Power to the Pacha People!

PachamamaLogoFullColor06022d2 Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to attend the annual Pachamama Alliance fundraiser at Fort Mason in San Francisco (along with 1,500 of my closest friends!). If you're not familiar with the Pachamama Alliance, you have to check them out.

The Pachamama Alliance is an incredible organization with a two-fold mission:

  • To empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture, and
  • To educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.

I first learned about the Pachamama Alliance and its work with the Achuar tribe, an indigenous community located in the Ecuadorian rainforest, through my mom Janice. She’s been involved with Pachamama (and their maternal health off-shoot the Jungle Mamas) for the last couple of years, and she invited me to attend this year’s Luncheon.

And I am so glad I did! All I can say is it was an inspiring day of learning that literally left me with goose bumps.

The Pachamama Alliance has done so much important work creating a partnership between the modern world and the indigenous cultures whose land is being threatened by deforestation, natural resource depletion and modern development. And, from their call to action at the end of the event, there’s clearly a lot of work still to be done.

I encourage you to read through their Luncheon website www.pachapeople.org. They’ve posted a terrific overview of their work and their goals that will get you up to speed really quickly.

In order to make their message of sustainability accessible to everyone, the Pachamama Alliance has posted a live stream of their entire Luncheon online. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! (fyi: it actually starts around the 3:15 minute mark...)

Watch live streaming video from pachamama at livestream.com

And, just to put in a quick plug - at the end of the Luncheon you'll see amazingly dynamic Co-Founder Lynne Twist make an appeal for your financial support. I was certainly inspired enough at the end of the Luncheon to open my checkbook, and perhaps you will too?

Summit Recap: Women's Network for a Sustainable Future

WNSF LogoThis past week I was fortunate to attend a West Coast Sustainability Summit hosted by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future. WNSF is a national association of women professionals who are passionate about integrating sustainability principles into their organizations and businesses.

This year’s second annual West Coast Businesswomen’s Sustainability Summit, hosted by IBM at the company’s Almaden Research Center, attracted over 200 professional women from a variety of companies and fields to discuss opportunities, challenges and best practices in corporate sustainability.

Through a diverse set of presentations and panels, including a keynote delivered by Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, WNSF managed to pack a ton of learning and questioning into just a few hours! For those of you not able to attend, I thought I’d provide my take on key learnings and themes from the day.

The morning started off with a short welcome from Ann Goodman, co-founder and executive director of WNSF. WNSF’s goal, she said, is to inspire and educate women and provide opportunities for women with similar interests to network with each other and create change within their companies. She asked the crowd to think through how we can prepare the next generation of women to take the helm in sustainability in business, and she said she hoped that Summit attendees would identify “a seed of an idea” during the conference that would later grow into a tangible difference made in our organizations.

From there my fellow participants and I were treated to a variety of talks and panels from some terrific sustainability professionals, with representatives from IBM, IDEO, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric, Siemens Corporation, and others speaking about innovating through sustainability as well as integrating sustainable values and behaviors into an organization.

Certainly a highlight of the day was Nancy Sutley’s discussion of sustainability in the Federal Government. As someone who (admittedly) often thinks of sustainability only in a business context, I thought it was fascinating to hear Sutley’s take on what a sustainability or green agenda looks like in the government sector. And trust me: as Obama’s right-hand woman on all things environmental, Sutley should know!

“Sustainability is destined to grow in scale and stature,” Sutley said, “and the Federal Government has an obligation to lead by example.”

Nancy Sutley, Chair of White House Council on Environmental Quality

Throughout her talk, Sutley cited examples of how the Obama White House is taking “green” seriously, including the President's GreenGov Challenge (essentially a crowd-sourcing initiative among federal employees to identify opportunities to reduce waste and increase efficiencies within the government) and the recent publishing of over 50 sustainability reports by various Federal Agencies.

But perhaps my favorite example was Sutley’s description of the Department of Defense and its role in pushing its own sustainability agenda, including setting a goal to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020. Certainly the DoD doesn't always automatically come to mind when I'm thinking of sustainability, and yet Sutley says the department’s commitment to sustainability is actually deeply linked to the successful execution of the agency's mission.

In fact, Sutley said the Department of Defense has actually been very forward-thinking about sustainability, a surprise at first even to Sutley. As an example, the Department of Defense sees the transport of fuel to troops around the world as an increasingly crucial, and dangerous, operation. According to Sutley, when the DoD strategizes about fuel sourcing, transportation and threats, it’s impossible not to think about climate change and other related sustainability issues. The tactical application of sustainability, then, becomes a crucial consideration for the Department.

