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FedEx and The Salvation Army: Passion, Creativity and Innovation in “Building Back Better”

June 27, 2011

Earlier this month we hosted at world headquarters one of the most exciting meetings I’ve participated in related to my disaster response work at FedEx. It centered on a groundbreaking long term disaster recovery program called EnviRenew. Participants included leaders from The Salvation Army, the US Green Building Council, the US Chamber Business Civic Leadership Center, Harvard, MIT, the City of San Francisco, and one of America’s leading architects whose firm just won the 2011 American Institute of Architects National Architecture Firm Award.

The level of passion exhibited by the participants was exhilarating and the creative and innovative ideas that were generated were over-the-top.

At FedEx we’ve supported disaster relief initiatives for decades in the immediate aftermath of disasters providing transportation to global relief agencies to help deliver lifesaving aid around the world when and where needed. In recent years, we expanded our efforts in disaster response to include disaster preparedness initiatives.

Beyond preparedness and immediate relief, there is the daunting area of long term disaster recovery. Long term recovery continues long after the media has ceased covering an event and long after donors have succumbed to “donor fatigue.”

While we have been looking for ways to expand our disaster recovery work into the long term recovery space, until recently, it has been difficult to find ways where FedEx can focus our resources to really make a difference. The EnviRenew program is the brainchild of Major Ethan Frizzell with The Salvation Army and it’s exactly the kind of program we were looking for.

After hurricane Katrina, Major Frizzell (then Captain Frizzell) noted the appearance in some New Orleans communities of what he dubbed “three-walled homes.” In some instances, teams of well-meaning volunteers would show up, throw together some plywood and siding to put up the front wall and two side walls of a destroyed home, and then take off back home leaving a “three-walled home” in their wake – a huge disappointment to the unfortunate home owner, to say the least.

All too often after a disaster many organizations are in a great hurry to show up and “put back what was there.” It occurred to Major Frizzell: “Why not build back better?” With that thought, he enlisted the help of local community organizations in New Orleans, the US Green Building Council (USGBC), representatives from Harvard, and various architectural organizations, to look at rebuilding neighborhoods in a more sustainable, effective and efficient way. The initiative that was birthed is called EnviRenew.

What made our meeting so exciting, beyond experiencing the incredible energy of nationally recognized top thinkers and doers, was the outstanding quality of the ideas discussed. Building on the success of the EnviRenew project where powerful tools and actions for long term recovery are making a difference in New Orleans holds promise for long term recovery initiatives around the globe. There are many components to EnviRenew from inexpensive “EcoBaskets” to sustainable 800 square foot homes that best fit the neighborhood profile, lower homeowner costs, and reduce the environmental footprint of the home.

This past year, as a component of EnviRenew, an annual architectural design competition run by the USGBC was leveraged in support of the initiative. The culmination of the national competition was a judging event where four designs were chosen as winners, two designs by emerging professionals, and two designs submitted by student teams. The winning designs were then funded through several sources to actually be built as part of the EnviRenew initiative. I had the privilege of serving as a judge at the finals.

As the catalyst for EnviRenew, Major Frizzell turned my image of The Salvation Army on its head. Major Frizzell is passionate, enthusiastic, bright, forward thinking and charismatic. Previously, while I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for the organization and its work in the disaster response field, I had not seen the organization so much as the amazingly creative and innovative organization that it is.

While Major Frizzell jokes that he just happens to be good at inviting the right people to dinner, however, the Major truly has a gift for bringing individuals, organizations and community groups together to benefit local communities in hugely impactful sustainable ways. After the Resiliency Summit I was so impressed with him and with the EnviRenew initiative that I recommended him to the US Chamber BCLC as a potential speaker at their Disaster Resilience and Community Sustainability Forum in San Francisco last February. BCLC put him on the agenda. He was joined at the podium by one of his EnviRenew stakeholders, a Harvard professor. It was wonderful to see my corporate colleagues raise their eyebrows in surprise when Major Frizzell walked up to the podium in his Salvation Army uniform and then embrace his ideas with enthusiasm and appreciation.

Following the BCLC Forum, the Major and I continued our conversations and FedEx agreed to sponsor the next phase of EnviRenew. The kickoff meeting, referred to earlier in this post, brought together an amazing set of thought leaders in the disaster recovery, sustainability, educational, architectural and corporate sectors.

Amazing conversations took place including the consideration of a whole new field of expertise with a related professional organization and educational courses of study in sustainable approaches to long term recovery.

With support this summer from Harvard and MIT graduate school interns we will be working to codify some of the great accomplishments that have been made in New Orleans and other cities on the cutting edge of sustainable long term disaster recovery and resiliency. By documenting successes and developing a game plan for replicating these successes – building back better – we hope to help do away with some of the exercises in wheel-reinvention that are all too common in the long term disaster recovery area.

Stay tuned for developments and let me know what you think about “building back better.”


    Anna Gillek Dahlström says:

    How much I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at those meetings, only to get new insights and listen to bright people coming together to do great deeds!
    All the best of luck to all of you!

    Chris Charlebois says:

    I have a question: I see that you do give to disaster relief. Do you ever give directly to the community itself? Minot ND is going through a flood at this time. They have been out of there homes sense the end of June. Just now they are getting back in their homes,correction some of the people are getting into their homes to salvage what they can, in some houses the waters reached to the roofs and over. They need help to rebuild their lives. If you can help directly it would be very appreciated.

    Shane O'Connor says:

    Chris, thanks very much for your question. The Minot, ND community was hit hard.

    As a charter member of the American Red Cross Annual Annual Disaster Giving Program, FedEx donates more than $1.2 million in cash and in-kind transportation services to the Red Cross each year. This support enables the Red Cross to respond to local disasters throughout the year, including the floods in Minot, ND.

    With limited resources, providing support for the Annual Disaster Giving Program enables us to stretch our resources to help the most people.

    In addition, FedEx provides funding and transportation services to The Salvation Army and other global relief organizations throughout the year to assist with disaster relief efforts in the U.S. and around the world.

    Thanks again for reaching out. And thank you for your concern for the Minot, ND community.

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