Coming to a Theatre Near You

Recently I came across the story of Colin Beavan, a blogger also known as No Impact Man. For one year, Colin and his family committed themselves to living a "no impact" lifestyle, taking incredible steps to reduce their environmental footprint. In Colin's own words:

No Impact Man is my experiment with researching, developing and adopting a way of life for me and my little family—one wife, one toddler, one dog—to live in the heart of New York City while causing no net environmental impact. To do this, we will decrease the things we do that hurt the earth—make trash, cause carbon dioxide emissions, for example—and increase the things we do that help the earth—clean up the banks of the Hudson River, give money to charity, rescue sea birds, say.

In mathematical terms, in case you are an engineer or just a geek who likes math, we are trying to achieve an equilibrium that looks something like this:

Negative Impact + Positive Impact = Zero.

No net impact. Get it?

Many of us, myself included, have tried to find ways to live greener lives, like using cloth bags at the supermarket, supporting local farmers, and recycling and composting at home. But what's fascinating about Colin's story is the extent to which he and his family really practiced what they preached. In fact, his entire blog is filled with useful information, tips and tricks, and stories from the year. For example, you can see just how much waste they kept out of the landfills through their efforts.

Lucky for us, Colin's terrific blog has been turned into a book and a movie. The film is making the rounds in select cities throughout the U.S. - and I'm thrilled to say it's coming to Boston on October 2nd. I can't wait to see it - and I'll be sure to provide a full update on The Changebase.

In the meantime, check out the trailer - it's incredible to see just how far they went to live a "no impact" lifestyle. 



Feeling inspired to try living your own "no impact" life? Check out The No Impact Project, a new nonprofit aimed at helping everyday people make small changes that add up to big impact.

Nature's Entrepreneurs

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the challenges when talking about sustainability is wondering how you (or I) could possibly do anything to help the dire situation our planet is facing. One of the most exciting parts of my Global Sustainability class from last week was the discussion of how entrepreneurs and innovators are looking at sustainability not as a problem, but as an opportunity.

An opportunity to make a difference, yes. But also an opportunity to make money.

Last week my classmates and I were asked to cull through various news sources to identify how entrepreneurs are developing new and innovative technologies to create both "quick wins" and "game changers" in the field of sustainability. We identified a variety of ideas that are already in-use or on their way to launch, including:

In short, sustainability is an area filled with opportunity for both social changemakers and profit-driven entrepreneurs (or, if you're like me, someone looking to do both).

One area that's particularly inspiring for entrepreneurs to look for opportunities and solutions is nature itself. In fact, the field of Biomimicry looks to nature as a source of inspiration, innovation, and answers for our current sustainability challenges.

I recently came across an interesting talk by Janine Benyus, president of the Biomimicry Institute, about looking for answers from our planet's first entrepreneur: nature itself.

I hope you enjoy it.

Sustainable Dining at its Finest

Last weekend my husband and I went to Craigie on Main, a Cambridge, MA restaurant that has been on the top of our list for over a year. We were celebrating our first wedding anniversary, and as self-proclaimed “foodies", Craigie seemed like the perfect spot.  (For a review of our evening and the amazing meal we enjoyed, you can visit my husband’s blog See Dan Cook - yes, it’s a little shameless family plug but if you like cooking, Dan’s site is a must-read.)   Anyway, after four hours and 10+ courses, we were ready to head home. The check came, and tucked in the little pocket of the bill folder were two interesting pieces of paper. The first: a detailed survey for us to complete (the MBA in me loves surveys and the instant feedback they provide!). The second: a thin, double-sided slip of paper entitled, “Don’t just eat right with us…feel right about us”. As you can see below, the flier lists a number of ways that Craigie on Main is a committed and sustainable partner in the Cambridge food community.




Reading through the list of their “good deeds,” I couldn’t help but feel even more attached and loyal to my new favorite restaurant. So many companies shy away from telling their consumers what they’re doing for the community or for the environment because they worry they’ll expose themselves to criticism. After all, if you can openly claim that you reduced your paper usage by 5% this year (for example), what’s stopping someone from calling you up next year and saying, “Did you make it to 6%?”. It’s the old adage: no good deed goes unpunished.   Yet here this kind of transparency was welcome and refreshing. I felt good not just about the meal I’d enjoyed, but about supporting a restaurant that gives back in so many ways. My only critique? I wish Craigie had somehow educated me about their sustainability and responsibility practices before I actually set foot in the restaurant so that I could have made an informed decision to patronize the restaurant instead of some sort of happy accident (although in fairness this information is also listed on their website).   I know that transparency can make a company (and a person!) feel vulnerable. But, as I learned firsthand with Craigie, the relationship between that company and its customers will be so much stronger in the end. I wonder how long it'll be before we see disclaimers and pamphlets like this in other restaurants and businesses? In my opinion, it's only a matter of time until we see companies moving beyond simple eco-labelling or certification and into a more well-developed and deeper dialogue with their consumers. What do you think?

