Comfortable in an Uncomfortable Space

Last weekend I had the joy and good fortune to watch my daughter graduate from college. Few of my previous life experiences have matched that prideful day.

At Wesleyan University, on commencement day, a commitment to social justice dripped from each graduate’s gown. A stream of red and black marched by the round-topped star-gazing observatory as African drummers pounded soulful renderings under a tent. Professors and other dignitaries mingled around lawn chairs, and flags whipped in the cold wind.

Receiving an honorary degree was former Wesleyan graduate, Majora Carter, whose efforts to economically revitalize poor urban areas are profoundly “Wes.” So was her speech. Her message: Get ready to be uncomfortable. That’s right! Anyone who wants to shake up the status quo will have enemies, even brutal opposition. You will know who your friends aren’t, she said.

As someone who wears product stewardship lenses inside his glintertwined arrowsasses, the message resonated with what I say about PSI – we are comfortable in an uncomfortable space – occupying a crevice of real estate between government, industry, and environmental groups. Most of the time, the positions we take are downright uncomfortable, at times going head to head with some of our own government members; other times trying to motivate brand owners that are convinced they know the answer even when no data exist; and other times getting smashed by environmental activists for being too close to business.

Over the past 13 years, this space has yielded dividends. In the past two weeks, three new producer responsibility laws have passed – Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation mattress law, and paint laws in Minnesota and Vermont (the 5th and 6th states to pass paint stewardship legislation so far). These laws do not pass solely because of PSI. In many ways, they would never pass if it was all up to us, or up to any one stakeholder. It takes a strong coalition that gets built over time. Starting and maintaining those coalitions is what PSI does – and it often starts in a very uncomfortable place, where we need to convince all stakeholders that the heavy lifting needed to change the status quo is worth the effort.

Thanks to all of our partners for great success these past two weeks, and we hope for many more victories that result in resource savings, job creation, and taxpayer savings. I am starting to like this feeling of being a little less uncomfortable.

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