The effect is melodic — clankety clank, clankety clank — the sound of bicycles plugging along. At first you don’t notice — the absence of taxi horns squawking with ire, or tailpipe exhaust assaulting your lungs, or stressed-out drivers mouthing invectives behind the wheel – but as soon as you do, as soon you notice the beauty of a car “light” society, it becomes your new optic. NOW I see. Cities like Los Angeles and Manhattan truly suck.
In this year’s presentation, one of the major themes she identifies is the rise of the “sharing economy” or as Mary calls it, a shift to an “Asset-Light Generation.”
A simple translation of this term is: Americans buying less stuff. It is a trend that should not only inspirit sustainability advocates, but Americans all-around. Asset-heavy consumption has led our country to experience a rise in obesity, a rise in pollution, and a rise in debt, with a net impact of a decrease in quality of life.
So cheers to the rise of the “Asset-Light Generation” — there’s hope for us yet.
The greatest challenge for a non-profit is to get the message out. And often the best way to do that is with a video shared on the social networks and with supporters – with the hope it goes viral. But creating one can cost more than a non-profit budget can spare.
A problem the production company, Public Interest Pictures, solved for eight Los Angeles non-profits with the Non-Profit Short Film Festival. They brought together eight teams of professional filmmakers to create short inspirational videos for each non-profit, and in just 48 hours the results were spectacular.
I attended the film festival in downtown Los Angeles – at the HUB LA - and walked away motivated to learn more about each non-profit. My favorite was the glean club, Food Forward, that organizes volunteer parties to pick fruit in the city. Southern California is a former agricultural powerhouse and the ruins of that empire are everywhere. Every neighborhood has a lemon and orange tree with a sprinkling of avocado, persimmon, grapefruit, and more.
A better explanation is in the video from the film festival:
There are six more videos from the festival each with a great message. They should do wonders for each group when shared on the internet. And for those in attendance the event was great fun, with the crowd hooting and hollering for each non-profit. Plus, many of those filmed in the videos were there – including the latino family from the children’s video below. The little girl was so excited to see herself on the big screen.
Local food is an $8 billion industry and growing rapidly every year. But all that success has brought a series of problems, mostly because the food industry is not set-up for sustainable agriculture. Which means focusing as much on the land as on the food, with such ideas as organic, seasonal, free range, grass-fed, non-GMO, and more.
The 2012 Seedstock Conference discussed those problems and successes with a diverse crowd including venture capitalists and tomato farmers, and talks covering an interesting range of topics:
- Scaling sustainable agriculture
- Urban farming
- Buyers perspective
- Digital technology
- Investment in sustainable agriculture
- Agripreneur Fast Pitch Competition
Each talk contained the right assortment of experts and business owners. I was particularly impressed with the buyers perspective panel where representatives from Whole Foods and Fresh Point discussed getting local foods into stores and hospitals and hotels. It was a lot more about logistics, getting food into boxes and keeping things refrigerated, than I thought it would be. They said this is mostly due to the informal nature at farmers markets - cash and plastic bags – where these farmers operate.
And often the best part of these sustainable conferences is the food. Jason Reed, the founder of Seedstock, filled the breakfast, lunch, and networking receptions with superb fare. The coffee was from local favorite Groundworks and the lunch from Chef Erik Oberholtzer, cofounder of Tender Greens, was amazing. I don’t usually eat exotic grains like quinoa, but combined with local and seasonal vegetables and with a mint lemonade drink – I enjoyed it.
It was a premier conference with sophisticated people and I look forward to the next event from Seedstock.
If you send trash directly to a landfill not much happens, but if you recycle it a series of business touch the trash and that creates jobs. Here is a report from a few years ago that shows recycling creates 25 jobs, while sending trash to the landfill only creates one job (per ton of trash). A huge economic impact and one that highlights my favorite green idea - the double impact.
I’ve always believed the key to our green future is to find ways to improve lives as we go green. It can’t just be about sacrifices and volunteering, it also needs to help people. And that is usually the way it works, it just sometimes takes a little extra time to think things through.
The recycling report, from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, also gathered data for specific items, and it’s impressive: 85 jobs for clothes recycling, 93 jobs for plastic, and 296 for computers.
Which makes recycling a valuable sector of the economy employing hundreds of thousands of people. A report from the EPA says there are “56,000 establishments that employ more than 1.1 million people, generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion, and gross over $236 billion in annual revenues.”
Now that is a double impact – jobs, GDP, and businesses for greening the planet.
On December 15, 2011, the city council in Austin, Texas, voted unanimously to approve the Zero Waste by 2040 plan. And now the program is starting to take effect.
Starting with the comprehensive master plan (pdf), the executive summary:
Zero Waste is a design principle that goes beyond recycling to focus first on reducing wastes and reusing products and then recycling and composting the rest. Zero Waste works to redesign the system to mimic natural systems, recognizing that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and everything is a resource for something or someone else. Currently, Austin is estimated to lose over $40 million annually by sending materials that could be recycled or reused to area landfills.
Austin’s Zero Waste system will strive to recover that estimated loss and eliminate waste, or get darn close. This Plan defines success as reducing by 20% the per capita solid waste disposed to landfills by 2012, diverting 75% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2020, and 90% by 2040.
