Who couldn’t use a little financial wisdom right about now, with the stock market swinging up and down like a bungee jumper hanging from a bridge, homes in foreclosure around the nation, and unemployment putting an alarming crimp in so many family budgets?
It’s tough to make a buck today, let alone keep it. Yet, for the Amish, a humble people who value frugality and self reliance, hanging onto their money is a given, as author Lorilee Craker tells us in Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving.
Craker set off on a quest to learn how the Amish (split from the Mennonites in 1693) were prospering even while the Englishers were enduring the most challenging financial crisis in decades.
Although her family heritage is Mennonite, she writes, “I didn’t look the part, with my sleeveless, above-the-knee sundress, bright coral nails, jewelry, and makeup. I looked about as Amish as a contestant from Dancing with the Stars.”
As Craker points out, the Amish call themselves the Plain people. The rest of us—no matter where in the world we come from—are the Englishers.
Craker has collected bits of Amish wisdom in an easy-to-read, 202-page book. Many of her tips could easily be called “commonsense,” if only we had the sense to follow them. Here’s just a sampling, pulled from various chapters (along with my commentary):
- “It’s a natural thing for children to want…. We try to teach them to be content with what they have.” (You’ll note, of course, that Amish children do not watch television, where the constant bombardment of ads can turn even the most contented child into a greedy monster in 30 seconds or less.)
- “We use things until they wear out…. It’s that simple.” (Amish clothing has not changed for, oh, a couple of hundred years or thereabouts. So Amish parents might find it a bit easier to convince their kids of this principle than you or I would. But it’s absolutely an environmentally friendly way to live as well as a way to keep more of your paycheck in your own pocket.)
- “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without….” (Tore a hole in your shirt? Mend it. Broke your garden trowel? Fix it. Emptied that ice cream bucket? Use it for something else. Nothing goes to waste in an Amish household. Dad’s worn-out shirts and get cut down to make tiny shirts for his son. Or, for some of us Englishers, turn those old clothes into quilts, scrape clean the inside of the mustard jar, eat the crumbs in the cereal box, and so on. I have several friends who are nearly as frugal as the Amish, though they might not wear those umpteen-times-mended pants out in public.)
- “You don’t have to buy something new to buy something good.” (The popularity of thrift stores and resale shops is plenty of evidence that we Englishers are catching onto this tip. I’d modify this to “You don’t have to pay for something to get something good”: Think Freecycle!)
- “It’s foolish to buy something you can’t afford, and you end up paying more for whatever you buy; it’s like paying for a dead horse.” (Have you looked at the interest on your credit card lately? Or your homeowner’s loan? Or that car you bought? This is a tough one for most of us, as it’s pretty hard to plunk down cash for a car or a house. But cutting back on what we put on our charge cards and paying the card off each month—those are quick wins.)
- “Anyone should shoot for 10 to 20 percent [of their income] in savings…. Pay yourself by saving.” (One of my kids says I’m constantly reminding him to put money in a 401k—now, while he’s young. Apparently I got the savings gene. Now, if only I could pass it on to the next generation. I’m open to suggestion…)
Even Englishers Can Do It
In addition to the Amish wisdom she shares, Craker polls her friends and draws from her own experience to add money-saving tips adapted to a more “modern” lifestyle. For example:
- “One of the best antidotes to toy overload is ‘experiential’ gift giving. That is, instead of wrapping up a thirty-dollar, battery-powered stuffed animal that makes noises, only to have the thing break within a week (true story), you give the gift of a single experience, shared or not, of know-how, skill, and most of all, a memory.”
- “I turn legs of jeans into grocery bag holders with one hem and some elastic. And I’ve covered a bulletin board with the fabric from an old skirt of mine.”
- “Pay debts off smallest to largest…. Make minimum payments on all but the smallest amount, and throw everything you can at that one.”
- “Because it’s good for the soul, institute a ‘one in, one out policy.’ Every time you bring home something new, get rid of something old.”
Quality of Life
Money Secrets of the Amish is an easy read, with a breezy style that makes for light reading. Rather than pore through it in one sitting, I tended to drop in and out, picking up tips in the odd minutes between appointments or while riding in the backseat of my carpool on the way to work.
The book is filled with bits of wisdom worth noting. I’d particularly recommend it to young adults just starting a household or raising young families. Having run a relatively frugal household for more than a couple of decades (don’t even ask how many more), I can’t say I picked up a whole lot of new tips. Yet the book was an especially good reminder of the values behind frugality that don’t necessarily have to do with whether your family’s paycheck is large enough to cover your expenses.
Craker frequently illustrates the money-saving lessons she’s learned from the Amish with dollars-and-cents calculations. But quite possibly the most satisfying lesson she writes about is what she calls “the Amish way of wealth: they share what they have with neighbors, Plain and Fancy both, which has a wonderful full-circle effect.” She quotes an Amish man who has taught her a lot about his culture:
“Sharing with others is the brotherly love way of looking at a dollar,” says Bishop Jake. “We loan our binder or machinery to someone else who doesn’t have one, or our horses. We visit the sick, and we help bring in the harvest for those who can’t. If you didn’t help your neighbor, there would be something wrong.”
The Plain folk have something on us when it comes to the quality of life. They care more about relationships than they do about stuff. And that’s a lesson we Englishers would do well to heed.
The Fine Print
Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.
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Today’s post is by Mark Moran, who works for Toaster Oven Guide. Mark offers tips about making your cooking more efficient. As you might also expect, he suggests using a toaster oven as an alternative to large ovens and microwaves. If you have a toaster oven, please let us all know what you think. Do you find it more efficient than a full-sized oven? Do you agree with Mark that it’s a great cooking alternative? What other energy-saving tips would you add? — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Many of us spend a lot of time in our kitchens, but at what costs? Consider this:
- The kitchen uses the most energy of any room in the home.
- It can cost a lot of energy, time, and money just to make one meal, depending on how you make it.
- Outdated kitchen appliances can waste a lot of water and power; they can also produce large amounts of CO2 emissions.
One good tip is that efficient refrigeration is a big part of efficient cooking. You can’t cook if you don’t have raw materials, right? So, if you want to cook more efficiently, you also need to look at how you use your refrigerator. Start by looking at the age of the refrigerator.
- On average, an older refrigerator uses about 1,700 kWh of energy per year.
- Newer refrigerators use about 700 kWh of energy per year.
What that translates to is that you can save about 1,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per year by getting a new refrigerator, especially one that has a high Energy Star-certified rating. You can also save a lot of money in the process.
One of the best things that you can do to save money and conserve energy when you cook is to plan your fridge use. For instance, if you know that you need five ingredients out of your fridge, get them all out at the same time. If you open the fridge door five different times, you only waste more energy. To be precise, you can lose anywhere from 5% to 25% or more of the energy efficiency from your fridge by frequently opening the fridge door when you don’t absolutely need to.
Have you ever found yourself staring blankly into your fridge when you’re trying to cook? Another tip is that every trip into your fridge should be an exercise in efficiency. Know what you want and where it is and get in and out as quickly as you can.
7 Tips to Extend Your Efficiency
Extend that sort of efficiency to everything that you do in your kitchen. For instance:
- Set up efficient stations in an assembly line format in your kitchen. Each one should be for a certain task, like chopping meat.
- Make sure that you only have to wash your hands a minimum number of times to avoid contamination. That will save time, water and soap.
- Install a low-flow aerator on your kitchen faucet.
- Make sure to keep your vacuum your refrigerator coils at least twice a year.
- Don’t pre-heat an oven unless the recipe wants you to.
- Turn off your oven a few minutes early and let the remaining heat do the remaining cooking.
- Don’t use your large oven unless you have to.
The Great Cooking Debate
Finally, there’s often a huge debate over how to cook. For instance, cooking food in a large oven takes quite a while. It also uses a lot of energy and puts out a lot of heat and CO2 emissions. Not to mention the fact that it can take a long time to clean an oven. Stove tops, meanwhile, are good for some things—like boiling pasta—but not others. You can’t bake a pizza on a stove top, for instance. The same goes for a crock pot.
A microwave is probably the fastest way to cook food. So, if you want to save time and energy, it might seem like a good option. However, there are situations where toaster ovens are a much better option. A Breville toaster oven or other modern toaster oven can often make up to 6 slices of toast at a time. They’re also capable of cooking many other items in less time than a large oven and with better flavor than a microwave.
When it comes to saving time, money, and emissions while you cook, use only what you need to, and use it only how and when you need to. Cooking can still be fun, even while being efficient. In fact, you’re likely to enjoy cooking even more, if you know that you are saving money, time and energy in the kitchen.
Website: Toaster Oven Guide
“Why do you care about drying clothes outside?” Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Gary Sutterlin, President and CEO of Breeze Dryer. “Do you have a passion for this, or is it just a business?
“For us, it goes beyond that,” Sutterlin said. “It really was a life lesson for our children. I’m a pharmacist by training, my wife’s a Ph.D. by training. I was doing very well in the pharmaceutical industry as an executive and pretty much walked away overnight. Our passion was to make a difference in this world. We found that medium through clotheslines.”
The clotheslines that Sutterlin and his wife, Gayle, sell are made by Hills, an Australian manufacturer known for quality and reliability. We interviewed Sutterlin by phone from his home in Pennsylvania. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
SUTTERLIN: Hills clotheslines are simple to use, and the return on investment is quite high for consumers. Obviously, it enables consumers to save money, energy, and ultimately the environment. There’s a multifaceted message there.
If it were just a business, I’m sure we could just sit and sell clotheslines, but we travel the country espousing the benefits of line-drying your laundry. It goes beyond the business aspect but more along the message. Here in the United States, people have lost sight of that from the standpoint that a majority of households utilize an electric dryer, which comes at a price.
BPGL: Explain what you mean by an electric dryer coming “at a price.”
SUTTERLIN: It’s the second-largest consumer of electricity, only second to the refrigerator, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, through the use of a clothesline and drying racks during the winter, households can save quite a bit of money. Especially as the utility caps are coming off and rates are rising, I think we’ll start to see an influx of people line drying. And, we already are, as people are looking for ways and means to go about doing their part in terms of saving the environment.
So that’s really how we got into it, and we continue to travel the country and get out and meet and talk with the folks in terms of what they do. If they’re not buying our product, so be it, just so long as they’re line drying. It could be as simple as a single line from a tree to a tree.
BPGL: Are you showing your products at trade shows around the country?
SUTTERLIN: We’ve been doing a variety of shows. We first started at World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. We’ve since done a number of green shows, and a number of energy shows, like the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy Festival. This spring, we were at the Green Festival show in Chicago, which has a very large draw, including international folks.
And, then, we’ve been to the standard National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. I tried to convince some of the stores and smaller hardware chains that the Hills Hoist is a product that they should be carrying, although a lot of the larger chains are looking for products with short life cycles and repeat buyers, which is not something we offer.
BPGL: You say Breeze Dryer doesn’t offer products with short life cycles. How long does a Hills Hoist clothesline or drying rack last?
SUTTERLIN: You know, it’s funny, because we get calls from people with 20-, 30-, 40-year-old models, and we can still get the parts for them. My wife and I have one that’s 18 years old and as nice as the day we bought it. My sister, on the other hand, living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has left hers outside 24 x 7, 365 days a year for the last 20 years. She’s just replaced the line on her clothesline — not because it broke, but because the coating cracked.
BPGL: So you bought a Hills Hoist clothesline 18 years ago?
SUTTERLIN: That’s correct. We picked it up from a Plow and Hearth store. They were selling it at their outlet store, and it was missing parts. I wrote the company, and they sent everything free of charge. I said, “Look, no American company would do that.”
And the level of service, the quality, durability, and workmanship are far above pretty much what anyone would expect of a clothesline. And that’s the reason they last so long. The company started in 1945, and some of the original models are still in use throughout Australia and New Zealand.
BPGL: That is a different business mindset than what we so often see here in the U.S. You were obviously impressed with the Hills Hoist. When did you start selling them?
SUTTERLIN: We officially kicked off sales in March of 2008, although there was a lot of preparation leading up to that point. I had been in talks with them for a number of years. Everything finally came to fruition in March of 2008.
BPGL: Are you the only distributor — the main point of contact — in the U.S.?
SUTTERLIN: Yes. We started out with the U.S., and then in July of 2009, we became the distributors for all of North America.
BPGL: Can people buy Hills products in retail outlets right now or is it just through the Breeze Dryer website?
SUTTERLIN: Consumers can buy Hills clotheslines through a number of different websites as well as through the Breeze Dryer website. And there are a limited number of retailers carrying our products, including some pilot stores that we’re working through, such as Do It Best and True Value.
BPGL: How much money can people save with the line of natural drying products sold by Breeze Dryer?
SUTTERLIN: The main message is that, on average, 15% of your total energy costs are dedicated and relegated to the dryer. And that’s significant. It’s a large amount of money every year, year in and year out.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 90% of American homes have an electric-powered clothes dryer, with an average family usage of 400 times per year. The average electric dryer is used at least once per day, accounting for 15 to 20% of household utility costs. During its lifespan, a household dryer consumes approximately 1,079 kilowatt hours of energy and emits into the environment 2,224 pounds of carbon dioxide.
BPGL: Do you offer options for drying clothes indoors in winter?
SUTTERLIN: We offer a number of different types of drying racks. We have a large number of drying solutions that move indoors and outdoors with the change of seasons, which we think is pretty unique.
In terms of the benefits, obviously, it adds moisture to the home in the winter when the humidity is so low that it’s bone dry, and wood starts to crack. Drying clothes indoors moisturizes the air, including the nasal passages. That prevents bloody noses and keeps your skin from cracking.
