Establishing a Community-Owned “.eco” Domain
We guided a global stakeholder input process to help establish “.eco,” a community-operated internet domain that signifies a meaningful environmental commitment.
What if a company’s web address could signal a credible pledge to environmental sustainability? In 2009, Canadian company Big Room decided to turn this idea into reality. They enlisted Meridian to engage the global environmental community to develop a new “.eco” domain as a trustmark of commitment to sustainability.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) makes new generic top-level domain names, such as “.com” or “.org,” available to the public. Communities can gain the rights to own and operate a new domain name—if the group can pass ICANN’s rigorous community application process. For Big Room to win “community” status for the .eco domain, their application needed engagement and support from environmentally-minded stakeholders across the world.
As shepherds of this two-year process, we established a 13-member Stakeholder Council with representatives from sustainability organizations and alliances spread over five continents. Through facilitated meetings, working groups, and numerous interviews, we guided the group to consensus on principles, policies, and operating procedures for .eco’s usage. We also offered strategic advising to Big Room on a regular basis. More than 50 environmental organizations endorsed Big Room’s final .eco application, including Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and Ocean Conservancy.
After a multi-year independent evaluation process, ICANN ultimately approved Big Room’s .eco application – a groundbreaking win. Today, organizations, companies, and individuals wishing to use a .eco web address must demonstrate they meet the designation’s stated values for commitment to environmental sustainability. As a result, the .eco domain is protected for the international environmental community’s values-driven use in perpetuity.
Collaborating across the world—and the web
Building consensus among a global stakeholder group that cannot regularly meet in person requires innovation. We launched this project with an in-person convening of the Stakeholder Council, which was an opportunity to foster relationships between members of the Council before diving into controversial topics. However, budget and logistics limited our ability to hold regular in-person meetings. Instead, we found ways to facilitate robust deliberation on complex policy topics—appropriately for this group, using online tools.
We collectively identified priority topics then grouped them into categories, each spawning a small working group. By organizing regular video- and tele-conferences, Meridian helped each working group unravel tricky issues and come to agreement on policy recommendations. We periodically convened the full Council so working groups could report out on progress, discuss questions and concerns, and set the agendas for continued working group meetings. This step-wise approach provided individuals the ability to dive into specific policy issues and feel ownership over the process. It also avoided contentious and time-consuming Council-wide debates.
The progress made in virtual working groups culminated in a final in-person Stakeholder Council meeting: a venue for final deliberations on remaining sticky issues. Our ability to meld in-person and virtual approaches efficiently advanced consensus decisions—irrespective of geographic boundaries.