Developing a New Professional Association for Environmental Communication: Status Report August 2010

For a number of years, I have been interested in working with others to form a new international professional association for environmental communication.  This post (pardon the length) offers a progress report on activities undertaken toward this goal over the past several months.  Sections include a timeline of key dates and activities, followed by a summary of notes taken at a meeting at the University of Maine in May.

This post ends with a call for volunteers to serve in newly formed working groups that will move this process forward from here.


November 2008: At parallel panels held at the National Communication Association ( convention in San Diego CA and the European Communication Research and Education Association (www.ecrea-eu) convention in Barcelona ESP, presenters discuss the possibility of developing an international network of communication researchers and activities, leading to the eventual formation of a professional association.

June 2009: At the 10th Biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE) in Portland ME, participants discuss the challenges of sustaining and growing the conference without a connection to a larger professional body or organization.

September 2009: Steve Depoe (editor of journal Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture) posts an entry on the “Indications” blog presenting a case for the establishment of a new professional association ( The post produces a number of responses.

October 2009: Steve Depoe, Mark Meisner (Coordinator of Environmental Communication Network-ECN, and Stacey Sowards (host of 2011 Conference on Communication and Environment-COCE) issue an invitation to serve on an Environmental Communication Association Task Force (ECATF) created to develop a new professional association dedicated to environmental communication scholars and practitioners. Approximately 30 scholars from around the world agree to serve.

November 2009: At a breakfast meeting at the National Communication Association (NCA) convention in Chicago, IL, ECATF volunteers develop working groups around issues of organizational structure, membership needs, and communication, and plan to hold a weekend meeting at the University of Maine at the end of the Spring.

March 2010: After soliciting participation via the ECN list-serv, ECATF volunteers collect data from environmental communication scholars and practitioners via an on-line survey and interviews.

May 2010: Laura Lindenfeld from University of Maine’s Department of Communication and Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) hosts a two-day environmental communication symposium. Following the symposium, a number of ECATF volunteers meet to present results of working group activities and to discuss next steps. Present at the meeting: Laura Lindenfeld, Donal Carbaugh, Steve Depoe, Mark Meisner, Nadarajah Sriskandarajah (Sri), Jennifer Good, Anabela Carvalho, Stacey Sowards.


1. Rationale for forming a new international environmental communication association:

• Association of field of Environmental Communication with a formal organization;

• Support for and provision of infrastructure for existing assets including COCE, Environmental Communication journal, and the EC Network, IAMCR Environment, Science and Risk Communication Working Group, ECREA Science and Environment Communication Section, Ecolinguistics (Australia), ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment), and other organizations;

• enhanced and coordinated opportunities for international collaborations, networks, outreach and support;

• support for students; support for junior faculty who need opportunities for leadership, support for tenure review;

• justification to support travel to conferences;

• clear governance, transparency, and decision-making structures;

• a public face for EC that translates into social and political visibility and creates an identifiable organization for EC outside of currently existing organizations (e.g., NCA’s EC Division);

• linkages outside of the communication discipline, and with science communication, risk communication, rhetoric of science, sustainability science, NRM, etc. This is important given possible opportunities for funding;

• an umbrella function for linking EC to National Center for Science Education and other policy makers and organizations;

• online support for clearinghouse (research) and collaborations;

• recruitment of new people, networking opportunities for members;

• stability for EC at institutional level that provides increased infrastructure and form for the field; and

• support for education efforts at the undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education levels, support for expanding educational opportunities, such as support for new Ph.D. programs; learn from other models (e.g., Uppsala’s M.A. program in EC).

2. Aspirations for the new organization:

• Conferences/Research with international focus;

• potential for joint-conferences with other organizations – especially pre-conferences aligned with already-existing conferences, via virtual participation – or piggybacking on other conference – some organizations have mandates to organize events in non-conference years;

• conference participation with option for in-person and virtual (youtube channel, etc.);

• simultaneous conference at different locations to address carbon footprint and other issues of international participation – people from different locations can participate – look to other models for innovative solutions;

• selection of conference host and conference sites well in advance to enable broader participation;

• newsletter & clearinghouse for research;

• EC members and editorial board members from outside U.S. striving to achieve representation from different regions of the world;

• differential fees for people depending on country/status (students, for eg.);

• opportunities for synergizing with existing institutions;

• expansion of existing materials from other organizational development experiences;

• cultivation of new, innovative linkages among existing groups working on environmental communication issues;

• definition of core values to support organizational coherency;

• positive energy and momentum – capturing current moment – synergizing, timing;

• energetic people who can help build momentum and critical mass; and

• development process to reach out to new people – successful vetting process throughout development of organization.

