Greening the National or State Park’s Interpretive Center

Parks and outdoor interpretive organizations are always looking to green their operations. But sometimes the enthusiasm of the moment results in a “Ready, Fire!, Aim” approach that has unexpected consequences.

Please use the following “Ready, Aim, Fire!” framework to generate additional discussion at your own location.

First, understand the purpose of greening your enterprise (Ready). What problem do you wish to solve?

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the purpose of greening your space is not about ‘saving the planet’ or ‘protecting the environment’. While individuals and organizations may be passionate about such issues, framing a discussion around these overmarketed hot-button slogans could have combustible results. Remember that a manager, co-worker, budget officer, a visitor, even a financial donor may have a very different perception about these words and their meanings.

The purpose of greening your organization should instead be grounded in measurable benefits like reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy. Any green activity must make sense financially.

Second, understand the business justification (Aim). What results or benefits do you wish to obtain from your green project? Here are three of my favorites:

– Obtain the marketing high ground.
– Gain a competitive advantage.
– A healthier bottom-line.

Obtain the marketing high-ground: By reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy you can market yourself as a good neighbor and a positive influence in the community. Good neighbors are hard to find. Good neighbors have value.

Gain a competitive advantage: You want to provide a potential visitor less of a reason to say ‘no’ about visiting your location. By demonstrating a healthy and clean place for families to visit and spend quality time you gain an advantage over competitors (competitors include anything that will distract a possible visitor from spending time at your site).

A healthier bottom line: If you measure the results of your green processes (reducing waste, reusing-recycling materials and conserving energy), review and make adjustments along the way, the long-term effect will be a healthier bottom line for your organization.

Third, now you have defined the purpose (Ready) and understand the business justification (Aim), you can pull-the-trigger (Fire!). Here are five helpful steps to consider:

Step 1: Scope
Document your project’s scope – this includes the project’s purpose and business justification. Imagine that you will sit down with a hard-nosed decision maker – you only have two minutes to answer their question, “Why should I care about this?” Open up a blank PowerPoint presentation and start typing; in 5-7 slides, no more than 10 you can make an executive level presentation – short, quick, to the point. Even if you never use this document in a presentation, you understand (and can communicate) the scope of the project.

Step 2: Assessment
The purpose of an assessment is to help establish a baseline for your green practices. A baseline is an original plan for a project, and any changes will be measured against the baseline. Here are two green business frameworks to help with your assessment. These frameworks were developed by the Santa Clara County – Bay Area Green Business Program (please look these up online for the latest versions).

Please note the Bay Area Green Business Program can only certify businesses and organizations within their territory (San Francisco Bay Area in California). Possibly the need exists for a national certification especially for interpretive centers and related organizations (hint).

Step 3: Implementation
This is an entire subject by itself of which future articles will be written. But here are some key points to remember when implementing your green processes.

» Build on small victories.
» Generate momentum (buy-in) for your project by demonstrating the economic benefits.
» Green activities should not be dictated from above – rather modeled.
» Don’t clutter up people’s lives with inconvenient solutions to small problems.
» Document processes.

Step 4: Communicate
Publish the processes on an intranet or another centralized internal website. Communicate with your donors and visitors about how you are reducing pollution, etc. Educate any front line staff to the advantages and goals of your project.

Step 5: Measure
Refer to your original baseline and track progress at least on a monthly basis.

When greening your own operation remember a “Ready, Aim, Fire!” approach before starting a project. Understanding the purpose and the justification of the project will help you in reaching your green goals.

From Confrontation to Conversation in the Nonprofit Store

Sometimes a park visitor is irritated about something. They direct it at you. They say something in a harsh tone and an awkward response is made. No one intends it, but the dialogue is becoming a confrontation. One simple question can redirect a possible confrontation back to a conversation.

The question is, “What would you like me to do?”

A Park once requested I work on a design for their Park Store. After spending several days in the Park I returned to the Park Store for a wrap-up meeting. While in the parking lot I noticed a very large Cadillac sedan. In the Cadillac was an elderly couple; their license plate showed they were from several states to the east of their current location. Their car doors opened. The wife commented, “This place looks nice. Let’s see if we can get something for Megan.” He loudly commented about finding a restroom.

I arrived in the Park Store for my meeting a few minutes early so I browsed the store’s items. A minute later the elderly couple entered the building. The woman saw something on a store shelf and walked over to look. The man quickly walked up to the checkout desk and bluntly asked, “Where’s the can around here?”

A very young seasonal worker was behind the desk. She was nice enough but spoke as though she was reading from a script, “Hello. The Day Use fee is $5.00.”

His tone was gruff, ” I can always tell when I drive into this state – my wallet gets lighter.”

The worker politely smiled. “It’s five dollars to visit the park, sir.”

He appeared to be physically uncomfortable. “We’re not visiting the park!” snapped the man.

The worker looked surprised, “Visiting or not sir, everyone needs to pay the day use fee.”

The man shook his head, “Five bucks, for a ten minute stop?”

The worker dug in her heels. “Sorry, sir. Those are the rules.”

“Rules!” blurted the man, “Every time I visit this G%&-D#*n state I am always being nickel-and-dimed for something.”

The young worker appeared uncertain of what to say next. People in the Visitors Center were becoming uncomfortable by the language. The man huffed under his breath, “Fine! I’ll pay the fee – just tell me where the restrooms are.” The girl pointed to a side door. He quickly disappeared out of the building. The worker mumbled, “If you’re going to be that way, we don’t want you here anyway!” The wife must have heard this because at that moment she quietly put down an item she had in her hand and left the store. Neither the elderly man nor woman returned. They would probably think very differently about parks from that day forward.

This was a sad and unnecessary escalation that could have been avoided. Obviously better training for the worker; improved visitor signage with larger text; or even an identified 15-minute parking area would have helped. But at any point during the escalating conversation, the worker could have sincerely looked at the man and asked, “What would you like me to do?”

The question is powerful and direct. It does two things: Firstly, it identifies that you can act, or are at least prepared to act and; secondly, it requires irritated visitors to state what they want/need to resolve the issue.

If the elderly man had been asked, “What would you like me to do?” he may have responded with, “I need a bathroom and my wife is looking for a gift for our grand-daughter. I don’t want to pay $5.00 because we will be here less than 10 minutes.” The worker could have replied, “OK. The restroom is around the corner. If you decide to spend more time in the park can I get your assurance you’ll pay for day use?”

Most people are not irrational; they can be irritable because they are uncomfortable or stressed about something besides you. This elderly man was loud and obnoxious, but these personality issues were probably exacerbated because he was very tired from a long drive and needed a restroom. The worker became a target for his frustrations. When the occasional visitor is irritable and not communicating effectively, ask:

What do you want me to do?

This question can move the dialogue from a possible confrontation back to a conversation.