Indoors, in the winter, you can hang the laundry the night before and, typically, in the morning when you get up, your laundry is dry.
BPGL: Is it easy to move a Hills drying rack or clothesline from wherever you’ve mounted it outdoors, and then remount it indoors? Or do most customers generally have a second unit that they install in their basement?
SUTTERLIN: I initially thought customers would buy a second one, but that’s not what usually happens. With our retractable clothesline, just two screws hold the unit on the wall. So it’s a simple matter to take it off the wall and move it indoors into the basement.
We also sell accessory plates. You mount a plate outside, and then mount another plate on the basement wall. Then you can quickly move the drying solution with the change of seasons.
The other thing we have is folding-frame clotheslines. They have a total of four bolts.
BPGL: Does the folding-frame clothesline mount on a wall, or is it free standing?
SUTTERLIN: It can be both. It comes ready to mount on the wall, a shed, a pool cabana, a sturdy fence, or the basement wall. It hangs down the wall. When you need it, you lift it up in just one click. You hang the laundry. Then, when the laundry’s dry, you take it down. Push on it, one click, and it folds flat back against the wall.
BPGL: It only needs one wall mounting to support heavy laundry. That’s quite a space saver.
SUTTERLIN: We have a really small one called a Supa Fold 70 that we see a lot of people mounting over the washer and dryer in the laundry room. We also have different sizes that are bigger, and that are readily customizable with a hacksaw. You cut it to fit your needs.
That’s the message that we’re trying to say. We offer quite a number of drying solutions for those who want to line dry, whether it be indoors or outdoors. It more or less tidies the house up in terms of how you line dry. We’ve all seen people hanging their laundry on the fences, and that really sets neighbors off at times.
BPGL: I hadn’t even thought about this, but on your site, you talk about the effects of clothes dryers on your clothing. Tell me about that.
SUTTERLIN: We had a test family of five, and they collected the lint from their dryer for the entire month. It ended up being two large, gallon-sized Ziploc bags. When we travel to the shows, we leave that on the table, and people come up and ask about it. We explain that, essentially, what the dryer does is beat the clothes and wear them out. That lint is actually fibers from the clothes.
People tend to not understand that the dryer shortens the life cycle of your clothing. We’re all aware that the dryer sometimes shrinks laundry, but at the same time, it’s wearing the laundry out.
BPGL: Is there a choice of colors, or are is every Hills model offered by Breeze Dryer the same color?
SUTTERLIN: Our product is a mature product segment in Australia and New Zealand. So it does come in various sizes and colors, depending on the model.
Hills is known for the rotary hoist, which more or less takes the laundry up over the individual’s head. It hoists the laundry high and spins in the breeze.
Then we have the retractable clotheslines, the folding-frame clotheslines, and the portable clotheslines that bridge the gap between the indoors and outdoors. Then there are the various drying racks as well, that for the most part are unique here in America and are doing very well.
BPGL: How do your drying racks compare to the small drying racks for sale in the big box stores here in the U.S.?
SUTTERLIN: We get a lot of very positive customer feedback saying, “I’ve been looking for this for 10, 15 years, and I’ve finally found it.” Or, “I’ve seen this throughout Europe, but nobody here in the United States carries these types of products in terms of the quality.”
We get a lot of feedback on Amazon and elsewhere that people are enthusiastic about the opportunity to buy a product that’s known for quality and durability. Given the fact that what’s out there is going to be low end and cheap, you ultimately get what you pay for.
That’s the unique aspect that seems to be coming through in the messages and phone calls that we get from customers.
BPGL: Do you have a brick-and-mortar store? Could somebody stop in and see your products in Pennsylvania?
SUTTERLIN: We have a farm that we work with called Manoff Market Gardens in Solebury, Pennsylvania, along the Delaware River. It really does draw people. We’ve had people from Illinois and New England drive to the farm, because they want to see our product. They want to touch it and feel it. We’ve heard from the retailers we work with that that’s the case, too. It draws people from surrounding states.
BPGL: What do you most want consumers to know about Breeze Dryer?
SUTTERLIN: The message in terms of Breeze Dryer is all about offering clothes-drying solutions and creating a more energy-efficient home as well as a cleaner environment. That’s ultimately the message at the end of the day.
Follow Breeze Dryer
Facebook: Breeze Dryer
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“A big part of what we’re doing — and what gives me great passion — are the personal success stories about individuals,” says Susan Neisloss. “I can’t tell you how important it is for me to be able to share these stories and to have people give us good ideas. That is the key to building this community.”
Neisloss is speaking about the community of people who visit Working for Green (WFG), the website she has published for about a year. A seasoned broadcaster and reporter, she interviews ecopreneurs who are making a living by starting and running environmentally friendly businesses. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Neisloss by phone from her California office. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What is Working For Green’s main mission and how can it help improve our economic woes?
NEISLOSS: We want to help inspire and motivate everyday Americans to share their innovations and tell us about their new green jobs. There are so many new sustainable opportunities that can use the skills you already have. For example, a wind turbine technician might have come from an engineering or construction background. There’s so much gloom and doom out there, and we want to be a voice of hope and optimism that empowers individuals to make changes that will help their bottom line and enhance their well being.
BPGL: Where do you see the most growth in terms of sustainable industries?
NEISLOSS: Wind, solar, biodiesel and algae as power sources, but also those involving agriculture and a return to living off the land by growing your own food and providing food for your community. With an estimated 48 million Americans going to bed hungry every night, it’s critical that we find creative and sustainable ways to grow healthy food in abundance.
BPGL: What is your motivation for creating Working for Green?
NEISLOSS: I did this out of a personal passion to want to help people, given how difficult the economy has been. I started, back before the 2008 election, percolating about an idea. I wanted to focus on the environment tied into the economy as a way to make people feel more secure about their financial and related lifestyle issues.
Of course, the economy is going to get stronger and get weaker. That’s the cycle of life. But, increasingly, as I started to talk to people around the country, I realized that the one thing that’s clear is that most people do want to help one another and that we can do something without relying on government and corporate assistance to make some significant positive changes.
Working for Green was the genesis of that passion. It’s a video-based web community. And the emphasis is on that community, where people can share actionable innovations and career opportunities through original content. We feature personal success stories that highlight creative and measurable examples of sustainability.
I suppose the easiest way to describe it is, it’s designed to be a portal where users can exchange videos. I want videos from people so that they can post ideas and articles that support this basic idea.
BPGL: Would you say that Working for Green is a “green” site?
NEISLOSS: It’s not just green per se; it’s the bigger issue that covers women, children, education, animals, food, and the like — basically, every area of our lives. Working for Green is dedicated to empowering — very important — and motivating people to help one another, help themselves, and help their communities. I’m also very concerned about future generations, because I love kids.
So it’s this whole idea, which is reflected in the growing importance of social interest networks, of the power of the people to have an influence. We see that all the time. Now we have to find the content, the content doesn’t have to find us.
BPGL: What is the vision behind your interview series?
NEISLOSS: The centerpiece has been three-minute pieces that I go out and produce around the country. My original goal was to make it a little like — you may be old enough to remember Charles Kuralt and his series, On the Road. I always loved what he was able to do, and I don’t profess to be the poetic journalist that he was.
But, given my background as a TV reporter and producer, I wanted to do a road trip, which, for various logistical and financial reasons, hasn’t actually been a linear path. But I have done about 50 stories in the last eight months. Probably in 12 different cities, focusing on interesting individuals. I do personality profiles, then highlight something where somebody could serve as a mentor or as an example to somebody else in terms of making their life better.
I’m completely apolitical, nonpartisan; there’s no axe to grind. There’s so many sites out there — what is it, 2.7 million green sites alone? I’m not about telling you how to recycle your bottles or giving you the latest news on climate issues. But I am particularly concerned about the individual. And I think that’s what makes Working for Green distinctive, the high-quality and emotional nature of the stories.
And then, in addition, I’m providing a portal where people can exchange ideas as well.
BPGL: How big is your readership?
NEISLOSS: It’s going to take some time, and I realize that. But we expect to have 45,000 page views this month, a 33% increase! We’ve been working very hard to interact on a personal level through Facebook and Twitter.
BPGL: What’s the revenue model for your site? Are you selling advertising?
NEISLOSS: We’re working on something that’s based on a hub-and-spoke model. Imagine the hub is Working for Green, ideally, as a social interest network forum, where people exchange ideas. The goal, as we’re just implementing this now, is to have spokes — Working for Jobs, Working for Women, Working for Food, Working for Children — and those spokes change. We’ll provide automated content and make it current content through RSS feeds.
In addition, we’ll provide regional, personal stories that I shoot. And people can exchange ideas and go to a niche that they’re interested in. That will appeal to advertisers as well, because if they’re selling Platex Bras, for example, they’d be particularly interested in aligning themselves with the women’s spoke. That’s the greatly oversimplified perspective on what we’re doing here. We’ll also be selling our videos to other outlets, such as cable networks, major newspaper websites, and so on.
BPGL: What do you enjoy most about what you’re doing?
NEISLOSS: For me, the biggest high, because I love visual storytelling, is doing the stories. But I have, quite honestly, had to cut back on going out and doing stories, because it is a big chunk of change. And I’m shooting on HD, establishing a stable of professional shooters around the country with whom I’ve worked and I have a relationship.
Right now, I’m really focused on getting the word out and taking all this good content, and trying to link with other sites. It would be wonderful if someone would decide, We’d love to use this content for something else and syndicate it. And then we’d be able to help people in a bigger way. I really want to be able to share this, because I think the focus of these pieces is designed to be emotionally compelling and entertaining to some degree.
The feedback has been very good from some senior media people I know through a course I’m taking – a special fellowship that I got accepted into at Columbia Journalism School. And I find that the feedback I’m getting has been very positive. But even senior media people and people in my class — everybody is looking for the brass ring, as you know. Everybody is looking desperately at researching a way to increase e-commerce through video.
My goal is that when I do a story, and believe me, I don’t want to ever compromise editorial in advertising — it has to meet certain criteria in any piece I do.
For example, we were in Chicago and did a piece on one of the Kimpton Hotels properties there. Kimpton is not as big as some of the other chains, but they’re doing amazing things, where the employees have a very big say in making their hotels and their service more eco-friendly.
It was quite remarkable, and I’m engaging with people there. In spite of the economy, they’re a hotel group that’s starting to grow as well. And it was very rewarding to see that even the housekeepers are changing the kinds of products they’re using that are healthier for them. So that’s very exciting when you see measurable examples like that.
BPGL: Does Kimpton underwrite the video about them?
NEISLOSS: No. I do think, given my production background, going out and doing a series of stories for a Kimpton or an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, or whomever is trying to get a visible presence in the green or relationship space, there is that possibility. But I don’t want to appear as if anybody’s shilling for a company. I think people understand now that everybody’s in need of advertisers for sure.
BPGL: You’ve got a great site. You’ve got interesting, compelling videos, and I’m sure you’ll be really successful.
NEISLOSS: Do you say that to all the girls? [She laughs.] I’m sure you feel the same thing when you work on your site. I’m sure you feel there are those days when you think, “Oh, this is great. What we’re doing is different from anybody else out there. And then there are those other moments when you think, “Uh. It’s like Sisyphus.”
BPGL: I totally agree.
NEISLOSS: In terms of the complementary nature of what we do, we’re both very positive. Your language reflects that in the kinds of stories you do.
My goal is not to be all things to all people, and to have a point of view. So, when I focus on these people or when I go to Arizona and see this poor Latino community that lost its only supermarket — it’s invigorating to see that now — I focus again on one person who has led the community to start growing their own vegetables and buy chickens to sell eggs. They’re really living off the land. And they’re trying to make a go of it, and be able to survive and thrive.
Also, there is someone who helps me write the content. So, no matter where you live, even if you’re not in Arizona, to relate to that story, you can get resources that we provide. Even if you’re in another part of the country, it might be helpful to you as well, if you want to kick-start something. I try very hard to make sure each story has applications to other parts of the country.
In the best of all worlds, I would be able to find a way to reduce the cost of production and be touring around in my hybrid vehicle right now, sponsored by Enterprise, and coming your way in the summertime to Iowa, shooting a number of stories. We had been going to two to three states at a time to save money. Obviously with airfare and driving costs, I’ve had to cut back on that temporarily, but I’m very optimistic that we’ll get to the Midwest for sure.
BPGL: Do you have something new coming up that you can tell us about?
NEISLOSS: I’m about to announce an advisory board that includes people from the world of entertainment, the hotel industry, anybody who’s interested, people who are leaders, movers and shakers on the educational side, and major sustainability institutions. I think the idea of this hub and spoke model is to really pinpoint these niche markets and to showcase them. The most important thing is, I’m looking for great ideas from people that we could come to their town and do a story about them.
I want to reach out and let people know that there is help, and there are actions they can take, and we offer a valuable resource in terms of ways to save money and make money and find sustainable work.
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Green living isn’t just about being eco-friendly in ways that prevent pollution. It’s also about a way of life that values the world around us and honors it with our attention. Or, so it seems to us at Blue Planet Green Living. The treadmill life keeps us from enjoying the world around us, and if we can’t pay attention to it, we tend to forget to care for it. Contributing writer Abby Seixas provides us with reflections on the value of getting off the treadmill. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
One of my favorite cartoons from The New Yorker shows two mice with two exercise wheels side by side. One mouse is running frantically around his, while the other, sitting still on the edge of the wheel, says, “I had an epiphany.”