3. Ideas and phrases for potential mission statement:

• Research and scholarship in EC

• Pedagogy, teaching, curriculum development in undergrad and grad EC

• Outreach/practitioner – policy arenas

• Connections across borders – international/networking/collaboration

• Innovative use of platforms that reduce carbon footprint – broaden global participation

• Ecologically and economically sustainable organization that adds value to existing EC efforts

4. Membership issues:

• The members of IECA should be open to those who are involved in the research, education, and practice of environmental communication.

• Possible membership categories: individual (tier-structure) membership, institutional, student

• Membership in IECA should be open to all persons who subscribe to the purpose set forth in these bylaws and who pay the annual dues. IECA shall not discriminate in any way against members or potential members on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, nationality, ethnic origin, physical disability, or sexual orientation.

5. Other issues and concerns related to the formation of a new organization:

• Understanding and accounting for different concerns, perspectives, and needs – how to prioritize; how to move forward and make best decisions possible;

• support for plurality and international representation;

• would people take this to be their primary academic association?

• overlap & lack of focus;

• carbon footprint for travel (esp. international travel);

• ability to address concerns of developing countries;

• realistic aims: striking balance between idealism and realism;

• policy orientation;

• membership issues: practitioners, connecting with association of professionals;

• balance for bureaucracy and fees with effective structure; and

• resources and funding – start-up and continuing funding.

6. Potential governance structure ideas (formats):

Board of directors possibilities: • Elected board members or executive committee • Encouragement of geographical diversity

Elected Officers: • President • Vice President • Secretary • Treasurer Other Elected Positions: • Journal Editor • Network Director and Site Editor (ECN) • Conference Host • Student Representative(s)

Working Groups/Committees: • Teaching/education promotion • Publications • Conferences (COCE, affiliate conferences) • Research promotion • Outreach promotion • Website • Membership recruitment • Election recruitment/promotion • Fundraising • Other areas of interest (e.g., policy white papers)

7.  Possible timeline – moving forward: Working document = vision, mission, organizational structure

• By July 10, disseminate working document to ECATF

• By September 15, revise working document into international association proposal with rationale; post on-line for comments

• October and November—hold meetings at ECREA and NCA conferences to gather more feedback, discuss path forward

• At NCA, reconvene ECATF members who are available

• By December 1, draft organizational bylaws, work on fund raising

• By February 1, revision bylaws

• By March 1, begin incorporation process (consult with lawyers)

• By April 1, select interim board members, officers, and committee chairs, recruit members

Ongoing: Promotion at conferences, listservs, etc.

Other important dates: IAMCR Conference in Portugal, July 19-22 ECREA Conference in Germany, October 13-15 AEJMC Conference in Denver, CO, August 4-7 NCA Conference in San Francisco, November 14-17 WSCA Conference in Monterey, CA, February 18-22



After the May meeting, volunteers in the Environmental Communication Association Task Force (ECATF) have decided to form new working groups to move the initiative forward.  These working groups include:

*organizational models working group: work on elements of the “white paper,” including including rationale, name of org, mission and vision,
by-laws, etc. (LEAD:  Anne Marie Todd,

*financial/start up working group: work on legal issues related to starting the organization (incorporation, etc.), and on sources of start-up funds (donations, grants, etc.) (LEAD:  Steve Depoe,

*membership benefits working group: work on identifying products,
services, activities, etc. that the new association can provide (journal, ewsletter, membership directory, conference, etc.), and on possible models
for different levels of membership, fee structures, etc. (LEAD:  Lee Ahern, laa182@PSU.EDU)


You can send in your comments by responding to this blog post!!!!!  STAY TUNED FOR MORE INFORMATION TO COME ON THIS IMPORTANT INITIATIVE.

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About Steve Depoe

Professor, Department of Communication, University of Cincinnati, USA Editor, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (
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