Profile: Promoting Environmentalism
District 57 Speakers Bureau founder delivers keynote
in Beijing, at China’s first Earth Day summit.
By Julie Bawden Davis
In 2002, Jill Buck sat at her kitchen table in Northern California and wrote the Go Green Initiative (GGI), a plan that launched a nonprofit organization designed to promote environmental responsibility on school campuses. Within a few years, her groundbreaking program has reverberated in the White House and as far away as Africa and Asia. Buck’s secret weapon isn’t corporate backing or a huge amount of funding. When asked about her success in growing this grass-roots organization, which focuses on tactics such as recycling, she cites one factor above all: Toastmasters.
“The skills I gathered in Toastmasters have been paramount in the success of this program,” says Buck, who as GGI’s founder and executive director regularly speaks throughout the world about environmental issues. In April, she delivered a keynote speech in Beijing, at China’s first Earth Day summit.
“I don’t have a big advertising budget,” she adds. “The genesis of this program, and the way it continues to grow, is primarily through word-of-mouth advertising. Whenever I speak, new schools sign up for the program, and it’s the strong communication and leadership skills I mastered in Toastmasters that have helped me grow the organization and reach my full potential. In every speech I make, I mention the organization and urge people to join.”
Based in Pleasanton, California, GGI is now the largest and fastest-growing environmental education program in the United States. Uniting parents, students, teachers, businesses and local governments in an effort to make real and lasting environmental changes, it operates in four continents, 10 countries, 49 states and 1,500 schools.
As Buck sees it, good communication skills are pivotal to any endeavor. “Speaking is a learnable skill, and when you are a great public speaker, you will go far, no matter what your chosen profession,” says Buck, who constantly refers to her advanced Toastmasters manuals for advice and guidance. “When I wrote the Go Green Initiative, I was neither an environmentalist nor an educator. I was simply a parent concerned about the fact that our population is increasing at an alarming rate, and the world’s natural resources are rapidly being depleted.”
Buck was a naval officer in San Diego when she joined a Navy Toastmasters club in 1993. At her very first meeting, she discovered how beneficial Toastmasters could be.
“A crusty old naval commander asked during Table Topics why men have nipples,” she recalls. “That was a challenge to discuss, but I did it, and it was that sort of training that helped me become the speaker I am today.”
As a legal officer trained in military justice, she did a great deal of public speaking for the Navy, including training large groups. “I would represent the Navy in courtroom proceedings,” Buck adds, “which involved cross-examining witnesses in front of a panel of senior officers and using persuasive speaking, as well as making opening and closing remarks.”
When she retired from the Navy in 1999, Buck and her husband moved to Pleasanton in Northern California and she joined the Pleasanton Toastmasters club. By 2000, she founded the District 57 Speakers Bureau, which is still active today.
“I started the Speakers Bureau for two reasons,” she says. “I knew a lot of advanced speakers who really enjoyed their clubs but wanted something more challenging, as well as new feedback. Many of them had a message they were passionate about and issues they wanted to share with others, and the Bureau provided a ready-made vehicle for connecting those speakers. The Bureau also served as a great membership promotion tool, attracting a lot of folks from other organizations such as Kiwanis.”
Professional speaker Craig Harrison, founder of the Laugh Lovers advanced club and a member of the Lakeview Toastmasters in Oakland, met Buck when both were members of the Pleasanton club.
“While Jill arrived in District 57 already polished and well-spoken, I’ve been so impressed with how she’s gone out into the world and launched the Go Green Initiative,” he says. “She’s making a real difference by using her communication and leadership skills to raise consciousness, mobilize resources and inspire the next generation. She’s as fluent speaking with politicians, educators and parents as she is with students of all ages.”
Former White House federal environmental executive Edwin Pinero met Buck in 2004 and says he immediately became a big fan.
“Jill is very passionate about what she does, and her passion is contagious,” says Pinero, who now directs the New York state Pollution Prevention Institute. “She has a gift of pulling you in and making you believe what she’s saying. I’ve seen her develop her leadership skills over the last few years, growing an organization whose concept was literally written on the back of a napkin into a worldwide mission.
“With little or no leveraging and few sponsors, she is more effective and efficient than many of the huge, funded environmental educational organizations.”
For Buck, one of the most satisfying byproducts of GGI is the fact that it has become a family affair. “My kids are learning the message of stewardship of the environment, as well as how to be comfortable in the adult business world,” she says of her children, Katie, 16, Andy, 11, and Mandy, 9. “The kids have seen the organization grow from the ground up and become a worldwide network, and they’ve become good communicators themselves.”
Over the last couple of years, as GGI’s impact has spread, Buck has become an in-demand and well-paid speaker. Often asked about her success with speaking, she is happy to share advice.
“It all starts with the content,” she notes. “Just as a carpenter doesn’t obsess about his hammer, but what he builds with that hammer, it’s important to remember that speakers aren’t hired for how they speak, but for the content they share with the audience.”
“Make sure to research your audience, and go out of your way to tailor your message to them,” adds Buck. “Provide tangible takeaways that will help your audience now, and give them an immediate call to action.”
For more information about the Go Green Initiative, or to reach Jill Buck, visit http://www.gogreen initiative.org/.
Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer based in Southern California and a longtime contributor to the Toastmaster. You can reach her at Julie@JulieBawdenDavis.com.
Editor’s Note: Do you have an inspiring story of how the Toastmasters program has helped you? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.