The cartoon speaks to the territory I deal with all the time in my work as a psychotherapist specializing in issues of life balance: the elusive change of mind and heart that enables a person to shift from running endlessly on the treadmill of our culturally sanctioned 24/7 way of life, to being able to slow down, or, dare I say it, even to stop every now and then.
I’ve spent the last 15 years helping women intentionally slow their pace in order to experience less stress and more depth and meaning in their everyday lives. In a culture that so highly values speed and efficiency, that’s a humbling proposition, in my own life as well as that of my clients and the women in my groups.
However, the task becomes much easier when certain life circumstances come into play. Circumstances such as:
- death of a loved one
- serious illness
- job loss
- some other major life crisis
Difficult life events tend to throw people off the treadmill, forcing them to slow down. Often, this downshifting results in asking themselves tough questions, reevaluating their priorities and ultimately (though certainly not without pain), making significant positive changes in how they live their lives.
The experience of a client of mine whom I’ll call “Louise” is a good example of a difficult event leading to a major, positive life reorientation. A mother of two who worked full-time, the event that shifted Louise’s own life dramatically happened to someone she was close to. Louise had worked hard for fifteen years at a job in sales which, she said, “sucked the life right out of me.” Looking back at her life then, she described it as “totally externally focused, driven, and very out of control.”
During that time, one of Louise’s friends was in a very severe car accident. It was unclear whether she would survive. During one of the first nights that her friend was in the hospital, Louise slept only intermittently, thinking and dreaming about her and her family for what seemed like most of the night. She said, “Toward morning, just as I was awakening, I had this thought about my friend: ’Even if her life is over now, she can know that she has done a great job as a mother.’ Then all of a sudden, I applied that thought to myself, and I remember the clutching feeling in my chest. It was a visceral reaction as I thought: ’If I were to die tomorrow, that couldn’t be said about me.’”
She saw that she had been run so ragged by her job that she wasn’t “living her values,” which to her meant putting her children first. The incongruity between what she believed in and how she was living was so stark and jolting to her in that moment that she had to act. “I gave my notice to a job that I’d had for fifteen years. I didn’t go for options. I didn’t think about how else I might resolve this. It was completely: I’ve got to stop this freight train, and get off.”
The next several months were hard in a different way for Louise. She was at home and spending much more time with her children, but she still felt driven and could not settle down. “I was sewing pillow-covers with a vengeance! I felt enormous stress, but now most of it was self-generated.”
Eventually, in an effort to address the stress she was feeling both physically and emotionally, Louise attended a weekend retreat that included some guided visualization. At first, she had trouble focusing her attention inwardly, but on one of the “inner journeys,” she found herself able to truly go inside, and her inner world opened up. She went in her mind’s eye back to her childhood home, and re-contacted a deep sense of loneliness that had been with her often as a child. She realized that in her adult life, the “freight train” energy that caused her so much stress was fueled in part by trying to avoid the old feeling of discomfort with loneliness from her childhood. This awareness helped her with the changes she wanted to make.
Later she said, “I had lived my life for so long in an outer fashion, and I was so out of synch and so screwed up. I had some sense that I needed to look inside, but it was so hard. I didn’t know how to do it.”
Her weekend retreat was the beginning of an inner exploration that led Louise to one of my groups, and eventually, as her children got older, to an entirely new career that connects back to that early-morning moment that affected her so profoundly: She teaches, trains and writes about parenting skills. She says, “What I’m doing now uses all of who I am: my professional experience, my skill, my education. And it’s married to my passion. So it’s very powerful for me. And now, because what I’m doing is inner-driven, there’s an energy and an authenticity about it that keeps me going.”
* * * * *
I see a striking parallel between this process of personal transformation and the societal shift we are experiencing with the economic downturn.
We are in crisis.
We have been thrown off the treadmill.
We have an enormous opportunity to ask tough questions and reevaluate our priorities. What is sustainable growth? How much is enough? What is real wealth? How do we go forward from here?
Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding has called this time, when we have hit the wall both economically and ecologically, “The Great Disruption.” Thomas Friedman of The New York Times quotes Gilding: “We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder. No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.”
This is precisely what so many of us are doing in our daily lives: pushing our wonderful systems — our bodies and minds — to the breaking point with over-crammed schedules, incessant distraction and interruption, and non-stop busyness. Because the laws of physics and biology still apply, some of us do reach the breaking point. And it is there that transformation often begins.
As a psychotherapist, when I see continuing headlines about layoffs, rising homelessness and other forms of bad economic news, I take heart from having witnessed so many individuals who have reached the breaking point and from there, fashioned new lives that are slower and more balanced, healthier, richer with meaning and purpose, and more conducive to happiness. My hope is that the economic crisis can lead us, collectively, along a similar path.
[P]eople, even with a very modest amount of money can have a huge impact. Just think about it. You and I could become bankers to people and we could monitor their progress and people in their neighborhoods will see and they will look for micro-loans, they have their own ideas, so we can give them a chance to raise their kids with dignity, send their kids to school, and in troubled places like Afghanistan, we marginally increase the chance that peace can prevail because people will see there is a positive alternative to conflict. — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking on Countdown with Keith Olbermann about Kiva
When someone with an entrepreneurial vision lives in a developing nation, they often need only a little capital to turn their dreams into reality. Costs are low, relative to the developed world. And a small amount of money — by first world standards — goes a very long way. But even “a little capital” is out of reach when the person has a daily struggle to buy the barest of necessities.
Raising capital, even for a micro-enterprise, can be an insurmountable problem for a person of limited means who lives in a third-world country. Entrepreneurs who have nothing but their vision to use as collateral are generally considered a poor risk by institutional investors. The harsh reality is, without an infusion of capital — often as little as US$100 — they must give up their dreams. Yet, with micro-loans through Kiva, entrepreneurs are turning their dreams into income, and lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.
Connecting Dreams with Lenders
While on assignment in central Africa, in 2004, Matthew Flannery and Jessica Jackley learned firsthand about the important difference a small amount of money can make in the lives of poor, but ambitious, individuals and families. As they traveled, they met dozens of entrepreneurs who, with very little money, were raising themselves and their families from poverty by starting small businesses. They were impressed — so much so that they knew they needed to find a way to help many more enterprising people become self-sufficient through micro-loans.
After returning to the U.S., the Flannerys decided to create their own micro-lending organization, one that would allow individuals lenders to connect directly with entrepreneurs they wish to sponsor. In 2005, they founded Kiva, a nonprofit organization that invites potential lenders to learn about a wide range of entrepreneurs and their projects, then select someone they wish to support. Direct lending to a specific recipient engages an investor in a way that isn’t possible with large organizations.
Kiva presents potential investors with a wide range of choices on its website. Reading and reviewing all of the applicants’ stories can take hours. We learn about their families, their plans and dreams, and their track record for paying back previous loans. After selecting a person and project to support, signing up is easy. PayPal has agreed to process Kiva loans free of charge, or investors can use a credit card, if they wish.
Kiva facilitates the transfer of an investor’s money to the selected recipient’s Field Partner, a lending organization that will supervise the loan disbursement and repayment. Field Partners are carefully screened and monitored, to assure they are good stewards of the funds that Kiva sends through them.
In turn, each Field Partner has its own screening process for selecting projects to put forth to Kiva and its investor pool. While neither Kiva nor the investors charge interest from the entrepreneurs, the Field Partners are entitled to collect a minimal amount of interest, in order to stay in business themselves.
Every penny loaned by an investor goes directly to the borrower. Kiva supports itself through investment interest on the loaned money while it is being transferred to and from the recipient. At checkout, investors are also prompted to donate an additional 15% to help support the organization. For a $25 loan, that comes to a (U.S.) tax-deductible donation of $3.75.
Spreading the Risk
Sponsors can invest as little as $25, supporting a share of the entrepreneur’s request. This method of pooling resources with other donors spreads the risk, so that a single person isn’t heavily impacted if the recipient defaults.
But defaults are rare. Most borrowers pay their loans back within the time allotted, meeting the schedule they’ve agreed upon with their Funding Partner. As I look through the database of applicants for Kiva funding, I’m struck by how many borrowers already have successfully repaid multiple loans.
A woman from Viet Nam, who wants to expand her incense business, has previously borrowed and repaid 10 loans. A 48 year-old woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina has repaid two loans for livestock and chickens, and is now requesting a third loan for more chickens and feed.
Customized Solutions for Individual Needs
I was surprised to see the variety of requests. Not all applicants are entrepreneurs. Some simply need to improve their living conditions. A schoolteacher in Nicaragua, for example, needs a loan to repair the cracks in the flooring in the home he shares with his daughter. This is his fourth micro-loan.
Not all loans go to third-world nations. Kiva recently began facilitating loans to applicants in the United States through a pilot program with the Field Partner Opportunity Fund. The fund is designed to support the working poor, who often launch small businesses to improve their circumstances.
In many cases, enterprising individuals will join together to support each other with a group loan. “In a group loan, each member of the group receives an individual loan but is part of a group of individuals bound by a group guarantee,” the Kiva website explains. “Under this arrangement, each member of the group supports one another and is responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members if someone is delinquent or defaults.”
The Kiva site has several helpful tools for lenders, including a post about each recipient, a map showing the recipient’s home country or state, and pinpointing lenders’ locations. Lenders can, if they choose, join a team of like-minded people. Groups range in interest from Mormons to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) to Italians to Texans to Catholics to Unitarian Universalists, Microsoft Businesses, Shoppers, and more. Or, if you can’t find a group that you like, create one of your own.
Maintaining the Flow
Once the entrepreneur repays a loan, the investor has the right to collect the money due, but most choose to reinvest those same dollars into another project. An initial small loan of $25 to $500 may be repaid and re-loaned time after time.
In Kiva’s Community pages, I see people who’ve supported more than a hundred projects. I’m struck with the thought that either they have a lot of disposable income, or they must have been repaid several times over. And that, I discover is partially true. A list of each person’s projects and recipients reveals whether repayment is still in progress, repayment has not yet begun, the loan has been defaulted on, or the loan has been fully repaid. Many people have been fully repaid, but others have multiple loans in progress at the same time.
Why Lend for No Return?
What is the appeal of micro-lending? There’s no financial gain, as your money earns no interest for you, and may even lose value during the time it’s being repaid.
One reason for lending is that you get to know the people you support through journal entries on the web (posted either by them or by a translator). You watch their progress in words and photos. You learn about their struggles, and you cheer them on as they progress. Although their financial future is only somewhat tied to yours, you begin to feel that their success is your success.
Joe and I have a dear friend who quietly makes microloans to individuals, helping them convert their entrepreneurial ideas to salable goods in the marketplace. He’s inspired by helping others bring their dreams to reality.
The fact that he knows who he’s supporting and believes in their project makes a huge difference in his willingness to risk his own capital. “Many businesses and other worthy causes only need a small infusion of cash to get launched successfully,” he says. “And organizations such as Kiva are essential to coordinate lenders with people in need.”
Besides, it just feels good to give someone a little boost that allows them to help themselves.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
I was at the local food bank today, having given a ride to a friend. He’s talented and capable, but temporarily out of work and low on resources in this tough economy. The experience was a painful one for him, and I write this with his reluctant permission. He wishes to be anonymous, he says. He’s embarrassed that he has to avail himself of these life-saving services. He’s not alone.
In the short time we were there — possibly 15 or 20 minutes — three dozen people crossed our paths, arriving, waiting, leaving. Ours is a relatively small city of 60,000 or so. I can only imagine the numbers of hungry residents lining up for help in Dallas, New York, or downtown L.A.
Our local food bank is a compassionate place. The folks who go there for help are treated with dignity and respect by the staff and volunteers. Clients are treated like human beings, not like numbers. And yet, there seemed to this observer to be a pervasive sense of embarrassment among many of them. I saw several people quickly scan the waiting room, then furtively watch the door as they waited for their names to be called for a bag of groceries. Others’ heads were lowered and their shoulders hunched, perhaps in defeat, perhaps in an attempt to draw inside and become as small as they could.
Not all reacted the same way. Two women stood at the entrance, openly snacking on a bit of this pastry and a mouthful of that fruit bar. The elder of the two tossed boxes of generic macaroni and cheese onto a worker’s cart as he passed her. “I don’t want no more of that crap,” she said sharply. “Every week, it’s the same bad stuff.” The worker took her comments in stride, smiling. I got the impression that he’d heard the same story many times before.
In the center of the reception room, people gathered around a large table loaded with cartons of soy yogurt, wilted greens, organic sour cream, French onion dip, cottage cheese, and a few stray cans of fruits and vegetables with unappealing labels. Bread racks on two sides of the room were loaded with loaves of French bread, wheat bread, ciabatta rolls, and dinner rolls. All this is a bonus; clients can help themselves to as many of these items as they can carry. And they do.
When their names are called, each person gets a single bag of groceries assembled from the donations of concerned citizens and businesses. The intake form asks about dietary restrictions, and my friend wrote “Soy Allergy” in big letters. He might not die from eating soy, but he suffers with welts that last for more than a week. He is understandably cautious.
In his bag of groceries, allowed once per week, at least three quarters of the items listed soy in the ingredients on the labels. Coffee cake: soy lecithin and vegetable oil (may contain soy). Canned soup: contains soy protein. Canned chili: contains soy protein. And soy and soybean oil and more soy and soybean oil. “Go back and ask them again,” I said, trying to be helpful.
