From athletic sneakers, to fishing line, to plastic bags, and more: The amount of trash ending up on inland and coastal beaches throughout the world is on the rise.
But the problem of marine debris begins on land—with litter and our reliance on disposable products, says Booz Allen Hamilton senior associate Pat Van Nelson: “That’s why changing people’s behavior is fundamental to achieving long-lasting effects on our waterways.”
With the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)—the largest volunteer effort of its kind—the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy (OC) has long been engaged in reducing marine debris in waterways and along beaches and shorelines.
During the 25th Annual ICC in 2010, around 600 volunteers collected and recorded more than 8 million pounds of trash, including cigarette filters, food containers, and plastic beverage bottles, found along the shorelines of the world’s oceans and waterways on a single day in September.
The nonprofit OC is expanding the cleanup effort from a one-day activity to a sustainable, long-term program that prevents marine debris. In January 2009, the OC asked Booz Allen to develop a three-year strategic plan that would guide the ICC’s future development and contribution to the health of the world’s lakes, rivers, and seas.
The Booz Allen team undertook several comprehensive tasks to assist the organization, including conducting a 360-degree analysis to solicit input from more than 130 geographically, politically, and culturally diverse OC and ICC stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, corporate and government donors, and subject matter experts. The team created an online questionnaire, conducted one-on-one interviews, and facilitated visioning sessions to deliver a strategic plan that included specific objectives and actions.
The firm’s pro bono project provided OC’s management with a clarified vision about the ICC and recommendations about the way forward.
ICC director Dianne Sherman says, “We identified key challenges and opportunities, and a year-by-year, tactic-by-tactic plan to reach our goals. The plan was as practical and comprehensive as it was visionary and ambitious. We can now build a strategy for the future development of the ICC with greater knowledge and confidence of where there is agreement on program direction, and where we need to have more dialogue with our key constituencies as we move ahead.”
Elements of the strategy have been incorporated into current program planning while OC works with its board of directors, sponsoring partners, and other key stakeholders to plan the longer-term direction of the ICC.
“Both the strategic planning process and the document Booz Allen developed helped us focus like a laser beam on our need to realize our full potential as the world’s leader in eliminating marine debris—trash—from our planet’s oceans and waterways,” she adds. “They also underscored that the half-million volunteers (and counting) in the U.S. and countries around the world are at the heart of what we do.”
Engaging People Worldwide in Reducing—and Preventing—Marine Debris
Booz Allen’s analysis of the OC and ICC addressed a number of goals, including achieving a better understanding of internal perspectives and existing capabilities, identifying emerging market conditions and constituent needs, and defining opportunities to strengthen operations. In addition, the firm’s research gathered input from OC and ICC stakeholders regarding five primary hypotheses, including the need to influence legislative, regulatory, and business policies that affect marine debris as well as impact individual behavior.
The analysis showed that stakeholders agreed that the ICC is a successful effort not only because it removes marine debris, but also because it engages people worldwide, supplies data on marine debris issues, and raises awareness of the impact debris has on the health, safety, and economy of many nations. Stakeholders want to enhance the role the OC plays in reducing marine debris and incorporate a prevention mission and messages into OC’s operational strategy.
Booz Allen teams are constantly sharing lessons learned, and the ICC project provided learning opportunities that may benefit other Booz Allen clients. “This opportunity provided the firm with future best practices for conducting 360-degree organizational assessments, and insights into marine debris issues that we may offer to other clients such as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” says Van Nelson.
They also achieved a very high return rate of 48% for the online survey, and their strategic planning session during the annual ICC conference was recognized by the volunteer coordinators as among the best at the conference.
Booz Allen continues to sponsor the ICC, which has turned into one of the firm’s largest single-day volunteer efforts. On that day each year, teams of Booz Allen employees join thousands of other volunteers at cleanup events in their local communities across the nation.
Some staff members who were on the team that supported the OC project found themselves renewing their personal commitments to environmental causes. “Our OC clients are passionate about ending the problem of marine debris and changing behaviors to reduce the human impact on oceans and waterways,” says Van Nelson. “We were energized by them, and many of us are expanding our own personal advocacy on these issues.”
Sherman says the OC benefitted as well. “The Booz Allen team provided talent and expertise in organizational development, strategy and communications; a fresh set of eyes; the time to take a ‘deep dive’ into the ICC program; and the professionalism and unbiased approach to survey very diverse groups of internal and external stakeholders,” she says. “Simply put, it would have been extremely difficult to accomplish this work without Booz Allen.”
The nonprofit OC was created in 1972 to promote healthy ocean ecosystems through research, education, and science-based advocacy.