should be tightly focused on the subject so that very little background outlines his or her head and shoulders in a picture that is taller than wide.

Candid photos work the best with articles about recognition of accomplishments. Avoid staged shots where the presenter and recipient stare into the camera. Remember that the camera is a stand-in for the reader if he or she were on the scene -- as just another onlooker and not the focus of everyone's attention.

A formal, staged shot is appropriate, however, for introducing club officers.

Take your pictures with a digital camera that is set at high resolution. If using a 35-millimeter camera, please instruct the film developer to burn the images to CD. As with articles, newsroom staffers prefer that pictures be sent via e-mail as high-resolution .jpgs.

Following up

Monitor the paper to see if and when your article appears in print. If you or your club do not already subscribe, you can read parts of the paper online or browse through copies at your library.

Common courtesy goes a long way when submitting club publicity. Thank your newsroom contacts for printing your article and then contact the Circulation Department if you would like to purchase additional copies.

Get it in writing!

By making use of newspapers' resources to get your club’s name in print, you will enjoy many possibilities of attracting potential members. Setting aside the restrictions of space and the amount of competing publicity, the only limits are upon your willingness to compose and submit articles. By following guidelines and making sure that your approach matches the function of your article, you will have a much better chance of seeing your article in print.

Additional Resources for Effective PR

“Let the World Know! Publicity and Promotion Handbook”
Item #1140, available to non-members from Toastmasters International
Print edition is $2.50 apiece; can also be downloaded as a free PDF
“Cut! Making long speeches shorter” by Paula Syptak Price
Published in the July 2008 Toastmaster magazine. Many of its principles of trimming a speaker’s presentation can be applied toward press releases. www.toastmasters.org/ToastmastersMagazine
“The Power of Publicity” by Joe Cook
The September 2008 Toastmaster magazine has several articles grouped around the theme of effective PR, including advice about hosting an open house and serving as vice president of public relations. www.toastmasters.org/ToastmastersMagazine

Cynthia Parkhill, CC, is a newspaper editor and columnist in Northern California. She is a member of Toastmasters club No. 8731, the Tenacious Talkers. This essay was submitted in March 2009 to the Toastmaster magazine.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

MakeBeliefs Comix: When teachers bully

Comic strip in three panels. The first panel's narrative reads, "When teachers bully." A human-looking rabbit says, "All right class ... everybody take hands." A girl and a human-looking cat are also in the frame. In the second frame, the rabbit says to the cat, "No one wants to hold your hand so you have to hold a pair of combs. The children next to you can hold the other ends." The cat has a sad look on her face. In the third panel, the rabbit happily says, "All right! Take hands!" The cat has an angry look on her face and her hands are on her waist. The narrative reads, "How I hated her ..."

This MakeBeliefs Comix strip depicts a way that teachers bully, or give approval to classmates bullying. Chances are, if it happened today, the teacher would be slapped with a lawsuit or at least some sort of discipline.

Originally posted to Facebook