“I heard you shouldn’t make trouble, because they’ll remember the name on your slip and give you all the bad stuff the next time,” my friend said. But after looking at the slim pile of groceries remaining in his bag, he went to the counter and asked to exchange. A second try, and the volunteer cheerfully brought him a small bag of Doritos (soy ingredients). He also handed my friend a few cans of tuna and some beef jerky — which one might expect to contain just tuna and just beef. “These should be fine,” the man said. My friend checked the labels and said, “Thanks for trying, but all of these list soy in the ingredients.”
“What can you eat?” the volunteer asked. I thought he sounded exasperated, but he surely couldn’t have been as exasperated as my friend, who kept his cool through the whole ordeal. A third try, and he brought out two small, sealed snack packets, one containing tuna and the other shrimp. No soy this time, but not enough food to get through the week, either, after having to forgo the soy-inclusive items (canned beef stew, etc.) that had formerly filled the bag.
The canned fruits and vegetables in his shopping bag were the cheapest quality goods on any grocery store shelf. I get it that the food bank needs to stretch its dollars as far as it can. If green beans are priced at three for a dollar for the generic brand (with lots of sodium and water), and the brand name beans are 79¢ apiece, then it’s no contest. The food bank will opt for the cheaper variety every time. Feeding three people wins out over feeding one. But no one asks about the quality of the ingredients; they can’t afford to raise the question.
What struck me as I waited was that almost all of the clients were overweight, and some were grossly obese. Former Texas Senator Phil Gramm (one of Senator John McCain’s main economics advisers during the presidential campaign) is quoted as saying, “Has anyone ever noticed that we live in the only country in the world where all the poor people are fat?” The implication seemed to be that overweight people couldn’t possibly be that poor, because they’re obviously eating. But what are they eating?
Another friend who had lived with us for a while also took regular trips to the food bank. Most of what he brought back was pastries and breads and pasta. The pastries and breads were the items available daily (rather than weekly) in the waiting area, because stores freely offer those items as their expiration dates pass. Like my friend today, he could take as many of those as he wished. So what does a hungry person do when nutritious food is hard to come by, but starches are plentiful? What would you do, if your belly was aching to be filled and that was your only option?
It’s a vicious cycle, of course, as malnourished people have difficulty mustering the energy to get a job. And people without a job have no money to buy healthy foods — for themselves or their children. Malnutrition also begets despair, and despair often feeds its belly with comfort food. Comfort food — the pastries and breads and pastas — lure the poor onto a treadmill that fattens them. And being fat begets inertia, so that getting a job becomes less of a goal — and less of a possibility — all the time.
So much for my penny psychology.
What I learned today — the takeaway that I would like to share with you — is this: When you have the wherewithal to donate to a food bank (and, unless you’re receiving food there yourself, perhaps you do), please choose selections that will provide first-rate nutrition. Sure, everyone loves a guilt-filled snack now and again, but try to remember how much healthier it is to munch on trail mix or dried fruit. Donate food (or funds) with the sobering thought that one day you, too, could be on the receiving end of the generosity of others.
Oh, and it would also be helpful if you could find some foods without the ubiquitous soy. (Read the ingredients label.) Someone who’s hungry may thank you.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Under the shade of a small stand of acacia trees, more than a dozen Maasai women are laughing, talking, and singing. Their brightly colored dresses create a cheerful contrast with the buff grass beneath them. Nearby, their children run and play together while the women string colored beads cut from strips of Zulugrass.
The result of their labor is both versatile and lovely — necklaces, bracelets, belts, and earrings in a rainbow of colors. Each piece is made primarily of natural materials harvested sustainably from local resources. The jewelry they make will be sold by the Leakey Collection in more than 20 countries around the world.
The name Leakey may well be familiar to you, as co-owner Philip Leakey is the son of famed paleo-anthropologists Drs. Mary and Louis Leakey. Katy Leakey, Philip’s wife, grew up half a world away. Yet their lives were already linked, even as children. Katy’s parents, Robert and Evelyn Moodey, were instrumental in the founding of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation in 1964. Today, Katy and Philip are married to each other and, as business partners, are the co-creators of The Leakey Collection.
As I type this post, I look down at my wrist. It’s covered with strands of tubular, blue, green, and black Zulugrass beads, interspersed with bright blue, clear, and gold glass beads. I’ve stretched and gently tugged the strands in multiple ways, trying them out as necklaces and bracelets over and over again. Yet, each time, the elastic fibers have regained their shape. I smile to think that these ancient African grasses have been strung on a synthetic fiber invented for the very modern movie Spiderman. (It’s not impossible to break a strand, however, so care is still advised.)
To learn about this new generation of Leakeys and the jewelry that provides a sustainable source of income to well over a thousand Kenyan families, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Kristan Fazio, Managing Director of the Leakey Collection’s U.S. operations. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: I understand that the origin of The Leakey Collection is tied to one of the worst droughts in Kenya in more than 50 years. What is the connection?
FAZIO: Katy and Philip Leakey live in the Kenyan bush among the Maasai people. Because the Maasai are a herding people, they are dependent on weather for their livelihood. When everything dried up in 2001, the men had to take the cattle hundreds of miles away for better grazing conditions. The women were left with no means of income and no way to get medical supplies, food, clothing, or education for their children. They were in desperate circumstances until Katy and Philip personally started supporting about a hundred families. Very quickly, they determined that wasn’t financially sustainable for them or the families.
So they said, “We need to figure out a way to make something from nothing.” Philip has a great love of nature. And Katy’s background is as an artist. It was Philip’s idea to use the grass to make beads, and it was Katy’s eye for the contemporary design that yielded the idea of a single strand of jewelry that can be worn in many different ways.
The Maasai women have long been beading in traditional designs, which are very different than what Katy and Philip designed. The Leakey Collection designs contemporary products for the modern world, quite different than anything you’ve ever seen in traditional crafts.
The Leakey Collection started with a small handful of women making the jewelry. Now, at times, the workforce includes more than 1,400 Maasai women. They work when they want to, as independent contractors.
Katy and Philip are very sensitive to the Maasai culture and traditions. The Maasai are receiving a lot of pressure from outside of their area to modernize, but we don’t want to change their way of doing things.
BPGL: Who is putting pressure on them?
FAZIO: Progress, communication, and technology are applying the pressure. The higher cost of education and medical care means that families require a higher income if their children are to prosper in a world beyond a traditional nomadic lifestyle. Many young Maasai want more than the nomadic life can offer. Land resources are not as plentiful now that the population has grown, which means that less land is available for grazing cattle.
BPGL: How do their traditions affect the women’s work for the Leakey Collection?
FAZIO: Living in the Maasai community, the Leakey’s worked with the women to design a system that would allow them to continue enjoying the age-old tradition of ceremonies that last for days to months at a time. One of the company’s greatest challenges was merging the irregular and varied lifestyle of the workforce to the highly demanding global market. What this means is the women can come and go as they please, sometimes not working for months at a time.
To handle this, the company must have three times the number of women available to work at any given time. This allows us to employ all those who want to work for only a few hours or a few days. It also runs up the cost of management, but we believe it is worth the cost so that the Maasai’s traditions remain stable and uninterrupted.
BPGL: What is the environmental impact of using the Zulugrass and native woods to make jewelry?
FAZIO: The grass used to make Zulugrass jewelry is a strong, thick grass that is too coarse for the cattle to eat once it has matured. Traditionally, the Massai have burned the grass along the wetlands to stimulate the growth of tender new shoots.
This had, in past years, destroyed the wetland habitat for birds and small mammals that lived there. Because we purchase the mature grass from the Maasai at a price double that of fair trade coffee, they stopped burning the Zulugrass. Within two years, the wetland habitat was restored to its original beauty and diversity.
The little, long beads are the grass. The grass is as hard as a bamboo. The women cut and dye the grass beads, then string them on elastic.
BPGL: Where do the women do the beading?
FAZIO: We have set up various remote work stations across the Great Rift Valley. We don’t have a central workstation, nor a factory. The women work under the trees, which is their preference.
There’s a whole process that Katy and Philip handle. It consists of going to the elders of each of these communities and telling them that we want to come in and bring this work to their women. Katy and Philip ask if this would be something the elders would be interested in.
Everything we do is very respectful of the Maasai’s conditions. When there are lots of orders and lots of good business, we have up to seven different sites that are working at the same time. We cover a span of about 200 miles. You can imagine, there are a lot of challenges that come with this business. For one, there are no roads.
I think that the reason we are successful is because Katy and Philip actually live amongst the people. These are their neighbors, their friends. They can make it work. But there are definitely some challenges, such as communication. It’s like moving mountains.
BPGL: Our culture is very different from their culture, so why would they follow our rules? That wouldn’t work very well.
FAZIO: Right. We’re designing a business around their culture, not the other way around. And because of that, we were a finalist in the BBC World Challenge.
BBC World News, in conjunction with Newsweek, puts on a competition every year where they’re looking for companies that are making a difference in the world without negatively impacting the earth. Last year there were over 750 companies who were nominated, and we were one of 12 finalists.
We were pretty honored to be there, though we unfortunately didn’t win. It’s phenomenal the way this competition is raising awareness about the importance of socially responsible and globally responsible companies.
BPGL: What do you see as the long-term impact of the Leakey Collection for the Maasai women and their families?
FAZIO: Since we started our company, there have been other droughts in the area. The change in attitude and the lessening of the stress over there has been so visible to Katy and Philip. The people are no longer depending on things that are out of their control. That’s been very rewarding.
BPGL: What is the process of getting the buy-in from the community?
FAZIO: Katy and Philip — especially Philip, because he speaks their language — are the experts on that. In the very beginning, when this all started, the Maasai men said, “In our culture, the men handle the finances. We understand that the women are working, but you need to give us their pay, and we will make sure that it gets distributed accordingly.” Trying to be very respectful of their culture, we did try to do that.
Unfortunately, the men did not share the money with the women. There was a little bit of stress. We basically shut down operations, because it wasn’t working. The women were doing the work, and that wasn’t fair. There’s a story that they tell, where Katy and Philip were driving through the dirt road, and they saw a bunch of the Maasai men lining up. They said, “Uh-oh. What’s going on?” The men finally came back to the Leakeys and said, “We understand why you did that [close down operations], and we now see the value in the women getting paid for what they’re doing. We want you to reopen the work stations.”
BPGL: So the women truly are getting the money now?
FAZIO: They are. And it’s so interesting, because the women spend it on education and food — those responsible things. They get paid per piece. They’re a very social group; while they’re working, they’re singing. Their children are playing around them. They’re talking the whole time, so it has to be done on a production basis, versus hourly. If a woman works 30 hours a week, she will earn enough in one month to feed her entire family for a year.
BPGL: What does that mean to readers who might not be familiar with the two?
FAZIO: There is a lengthy application and process for becoming a member in both organizations. They dive deep into our organization, our company. They look at all different aspects of it to make sure that the people are being treated fairly and paid accordingly.
BPGL: When I think of buying goods made overseas, I think, somebody here in the States is making a good deal of money off of something, and they might normally be paying pennies to the person creating it. But with Fair Trade, I would assume that means that the people creating it are getting a living wage. Is that roughly how it works?
FAZIO: It’s a fair living wage, and it is based upon the averages within their country.
BPGL: What is Green America?
FAZIO: It’s a similar type of organization. They’re looking to raise awareness about green practices in companies from the United States. That includes doing things like using recycled paper. There’s a discussion board that members can engage in where all different subjects are discussed. I get many emails from them on a daily basis about things that I wouldn’t have necessarily known about otherwise, such as topics about legislation, production, marketing, alternative ways to do business that leave less of an impact on the earth.
BPGL: How widespread is The Leakey Collection? Are you selling around the world, or is it mostly in the United States?
FAZIO: The Leakeys live in Kenya, but this is where we set up our warehouse and where we handle the global distribution. Definitely, our emphasis is on the United States, because of costs and operations. We sell in 20 different countries and in about 2000 stores in the US. We focus on wholesale to stores; however, last July, we launched our Leakey Life retail website.
Our products are so beautiful to see and play with in person. It’s such a versatile product, because it’s strung on elastic and can be worn a number of ways. It’s great to go to a store and touch and feel it and see it and mix colors. But the way the economy is changing and people are purchasing, we had to have a presence on line as well.
BPGL: I see in your literature that you sell Relief Beads for Darfur. What is the connection to The Leakey Collection?
FAZIO: Everything we do in this company is unique. This is one example of that. Relief Beads for Darfur is a separate company that we have formed a partnership with because we like what they’re doing so much. There are so many similarities about giving back to people. And it’s basically two young guys who wanted to make a difference in the world. They started selling bracelets. Forty percent of the proceeds goes back directly to Darfur through Relief International. They sell retail on their website, and we handle the wholesale operations for them. So we present it along with our products at trade shows and sell to the stores.
Katy has also designed a line of products specifically to raise awareness for breast cancer. It’s called Kupyona, which means to heal in Swahili. It’s made in different shades of pinks. It’s a lovely set. Ten percent of all the proceeds from that we donate to breast cancer research and women’s health initiatives every year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I am just thrilled to be part of this. The Leakeys are amazing people to work with — very inspirational.
BPGL: Is the current state of the economy causing any problems for the work that you all do?
FAZIO: We hope the economy here turns around. It’s definitely taking a toll on operations back in Kenya in manufacturing.
BPGL: Even in Kenya?
FAZIO: Definitely. With tourism being down, that’s a big thing for Kenya. As far as our company, we have to have the sales for the women to have work.
BPGL: What about the Zuluwood products? Do the women make those?
FAZIO: In the beginning, the women were making everything. But there were certain jobs that they don’t like to do. They said, “It’s okay if the men do this job.” So now the men collect the wood, since it’s far too strenuous for the women to do. All the wood that we use in our company is fallen; we don’t cut down any trees.
