The FORUM Web Site builds upon and leverages against the global e-mail network of readers which the FAILSAFE ® Journal cultured and developed, which was built upon and leveraged against the local network of lunch-goers in Washington, D.C., which the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® Lunch Panel Programs cultured and developed, which was built upon and leveraged against the very small network of members of the Environmental Law Committee of the voluntary Bar Association of the District of Columbia, a previously inactive Committee whose undervalued assets and potential were recognized and put to work by a new and dynamic team of young and not-so-young environmental professionals recruited and guided by a new Chairman in the summer of 1995.
This unprecedented and hugely successful effort demonstrates that what really matters is not so much one great idea or insight, but a constant sharing of ideas, good and bad, between intelligent and educated people, who share good will and some basic values in common, and who do not always necessarily agree (and even sometimes disagree vehemently), but who agree always to interact according to some fundamental rules of good society. Our organization has grown and succeeded because it builds upon and leverages against this mighty force of enlightened and civilized debate which intelligent people desire and support ardently.
It is a lesson which should not be limited only to environmental professionals and policy makers in Washington, but should apply to anyone trying to deal with complex and divisive issues where the war of the ideas deadlocks the progress of human actions.
In a word, it is the lesson of democracy: free speech combined with enlightened debate and civil discourse are the most effective way for people to find ways to resolve their differences and live harmoniously.
F.E.L.S.E.F. ® itself built upon and leveraged against the network of lunch-goers attracted to the 16 lunch-time panels produced between September 1995 and May 1996 under the leadership of Michael G. Frodl, then Chairman of the Environmental Law Committee of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia. As soon as the Chairman and his Committee of a dozen or so volunteers received the prize for Chairman and Committee of the Year from the Bar Association in June of 1996, Michael went about pulling together endorsements from some of the leading professional and trade associations in Washington to launch a multi-professional platform to discuss cross-cutting environmental issues from a technical and policy perspective.
Michael was prompted to find a way to institutionalize the multi-professional discussions that his lunch series designed principally for lawyers had inadvertently spawned and which he had found infinitely more honest, balanced and down-to-earth for all involved. A handful of environmental engineers who had attended some of the 1995-1996 lunches and who had added a perspective to the discussions that environmental lawyers never could or would have was what prompted Michael to act. Greater business development was possible, too, when the room had more than just lawyer competing with lawyer, a common drawback to traditional Bar Association events.
The endorsement of key professional and trade associations would be vital in getting the participation of their respective professional and trade communities. It was a way of getting top-down endorsement from major institutions of a process that had already gotten bottom-up approval by the people who had attended the 1995-1996 lunches.
In addition to the Bar Association of D.C., Michael recruited as sponsors for the new forum three other prestigious groups: the Environmental Bankers Association, founded by Mellon Bank and RTM, Inc., and bringing together 60 leading banks in the U.S. and abroad, concerned about potential environmental liabilities from their lending as well as the role environmental risk management and sustainable lending might have in protecting their income and assets; the American Insurance Association, the leading property and casualty insurers' association in the United States, representing over 25% of the U.S. market by itself; and the Hazardous Waste Action Coalition of the American Consulting Engineers Council, a subgroup of science and engineering firms all members of the ACEC and involved in environmental business.
Each association had a proven track record in furthering open and intelligent policy discussion in Washington pertaining to its respective profession or industry, as well as a proven commitment to developing business opportunities for its membership. When the net asset values of individual member firms of the four associations were added all together, the new Forum for Environmental Law, Science, Engineering and Finance (a.k.a. F.E.L.S.E.F. ®) found itself backed by the endorsements of associations representing over half a trillion dollars of wealth, a sizeable chunk of the U.S. economy by anyone's measure.
F.E.L.S.E.F. ® was careful, though, not to accept any money from its sponsors, in order to avoid even just the appearance of being influenced by their respective agendas. F.E.L.S.E.F. ® was then and still is now a non-profit group whose only revenues come from individual members: those who paid to attend its lunches and those who still purchase its Program Reports.
