Saturday. My favorite day of all the days. Saturday is the day that all of the nationally and globally-recognized leaders share what they do and what they’ve learned. It’s kind of like TED talks on a more intimate level. After the speeches, finalists gather around tables and discuss what they’ve learned and the questions they have for the speakers. After three years of this, I’ve been able to talk with some fairly notable and world-changing people, from the lieutenant governor of California at the time to Adam Werbach (the youngest ever president of the Sierra Club) and many others. I want to share with you a few tidbits of what I learned this year.
Debbie Raphael, the director of Toxic Substance Control for the State of California, pulled at my heart strings when she passionately proclaimed that consumers shouldn’t have to be rich or educated to be healthy; in other words, socioeconomic status currently affects Americans disproportionally when it comes to interaction with toxic chemicals. We need to start asking the right questions, like “Is it necessary?” and “Are there safer alternatives?” when it comes to products on the market. Simply asking “Is it legal?” and “Is it safe?” perpetually stalls us in a paralysis of discussion. The answer to those questions is simply more study; consequentially, manufacturers have more time to continue producing their toxic products.
Anna Cummins, founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, gave us three bits of advice that I’ve known but never tire of hearing: 1) Find your tribe and your allies, 2) Expand your message through community and 3) You have the responsibility to research for yourself. We DO have the responsibility to research and I will NOT stop, not now or ever (Rob Friedman had a similar message, more on him later).
Amy Halman, President and formulator of Acure Organics Skincare (basically supplements + nutrients for skin), spoke into our vulnerabilities and gave us much-needed encouragement about our appearance and our mission. She reminded us that Hollywood and manufacturers do NOT define beauty. She kindly stated, “What makes you stand out is passion for yourself and for the planet. That makes you stand out more than outward appearance.” She motivated us and told us that the manufacturers have underestimated our passion and voice. OUR generation will make the difference and shift the power of money ($170 billion is spent globally on cosmetics each year) to support worthwhile products and organizations.
Next we heard from Nick Magel, the Campaign Manager for all things Environment, Food Safety, and Wildlife at Causes.com. I was given the opportunity to introduce him at GreenU, therefore, I was able to speak with him extensively before the conference began. During his presentation, he added a lot of emphasis to his Story of Self, which I’ll discuss in Part 3, but he decided to take action in protecting the environment because of his passion and love for the outdoors. He was inspired by the people that were directly affected by dirty practices like mountaintop removal and how they were self-organizing and taking on powerful corporations. He boiled it down to a few questions that we need to be asking ourselves – are our decisions helping our passion? How can we develop our lives and community in tandem? And are the people around you keeping you sustainable?
Renee Sharp, Director of Research at Environmental Working Group, followed with an appropriate message. Renee discussed all of the things that she and her fellow scientists are learning about toxins in our bodies, but she also encouraged us that data is accessible and relatable to our lives. She shared her mission to “make people think about toxic chemicals in a new way.” I was encouraged by her message because after every study that she explained she moved on to a new one. The “What’s next?” mindset was a pivotal part of her organization’s success and I believe this to be a powerful and essential mindset to our journeys. The EWG could have stopped and ridden the wave from each study but they decided not to be stagnant. They didn’t stop uncovering the truth, and we shouldn’t either.
Our next speaker spoke about corporate sustainability in an incredibly fascinating way. I always love to hear from the perspective of corporations aiming to be environmentally sustainable because it is the field that I probably understand the least. Steve Pinetti shared what he has learned in his years working for Kimpton hotels, the first models for “green” hotels. This hotel chain practices over 40 different ways of being sustainable and Steve has been at the forefront of it all. He noted the importance of refusing unsustainable practices (they’ve been turning away phonebooks for years), changing behavior rather than simply writing carbon offset checks, and sticking with a goal and seeing it through to completion. It took the Kimpton hotels 18 months to change their cleaning supplies because of the complexity of the issue, but they did it. Two things that he mentioned struck a chord: “Going green in business is not for the weak at heart,” and “Going green is a journey that never ends.” Couldn’t agree more.
We then heard from David Lannon, the VP of Operations at Whole Foods Market, discuss the WFM initiative to deeply embed every product and project with purpose. Whole Foods has stuck with the mantra “Hand Up Not Hand Out” in order to establish real and two-way relationships with producers and support interconnectedness within the communities that receive micro-loans from the grocer. He discussed the Café Ubuntu project, in which Kenyans own and operate a coffee bar in their country using coffee they’ve produced. Basically, coffee can change the world, Whole Foods has made it the centerpiece of sustainable livelihood, and it is important to set goals constantly with a “say YES” mindset.
After about an hour of roundtable discussion and a delicious lunch, we continued with speakers.
Erin Schrode, young eco-renaissance woman working for Havas International, shared her story of growing up as eco-child learning from the passion and activism of her mother, Judi Shils (founder of Teens Turning Green). She inspired us and said, “We move mountains speaking truths.” She also elaborated on the importance of asking, “Where am I supposed to go and where have I been?” We must remember where we have been and use what we’ve learned to approach the future with confidence and passion.
Caroline Beckman, Head of Business Operations at Suja Juice, spoke next, encouraging us to ask “what?” and “why?” always. Her main message was to start with the end result in mind and be transparent about what we do and why. Everything is about WHY and knowing where the root of an action is will create success.
Following Caroline, we heard an interesting and refreshing perspective from Jessica Shade, the Director of Science Programs at the Organic Center in Washington, D.C. Jessica described her initial motivation as stemming from her Great Aunt’s successful pursuit of a PhD in Argentina during the 1940’s. Inspired and grateful for her privilege, Jessica switched from studying Art to Biology during her undergraduate career. She realized, “Doing art doesn’t preclude me from being an environmentalist. The environment encompasses all subjects.” Her message particularly resonated with me when she told us, “You’re not always going to feel like you belong. Everyone feels it, and it’s called the Imposter Syndrome.”
We then heard from Marci Zaroff, the President of Portico Brands and the Founder of Under the Canopy organic bedding. She coined the term “ecofashion” in 1995 when she wanted to translate what she was learning about food into the world of clothing and design. Marci is dedicated to infusing stories into clothing and changing the world of fashion and textiles with organic cotton.
Rob Friedman was another gentleman with whom I had the opportunity to briefly talk prior to the conference. After I quickly introduced him as the Youth Engagement Coordinator at the Natural Resources Defense Council, he shared his Story of Self in becoming a part of the environmental movement. He learned leadership through experience and wants to weave together policy, science, and storytelling in order to create change and push for clean energy and clean communities. Rob’s mantra is “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop;” I might have to adopt this one as well.
The day concluded with Caitlin Bristol, Manager of eBay Green and Sustainability and the current Board Chair of TTG. Year after year she has successfully offered engaging and insightful wisdom to each of the finalists. She encouraged us to NOT be bystanders but read, research, and ACT! It is common for us to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of what’s ahead and stories based on quantity won’t always resonate with our audience, so it is important to ask questions that resonate and strike a balance with emotions and pure data. She ended by discussing the need to make sharing easy, as it is coming back into style and is an incredible way to practice conservation.
This post may have been incredibly long, but I feel that it is important to share what I’m learning and what other people are sharing. I’ll be reflecting more in Part 3, the last of my GreenU posts.
What do you think? How do these stories and questions affect you? Comment below!