Again, prior to working with The Leakey Collection, the Maasai would burn the wood for energy. The Leakeys have educated them on the value of the wood. The wood that we use is exquisite. It’s acacia, and it’s just gorgeous. The grains in it are spectacular. We’ve taught them it is more profitable to sell the wood to us than to burn it and use it for fuel.
BPGL: How do the men manufacture these beads? Do they have power tools?
FAZIO: We have some power tools, such as drills and a jig saw, but most of the wood is hand-honed and polished. We are looking into getting into some other home interiors items. But that would require some machinery, which we don’t have yet. By the way, we were featured in InStyle magazine last year with our Zuluwood necklaces.
If we had won the BBC award, we were going to purchase a hydroelectric plant. There’s a river there. We were going to try to get some more sustainable energy.
BPGL: Do the Maasai make the porcelain items, too?
FAZIO: They shape it and fire it. The women do the shaping and let the men do the firing. I call Philip “MacGyver.” He made a kiln from scratch in the middle of the bush. He’s teaching the men how to fire porcelain.
BPGL: What are the company’s plans for the future?
FAZIO: We are looking to create high-design products for the global marketplace, while upholding fair trade, environmental, and social responsibility. Katy and Philip are becoming experts on rural enterprise development. Because of that, they were invited to speak at a conference in Switzerland on the International Trade Centre. It was an esteemed group of people meeting to discuss how rural enterprise can be done the right way, fairly, and how our world is so interconnected that we all have to figure out the best practices and take them worldwide.
Our goal is to design a business model and bring it to other rural enterprises around the world — and, if we can, work with them. A lot of fair trade companies have designs that are indigenous to the people. So that’s one thing we stand apart on; our designs are for the contemporary global marketplace. If we can find people’s skills around the world and then put the Leakey Collection design on it, Philip and Katy’s design — and be able to help different groups within the world — that’s what we would like to do, using our business model.
NOTE: After reading a draft of this article, Fazio wrote to tell us that Kenya is again facing a devastating drought. In the past few months, there has been little, if any, rain. The Maasai are now saying the situation is even more desperate than in 2001, when Katy and Philip formed The Leakey Collection. Purchases of items from The Leakey Collection continue to provide direly needed wages to support the basic needs of the Maasai women and children.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
The school year is nearly finished, and many young adults are looking for work in a depressed job market. They’re not alone. Unemployment is at a record high across the nation. People who’ve had the same job for decades are out of work and wondering what to do next. Some are now changing career paths and considering opportunities they would never have imagined if they hadn’t been laid off.
Perhaps you, too, are a job seeker. Perhaps you are looking for a challenge unlike any you’ve tried before. Maybe you’re even looking for an adventure and a way to help others.
If you are a U.S. citizen or a “lawful permanent resident above the age of 17,” love the outdoors, and care about the environment, then consider joining the Americorps or VISTA.
You’ll learn new skills, make new friends, and earn a bit for your work. You won’t get rich, if money is how you count your riches, but you will be wealthy beyond imagination through the experiences you’ll have and the memories you’ll make.
As Linda Yanney, a 50+ volunteer told me when she asked me to run the following announcement for jobs in Iowa, “I’m having the time of my life!” You don’t have to be from Iowa to apply for the Flood Recovery team, but you do have to hurry. Hiring begins soon.
The following is just a sample of the many jobs available. Check the AmeriCorps website for other opportunities to serve throughout the U.S. — Publisher
The Americorps/VISTA Corridor Flood Recovery team in Johnson County is currently recruiting 20 people for 8-10 week summer assignments and 12 people for year-long positions. It would be great to have people on the team who are involved in green projects, sustainability, recycling — the whole spectrum, really. Our team will continue to help with flood recovery, as we did last summer, but we’ll also be working with a number of local neighborhood projects and agencies who have been helping individuals recover from the flood and other economic factors, like the Food Bank, Shelter House, and the Neighborhood Centers. We’re open to other ideas for projects as well.
The hiring window is pretty narrow, so anyone who might be interested should apply as soon as possible.
To apply, go to http://www.AmeriCorps.gov/. In the “Join AmeriCorps!” box, choose “Disaster Relief” from the drop-down menu. Then choose “IA” from the drop-down box, and click “search.” Click on “VISTA Flood Recovery.” Click on “Apply Now!” Tech support is available between the hours of 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday at (866) 473-5733.
The VISTA Flood Recovery project includes Iowa’s Linn and Johnson Counties, and there are openings on both teams. Please let our team know if you want to be assigned here, so we can follow your application. I’ll be happy to answer questions about projects in either area.
Linda J. Yanney
VISTA Corridor Flood Recovery
Johnson County Team
Iowa City, IA 52240
Office: (319) 625-2117
Facebook: Americorps VISTA Iowa City
So you recycle, you use biodegradable cleaning products, eat organic, conserve water, and bike to work — how much greener can you get? If you are fortunate enough to have a little discretionary income, rather than investing in another hemp sweater, you could actually invest in the company that makes them. It’s called Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) or eco-investing.
More and more consumers and investors are beginning to show an affinity for understanding and protecting their environment. Investing in environmentally and socially responsible companies can also prove to be profitable. But, just because a company is “green” doesn’t necessarily make it a good investment. If the company you support isn’t making any money then neither are you. Also, beware of “greenwashing” — a company may profess to be more eco-friendly than they actually are.
“If the company doesn’t care about the environment, then it probably doesn’t care too much about its employees, or community or other stakeholders,” says Jackson Robinson, president of the Winslow Green Growth Fund.
So, first of all, find a company or investment group that is in alignment with your values and goals, then do your research. Are you more concerned with social/ethical issues, such as poverty, enhancing educational opportunities, human rights, animal testing, etc., or environmental issues, such as alternative energy sources, water conservation, and the effects of deforestation and pollution? There are a wide range of choices; find your niche.
With regard to environmentally concerned companies, there is a distinction between “green” industries and companies with “green” policies. According to an article on the Investopedia website, “The green industry is comprised of companies whose products or services directly benefit the environment. Some of these companies may provide green products for domestic use, while others may provide products and services to help other industries operate in a more environmentally friendly way. Companies with green policies represent businesses that have adopted practices or guidelines that lessen the impact of their operations on the environment.”
But don’t throw all those green eggs (sorry, couldn’t resist) in one basket. Diversification is the key to a successful investment strategy. Mutual funds are managed by money managers who use a pool of funds collected from many investors to invest collectively in a diversified portfolio of securities. Every fund has its own unique set of investing guidelines.
For instance, the investment company Portfolio 21 states that it “invests in companies designing ecologically superior products, using renewable energy, and developing efficient production methods.” The Winslow Green Growth Fund “targets green market sectors like renewable energy, natural and organic products, and recycling, as well as what it considers environmentally responsible companies.”
And the non-profit Green Century Funds seeks to “further efforts to preserve and protect the environment — efforts that include: campaigning for the protection of clean air, clean water, and open space; filing lawsuits against companies that illegally pollute; and advocating for reduced use of toxic chemicals and reduced emissions of global warming gases.” These are just three of a growing number of mutual funds to choose from. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, as of 2007, there were 260 mutual funds that marketed themselves as having been screened as socially or environmentally responsible investments.
Be sure to look at the individual companies the funds are investing in. Remember, green investments, like all others, can hit rough patches when the economy fluctuates. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Check managers’ voting records as a stakeholder to make sure they are in line with your concerns. Read annual reports and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports, such as those from CSR Wire. While there is debate as to whether a good CSR is relevant to financial performance, it does let you know if a company is exercising socially responsible behavior .
Brent Kessel, co-founder of Abacus Wealth Management — a spiritually based firm that strives to make environmentally sound investments — says it is wise to invest in an array of companies that are making an profit — a basic investment tenant that was overlooked in the initial rush to jump on the green bandwagon. Kessel also says that you may not see an initial return on your investment.
“That’s because green products and services are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts, and during hard times, discretionary spending is usually the first to go. But to ignore their long-term potential is shortsighted.… Investments in alternative energy companies, for example, probably won’t pay off immediately, but they might in five to eight years,” he said. (LA Times, January 9, 2009)
Going green is a process, not an overnight endeavor — but it can be a fulfilling and profitable process that is worth your time and your investment.
There are a myriad of online sources for green investing advice and financial news. Try the Social Investment Forum, Green Money Journal, Treehugger, or Planet Green. Forbes and Kiplinger magazines also have timely information on the green market sector.
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April 29, 2009 by Elias Simpson
Filed under Agriculture, Blog, Books, Diet, Economy, Ecopreneurs, Environment, Factory Farming, Farms, Food & Drink, Front Page, Green Living, Health, Iowa, My 5, Organic Food, Regulations, Slideshow, Sustainability
If you could interview your food, what would it say? As a journalist Michael Pollan attempts to give a voice to what we eat: That is to say, he explains what food really is, where it comes from, and what it can do for us. The Omnivore’s Dilemma expounds on fast food, big organic food, local food, and foraged food, identifying the resources, causes, and effects of each one.
Devoted to the scientific, while valuing the personal significance of food, Pollan reveals not only the corn behind our food, the government behind the corn, the corporation behind the government, but also investigates the possibilities for eating that can bring us back to earth, and everything in between. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is our fascinating predicament; written for those who care about what they eat, it presents us with an array of menus, encourages us to eat, and to eat in good conscience.
It begins with corn. Not corn on the cob, but corn in a box, or corn in a Happy Meal bag. Corn has apparently invaded our supermarket, culture, and bodies. As Pollan puts it, “How this peculiar grass, native to Central America and unknown to the Old World before 1492, came to colonize so much of our land and bodies is one of the plant world’s greatest success stories. I say the plant world’s success story because it is no longer clear that corn’s triumph is such a boon to the rest of the world, and because we should give credit where credit is due. Corn is the hero of its own story, and though we humans played a crucial supporting role in its rise to world domination, it would be wrong to suggest that we have been calling the shots…there is every reason to believe that corn has succeeded in domesticating us.”
There are a few people who benefit from the 10 billion bushels of corn produced annually in America. They are the owners of corporations that genetically engineer the corn, and who process the corn. The farmer earns only four cents on the dollar for what his corn is eventually turned into. The industrialization of our food depends on the enormous production of corn at extremely cheap market prices. Taxpayers support corn from their pockets, and pay for it with their health.
The easiest way to explain corn’s role is financially. Starting in 1972, during Nixon’s rule, secretary of agriculture Earl Butz addressed the rising cost of food by simplifying the agricultural system. Rather than encouraging farmers, government subsidies went instead to corn, paying money per bushel of corn produced rather than the size and diversity of a farm. Since then, the production of corn has skyrocketed, and the cost has plummeted. Farms have become corporate endeavors, rather than family occupations; the government has become strongly influenced by corn corporations; and the health of the population has flared into an obesity epidemic.
Today it costs $2.50 to grow a bushel of corn. The market pays $1.45 for that bushel. “The market” is primarily Cargill and ADM, that, combined, buy one third of the 10 billion bushels. The government pays the rest, though it is barely enough to sustain a farmer. Many, if not most, are in debt, and some take on second jobs. The farmers cannot be said to really benefit from the flood of subsidies — $5 billion a year for corn. Rather, it is Cargill, the biggest corporation in the world, that reaps enormous profits from the massive yearly surplus. A typical Iowa corn farmer sees only four cents on the dollar for corn sold in the supermarket.
To understand how farmers — “the most productive humans who have ever lived” — who each raise enough food to feed 129 people, can be going broke, one has to look at what happens to corn before it enters the field, and after it leaves. Corn is especially inviting for genetic modification because of its simple reproduction patterns. Corn hybrids can be drought resistant and insect resistant, and, of course, are modified for optimum yield per acre. Natural variation is eliminated, so one cornfield contains thousands of identical plants that grow straight up to the sky. This is called monoculture, and it is effective because the soil is fertilized and sprayed annually. Although this industrial seed corn is expensive, it produces an incredible amount of corn. This is not always a boon to the farmer, however, because the more corn that is raised, the lower the selling cost.
Still, why does the farmer only get 4% of the retail value? The answer is that the buyers of corn are specialists in processing corn into an incredible range of products. The technological and industrial costs soak up a lot of the price of a $2.29 frozen dinner of corn-fed pigs and mashed potatoes (made with corn). Six billion of the ten billion bushels of corn are invested in animal rearing. Pollan visits a steer confinement, and actually purchases a cow, so he can be more connected with his study. He finds the cattle are practically all sick from the diet of corn, which they are incapable of digesting (the cow’s stomach is designed for grass). Since corn is cheap, animals that eat corn produce cheap meat.
In the end, including fertilizer, transportation, and milling, it takes an enormous amount of oil to reach a final product. As a kind of demonstration, Pollan took his family to McDonald’s. It took 1.3 gallons of oil to produce the 4,510 calories his family consumed. If the corn had been unprocessed, there would have been enough grain to fill and overflow from the trunk of his car (his calculations and estimate). You might say, “B t there’s no corn on the McDonald’s menu.” Not exactly, but scientists in food labs have discovered ways to make cheap corn into various types of “food.” The soda is 100% corn syrup. The milk shake is 78% corn. Chicken nuggets, 56%. The cheeseburger (remember the corn-fed animals), 52% corn.
This quick-and-easy meal has a hidden cost, and it is not the free meal that Pollan is looking for. In his search for a menu that gives as much back to the earth as it takes, he studies the organic food movement. His evaluation is that organic doesn’t mean what it used to. The federal standardization of the word organic doesn’t mean sustainable. One could think of it as a struggle between what he calls, “Big Organic” and “Small Organic.” Both types of producers are competing for the same market, but the Big Organic farms benefit from more relaxed standards, because they are capable of a greater output (they have more machines, more equipment for packaging, etc.).
