Transatlantic Council Embraces Sustainability

In 2015, staff and volunteers from the Boy Scouts of America’s Transatlantic Council gathered to develop a five-year strategic plan dubbed 2020 Vision. Its goal was identify and address the unique challenges faced by the sprawling council, which serves military and expatriate families in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. (In much the same way, the Far East Council supports Scouting in Asia.)

The group identified eight key challenges, including such perennial issues as membership and funding, But they eventually decided to focus on just four areas: programs and activities, communication, training, and sustainability. And they tagged sustainability as the foundational issue underlying the other three.

For Americans living stateside, that might seem surprising; after all, in much of the United States, sustainability can often feel more like a luxury than a necessity. But to Ellen Pabst von Ohain, who lives in Munich, Germany, and chaired the council’s strategic plan, sustainability is far more important. “Sustainable practices have proven to enhance brand and increase competitive advantage, reduce costs, increase overall energy and operational efficiency, improve financial and investment opportunity, increase member recruitment and engagement, improve community support, and deepen stakeholder commitment, to mention just a few advantages,” she says. “Plus, it is simply the moral and right thing to do.”

Sustainability also demonstrates cultural sensitivity, something that’s always important for Americans overseas. “Western Europe, a few Eastern European nations, and some developing nations in Africa and the Middle East are often ahead of the USA regarding the impact of human activity, the responsibility one undertakes when practicing those activities, and citizen involvement in sustainable issues,” von Ohain says. The European Union’s grade-school curriculum is beginning to incorporate sustainable practices and development, she points out, while international schools and European universities are making sustainability a standard first-semester course. Embracing sustainability positions Scouting as more of a leader—or at least less of a follower—than it might otherwise be.

Von Ohain emphasizes that sustainability must be integrated into everything her council does. “If we at the BSA are seriously going to wave the ‘green flag,’ sustainability shouldn’t be relegated to another ‘badge’ topic,” she says. “It has to be fully integrated—top down.” That means focusing on the Triple Bottom Line—people, prosperity, and planet—as well as the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals: the elimination of hunger and poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, infant mortality, maternal health, elimination of disease, the establishment of global partnerships, and environmental sustainability.

Now that sustainability is firmly embedded in the council’s strategic plan, von Ohain is working to incorporate it into council operations. Among her tasks:

  • Educating everyone from Scouts to executive board members on the Triple Bottom Line
  • Collaborating with leaders in the U.S. military, the business community, and the sustainability movement
  • Determining which Triple Bottom Line practices the council can realistically implement
  • Measuring and reporting sustainability activities
  • Communicating with all stakeholders
  • Creating long-term orientation tools to reflect and address future challenges so that the council’s sustainability programs can be sustained

That’s a big task but one that aligns with the values and interests of today’s Scouts. “American youth are reaching out and connecting globally for all kinds of reasons. Many are already joining the powerful global sustainable movement. We at BSA have a most unique and excellent opportunity to lead in this quest, if we decide to,” she says.