FIRST YEAR (1996-1997)
In its first year the new forum proved it a worthwhile and unique vehicle for discussion between environmental lawyers, engineers, scientists, bankers and insurers. Given that the lunches were held in Washington, D.C., representatives of the federal government were naturally invited to attend and provide their own perspectives. Most of the issues involved were still viewed from a predominantly legal perspective, though, given the immediate antecedents of the new forum. How lawyers could help with the growth of the environmental technology industry, the evolution of environmental law and protection, the green re-engineering of U.S. industry, and updates to the climate treaty negotiations were some of the series topics in the first year. In its first year the new forum produced and hosted an unprecedented 23 lunch panel discussions in little less than 9 months. It was obvious to most involved that Washington found the new forum especially useful and refreshing well before the end of even calendar year 1996.
SECOND YEAR (1997-1998)
In its second year, the forum slowed down to just one lunch panel a month, now that it had gotten the attention of people who mattered in Washington.
The new forum was steered by Michael into deeper technical and policy waters: after having addressed the "big picture" issues that predominated and still predominate environmental technical and policy discussions in Washington, F.E.L.S.E.F. ® took a methodical look at the "big picture frame": the issues involving environment & infrastructure. Many of the answers and solutions to problems discussed in the first year were limited in terms of their effectiveness because of constraints imposed on individual actors by society-wide standards built into our infrastructure. The lunch series began by addressing the three traditional legs of the infrastructure: water, energy and transportation, in its first three lunches. In a second phase, the fourth lunch addressed the intersection of infrastructure and urban planning. In its last phase, the series looked at the newly developing information infrastructure and debated the impacts of cell phone networks, the Internet and the World Wide Web on the environment into the next century.
For this particular series Michael sought out the endorsement of another leading association: thanks to the intermediation of the ACEC, the Rebuild America Coalition of the American Public Works Association agreed to collaborate with F.E.L.S.E.F. ® in the five part series. The RAC of the APWA not only provided valuable assistance in identifying and recruiting top quality panelists for the lunches, many of whom were engineers and who therefore helped to anchor F.E.L.S.E.F. ® more solidly in the engineering community, it also represented the indirect endorsement of F.E.L.S.E.F. ® by yet another leading trade association, the APWA, which by itself represents over a half trillion dollars of combined net worth of its members. The environment & infrastructure series therefore represented the ability of F.E.L.S.E.F. ® to mobilize and coordinate the efforts of the representatives of an unprecedented trillion dollar plus chunk of our nation's wealth (or between 5% to 10% of one year's U.S. GNP, depending on whose numbers you trust) to address environmental issues in a constructive, non-ideological and collegial manner.
Also in its second year, F.E.L.S.E.F. ® reprised the very successful lunches it had held on the climate treaty negotiations in its first year, themselves a reprise of the "Fossil Fuels & Global Warming" 5 part series the Environmental Law Committee had run in its prize-winning year. A climate treaty update lunch was held every other month, from October to April. Unlike the longer Environment & Infrastructure series, the focus of the climate lunches was more on immediate matters. The lunches quickly became the main meeting time and place for Washington professionals and policy makers debating the myriad of details that the climate negotiations were generating. All sides of the issue were represented by the panels and the audiences.
F.E.L.S.E.F. ® scored a major coup when in December 1997 it became the first group in Washington, inside or outside of the Federal government, to host a panel discussion with the key top U.S. representatives (government, industry and NGO's) who had actually attended the Kyoto summit just a few days beforehand: the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® gathering was briefed by a leading White House representative 48 hours before senior policy people in the relevant line Departments got their own opportunity.
THIRD YEAR (1998-1999)
In its third year F.E.L.S.E.F. ® sailed into deeper waters still, when it addressed the issues relating to environment & finance. While the first two years had provided a bonanza of leads on how to tackle environmental problems from a combined legal-engineering perspective, the fact still remained that many of the solutions that the new forum was uncovering would remain nothing more than untested ideas because of the lack of proper funding by the private sector. F.E.L.S.E.F. ® therefore turned to its financial sector sponsors, the EBA and the AIA, and relied on their networks for building five panels of leading financial authorities.
