Susan Ives

Thinking Outside the Box

Recorded: March 1, 2012

How is this for an idea? Susan Ives describes a creative pollution control idea that she was able to implement as a graduate student at Harvard.

While a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Susan Ives had an idea that would change Boston Harbor forever. It occurred when Ms. Ives, a non-law student and a ‘generalist,’ was enrolled in an elective class examining legal issues concerning the Harbor. After sharing her idea with the Massachusetts Secretary of the Environment and other parties, Ms. Ives was able to implement it by creating a trust fund for pollution charges that would be used exclusively for restoration of Boston Harbor and Buzzards Bay. Since the State implemented the project in 1988, approximately $17 million in restoration grants have been awarded and the Harbor has been cleaned up. This example of creative thinking and savvy implementation illustrates that education is an accumulative experience. Ms. Ives is the founder of Susan Ives Communications.

Susan Ives: I was enrolled in a course at Harvard Law School on the Boston Harbor and the course design brought together pretty much all the players in that lawsuit and at this point, I believe that the Commonwealth owed something more than $200 million dollars in fines to the federal government, and were they to pay them, those fines would be used to fund the general fund – the federal fund. So I wrote a paper basically offering this solution for how the state could instead of paying fines to the general fund, could instead use that money to actually restore Boston Harbor.

Susan Ives: I actually thought that somebody should probably know about this paper, so I packaged it in a very unusual way. I went to the Marin Water Company and I got some of those plastic bags that you fill with water to put into your toilet tank to preserve water so that when you flush the toilet all that that water does not go to the sewage treatment plant. The people in Boston did not know that when they flushed their toilets; they didn’t know that it went into Boston Harbor or that it was extra water that was unnecessarily being processed that it was complicating the Harbor cleanup.

Susan Ives: So I took this paper that I wrote and I put it inside these bags and I mailed it to each of the people who had come to talk to our class. Within a couple of days, I got a call from the Secretary of Environment, Jamie Hoight, and he asked me whether I would be interested in coming back and working for him to see whether this idea could actually happen. So I agreed to do so and I spent the next year and a half working for the secretary in Massachusetts, essentially pulling together what I thought was a good idea and convincing other people that it was their idea, so that they would support it as well. Pretty much what happened was that I ended up writing legislation to create what would be a public-private trust fund that the state could then put its pollution fines into and make grants using those moneys to citizen groups that would be willing to use those funds for environmental restoration.