We’re pleased to announce that Matt Prindiville, a veteran campaigner and UPSTREAM’s previous Associate Director, is our new Executive Director. Matt is a policy expert and campaign strategist who has helped develop and coordinate efforts to advance safer chemicals policy, toxics-use reduction and product stewardship throughout the United States. READ MORE – UPSTREAM Announces New Leader
How did you first get involved with UPSTREAM?
In 2003, I was working on what would become the nation’s first extended producer responsibility (EPR) law for electronics in my home state of Maine. Back then, there weren’t many policy experts in this area in the United States, and we were short on knowledge and supporting arguments. Fortunately, Bill Sheehan spent a lot of time on the phone with us, and provided comments that were especially helpful in framing the legislative debate.
That experience began a long a fruitful relationship with UPSTREAM. I worked with Bill over the years on a number of campaigns and initiatives, culminating in the successful passage of the nation’s first extended producer responsibility framework law. We developed the law from an UPSTREAM model bill, and its passage created a precedent-setting process to require consumer goods companies to participate in the sustainable management of their products and packaging.
What will change – and what will stay the same – at UPSTREAM after July 1?
I plan to continue to implement the bold vision that Bill articulated in founding the organization. In order for people and our planet to thrive, we need to ensure that products and packaging are designed with safe, sustainable materials and continuously reused or recycled into the products of tomorrow. We also need to dramatically reassess our relationship with consumption and consumerism. UPSTREAM has worked to develop and articulate the policies needed to create this shift in society.
While the core focus of UPSTREAM will remain the same, some of our projects will be shifting to focus more on solving ocean plastic pollution. If ever there was an issue that is ripe for extended producer responsibility, it’s this one. We’ve just launched our new Plastic Pollution Policy Project (P4) to help align the movement around solutions-oriented policies and campaigns. This the next evolution of our work to advance sustainable packaging, and we see this project as being the highest contribution our organization can make in this area.
How will you measure success for UPSTREAM?
One word: Impacts. UPSTREAM’s work needs to directly translate into real-world impacts on our environment and society. It’s not enough to create good policies or debate the merits of one approach over another with different stakeholders. These policies must change the systems that are destroying the planet at a scale that can reverse the damage.
What’s more, we can’t just keep working to make things “less bad,” as Bill McDonough – an important thought-leader in the field – likes to say. Our work needs to engender new ways of living and doing business that embody values consistent with thriving communities and a healthy planet.
In order to get there, UPSTREAM needs to grow. For me, the core measures of UPSTREAM’s success will be: a) our track-record in achieving campaign wins that directly translate into measurable, positive impacts on the planet and society, and b) the growth of organizational resources to meet the challenges inherent in the pursuit of our mission.
How do you plan to build on the past achievements that UPSTREAM has had in bringing EPR and product stewardship policies to the United States?
Over the years, UPSTREAM has played an important national role in bringing extended producer responsibility to the United States. We and our partners have had an incredibly good run, and there are now more than 90 EPR laws in 34 states around the country.
However, lately, we’ve run up against some significant challenges. It’s no surprise that our recent period in US history has been a rough one for good environmental policy. And as we’ve seen, EPR laws – in and of themselves – are not enough to transform American society at the level needed to create truly sustainable means of producing and consuming goods. So we need additional policies, greater awareness and new leadership to change the “Take, Make, Waste” paradigm that is our modern economy.
UPSTREAM’s core strategy to effect change has evolved over the years, and I’ve helped shape our projects to focus on high-leverage activities. Today, our primary strategy is to engage stakeholders around upstream, product-focused policies to solve environmental problems where they start. By organizing diverse constituencies into powerful networks and aligning them around system-changing policy solutions, we can effect change at a high level with limited resources. If we’re going to transform society’s relationship with consumption, we’re going to need greater alignment around solutions and priorities from the NGO community and increased commitments from business toward building a circular economy.
From an environmental perspective, what keeps you up at night and how can UPSTREAM’s programs make a difference?
Climate change, species collapse and plastic pollution. And they’re all related to our outsized appetite for “more” – more stuff, more growth, more “this,” more “that.” As I tell my kids, everything we buy comes from the Earth. Right now, we as Americans are living lives out-of-balance and taking too much. Often, we’re taking resources from the poorest parts of the world and participating in a system that causes much of the world’s people to live in desperate conditions to fuel our unsustainable lifestyles. We’re also exporting our way-of-life and excessive consumption around the globe.
UPSTREAM’s programs are tailored to develop, implement and scale up solutions to the “consumption crisis” that is fueling all our other crises. We can’t continue to prop up a way of life that robs the ability to thrive from much of the world’s population, the natural world and from future generations. We need to learn to live in ways that can share and preserve the bounty of nature with the seven billion people and nine million other species that inhabit the Earth.