In a first phase, the series addressed "business as usual": the first lunch allowed representatives from the banking industry to explain what the environment means to them when they do business, and the second lunch allowed representatives from the insurance industry to do as much. In its second phase, the series looked at recent innovative solutions to financing the redevelopment of contaminated properties, as an example of how a rewriting of the environmental laws could allow the private capital markets to pitch in and help with cleanups. In its third and final phase, the series looked at how the federal government plays a role in making tax rules at home (fourth lunch) and rules for investments abroad (fifth lunch) that indirectly harm or help the environment. The lunches were very successful and allowed an unprecedented and frank exchange between all the pillar constituencies of the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® community.
The forum kept to a schedule of one lunch panel a month, nine months a business year (running from September to the following May). F.E.L.S.E.F. ® reprised the climate treaty update lunch series yet again, and further deepened the lead it had taken in hosting discussions of cutting-edge issues involved in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Other groups in Washington began to take note and started to run lunch discussions on similar topics, and some with even a few of the past F.E.L.S.E.F. ® lunch panelists, but without the high quality and very senior level audiences that only F.E.L.S.E.F. ® could mobilize.
FOURTH YEAR (1999-2000)
In June of 1999 F.E.L.S.E.F. ® did not renew its legal relationship with its sponsors and thereby became a fully independent organization, answerable only to its network members. The role required of sponsors, namely, the endorsement of a new concept and organization among each's respective professional or trade constituency, had been successfully fulfilled. F.E.L.S.E.F. ® no longer needed the help of third parties in order to gain the attention and respect of the previously disparate professional and trade communities it aimed to serve.
Before the end of 1999 F.E.L.S.E.F. ® withdrew from the lunch panel business. The electronic journal had proven itself far better suited a forum for the debate of ideas among the greatest number of people in the overall network. The electronic forum had proven its ability to accept, solicit and publish an amazing variety and volume of contributions from people otherwise unavailable to speak on a lunch panel because of scheduling, travel or other constraints, and to relay these contributions to our entire network of over 1500 people, each of whom could read the materials when and where he or she found it most convenient. Thanks to the electronic journal, panelist and program-goer alike could dispense with the challenges and frustrations associated with having to carve out vital work or lunch time to travel across town (or farther) for a much too brief and too infrequent panel discussion.
FAILSAFE ® JOURNAL
Even as Chair of the Environmental Law Committee, Michael regarded a parallel publication as vital, if only to keep lunch-goers informed of the activities of the Committee during the months they did not attend one of its lunches. The bi-monthly THE FORUM was launched during the 1995-1996 lunch program season. Everyone who attended a lunch was given a free permanent membership on the distribution list for the newsletter. The 6 page THE FORUM first went out by U.S. mail to about 100 recipients in October 1995, and then, in the Spring of 1996, it also began to be distributed by fax to over 300 recipients.
FIRST YEAR (1996-1997)
The publication was renamed FAILSAFE ® when F.E.L.S.E.F. ® was launched publicly in September 1996, in an attempt to reinforce the more desired way to pronounce the otherwise hard to grasp and easy to garble F.E.L.S.E.F. ® acronym.
All the while as the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® lunches kept coming off the assembly line, Michael and his volunteers were building up the depth and reach of the bi-monthly publication. First sent by fax, as was its predecessor, FAILSAFE ® was by the spring of 1997 one of the first substantive environmental newsletters (40 pages or more) to be sent by e-mail attachment to a large number of Washington professionals (over 600 recipients).
Most all of its content came from material volunteered by or solicited from the members of the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® network: the newsletter was more like a printed version of the new forum, although more spontaneous and responsive to the immediate desires and interests of the network members.
SECOND YEAR (1997-1998)
FAILSAFE became a monthly by June of 1997, by which time it was published only electronically and distributed only by e-mail.