“Could a factory farm be organic? Was an organic dairy cow entitled to graze on pasture? Did food additives and synthetic chemicals have a place in processed food? If the answers to these questions seem like no-brainers, then you too are stuck in an outdated pastoral view of organic. Big Organic won all three arguments.” The two key requirements for organic labeling are: no synthetic fertilizer, and no synthetic pesticide. Organic foods are thus more environmentally sound, but really, as the example of a bagged lettuce shows — 57 calories of oil are used in making one calorie of food — “the organic food industry finds itself in a most unexpected, uncomfortable and, yes, unsustainable position: floating on a sinking sea of petroleum.”
Pollan’s research leads to a week-long stay Polyface Farm in Virginia. Here he meets Joel Salatin, a grass farmer, whose farm is an example of local and sustainable food. The cows eat the grass, the chickens eat the worms from the cow manure, they both work to fertilize the ground, and the farm is essentially a self-sustaining meat and egg producing “factory.” The animals become producers on the farm, and seem happy to do it. Pigs are used to compost manure and clear underbrush. Reading about the farm, it seems strange that Joel’s methods aren’t implemented around the country. Government regulation might be the reason for that. “Joel is convinced ‘clean food’ could compete with supermarket food if the government would exempt farmers from the thicket of regulations that prohibit them from processing and selling meat from the farm.”
Joel calls it a “freedom of food,” the right to choose what we eat without federal standards. Indeed, such strict federal regulations wouldn’t be needed if mass-produced meat weren’t so prevalent. Sustainable food is being marginalized. It is clear that local food is threatened by government regulations. Beginning with the corn policy, that subsidizes per bushel, driving the production of corn up, the cost down, and farmer into debt, and ending with requirements like a processing plant must provide a restroom for federal inspectors (something small producers can’t reasonably afford).
Before he pursues his most ambitious meal (the foraged dinner), Pollan reflects the ethics of commonplace food. He most notably questions the eating of animal products, particularly those produced by conventional means, those the USDA supports through its policies. “This is another example of the cultural contradictions of capitalism — the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society.” He becomes a vegetarian, contemplates his place on the food chain, and emails Peter Singer.
In the same way he concludes that corn has out-evolved humans, to benefit from us, he applies evolution to the modern predicament. If humans can, and are, inclined to eat meat, it is not unethical to do so, as long as the animals do not suffer when raised. This means Joel Salatin’s meat is acceptable, since he witnessed “animals” who were happy “being animals,” but supermarket cuts are not. Hunting, since the only meeting of animal and Pollan is as brief as it takes the animal to die from a bullet, is also an ethical way of obtaining meat; as he puts it “isn’t it anthropocentric of us to assume that our moral system offers an adequate guide for what should happen in nature?”
His journeys hunting mushrooms and hunting pig in California are more of a personal narrative than scientific or journalistic research. Since he is inexperienced in foraging/hunting for his own food, the narrative is a decent how-to guide, as well as a report on what the experience is like. The experience is long, stressful, and a testament to how a “free meal” is really difficult to come by. He calls it the “Omnivore’s Thanksgiving,” and, with his helpers and family around the table, the experience becomes something that can be physically shared.
The lesson is that by being connected with food, and in valuing stories of where food comes from, we can enjoy our food. He does not stress the need to change what we eat, but only to be conscious of our food. “Without a need for fast food there would be no need for slow food, and the stories we tell at such meals would lose much of their interest.” Pollan understands that wherever we’re headed, our stomachs are coming with us, and that shouldn’t make us lose our appetites.
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From time to time, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) gets offers of sample products that people would like us to review. The products (full disclosure alert!) are complimentary, so you should know that at the outset. But there are no strings attached. No one is paying us to say nice things. And no one can dissuade us from saying a product stinks, if we believe it’s true.
If you are considering purchasing this product based on my review, please read this: The first time I tried to contact customer service, I was extremely disappointed — and especially dismayed by reports from dissatisfied readers. The good news is, the president of the company reports having added to their customer service staff in the past week (end of July). He adds, “Our goal is to be able to respond to everyone’s questions or concerns in a prompt and efficient manner.” And as far as I can tell, that’s exactly how each complaint by our readers has been handled. I applaud the company’s efforts to improve, and I continue to support the quality of their product. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
12/30/09 — Since this review was published, we have received dozens of complaints about Eco Canteen, though they have subsided over the past couple of months. If you purchased an Eco Canteen as a result of reading this review and then were dissatisfied with your purchase, please let us know. We’ll do our best to help you get satisfaction. We’ve also received some rave reviews. If you are a happy EcoCanteen customer, please let others know by posting your comments here.
The Eco Canteen is a 26-oz. stainless steel water bottle that I’ve been carting around with me for weeks. This is the perfect antidote to plastic water bottles, as any of you metal-bottle-toting water lovers already know. It sits next to my computer in the daytime, on my nightstand while I sleep, and in my car when I travel.
The bottle has a wide mouth that’s perfect for dropping in ice cubes, for taking big gulps, and for washing. (It’s also supposed to be dishwasher safe, though I’ve washed mine by hand.) I’ve found the wide mouth a little risky for taking quick drinks, though, as water sometimes dribbles a little down my chin when I’m in a hurry. What I really appreciate is that the lid screws on tightly between sips. I’m not the most graceful person in the world, and I’ve knocked over a glass or two in my day. The screw-on lid makes this water bottle safe near electronics and impossible to spill if I knock it over it while reaching for the lamp on my nightstand in the darkness of my bedroom.
Last fall, my daughter, Lindsay, a university student, purchased a smaller metal water bottle from a local sporting goods store for just under $20. Her bottle has a pull top that was hard to pull up for the first few months and, now that pulling the tip up is easy, it no longer seals well. The small opening also requires her to suck hard to get any liquid out, as there’s only a tiny air intake to compensate for the water that flows out of the bottle into her mouth.
For her birthday in February, she asked for a new, stainless steel water bottle with a screw-on top. No problem! We had just received two Eco Canteens. Lindsay got her own stainless steel bottle to review, complete with a zippered, insulated tote. She loves the wide mouth, which prevents her from making embarrassing sucking noises when she takes a drink of water in class.
The EcoCanteen also comes with a carabinier clasp to secure it to a student’s backpack or, in my case, a laptop bag. That may sound odd — to hook a water bottle to a laptop bag. It’s pretty much counter intuitive to attach something that holds liquid to something that runs on electricity — and contains nearly your entire brain. But the secure, screw-top lid is a huge safety feature that I can count on (as long as I remember to screw it on tightly). And this bottle will never crack or break.
We’re all trying to get away from plastic in our drink containers, but this has a plastic lid. I wondered, is there BHA in this plastic? So I checked with Trish, my contact at Eco Canteen. Here’s what she said, “We use # 5 PP plastic in our lids, which has been found to be the most innate of all plastics with no known leaching characteristics. No BPA.” Great news!
On my way to the Kirkwood Community College Earth Day event recently, I tightly screwed on the lid, clipped my Eco Canteen to my laptop bag (which is like an overgrown purse with a flat bottom, so it stands up) and secured the bottle upright. That gave me even greater security that no water would leak.
Once, when I had several things to carry downstairs, I clipped it to my belt loop. (Do hikers really do that?) That was convenient for a short-term solution, but I wouldn’t recommend traveling that way, as it bounced and thumped against my side.
At only $9.99 plus $5.95 shipping and handling (within the US, I assume), this bottle is a super deal for the money. As a rough estimate, if I calculate $1 per plastic bottle of water and consider that I have consumed at least 1 bottle a day for the past two months (this is a really conservative estimate), then I would have spent at least $60 for bottled water in that time. If I’d paid the retail price for the Eco Canteen, the bottle would have paid for itself with what I’d saved in 15 days. And every day that I use it instead of buying bottled water (which I won’t do anyway), I continue to save money.
There’s an optional, free, insulated tote you can get for your water bottle from the website. Lindsay uses hers on occasion to keep water cool during class. I haven’t used mine yet, but will definitely use it during the summer to keep the bottle from sweating. Be aware, though, that the “free” tote costs an extra $4.95 for shipping and handling. You can also choose to purchase a “kids size bottle” — which looks like it might fit in a child’s lunchbox — at $8.95 plus shipping. It also has a zippered tote available, for the additional shipping charge.
While my exposure to metal water bottles is admittedly limited (this is the only one I have used), the Eco Canteen is a great bargain for the cost. I’ve used mine day and night for more than two months, and I’ll keep using it for years to come. It’s another small step in the direction of sustainability and green living. Do I recommend the Eco Canteen? You bet.
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BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
- Education is the key to a better future. Information is what we need now to minimize current problems, but future generations must carry with them the concept of preservation, as it is a civil matter.
- Individually, everyone should start the day thinking, “What am I going to do today to help preserve the environment?” Single actions, every day, from everyone, will make a huge positive difference in society’s impact on the environment.
- We all need to question ourgovernments more about what they are doing to regulate pollution and enhance conservation. Governments have the tendency to only work hard when elections are getting closer, but they also get things done when there is a popular commotion about some specific subject.
- Every one of us must always refuse to use harmful products, and always opt for green products whenever possible. It may sound a bit too “activist,” but in fact it can create an impact on companies’ profits. If the harmful products are in less demand from the public, the green products will get more attention from manufacturers. Besides, store shelves act as a meter for store owners about what to sell and what not to sell. If green products run out quickly, store owners will request more frequent replacements from the manufacturers — and in higher quantities. Harmful products will lose space on store shelves.
- Everyone should join an organization (any organization) and help them to move their projects forward. Regardless of the organization, it is important that everyone participate. For you who are reading this message, I invite you to surf the Internet and find some organizations that have messages you believe in and missions you can support. Regardless whether the organization you choose to support is SIP Global — or any other — the important point is for you to participate in the process. After all, we are all working to save our planet, and when we succeed, we will all be enjoying a better future. If you like our message and agree with the SIP Global mission, we will welcome you and everyone else who wants to become a member and help us with our challenges. In our case, it has no cost and no obligation. But as a member, anyone is able to follow everything we are doing and even interact with the whole process.
Julio Marchi, CEO
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Conscientious donors around the world give money to NGOs with the full expectation that their contributions will work toward the benefit of the intended recipients. But, as Earle Canfield, explains in today’s post, the reality is often quite different, with too many NGOs working ultimately for their own sustainability and not delivering “real help.”
Canfield’s NGO, American-Nepali Student & Women’s Educational Relief (ANSWER), is different. “Instead of fostering dependency,” Canfield says, “we empower students.” ANSWER gives “just enough help” to impoverished low-caste families by paying for one child’s private school education. The families, in turn, pay for a small part of their children’s school needs. By requiring a personal investment, ANSWER motivates families to continue the child’s participation through college, whereupon the graduate secures a good-paying job. Education not only breaks the cycle of poverty for the families, it also empowers low-caste students to become part of the new middle class that will overturn Nepal‘s caste system in their lifetime.
This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with ANSWER’s founder, Earle Canfield. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What got you interested in helping children in Nepal?
CANFIELD: I went to Nepal first as a medical volunteer. I worked in a children’s hospital. All I saw was a revolving door of poor people coming in, getting fixed up and being sent out, and no [lasting] good coming of it.
During my first three months there, I went on a medical mission with the crew from a hospital. We went to a remote village where there was a community clinic. It had power; the village did not. The people would have to wait for hours to be seen by a doctor; there were four practitioners and hundreds of children to be seen. So we did some health education.
We put the families in a room, and they didn’t know what was happening. There was all this talk and buzz. We were going to show them some slides. None of them had seen a TV or been to a movie. So we quieted them down, and I ran the projector while a Nepali doctor gave explanations of the slides. We went on with our talk about malaria, until I flashed a slide of a mosquito. At that point, all the excitement died, and there was dead silence in the room. It was like a big weight of gloom and doom had come down on the people.
I asked the doctor who was translating, “What’s going on?”
She said, “They are afraid of that mosquito.”
“Well, they need to be afraid of that mosquito, it’s malarial!”
“You don’t understand, they’re afraid of this mosquito, right here. It’s got a four-foot wingspan.” She smiled, and I got it. She explained everything, and we finished the slide show.
That moment haunted me. As funny as it is, it made me realize that, if I take a microscope, a slide, and some pond water, and show them a germ and say, “That’s what’s making you sick,” they don’t understand. They think it’s that water right there, the water they’re looking at, that’s making them sick. They can’t understand scaling, so they don’t know how small a germ is. They don’t understand large numbers of germs.
There’s no way that you can teach health education to illiterate people. It’s just too demanding. And so the best way, the simple way, to do this is to educate the children. With a liberal education, they would have the math, the science, the literacy, the concepts to really grasp the idea. Then they can teach the fundamentals to the parents: “No, Mother, don’t drink that!”
BPGL: So you send children to school. Why not send them to public schools?
CANFIELD: The educational system is built with caste in mind. It reinforces the caste system. Only by paying enough money to go to a private school that teaches in English can you go to college. In the public schools, they teach English in the 3rd or 4th grade, but it’s really directed at being able to read Nepali words in Roman letters, not to learn English. At the end of the 10th grade, everyone who wants to do so will take an exam, and that will determine if their scores are high enough to go to college. But they have to score high in English. About 40% of the students nationwide fail that exam. Most of those who fail are out of the public schools.
