Thursday, September 17, 2009

Magic Put the Wheels in Motion

Sustainability Across America Tour

Scott Leonard, CEO of Indigenous always says “The sweet spot for the Indigenous brand is somewhere between serendipity and sustainability.” And so it seems true for the movement as well.

Over the span of nearly two months of traveling and talking to pioneers and activists in the sustainable realm, one thing appears incredibly evident- that there is magic in the making of this movement. In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken muses at the importance of seemingly mundane actions and occurrences that are in fact crucial links in the chain reactions that lead to massive change, in the civil rights movement, in the satyagraha movement, and in the sustainability movement.
As you follow along on this journey, you’ll learn that Indigenous is not only a sponsor of this project but a lot of the heart and engine behind it as well. Scott’s saying comes from his personal experience of the wonder and synergy that breed when like minded people come together for a cause that is bigger than themselves. One thing I’ve learned in my travels so far is that few people fulfill a single role in the movement, frequently, they’ve got their hands in a dozen projects that contribute to change in a myriad of ways. Scott, ( aka “Uncle Green” ) is one of these multi-tasking movers in the industry, and the Indigenous story neatly ties together many of the story ends that I’ve introduced to you along the way.
This particular story started in 2004, when Scott partnered with the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI) to design an educational seminar on sustainability at Outdoor Retailer, an enormous industry trade show event. At the time, Kevin Hagen who you hopefully met in the article “Taking the REIgns” was beginning the process of getting his MBA in sustainable business at BGI and collaborated on this seminar, traveling to Outdoor Retailer to help out with the project. Long story short, the seminar was a success, but it only gave Scott a taste of fully sustainable flavor he wanted to bring out in this bi-annual event of an industry that is so closely connected to the perservation of our natural environmnet. So, Uncle Green got busy and in 2005, rolled out a Sustainability platform at the next O/R event called Green Steps with Kevin Hagen and Matt Reynolds (co-founder of Indigenous) “observing, supporting, and cheering on” at every level.

In the next few years, Green Steps accomplished a lot to “clean, green and educate around sustainability,” Scott said. Amongst the biggest accomplishments were getting the entire show, with acres upon acres of booths with electricity running carbon neutral and bringing in “best in class” speakers like Terry Gips of the Sustainability Associates to talk about everything from The Natural Step to Dan Imhoff author of Paper or Plastic discussing important packaging choices that industry faces. These sustainability talks gained momentum and came to feature executives and directors from such organizations as Forest Ethics, Trans Fair , Organic Exchange , E-mission solutions , LOHAS and the Chicago Climate Control Exchange. The magnitude of their impact was such as to raise awareness and eventually catalyze a spark with the Outdoor Industry Association for the creation of the Eco Working Group, a collection of over 180 brands, non-profits and government agencies engaged in round table discussion about product life cycle and sustainability in the Outdoor Industry. It wasn’t long before the OIA Eco Working group began assembling a Sustainability and Fair Labor Advisory Council.

Somewhere amidst the Green wave of commotion in around these collaborations , Kevin Hagen had graduated from BGI with an MBA in Sustainable Business and found himself in the position of Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at REI. Taking the reigns for sustainability in the company sometimes called the 800 lb. gorilla of the industry, Hagen has met with substantial success in partnerships like that with the Eco Working Group, of which Indigenous was a proud founding member. As this first chapter of this SAAT tour came to an end in the North West, I could not help to think that things had really come full circle with this connection between Indigenous , BGI , Kevin Hagen and Green Steps collaborations ~ or was this the sweet spot between sustainability and serendipity in full effect?
What started between Indigenous and BGI as a small seminar on sustainability has flourished like an olive tree, sprouting the Eco Working Group whose branches now reach far and wide in the industry, and has even followed in the evolution of Kevin Hagen’s career from student at BGI to Director of CSR in one of the most influential companies in the industry. A notion to elevate suataibilty through Green Steps, has been the spark for this monumental shift in the industry, and has itself evolved and extended its scope. Today, Scott Leonard is still beaming from the legacy of these seeds but humbly sates that this was truly a collabtion and none of it would have taken off the way it did if it were not for the heart felt support of people like Kenji Haroutunian , Executive Director of Outdoor Retailer and Environmental Journalist / Eco collaborator Pride Wright. “We needed and yearned collaboration along the way and I found support on all sides of the spectrum from Doug Hoschek virtual inventor of Polar Fleece to Frank Hugelmeyer, President of Outdoor Industry Association that were ready to embrace change and set a course for sustainability.” Said Scott.