While Sutley’s examination of greening the Federal Government was definitely a standout, a number of other key themes emerged throughout the Summit:

  • Human Behavior Matters: Dr. Sharon Nunes, VP Smart Cities Strategy and Solutions at IBM, talked a lot about creating and understanding “value networks” in sustainable innovation. Rather than just focusing on innovation itself, Nunes stressed the importance of looking at all of the players and people that stand to gain/lose through the type of innovation you’re developing. How will this new technology or system affect the people who will use it? An example she gave was charging tolls for commuters who use highway systems during peak hours. You can deter people from driving on roads, but if you don’t have adequate infrastructure or access to public transportation as an alternative option, your plan to reduce car emissions won’t work. As she wisely said, “Innovation for sustainability will fail miserably if you don’t think about the people who are adopting it.”
  • Innovation is Messy - and Necessary: While Sharon Nunes discussed innovation at IBM, by far the best analysis of the topic was provided by self-proclaimed “innovation evangelist” Judy Estrin, serial entrepreneur and author of Closing the Innovation Gap. Through interviews with over 100 business innovators, Estrin developed what she calls the 5 Core Values of Innovation: Questioning, Risk, Openness, Patience and Trust. The way she sees it, balanced innovation (that is, innovating using all 5 core values represented in equal parts) has been on the decline for decades in this country, with people instead choosing to simply take quick risks (aka: the Great Financial Crisis of 2008). She also noted that in order to innovate, people and organizations have to be willing to invest in outcomes that are unknown, messy and potentially even a little uncomfortable. Ultimately, though, the ability to innovate speaks to our capacity for change – and as sustainability professionals, our job is all about change.

  • Green Job Creation: Although this only came up a couple of times, I thought the issue of green jobs was worth highlighting, if only because there did appear to be some consensus on the topic. Panelist Kimberly Hosken, Program Director of Green Building at Johnson Controls, said it best: in her opinion, her responsibility is to “green the people who already have jobs, not create new green jobs.” She said people often come to her looking for work in sustainability, and her response to them is “But what can you do?” As she put it: “You need a ‘thing’ that you can do, and then you can go and green that.” Nancy Sutley from the White House also confirmed this idea, and I even heard Summit attendees discuss the same idea in passing at lunch. Seems to be interesting advice for anyone looking to find work in this field!

As you can tell, it was an action-packed day filled with interesting insights and eye-opening takeaways (and honestly, this post just scratches the surface!).

Perhaps most importantly, I was keenly aware throughout the day of just how smart, engaged and networked these professional women were. Each attendee brought such a unique and intelligent perspective to the table, an insight that was especially obvious when WNSF broke us up into small brainstorm groups to discuss sustainability challenges facing each of us in our companies. In my opinion, the women (and the handful of brave men!) who came together last week at the Summit represent some of the best leaders and thinkers in sustainability today, and WNSF did a terrific job bringing us all together for learning, sharing and networking!

Thanks to WNSF for including me in this great conference – I hope to see many more faces at next year’s Summit!

Running with the Big Dogs: CSR in Small Business

Big Dog, Little Dog Often when we talk about corporate social responsibility, we assume people are talking about "the big dogs" – companies like Proctor and Gamble, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and of course Walmart.

And certainly these powerhouses dictate a lot of what gets discussed, watched, and measured, if only because of their sheer scale and impact on the global business community.

But what about companies that don’t fit into the same tiers as these big players? What does sustainability or CSR look like for small and medium-sized businesses?

Recently I attended a talk at Mills College featuring the EVP of Marketing at Clif Bar and Company, Michelle Ferguson.

Before the talk I didn’t necessarily think of Clif Bar as a small company, but in fact it only employs 250 people. What the company might lack in size, however, it makes up for in passion for its consumers and its products. Whether through in-person events, an accessible social media presence, or high-touch consumer service, it’s clear that Clif Bar really does value the people who buy its products (and doesn’t just think of us Luna and Clif Bar eaters as a transaction to be managed).

And, in large part thanks to its founder Gary Erickson, Clif Bar and Company also boasts a very well-rounded, active and engaged sustainability program (for example, choosing to use only all organic and natural ingredients because it’s healthier for us and healthier for the environment).

Overall Clif Bar’s sustainability agenda rolls up into one philosophy called the 5 Aspirations, which include:

  1. Sustaining Our People
  2. Sustaining Our Brands
  3. Sustaining Our Communities
  4. Sustaining Our Planet
  5. Sustaining Our Business

While each Aspiration is important, Michelle said she considers Sustaining Our Business to be the foundation for everything else because, at the end of the day, Clif Bar and Company is a business. In order to support the other four Aspirations, Clif Bar’s business needs to be profitable; and, as the business grows, so do the other Aspirations.