Almost all nonprofits will help children in basic education, maybe even up to the 10th grade, but then they drop them. We have taken some of these children, who were sustained but dropped by other organizations, even though they did very well on 10th grade exam, and found spots for them in private colleges. After the 12th grade, the students take another exam, and that will determine whether they are awarded a diploma and/or go on to the university.
BPGL: Is your goal to send students to university?
CANFIELD: The university level is kind of a dead end. The kids want to become engineers, but they’ll never get a job in engineering in this country. The engineering jobs go to foreign contractors. So, even before the 10th grade, we’re discouraging them from going into engineering. Even so, some of the kids want to do it. So, “Okay, you can take the science that leads up to engineering. If you do well enough on the exam and get a scholarship, you’re in. But if you don’t get a job, you can’t come crying back to us. Your decision is made now.” That’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. We try to coddle these students enough so that they can do what we say and understand what we say.
BPGL: When you spoke in Iowa City, you mentioned a club for the high school students. What is the purpose of the club?
CANFIELD: What we do is not only put the kids in good schools — the private, high-caste schools — but we also have what’s called a Social Welfare Club. They meet on Saturdays for three or four hours. We work to educate poor people to the point where they can not only take care of themselves, but they also reach a level of understanding that they’ve been taken care of through the graces of help from outside.
About every other week, we show a movie. For the most part, they are Western-produced movies that have a morality theme. What we’re doing with these films is raising the students’ social consciousness. These are movies like March of the Penguins. One of the things that comes out of that particular movie is that animals have societies too. They have a struggle against the elements to survive, and they handle it by division of labor. The father’s job is to stay home and hatch the egg. The mother’s job is to go out fishing, and she brings home the dinner. Then the children begin to understand that there’s more than one way to look at society. Fathers can do child rearing, and mothers can have careers. We discuss things like that.
These meetings are structured to have discussions. Very few schools in Nepal have discussions; 99.9 percent use rote teaching. You spoon feed the answers, so that when it comes up on the test, you get back the answer. Nothing more than that, just the answer.
All of the kids are extremely shy, and it’s very hard for them to raise their hands. But after a couple of weeks like this, they catch on. They start participating, and they raise their hand. We don’t have an attendance problem on Saturday.
BPGL: Do you see your efforts working?
CANFIELD: I think we will be very successful in producing socially conscious and aware and active students. And that, in a Third World setting, is unheard of. They come out of a subsistence background, and in a subsistence background, you don’t share; not-sharing is a survival skill.
At the Social Welfare Clubs, we instill a sense of the power of sharing. We say, “There are sponsors on the other side of the world that believe so strongly in you and want to help you. You must be committed to helping others, too, because you got help. You couldn’t have done it by yourself.”
I remember asking one class, “Why do you think that people on the other side of the world care enough to help you?” There were interesting responses. I said, “No, it’s not because you are helpless.”
And one little girl said, “Because we’re just like them.”
I responded, “If you’re just like them, what about other poor people? Aren’t they just like you?” The lights went on all over the room. These kids do understand what the purpose is in all of this.
BPGL: Doesn’t it cost more to support a college student? How do you manage to continue supporting them?
CANFIELD: College is more expensive, but it’s only for a couple of years, so we put part of the commitment onto the families. We say, “You have to pay a certain percentage. We usually try to get a third of the cost of college from the family. If they still can’t do it, those children borrow from the college fund. And if they borrow from the college fund, they pay it back, so that other children can borrow from the college fund.
Everything we do is thought out pretty carefully in terms of sustainability, empowerment, and political/personal will.
BPGL: What else do the kids do in the Social Welfare Clubs to get involved in the community?
CANFIELD: We might go up to the children’s hospital and visit with patients there, or go to the old folks’ home and talk with the people. There’s only one government nursing home for the elderly in Kathmandu. We take our kids there, so they can socialize with the older people and find out their stories. These are people who don’t have relatives, who have been left alone to support themselves and were living and sleeping on the streets.
One time, we had a mother who was having a very difficult time at home. It was in Kathmandu in one of these little, 8 x 8-foot, one-room bunkers. It was a ground-floor apartment, and the floor was damp. There was mildew growing up on the walls. When you walked into it, it smelled like your worst science experiment. So I got the children together. The girls went to the well and fetched the water. We took the bedding off the bed. The girls helped the mother do the laundry.
When we took the bed up, the bottom of the mattress was all moldy and wet. And that’s where all of this was coming from. We put that out in the sun and sun-bleached the mold. The boys and I bleached the floor, the walls, the ceiling.
Afterward, we went to a momo [a Tibetan ravioli dumpling] shop, and talked about it. I asked, “Did we do good?”
The kids said, “We should feel good about what we did.”
“Was it sustainable?”
They said, “Oh, yes. The place is very nice.”
“Well, do you think we’ll have to come back and do it all over again?”
“No, not for a long time,” they said.
I asked, “Have we solved the problem?” Then I told them about the mattress, because they didn’t really understand the biology of mold. And I said, “What we did is, we put it out in the air. The air and the sun will dry it out, and the mold won’t grow. But if you put it back on the damp floor (with the seepage through the thin layer of concrete), the mold will just come back.
Then the kids were a little bit downcast. I said, “There are solutions to problems. What are the solutions to this problem?”
They know about beds being elevated off the floor, so we discussed that. I said, “Well, what are we going to do?”
“Oh, let’s buy them a bed.”
“Do you think buying things for people is going to solve their problems? When we send you to school, do we pay for everything?”
“No. Father pays for our sandals or tennis shoes.”
What I could have had them do is go out and make the money to pay for it. But it’s very hard for children to make money. So I said, “Why don’t we put up half the money, and have the father, who is a painter, put up the other half?”
The husband wasn’t going to buy a bed. We went back and talked to the mother, and the mother explained to the father that they could sleep on a bed again for the first time, and they’d only have to pay half of it. So when she presented it that way, they agreed, and that solved the problem. It was a very good mini lesson on development, on how to help. You don’t just provide aid. You have to give instruction and get them invested.
BPGL: Do you serve an equal number of boys and girls?
CANFIELD: We have two-thirds as many girls as boys, because the literacy rate — or the school occupancy rate, if you will — is two-thirds boys. The literacy rate is twice as high for boys as it is for girls. We in the West are savvy enough to know that we want to help girls more than boys, and the girls play a leading role in educating the family and providing health care to the family. So, no question, that money is well spent on girls. But we feel the necessity of educating boys, as well — even if it’s a third instead of two-thirds, which is to say it’s two to one in favor of the girls — because if you educate just girls and leave out the boys, then the boys will have no role models to follow.
It’s very important to provide the stimulus for the boys to improve, as well. Too often, it is the case that the women take care of the home, the families, the babies and so forth, and the men provide the work. But when there’s no work to be had, what happens to the men? There’s very little alcoholism with women in Nepal, but something like 30 or 40 percent of the men are alcoholics in Nepal. It’s very important that boys are not left behind. That’s why we don’t exclusively support girls. I think that is a shortcoming of many nonprofits that are strictly about girls’ education. Granted that girls have been left behind, but you’re going to have angry men, if you don’t do something for them; they’re going to rise up and keep the women under burkas and not let them out of the house. I’m speaking of Afghanistan, of course, but the sentiments are universal, I’m sure.
BPGL: Do you have more groups planned for children of other ages?
CANFIELD: By doing this for several years now, almost all the schools in the Kathmandu Valley feed into the schools where we do the Social Welfare Clubs. Now it’s time, as we get older students in college and high school, to take the next step, to have an Alumni Club. They will take control of what kind of social welfare they want to commit to.
We’re going to start that this year, because we have 40 or 50 college students now and a dozen graduates. The nucleus will be our nursing and health science students. We have a lot of those, and they’re graduating. They have greater social consciousness. They are respected by the others, because they have landed good-paying jobs. When we form this club, the other college kids will be coming in and getting a peek at what they’re doing. They know that when they graduate, they can participate, too.
Ultimately there will be enough graduates so that some of them can start sponsoring children as well. They can participate in other community activities — whatever they opt for. These things are designed to address empowerment and will and sustainability.
Slowly and surely, the board and the organization will be taken over by our own children. That’s probably about 10 years away. Ten years, for a nonprofit organization, is not a long time at all.
We now have approximately 500 kids enrolled in about 120 schools. At our present rate of growth, in ten years, we will have produced probably about 700 graduates. We’ll be sending out over 100 graduates a year. We’re talking about hundreds of a new kind of populace. These are low-caste children who have grown up with good educations, running their own businesses and having good jobs. These children will form a new social middle class. Education has always played a big role in overturning the caste society. Once the low castes become richer and more powerful, you replace the caste society with a socio-economic class society. This has occurred in feudal societies in the West and in Japan.
BPGL: I understand that Nepal has thousands of relief agencies. Are they making progress?
CANFIELD: Here are the statistics: There are approximately 40,000 nonprofit organizations in Nepal. Yet there are only 4,000 villages and towns and cities. Why is it, with 10 nonprofit organizations for every village, that there is an overall diminishing return, that the country gets poorer and poorer every year?
If we were all working together, we could save Nepal. It’s a country a little bit larger than Iowa. It’s 100 x 500 miles. Nepalis know, and people in the Third World know, that many NGOs are just self profiteering organizations, that the people who benefit are the ones who work for the organization. They may install a hydroelectric facility somewhere, a local village-run thing, but who’s going to maintain it? The country has dams, and the inspector comes in and signs off. They don’t do the inspection, they just sign off. So eventually, the turbine breaks down, and Kathmandu is without lights.
People in the Third World know that many nonprofits are self-serving. In Nepal and, I wouldn’t be surprised, in other parts of the world, nonprofits are called the “NGO Mafia.” I even see that printed in the newspapers over there. So, when we founded ANSWER, I told my country director, Som, that there was no way we were going to be part of the mafia, that we needed to make sure that everything was volunteer. And that was when it was just him and me.
As we have evolved, we’ve added a very few salaried staff. We probably pay 1/3 of what other NGOs pay and maybe even less than that, so we needed to find people who did it for the love of what they were doing, rather than for the salary.
Som started as a volunteer, because I wasn’t going to pay him. He wanted to go to school, so I paid for his education, and he got a master’s degree in hospital administration. When you start up an organization, it’s very important how you lay out the framework, because that carries on and on. So our staff is way underpaid, and they willingly work.
Ball, our other person in the office, is also in school. He gets minimal salary with a minimal stipend for education, but it all helps. That’s to keep the costs down so that our fundraisers can make enough money to support the organization, the administration. And in doing that, the sponsors can be reassured that all the money is going just for the education of that child, be it uniforms or books and tuition and so forth.
I am not salaried, I’m a volunteer. I do this from my own savings. I pay for my own transportation, everything. I’m self supporting. The administration is self supporting, and the children are supported entirely by the funds of the sponsors. We’re a 501c3, so that makes it deductible, too.
BPGL: This will sound like an insensitive question, but do you have a succession plan for when you pass on someday far in the future, to make sure your work will carry on in the US?
CANFIELD: The whole idea is to have the Nepalis to support their own children, isn’t it? As more of the children come on and take over the office, and the Alumni Club starts supporting their own students, then there’s no need for an office in Grand Rapids. They can fly on their own.
I used to think our mission would be done as soon as there was universal education in Nepal. But it won’t be done. You can just proclaim universal education, but unless schools are accessible, it won’t happen. Unless people have enough money and time — and motivation — to send their children to school, it’s not going to happen. It comes down to a problem of the caste system. I see our end goal not as trying to establish universal education so much as toppling the caste system.
We need to establish a level playing field — through education — to get out of that feudal society way of doing things and thinking, and create a society based on socio-economic class. ANSWER has a role to play. Let’s get to where the students’ own initiative can reap rewards, and they are not limited by birth. I feel that in a decade or two, at the most, we will be near the “tipping point.” Our growth and the impact of these socially aware children, both in quantity and quality, will be phenomenal.
Publisher’s Note: To find out more about sponsoring an ANSWER student for only $5 a week, contact Earle Canfield at email@example.com .
Part 2: ANSWER – Ending Caste in Nepal with Education and Jobs (Top of Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
“It’s big, it’s bold, it’s green, and while winning it wasn’t pretty or easy, it was well worth the effort,” said Andrew Huff of Environment Iowa, referring to the recently enacted economic recovery package.
On February 17, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Then, in an address to a joint session of the Congress on February 25, he told our nation, “Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector — jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.”
“We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
“But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
President Obama’s budget priorities will include those signed into law in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, so let’s look there for more specifics about what our Congress has promised in the 1,073 page document. How much of the spending will actually go to green jobs, like those Mr. Obama mentioned in Wednesday’s speech? With help from Andrew Huff, BPGL has pulled together the following list of not-to-miss items from the economic recovery bill:
- $80 billion for clean energy, public transportation and green infrastructure, the largest such investment in our nation’s history.
- 1.6 million new green jobs, including 135,000 green jobs created by a $4.5 billion investment in greening federal buildings.
- A 68 million ton reduction in our nation’s carbon footprint, a cut equivalent to a city the size of Chicago, IL going completely carbon-free.
- Energy renewability and efficiency through research and development of biomass, geothermal, hydrokinetic, hydropower, advanced battery systems and electric vehicles.
- Thanks in part to 20,000 online petition signatures urging congressional leaders to keep President Obama’s recovery plan clean and green, Congress dropped a controversial $50 billion loan guarantee for the coal and nuclear industries.
Did you know? The law also includes:
- River restoration projects as well as habitat restoration on public lands.
- Watershed infrastructure improvements, including purchase and restoration of floodplain easements.
- Increased assistance for residential and business renewable energy and energy conservation projects.