Eco-Labels, Greenwashing and You

Last week I attended an interesting dinner hosted by the Boston chapter of Net Impact. The event was called "Eco-labelling: From Certification to Greenwashing" and it featured Stas Antons, Principal at Jump To Green, Inc., a new start-up that uses interactive labelling technology to create personalized, green labels for products and companies. I've been thinking a lot lately about certification systems and labelling programs, so I was excited to attend. Before I go any further, it's probably a good idea to lay out exactly what I mean by labels. The way I see it, green or "eco" labels include any icon or graphic found on a packaged product or used in the rating of a product/company that somehow distinguishes that entity as environmentally or socially sustainable. Some examples include Energy Star (appliances), Fair Trade Certified (agriculture), LEED (buildings), and B Labs (companies).

Stas opened his remarks with a couple of interesting ideas. First, he said there are three essential problems with the green labelling movement (and trust me, it is quite the movement - a recent Detroit News article claimed there are over 300 organizations now offering their own form of certification for green products and companies):

1) There are no standards in labelling, so there is no way to tell what one label means as compared to another.

2) It's hard to tell the real story behind the product because labels will mean different things to different people. Take the USDA Organic label: not only is the word "organic" interpreted differently, but the USDA's website doesn't offer much clarity either!

3) Because there are so many certification and labelling programs out there, the level of trust on the part of consumers is very low. Add to that the fact that articulating a product or company's entire backstory or mission through a small label is practically impossible, and you've got a recipe for confusion.

The second point that Stas made, that I thought was particularly telling, was that he is considering removing the word "Green" from the name of his company. As we all can attest, these days the word green is so overused that it's practically meaningless. In fact, some would argue (myself included) that particularly savvy consumers now see the word Green and run in the opposite direction, thinking it's simply a marketing ploy to get people to open up their wallets.

This point led to a particularly interesting discussion on the role that consumers play in all of this. In general the consensus of those folks in attendance (a group of about 20 sustainability and CSR professionals) was that consumers don't quite understand the "language" of sustainability. While many consumers are interested in supporting green products and companies, their attempts to do so are often misguided. Instead of making smart choices based on education and facts, consumers often flock to words they know and understand, like "recycled content". This makes it challenging for consumers to separate "real" sustainability leaders from other half-hearted campaigns that just throw in this sort of lingo. In turn, it makes it difficult for companies genuinely focused on sustainability to stand out in a crowded field of green competitors.

It's true that our marketplace is saturated with green labels, and consumers must take responsibility for educating themselves and learning how to distinguish between real sustainability campaigns and imposters. But truly responsible companies must also engage their consumers in a candid and honest dialogue about what they're doing to make their products and services more environmentally sustainable.

While the conversation at dinner continued, I couldn't help but think of my own work at ABC. All day long I consider ways that the company can include and involve its employees in its philanthropic efforts, and one of the big reasons is so that each employee is educated enough to go out in the community and act as a company ambassador. When you think about it, each ABC employee is also a consumer - of ABC products and others - so the more educated the employees are about the environment, about philanthropy, and about sustainability in general, the better consumers they become.

Sure, companies must do better at engaging external audiences in this sustainability conversation. But I wondered, "What are they doing at home?".

I tried asking this of the group, and unfortunately (and perhaps tellingly), I couldn't really get a clear answer. The moment passed, and the conversation quickly turned to other issues like the premium price tag often attached to green products. All in all, it was a thought-provoking evening - but I just couldn't shake the feeling that we were missing a key point: if companies can't talk to their own employees about why their products are good for the Earth, how can they possibly tell a compelling story to their customers?

This is where the "You" part in this post's title comes in: have you worked for a company that's done a good job of communicating both externally and internally what it's doing for environmental or social responsibility? How did they do it? I'd really love to hear your examples/anecdotes/personal experiences. And I'm going to keep working on it on my end - both during my time at ABC as an intern and also as I head back to school and keep learning. I really do think that these initiatives - whether environmental, social, or philanthropic - must start at home (or in this case the office), and the more companies involve their employees in this conversation, the more loyal consumers they will eventually attract.

**Coincidentally, my dear friend Alexandra Michalko just published an article on The EcoInnovator entitled "Untangling the Web of Green Product Credentials". Another great perspective on eco-labelling and greenwashing issues. Thanks for sharing Alex!