This may not be a surprising statement, especially given the fact that most big companies will say the same thing. Still, when you’re talking about a small or mid-sized business – when there’s generally just less money and fewer resources to go around – ensuring a solid financial foundation really must come first.

The Bead ShopNowhere is this idea more evident than in my mom’s business, The Bead Shop. My mom Janice has been a small business owner for over 30 years, and recently her company has gone through some growing pains as the economy weakened and her customers changed their buying habits. In fact, in 2008 she closed her brick and mortar store and chose to focus exclusively on online sales through www.beadshop.com.

With only three employees (including my mom), you might initially guess that The Bead Shop isn’t doing much in the way of CSR. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Much like Gary at Clif Bar, my mom is a business owner who believes in giving back – and so she’s made charitable giving and environmental sustainability two very big business priorities, even with the economy the way it is.

In fact, this year she committed to giving 5% of all sales (not profits, but sales) to two very important charities doing great work in the arts and for women (the way she sees it, if Target can give 5%, why can’t she?!). She’s also starting to explore more sustainable options for packaging and mailing out customer orders, including using biodegradable popcorn packaging and stringing bead orders on string instead of tossing them into plastic bags.

That said, as her business grows and changes over time, sometimes it's a challenge for my mom to find the balance between making money and giving it away! She wants to be committed to supporting various nonprofits and investing in more sustainable packaging, for instance, but knows that those kinds of actions can't come at the expense of her business. Ultimately, The Bead Shop's financial health, its financial sustainability, must come first.

In general Clif Bar and The Bead Shop are two very different companies, with very different products and customer bases. Still, as two businesses committed to bettering their communities and the world, perhaps in some ways they’re actually quite similar.

Using their stories as a guide, I've developed the following conclusions about small and medium-sized companies and CSR programs:

  1. Environmental (or social) sustainability can’t happen if financial sustainability isn’t there. As I said before, you may think this is a no brainer, but sometimes I think the CSR advocates out there (even including me at times) forget that CSR is a business strategy that requires money and other resources to thrive. And nowhere is this more true than in a small to medium-sized company where each sale can determine how much you can return to and invest in the community.
  2. CEO/Founder buy-in for sustainability – plus staying private – makes a huge difference. Unlike publicly-traded companies that have shareholders to consider, private companies like Clif Bar and The Bead Shop are led by committed sustainability champions who have the freedom and authority to make ethical, values-driven behavior a priority in their businesses, no matter how tough the economy or how small the budget.
  3. Often small and medium-sized businesses have no model to follow. Unlike big brands who have competitors to mimic and consultants to pay, smaller businesses have to figure out their CSR programs on their own (or in my mom’s case, with my help!). Deciding what causes align with your business model and how much to commit to which organization, not to mention learning how to evaluate your carbon footprint, can be a daunting task for a small business owner with a million things on her plate.
  4. Transparency and communication with consumers is king. Sure, transparency is the buzzword of the year. But when your business is small and each sale makes a huge difference, explaining your goals and mission clearly and authentically can be a tremendous differentiator for your company and help you build long-lasting relationships with your customers. In my opinion, the smaller you are, the more your consumer relationships (and by extension, your CSR communications) matter.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced of the important role small and medium-sized businesses can play in shaping the CSR conversation on both a local and national level. While they might not be as flashy or loud as the campaigns being run by larger brands, these smaller businesses are making a difference and impacting local economies and communities.

I encourage you to think through what small and medium-sized businesses in your neighborhood are running their own CSR campaigns – what do you think of them? What unique challenges or opportunities are they facing compared to bigger companies? And how can you help support them?

(PS: A quick and shameless plug - if you're looking for fun, creative holiday gifts and inspiring jewelry ideas, not to mention a way to support a small business's CSR program, check out my mom's store!)

"Eats, Shoots and Leaves"

Have you ever heard of a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves? The premise of the book, by author Lynne Truss, is to “remind readers of the importance of punctuation.”

The book's title comes from a (potentially bad) joke on punctuation:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

'Why?' asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

'Well, I'm a panda,' he says, at the door. 'Look it up.'

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. 'Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.'

I have to admit I’ve never read Ms. Truss’ book, but I do often think of its title whenever I’m writing.

Clearly it's meant to serve as a reminder of the importance of punctuation. But more than that, I think of this book when I need a good reminder of the importance of language itself.