Then, bringing the children into it with a program called Generation Zero. Offering educational programs at each grade level:
- Kindergarten – 2nd grade – classroom composting
- 3rd – 5th – learning about recycling
- Middle School – learn about landfills and visit a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)
- High School – history of trash in America
And, my favorite, offering discounts on the utility bill for reducing your trash. If you throw away more you pay more, allowing greener families to save up to $20/month:
- 24 gallon bin – $13.35
- 32 gallon bin – $14.60
- 64 gallon bin – $19.75
- 96 gallon bin – $33.50
This is exciting to watch Austin transform itself, starting from a very low recycling rate of 38% and moving all the way to zero waste.
One of my big ideas is to get away from the supermarket model in America. Not only has it made two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, but it also wastes an incredible amount of…well, everything.
From an NRDC report (pdf):
Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten….That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.
I’m convinced the supermarket model isn’t working and suggest we replace it with a more sustainable model. I’m writing a book to explain my solution, but here it is in three parts. A food system made up of farmers markets, non-profit food cooperatives, and for-profit markets.
I’ve traveled across the country and seen this model in effect and successful in large and small communities. It favors both the rich and poor, is sustainable and, best of all, creates quality jobs.
Ohio Stadium is the largest stadium in the country to attempt zero waste. With 105,000 seats and a massive tailgating section this is a challenge. Their goal is get near-zero waste with 90% of the trash turned into recycling and compost.
The success has been fast and big with a 61% reduction in trash sent to landfills in 2011, the first year of the program. And an incredibly high season average of 75.3% for recycling and compost for an average of 105,231 people.
The best part is how fast this is all moving. When the program began they weren’t sure what they could do, and labelled zero waste as “pretty impossible”. Now, they are hoping for at least one game in the 2012 season with 90% diversion rate, their standard for zero waste.
An incredible achievement that shows zero waste is possible, can happen fast, and without interrupting all the fun.
You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret to success…and is the key to being regarded honorably. – Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Last night we watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix Instant, and we both fell in love with Jiro. For his amazing work and his intense focus on being a Shokunin (show-koo-nin).
I wouldn’t say he is eccentric. He just works relentlessly every day. That’s how Shokunin are. The way of the Shokunin is to repeat the same thing every day. They just want to work. They aren’t trying to be special.
And in the words of Jiro, once you choose your occupation you must immerse yourself in it and fall in love. Which I think is important. This is not for any job you happen to fall into, it is a chosen profession. And if you are lucky enough to get that choice then dive in and become a Shokunin.
That’s what I want to do. I dream of working that hard, every day, and never stopping. No retirement, no vacations, just a simple dedication to something I love. For years I have built up the discipline and focus needed to be so resolute.
And I’m at the point in my life where I get to make that choice. I have taken a year off work to find my occupation. The whole time living off savings and dedicating myself to writing. Every day I wake up and write, take a break, and write some more. And I’m proud to say in the last year I’ve never taken a weekend or holiday. I’ve gone on vacations and written during them.
I’m proud of that dedication, but I know I’m no Shokunin. To meet that standard I will have to persevere for another 9 years.
“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate
It’s the weekend and I hope you’re heading to a farmers market. The best ones are always on the weekends. Lots of farmers and variety, as well as crowds, but if you arrive early you can avoid them and get the best selection. Here are a few tips for shopping at the farmers market this weekend.
Hold your cash in one hand and the food in the other. I use this trick all the time. As a regular at the market I know exactly what I want and I usually know the farmer. But that doesn’t give me any special privileges. I have to wait in line with everybody else and sometimes that can take forever. A new person asking lots of questions or ten people in line. But if you walk up to the front and show your cash and food – you can skip the line. I know it’s cutting in line and a cheat, but with exact change you can complete the transaction in second. And with the growing crowds of people at the market it can be needed to get in and out quickly.
Save everything you get from the market, from little ties and rubber bands, to fruit and egg boxes. You can return all of them for a smile and nod of appreciation. Look closely at every market and you will see this happening. Someone returning a collection of thirty rubber bands or another with 5 empty egg cartons. It’s the sustainable side to the market. And the farmers love it because it saves them a few dollars on supplies.
Look for the special item at every table. I’ve learned a secret about farmers that I can share with you. Each one has several products that are their specialty. They grow lots of them and have great variety – their staple crops. But they also like to experiment, grow something new, or cook something different. Usually just a small amount to see if it sells or for their own family. Which means they quickly sell out, but if you can find one, take a look. It’s usually exotic or rare and you probably won’t know what to do with it, but it’s always a treat.
Finally, a quick story about one of my experiences. A few years back, I found a farmer with a single walnut tree in his yard. His father had planted it 40 years ago so his family could have walnuts, but now it was so big they couldn’t eat all the fallen walnuts. So he began selling a few of them at the market for dirt cheap prices, but he always placed them in the corner and sometimes didn’t even put them out. I learned all this as I began buying from him, and they were delicious. The best walnuts I ever had.
Soon my girlfriend was eating them and I was buying double. Some weeks I would walk up with a huge bag and buy every single walnut he had. At this point he realized walnuts could sell and gave them more table space with a big sign. To my chagrin, they did sell and I was now fighting other market shoppers for walnuts. Some weeks I would get some and others not. The price went up a little, but every time he saw me I would get a discount and a smile.
Do you have a tip or story, please share in the comments?