Due to the Green Steps program Outdoor Retailer now boasts innovations like recycled paper badges printed with soy ink (a far cry from the conventional petroleum based badges of the past), recycled aisle and booth carpet that is reused at every show, the sale of organic food that is served on biodegradable food ware from sandwich containers to napkins, utensils and cups.
In the spirit of the sustainability movement, which is inherently collaborative and inclusive with a voracious appetite for progress, Green Steps cuts no corners in their quest to neutralize the impact of the Outdoor Retailer events. Each event is powered by 100% renewable wind energy and absolutely everything used in the production of the event is recycled- the cardboard from exhibitor move-in, all the garbage from the show floor is sorted and recycled, and all biodegradables are sorted and delivered to the local compost pile to be transformed into mulch and fertilizer for local growers. Through inspiration of Green Steps, the Oudoor Industry Association has even extended the Carbon Neutral Traveler Challenge that allows businesses to reduce the impact of their emissions through carbon offsets that support wind energy production.

The nature of the sustainability movement echoes the nature of Green Steps, with individual actors planting seeds and growing across every industry to spread the branches of sustainability across our very landscape. Similarly, the magic of coincidence, that which brought Kevin Hagen into the Green Steps project as a student of BGI and then into the positon of Director of CSR at REI exists in all levels of the movement. Perhaps most importantly, the synergy illustrated in this story that stems from an enducational endeavor by Indigenous that indirectly spawned such an active and progressive organization as the Eco Working Group exists all throughout this intricate network of entrepreneurs, authors, scientists, politicians and citizens that form this vital community that’s pushing the world farther away from the practices of the past and ever closer to a stable level of sustainability. And from this sustainability, the collective hope is that the world and all its inhabitants can truly begin to thrive, with crystal clear transparency, a benevolent spirit, collaborative energy and without hidden cost.

These first couple months of the Sustainability Across America Tour has just been the beginning.Along with the pioneers we’ve introduced you to so far are many others who work to increase global sustainability in a myriad of ways. Stories and interviews that are still to come from the North West chapter of this Sustainability Across America Tour are David Karr of Guayaki Organic Yerba Mate who boasts the sole business model that inherently restores Atlantic Rainforests and empowers indigenous people through what he calls “Market Driven Restoration.” Joel Soloman is a gardener who tends to the economy with the natural world in mind, working with Renewal Partners to plant capital seeds of positivity and harvest progress and change. Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomare are what I consider visionaries, linking the big dreams of sixties and seventies culture to the corporate world today and inciting change through the capitalistic machine.

And, I’m thrilled to give you a peek into our journey down the road. As we travel to New England and continue on our circuit back to the West Coast, we’ll be meeting with Josh Mailman, the founder of SVN and Scott Leonard describes him as the Johnny Apple Seed of change in and around social capital markets and the next waves of social entrepreneurs , Judy Wicks of White Dog Cafe and founder of BALLE, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B-lab and B Corp, Eric Henry of TS Designs, and Woody Tasch of Slow Money. 

I hope you’ll continue to follow us along on this quest to explore this monumental movement that is changing the world we live in. As we travel further down the path I believe that we will continue to see that the sweet spot of progress is indeed where Scott Leonard believes it to be, “somewhere between serendipity and sustinability.”