Here’s an example:

Since moving back to the Bay Area, I have been very pleased to see so many options to recycle and compost. After living in the Northeast for a couple of years, it’s almost shocking to be able to recycle as much as I can in California, not to mention the number of restaurants, businesses and events that offer the option to compost.

While my enthusiasm remains high, I’ve now been given the option to compost often enough that I have one major request:

Keep it simple.

How many times have you been at an event and needed to throw away a plastic cup? You head toward the garbage area and realize you actually have three options: throw it away, recycle it, or compost.

Most likely you’ve seen a sign that looks a lot like this:

Confusing Recycling

You could just toss the cup in the garbage, but you have a feeling that it goes somewhere else. What kind of plastic is it? Can it be recycled? Or is it made out of a plant-based material, for instance, that can be composted?

If you’re like me, you stand there – practically paralyzed – knowing that whatever decision you make could be the wrong one.

Eventually, you peek into the depths of each bin, see where other people have left their cups, and dump yours in there too.

To make matters worse, at each event, or each restaurant, the rules seem to change! What’s recyclable at one place can be composted at another – or can’t be recycled at all.

What’s a concerned recycler supposed to do?

Of course some of the confusion comes down to a lack of coordinated standards across cities and towns. Whether it’s local government policy, or the ability of your local waste management company to recycle various items, some of it really is geography-specific.

Still, let’s pause a moment and think about Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

At the end of the day, how you choose to communicate your message – literally, the words, punctuation, and images you use – influences how people understand and respond to the point you’re trying to make.

I’ve found a couple of real-life examples that I think really drive the point home.

A few weeks ago I was at Fairfax Scoop, an ice cream shop in Fairfax, CA, when I spotted this sign on the trash can:

Fairfax Ice Cream

The message here is clear and understandable: “Lift this lid, and you’re sending stuff to the landfill.” And, for the folks who want to know more, they’ve included a few short and sweet ways that everyone can make more sustainable ice cream choices (Idea #2, the edible waffle bowl instead of a paper cup, was by far my favorite).

Still, leave it to well-known design firm IDEO to make the best signage I’ve seen so far. I had the chance to visit their San Francisco office last week, and at one point I needed a trip to the ladies room.

I repeat: this sign was in the bathroom.

And yet, I was so taken aback by its simplicity that I just had to take a picture.

Imagine a normal trash bin (aka: Landfill), with another silver bin labeled Compost standing next to it (not pictured).


In between both bins was this sign:


This was a no brainer. I had two options: put my paper towels in the garbage (and send it straight to landfill) or compost instead. The sign, placed directly above the compost bin, gave me clear instructions so I knew just what to do. For practically the first time ever, I knew exactly where to put my hand towel.

Just to make sure, I peeked into the compost bin - and sure enough, it was filled with paper towels. For comparison I looked into the trash can - and it was empty.

I walked out of the ladies room feeling unusually pleased that I had made the right choice (not to mention having even more respect for IDEO’s communication and design skills).

Now ok, you can argue that hand towel signage is not the same thing as trying to get thousands of event-goers to put their biodegradable utensils in the compost bin.

But imagine if every business, every cafeteria, and every concert found a way to communicate more thoughtfully and clearly with people?

At the end of the day, I really believe that people want to do the right thing. They want to recycle, they want to divert waste from the landfill, and they want to make smart consumption choices. But they need guidance.

The next time you’re planning a call to action – even if it’s just in the bathroom – think about Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

What message are you trying to communicate? To whom are you talking? And how can you keep it simple?

Sustainability Across the U.S.

102 This time last year I was just starting a week-long intensive MBA course on Global Sustainability.

The class – which covered everything from green technology innovation to social entrepreneurship – really focused on three distinct environmental challenges: Food, Water and Energy.

If there was one major takeaway from that week of class, it's that these three issues are inextricably linked. You can’t solve our water scarcity issues, for instance, without taking a hard look at American meat consumption.

When it comes down to it, food, water and energy are the building blocks of sustainability.

A year later, the ideas and questions from that class popped into my head – this time on our two week drive cross country from Boston to San Francisco. Over the course of 16 days, my husband Dan and I traveled through 19 states, making stops in the following cities:

  • Berkeley Heights, NJ
  • Nags Head, NC
  • Charleston, SC
  • Savannah, GA
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Abilene, TX
  • Alamogordo, NM
  • Santa Fe, NM
  • Moab, UT
  • Bryce Canyon, UT
  • Ely, NV
  • Lake Tahoe, CA
  • San Francisco Bay Area, CA.

Needless to say, we saw a lot of America in just over two weeks!