Over the summer of 1997 Michael personally recruited representatives of over 200 of the FORTUNE 500 companies as new subscribers, including their Directors of EH&S, and/or Environmental Counsels. He also personally recruited about 200 new subscribers in the metro New York area, principally representatives of Wall Street financial and legal institutions.
As the momentum of the lunch panels reached cruising speed and altitude, Michael refocused the efforts of F.E.L.S.E.F. ® on growing the newsletter. As a result, its second year was a year of steadily increasing momentum.
THIRD YEAR (1998-1999)
By June 1998 the monthly publication had already fielded contributions from key individuals including Vice President Gore and EPA Administrator Carol Browner. The readership was now already well over 1000. Word of mouth was making the publication known beyond the borders of the United States. Individual issues were averaging near 60 pages. The newsletter was quickly becoming an equal, if not a rival to the lunches.
By early 1999 the newsletter was going out to almost 1500 people every month, or three quarters of all the people who had ever once attended a lunch or ever received a newsletter in the past four years (1500 out of 2000 in all - not a bad long-term retention rate...).
In addition, the newsletter had become truly global in reach: it was sent to recipients in over 30 countries on all 5 continents. Each issue was regularly running contributions from senior environmental professionals, and representatives of industry, government, and NGO's, both from the U.S. and from abroad. Some individual contributions ran over 20 pages.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality and the United Nations Environment Program also began to share their latest news items with the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® network through Michael, and many found their way into the newsletter.
FAILSAFE ® was averaging 80 pages an issue. At the same time, though, the DOS-ASCII format, although very basic and therefore easy for all personal computers to read, was making the ever larger newsletter a nightmare to scroll through.
FOURTH YEAR (1999-2000)
In June 1999 the first HTML-formatted newsletter, or now "Journal", was introduced. The issue was immediately hailed for its user-friendly intra-page links and its high-tech composite Earth view masthead graphic which changed four times a day automatically.
The July, August and September issues quickly experimented with the new options that HTML formatting provided, and the Journal's payload capacity grew at an unprecedented rate as a consequence. Special Reports began to focus regularly on key legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, a novelty. Contributions from candidates for the year 2000 race for the office of President of the United States began to be featured in Guest Columns: former Vice President Dan Quayle was the first to use space in the Journal to address our elite network of readers. News Releases from UNEP became a staple. And thanks to a new relationship personally negotiated by Michael with the U.K.'s Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, select relevant DETR news releases would be carried regularly.
As a result of all this bulking up, by September 1999 the Journal weighed in at over 150 pages. As an e-mail attachment, it tilted the scale at over 300KB (by means of comparison, the average e-mail weighs in at 2KB or less). The new Journal's days of being distributed as an e-mail attachment were therefore clearly numbered. A new way to distribute the ever expanding journal had quickly to be found.
The October 1999 Journal prototype proved to be the proverbial straw that would break the camel's back: the Special Reports would double in number, so as to continue the detailed background reporting on major White House initiatives and key legislation on Capitol Hill inaugurated earlier in 1999, without crowding out the professional and technical fare that the Special Reports had traditionally addressed. The situation had become so bad that some contributors had been obliged to wait almost a full year before they got their material run as a Special Report. Too often it was the result of too few Special Report slots and too much important news from the White House or Congress that needed to be reported in depth and in the next issue.
In addition, in an attempt to provide increased coverage of upcoming Washington, D.C. public events on the one hand, and international news (a result of UNEP and DETR items fighting for space) on the other, the Related News and Events section would jump in size from a maximum of 21 item slots total (or 7 each for local, national and international news and events) to 78 slots total (or 26 for local items plus 13 other for national items, making 39 slots in all for the U.S., balanced against another 39 slots for international items, including 13 for UNEP, 13 for OECD, and 13 for NAFTA and any other foreign source). And one still had to allot some space for the 2 other premium columns already in each issue: a Guest Column and a new major section still under construction.
