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Q&A
United, We Conserve
Working with Toyota, Audubon launches a new initiative that sets the stage for a host of conservation projects.

Pat Pineda, Group Vice President at Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
 

To solve our environmental problems, it will take a group effort—and that means engaging audiences from all walks of life and all sectors of society. Thanks to a five-year, $20 million grant from Toyota, Audubon has successfully launched a new environmental initiative, TogetherGreen, which will seek to engage communities and individuals across the nation in meaningful conservation projects. Audubon recently caught up with Pat Pineda, Group Vice President at Toyota Motor North America, Inc., to learn more about Toyota’s role in the initiative.—Julie Leibach

 

Audubon: It’s unusual for a car company to be working with a conservation group. Why has Toyota decided to do this?
Pineda: When we developed our environmental philanthropy focus on conservation, our thinking was that we wanted to align it in part with a business objective, which is working to minimize our environmental footprint. We decided to broaden that initiative to include the entire U.S. community, working together through organizations like Audubon in our daily lives and at volunteer events to minimize our environmental footprint collectively.

A: Of all the conservation groups that you could have worked with in this way, why did Toyota choose Audubon?
P: Audubon is an organization that enjoys a strong reputation with a long and proud history. And we felt that its program initiative, TogetherGreen, fits perfectly with Toyota’s philosophy of supporting sustainable programs which, in turn, plants seeds for long term, sustainable growth.

A: What do you expect to come out of this alliance?
P: Our hope is that over the long term, we’ll have measurable conservation results. More immediately, there are three components: First, there are the conservation fellowships. Our expectation is that up to 200 promising environmental leaders will be trained and further develop. We’re really looking at this as working toward the next generation of diverse environmental/conservation leadership.

The second component pertains to our innovation grants, and there we will be looking to grant annually over the five-year period. This component focuses on identifying projects that address conservation in innovative and creative ways. We really want to push the thinking outside of the box. What haven’t we thought about? Are there better ways, more innovative, more effective ways of addressing conservation? It could entail actual, hands-on technology that addresses conservation, but it also can be something such as thinking of more innovative ways of communicating with, for example, diverse audiences—families, children, people from urban areas. There are almost 500 Audubon Chapters and 50 Audubon Nature Centers throughout the U.S.—how do you attract those audiences to these centers, how do you engage them in the Audubon Chapters, how do we engage them in the volunteer projects around conservation? We really want to be able to speak to everyone. And the beautiful thing about conservation is there’s something for everybody, there’s something that everybody, most likely, is interested in or will hopefully want to engage in.

The third area is the volunteer day component, and that has two subcomponents. The first is that there will be six days each year for volunteer activities, like restoration projects—for example, clean-ups of a local park—and those will occur at at least 40 sites throughout the United States. This happens to be a component that we are particularly excited about because we feel very strongly that writing a check is only part of our commitment and our relationship with Audubon. Another aspect, equally important if not more important, is how we as a company are going to engage in this program. It is our intent to mobilize our 36,000 associates in the U.S. in these volunteer efforts. So, when they have these six days at 40 sites, we are working closely with Audubon to make sure that some of those sites include ones that are close to our operations so that our people have an opportunity to participate. To the extent that they aren’t aligned with all of our sites, then we’re going to encourage our people on those days to identify other projects and take part. The second piece of the volunteer days has to do with 'Pennies for the Planet.' This is going to be a program that really is focused on the youths. Working with schools and the Audubon Centers, it will identify projects that the young children can collect pennies for to raise money on a smaller scale and also perhaps to identify ways to engage the children personally in those projects.

A: You mentioned the awarding of fellowships. How are the fellows selected?
P: There is an advisory board that Audubon has formed, and it will be through this that the selection criteria will be developed, and Audubon will be selecting the leadership fellows. These are people who, by and large, will be mid-career individuals who already have a proven leadership track record, so it’s really to take them to the next level. They will receive training around leadership skills, communication, and strategic planning. In the TogetherGreen document, they ask the question ‘Who should apply?’ They’re looking for leaders who want to learn across disciplines and work with others to achieve results and engage new audiences for conservation, so they should have strong leadership skills, an interest in designing and completing a conservation action project—which will be one of the requirements for their fellowship training—so they’re going to have to work with others to bring people together. A number of these folks will come from within the Audubon network; they will also be looking outside the network.

A: Toyota has a history of innovation grants. What does innovation means to you?
P: It really is trying to look at how we can improve upon what we’re doing. Is there a way to do it a little differently that makes the effort or the initiative more effective? I don’t know to what extent other programs have really worked hard to reach out to diverse audiences. What can we do differently to bring in people from cities or bring diverse children into our centers? We’re really trying to work to just be much more effective and achieve actual conservation results. We are going to be working through Audubon with different groups, including groups that are already working with Audubon and groups from universities, to come up with more effective conservation solutions. The extent to which we’re able to step out of the box and do something new and creative—that’s what we’re looking for.

A: Some people might be a little skeptical of how a relationship between a big corporation like yours and a conservation group like Audubon can work. What would you tell them?
P: We have a long tradition around three pillars. One is sustainable mobility, one is sustainable plant or sustainable manufacturing, and one of them is sustainable societies. I have worked for Toyota going on 25 years, and since day one there has been a strong ethic of giving back to communities. If you were to visit any of our operations, any of our plants, I think you’ll find that ethic. We are also looking at extending that tradition beyond our local operations. We’ve always had a very strong commitment to the environment, and so when you couple environment and giving back to communities, I think that the relationship with Audubon is perfect in keeping with our philosophy. We’ve identified an organization—Audubon—that does an excellent job and are experts at what they do. We’re going to be supporting them through funding and also mobilizing our people to work with them through their volunteer efforts.

A: Do you have any environmental heroes?
P: There are so many. I think back to a lot of the people who spent time in the wilderness—writers, poets—and people who really are the founding fathers and mothers of different organizations that are now working to raise awareness around the environment. I would say that all of those people, collectively, are my heroes. And I think that we have modern heroes that are continuing that work, and I thank all of them for their efforts.

A: Do you have anything else you would like to add?
P: We are very excited about this initiative and proud to be sponsoring it. Our hope is that we’ll be able to mobilize people throughout the country, with Audubon, through TogetherGreen. This initiative is a five-year initiative, and it really is one that we envision will permeate the country; it will have a national presence. We’re very excited to have an opportunity to work toward having a significant impact on conservation outcomes.

 

John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society, has also written about the TogetherGreen initiative; please see his Audubon View in the May-June issue of Audubon.

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