Our goal for the trip was to say off the Interstate wherever we could; thankfully, outside of an incredibly long drive across I-20 in Texas, we managed to stick to smaller, two-lane roads for most of the trip.

Choosing this “off the beaten path” route served a couple of purposes. First (and perhaps selfishly), the drive seemed a lot more pleasant when we weren’t staring at concrete overpasses or stuck in commuter traffic. But secondly, and more importantly, getting off the main roads helped us get a better sense of what the United States actually looks like.

While we might have ended each day's drive in a bigger city or town, we spent most of our days exploring roadside villages and small towns intersected by a tiny highway. And while it's perhaps cliche to say how big our country really is - I have to admit, the U.S. really is huge!

Beyond size, though, spending two weeks on the road is a sure way to better understand just how economically, politically, and culturally diverse the U.S. really is.


The people, the food, the social issues – each small town and each big city clearly had its own priorities and culture, which made our trip incredibly eye-opening.

(Honestly, it’s no wonder people have trouble finding common ground on big picture issues like government, politics, and immigration – our country is simply filled with too many people who believe in too many different things!)

Yet at the same time, since our trip ended it’s actually been pretty easy to look back and identify some commonalities among all of those differences.

While I can’t back up any of the following assertions with hard facts, census data, or research studies, I can say that, in my heart of hearts, I believe there are some very clear and very common issues that our country is facing.

Once again, it all comes down to Food, Water and Energy.


Access to Fresh Food: A while back I saw a PBS news segment on Food Deserts – that is, locations throughout the U.S. where 50% or more of the population has low access to supermarkets. After driving through some of the most rural and economically depressed areas in the country, I can now say I’ve seen these Food Deserts with my own eyes.

For those of you with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on practically every corner, you might be surprised (as I was) to visit places with absolutely no grocery stores in sight. Yet this was the reality we observed in many of the towns we visited on our trip.

We went in expecting “Main Street USA” to be filled with Mom and Pop retail stores, pharmacies and restaurants – a local flavor, if you will. Instead, what we found were Hardees, McDonalds, Sonic Burger, and Dollar General stores (not to mention the Pay Day Lending agents offering outrageous interest rates, but that’s for another post).

This got us thinking: We managed to do ok on the road with our cooler in the backseat filled with bread and cold cuts (sourced from the occasional Walmart when we were lucky to find one). But we were just “passing through”. What about the people who actually live – and try to feed their families – in these small communities? Where do they get fresh food? What are their options beyond fast food, or even dollar stores selling pre-packaged dinners?

Needless to say, the potential answers to these questions were very troubling.

Water: While water-scarcity was a common theme (especially in the hotels we visited in New Mexico and the Utah desert), what worried me the most was actually access to clean, filtered water.

As road trippers with reusable water bottles, we were always on the lookout for places to fill up our water supplies – which means we got to sample quite a bit of local water.

As we made our way through the country, and especially through Texas and into New Mexico, we started noticing an odd taste in our drinking water. Soon, what started out as a bit “earthy” actually became so dirty and foul-tasting that we opted to buy a couple of bottles.

Now I can’t say for sure that this water wasn’t drinkable, but it certainly made me pause, especially after having made it through our own recent boil water order in Boston.

Water is something we often don’t pay attention to – until we can’t find any.

As someone used to being able to chug freely from the tap, I was reminded on this trip just how precious – and tenuous – our relationship with clean water in this country really is.

Energy: Energy was also top of mind for me, especially as we drove through Texas and saw countless wind farms (exciting) and oil wells (ick) dotting the landscape. Not to mention having to fill up our gas tank every37day. Nothing like a cross country drive to remind you how reliant we all are on oil!

Speaking of oil, there was simply no way to drive through the Gulf Coast and not think about the recent BP Oil Spill. While I think I will save my complete thoughts on the oil spill for a later post, I will say that being “on the ground” in the South reminded me of how complicated this issue is for people.

Yes, BP seriously screwed up – and as an environmentalist the whole situation makes me beyond angry.

But the side of the story that people don’t often consider is that oil is not just a big business – it’s a big employer for American workers, and a big supporter of local economies.

As our host in New Orleans explained to us, if BP pulls out of the Gulf, “what will happen to all of local restaurants and businesses – and their employees – that exist simply to support BP?”

A tough question, indeed.

While Food, Water and Energy were big questions for me throughout our trip, I can't even begin to describe how beautiful our country is - and how welcoming, resilient and friendly people are.

We may not agree on everything - and we may approach sustainability in different ways - but we are one amazing country.

If you haven't yet driven cross country - what are you waiting for?!