All told, the new format would be able each month to carry contributions from up to 86 different sources, or more than all the contribution sources of the previous 9 issues of 1999 combined. This redesign would allow for the Journal to grow for a few months without having to undergo any major format changes for a while: a 50% measure of unused space was being built into the latest design. Yet already the October 1999 issue clearly could not, and would not, go out as an e-mail attachment, even if only with less than half if its slots full of contributions. An alternate form of electronic distribution over the Internet had become imperative.
On October 1st, 1999, the FORUM WEB SITE was launched.
Intended originally to serve as a downloading station for the latest issue of the FAILSAFE ® Journal, the new Web site immediately brought a new level of service and utility to the F.E.L.S.E.F. ® network by becoming at the same time a new non-partisan hub in cyber-space thanks to its "Update by Link" page. The "Update by Link" service was originally intended merely to afford eager program-goers and news-watchers an opportunity to keep up to date between each monthly issue of the Journal. It quickly became something more, even in its brief days as a secret prototype, as its previously unforeseen potential soon became clear to a small circle who visited the demo.
Key organizations whose representatives had served as panelists at F.E.L.S.E.F. ® lunches or contributors to FAILSAFE ® could and would establish reciprocal hyperlinks between their own Web sites and the new FORUM WEB SITE. As a result, Web visitors to any and all of the Web sites of these organizations could and would be able to transit through the FORUM WEB SITE and not only learn about our own organization, but also use our Web site as neutral ground through and from which to visit and compare the offerings of related yet rival organizations, groups that would normally never tolerate direct links between their respective sites. Nothing like it had ever existed before in the Washington environmental cyber-scene: a common neutral ground for key groups to engage in an electronic market place of environmental ideas. The new FORUM WEB SITE had thereby earned its name even before it opened to the public. Not surprisingly, F.E.L.S.E.F. ® would be the agent of change that allowed this.
Furthermore, as another unintended but still welcome consequence of allowing downloading of the monthly journal 24 hours a day, every day of the month, the new official Web site of F.E.L.S.E.F.® would allow an unprecedented increase in the flow of ideas between members of its network. Much more than the electronic journal could ever do all by itself, the new Web site, accessible from anywhere in the world and at anytime of the day or night, would allow panelist and program-goer alike to dispense with the challenges and frustrations associated with having to carve out vital work or lunch time to travel across town (or farther) for much too brief and too infrequent panel discussions. So, in addition to becoming a new cyber-meeting place and transfer station for the faithful of other organizations via our links page, the new FORUM WEB SITE would also provide F.E.L.S.E.F. ®'s own faithful a new and more convenient place to meet regularly and continue their dialogues.
FIFTH YEAR (2000-2001)
As of June 1st, 2000, the beginning of the fifth year of business for F.E.L.S.E.F. ®, the electronic Journal FAILSAFE ® reverted to being a bi-monthly (i.e., it began to appear again only every other month, as it did before becoming a monthly a few years ago). The journal otherwise preserves its present format. This change allows us to focus more on quality "thought pieces" instead of just growing the quantity of news items, or in other words, it allows us to provide our readers with better refined content instead of just more raw material.
SIXTH YEAR (2001)
As of January 1st, 2000, the online electronic journal FAILSAFE ® was reconfigured again and became a quarterly (i.e., it now appears in the spring, summer, fall and winter). The business year of the journal was as a result brought up a few months and synchronized with the regular calendar year (and so the journal's fifth year was actually cut short a few months). The journal otherwise preserves its present format. This change allows us to focus more than ever before on quality "thought pieces" instead of just growing the quantity of news items, while it allows more of our readers to keep up with each higher value-added issue.
F.E.L.S.E.F. ®, first through its innovative lunch panel discussions in downtown Washington, D.C., then soon in parallel through its electronic publishing arm FAILSAFE ® and now through its new interactive FORUM WEB SITE, has brought and continues to bring together key technical and policy people to study and discuss cutting edge environmental issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective and in a civilized, collegial and constructive way.
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