- Weatherization assistance programs for government buildings, private homes and business.
- Modernization of the nation’s electrical grid to conserve energy and accommodate new energy technologies.
This represents an enormous down payment on a new energy future for America. Now it is the task of the Obama administration, the various governmental agencies who will be implementing some of the projects, the major recipients of the green dollars, and the public (you and me) to pay attention and provide feedback to our governmental leaders as we witness these projects unfold. Transparency only works if people are watching.
International Editor/Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
It is no secret that change is the only option for a healthier way of living. But in a timid economy, even the most dedicated consumers begin to ask, “How?” Several Dallas-area artists, designers, and retailers will assemble on March 21st with an answer to that question: The Uptown Eco-Wellness Bazaar. The event offers an abundance of organic, handmade, fair trade selections and services from local small business.
Trendsetting consumers are now more aware of the economic and environmental impact of their purchases, and they have a genuine desire to live more responsibly. Specialty retailers have the power to offer eco-friendly choices that reflect a sustainable way of life in modern society.
“The economy needs spenders while the environment needs savers,” says Crystal Carroll, owner of Hadley and Harriet. “Our shoppers are asking us to find more artistic, organic products. They want to spend money on re-purposed goods, but they don’t want boring designs.” The serendipitous relationship between these consumers and retailers produces positive change, and everyone involved is instinctively doing their part, which is naturally better for the community.
The Uptown Eco-Wellness Bazaar will highlight local designers, crafters, and small businesses boasting a unique mix of eco-friendly fashion, accessories, beauty, health, home, and wellness. Holly Price of New Harmony Boutique confirms, “This event is sure to breathe fresh air into the community.”
Experience a burst of organic selections at Uptown Wellness Bazaar The Uptown Wellness Bazaar is an organic shopping haven, showcasing a mosaic of products from new players in the green scene. Mark your calendar and cure your “need for green” with a unique mix of fashion, accessories, beauty, and home. Take a little step toward conscious living.
Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009
Time: 10 AM to 6 PM
Location: Hadley and Harriet, 3922 Lemmon Ave, Dallas, TX 75219
The Uptown Eco-Wellness Bazaar will benefit the nonprofit group La Reunion TX — a future green arts residency in Oak Cliff, Texas. The event is sponsored by Smart Water.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Jon Levey and Steve Sherman of Green Choice Bank a question we like to ask all our interviewees. Here is their collective response.
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
JON LEVEY and STEVE SHERMAN:
- Ask questions and start a dialogue. The first step is simply getting the dialogue going on what people and businesses are doing to “green” themselves. Learning from others and deciding to take the first small step will lead you to further responsible choices. As a green community bank, we are not here to pass judgment on whether a person or business is “green enough.” But we will ask questions to see what they are doing and to start the dialogue. And, we will reward those who embrace sustainability by offering advantaged loan and deposit products at GreenChoice Bank. In asking questions, we might learn something new that we can share with others or use in our own personal or professional lives. And, often, the simple act of asking the questions causes someone to realize that a small change (e.g., replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs) can make a big impact on the environment without negatively impacting their quality of life. It all starts with questions and open dialogue.
- Support local businesses. Supporting the local economy and its small businesses is not just the sustainable thing to do, it’s what can help pull the economy out of the recession. It’s the local small businesses that create the innovations and jobs that jump-start the economy and lead to increased productivity and economic security.
- Build green. If you’re not building green, you’re building obsolete. Energy efficiency, improving indoor air quality, and reducing construction waste are just good business principles. It may cost a little more up front, but in the long run, you’re also saving a ton of money on operating costs, and you’re doing the right thing for the planet. Everybody wins!
- Don’t print as much from your computer. We all receive tons of emails, newsletters, articles, legal documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc. It takes some getting used to, but just read the document on your monitor, and if you find that you must print, print selectively, choosing to only print those particular pages you actually need. Why waste the trees and ink for something you will only read once? If you absolutely have to print that email with all the signatures and legal disclaimers at the bottom, take the extra moment to selectively print just the first page that has the stuff you need.
- Bank with a green bank. In fact, move your banking relationship to OUR green bank — GreenChoice Bank! Or at least put some deposits in a local community bank that reinvests and supports your local economy. And choose online banking without paper statements. All these little things add up. (Did we mention that you should move your banking to GreenChoice Bank?)
Jon Levey and Steve Sherman
Co-Founders, GreenChoice Bank and LEED APs
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
February 19, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 2009, Banks, Blog, Economy, Ecopreneurs, FDIC, Financing, Front Page, Grants, HHS, Illinois, LEED, Loans, Real Estate, Regulations, Retrofitting, Sustainability
Going green as a business makes economic and environmental sense, even in tough economic times. It also provides opportunities to make a positive difference in a community. Like any business venture, a green business requires investment capital and banking services. GreenChoice Bank, led by co-founders, Steve Sherman and Jon Levey, is targeted specifically to address the unique financial needs of green businesses in the Chicago area. Both Levey and Sherman are LEED Accredited Professionals (APs).
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed ecopreneurs Levey and Sherman from their Chicago offices to find out more about the GreenChoice Bank, the advantages the bank will provide to its customers, and the Green Exchange building that the bank will be housed in.
BPGL: The concept of a green bank is new. How do you define your “greenness”?
SHERMAN: The greatest element is the holistic approach we take to sustainability. It’s not just, “Go green: We have online banking.” Sustainability is informing every aspect of how we organize the bank; from our location in the Green Exchange to our future locations, we will be environmentally responsible. Our back office will use the latest technology in image-based check processing and electronic document distribution. We’ll offer advantageous terms on loans and deposits for customers who embrace a sustainable lifestyle.
LEVEY: This extends to our employees, as well, such as taking public transportation, hiring from within our community, and supporting local businesses. We’re also designing a zero percent auto loan — for employees only — to purchase hybrids or cars that get at least 35 miles per gallon. We want to exhibit a genuine approach to sustainability.
SHERMAN: We’re looking to create an opportunity for people to make values-based choices about where they bank and to work together about environmental choices. We’re on a shared journey toward doing the right thing.
LEVEY: We don’t sit in judgment on our clients or prospective clients. We assist them to make greener choices in their lives.
BPGL: If a building owner decided to retrofit with energy-saving improvements, would you give that owner better loan terms?
LEVEY: In base terms, if someone is remodeling an income-producing property and doing so responsibly, there’s likely some additional cost to that up front. Most financial institutions aren’t necessarily weighing those costs, because they look at traditional underwriting models based on traditional improvement costs and returns. But, if you are remodeling responsibly, using sustainable principles, you’re reducing your operating costs by increasing operating efficiency of that building. If it’s an income-producing property, and you create operating efficiencies, you are reducing your expenses and increasing your net operating income, and thereby have increased the value of the property. We might lend a little more aggressively on that.
We’ll also offer advantage loan and deposit products for those leading a more responsible life. For example, a real estate developer who is building a LEED-certified condominium development might see advantaged loan terms in loan-to-value, rate, and structure.
BPGL: So green clients might earn more for being green?
SHERMAN: Preferential rates are not determined by how “green” customers are, it’s determined by how they use their account, such as customers who opt out of the paper statement or opt out of check writing in exchange for online banking or those who use electronic bill pay.
LEVEY: We’ll have a signature transaction account that will pay higher-than-market interest rates to those customers.
SHERMAN: It’s one of the many pieces we’re putting together so we can be the bank that lets you make a values-based choice and feel good about who you’re partnering with for financial services. You know we’re putting your money to work better than the bank down the street.
BPGL: When you talk about a “values-based choice,” what does that mean to you?
LEVEY: You make a values-based choice when you choose to drive by the traditional supermarket on your way to Whole Foods. You feel better about making that values-based choice to buy some of the things at Whole Foods even though some items in your shopping cart could have been bought at the traditional supermarket. You shop at Whole Foods (or whatever your local equivalent might be), because you feel that Whole Foods is supporting locally grown, organic and sustainable producers in your area. Similarly, you know when you put your money on deposit with us, it’s being leveraged responsibly, locally, and sustainably by the bank in your community.
BPGL: When you open your doors and have this marketing plan that involves bringing in sustainable clients to a sustainable bank, what will be the element that will keep them there?
SHERMAN: This is a community bank at its foundation. What keeps us excited — and our clients attached — is that we live and work in a society in which banking has become a commodity. A lot of consumers and businesses are feeling the credit crunch now. A symptom of this is that a lot of people have chosen commoditized banking. They’ve forgone the relationship.
At our core, we’re a bank where the customer will be known by, and known to, executive management. You want to bank someplace — to quote Cheers — “where everybody knows your name.” You want to bank where that relationship is. Those who didn’t forget the relationship focus — for the most part, that would be community banks and their clients — are not feeling the credit crunch to the same degree as everybody else. GreenChoice Bank will be high touch, high service, with a twist – a green and sustainable twist.
BPGL: Are you going to commoditize this to spread over a large area?
SHERMAN: Yes and no. We’re seeking a federal charter. This gives us the ability to open branches around the country. We don’t want to commoditize it. We will prove this model in Chicago, and replicate it in other markets with a similar approach once proven here. When we do so, we’ll raise capital locally, gain strong local supporters, and maintain that community touch. We will have a strong local bank.
LEVEY: That’s one of the main reasons why we’ve gone with a federal charter as opposed to a state charter. But in every case, we will remain true to our community banking roots.
BPGL: If someone in another state wanted to manufacture a green product and needed capital, could they come to you?
LEVEY: Yes. Having our federal charter allows us the ability to lend across the nation with greater ease, but we still need to fully understand each business, its management, and what makes it tick.
SHERMAN: Certainly from a deposit standpoint, they can deposit with us.
BPGL: When you offer electronic banking, what protections will you provide your customers?
SHERMAN: There is a secure paper trail. After all, a check starts as paper. It’s a valid question, but in order for these systems to work online, there are a lot of checks and balances.
We’re outsourcing our back-office systems. We have to go through exceptionally rigorous regulatory hurdles. There’s a lot of regulatory security so nothing falls through the cracks. We feel confident there is no risk to the company or our customers.
LEVEY: As much as we may desire, we can’t be entirely paperless, though.
SHERMAN: We’ll be paperless to the extent it’s permitted by the regulatory agencies. Banks are far more efficient these days. Now, you turn in a check to the bank, they scan it, and that goes through the system much more quickly. It used to sit in the back office waiting for someone to key it in. Then it was shipped to the Federal Reserve Bank, where it would get checked and coded. It used to take several days to clear a check. Now you can get money in your account in a day or two. It not only takes the waste out of the process, but it is also more efficient in a customer-friendly way.
We’re working on incorporating leading-edge technologies — like mobile banking — that makes it easier to bank with us than with traditional banks.
BPGL: Describe what you mean by mobile banking.
LEVEY: Using your cell phone as the point of service for your banking needs and transactions.
SHERMAN: We’re still working on how that gets implemented. Whether a customer can use mobile banking is determined by their phone’s processor capability. If you have mobile banking capability, you can text message to get your balance. Even more functionality will be added to a web-enabled phone.
BPGL: What other leading-edge technology will you implement?
LEVEY: We’ll use remote capture, for example. If you walk into store that is using our remote capture and you pay with a check, they scan the check right at the point of sale, and the paper copy does not need to be forwarded to the bank
BPGL: What motivated you to set up a green bank in Chicago?
LEVEY: Chicago happens to be a particularly ripe arena for this idea. We live in one of the greenest cities in the country. We’re one of very few major cities to have a CEO, meaning a Chief Environmental Officer. One of Mayor Daley’s legacies will be the greening of the city of Chicago.
We both have prior banking experience. I also have real estate development experience. In my real estate business, I noticed that, if you weren’t building green, you were building obsolete. Nobody wants to do anything obsolete. When Steve came to me with this idea, I saw that he was on target and at the right time.
Both of us started our careers in banking at LaSalle Bank, which was the leading commercial bank in Chicago until it was acquired by Bank of America not long ago.
SHERMAN: LaSalle is one of the legendary organizations in terms of relationship banking. We’re taking that orientation toward relationship banking and combining it with values-based banking opportunities; it has a lot of potential and can serve the community very well.
BPGL: When will you open?
LEVEY: That’s not up to us, but we’re in the midst of the regulatory process. We filed our application with the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) in June of 2008 and will obtain our deposit insurance through the FDIC. We’re working through the regulatory process as “a bank in organization” and expect to obtain the charter and open in mid 2009.
BPGL: What do you see as your distinguishing characteristics as a bank?
SHERMAN: Today, everybody is making some sort of statement about being green. For most banks, the only statement they can really make is, “We offer online bill pay,” or “Our next branch is going to be LEED certified.” Bank of America is building an incredibly large LEED-certified skyscraper in New York, for example.
What separates us from the rest is our holistic approach. This is by design. The holistic approach to sustainability we’re taking is different from other banks. Huge banks have to leverage their capital, sometimes in areas we might not choose to participate. There’s all sorts of legacy involved.
We want to serve our clients and our community, but if we feel a banking relationship flies in the face of our mission in a very serious way, it might not be the right fit for us.
LEVEY: Not all our clients will be green poster children; however, all our clients will benefit by having access to our greener choices. If we can help someone realize that making green choices won’t impair their life or their business, that serves our mission and our community.
BPGL: The building that will house GreenChoice Bank is going to be a unique facility. Describe the space and your interest in locating there.
LEVEY: The Green Exchange has a good story to tell. It’s a building on the north side of Chicago that was originally an underwear factory and most recently a lamp factory. It’s been vacant several years, and is being renovated to support the green economy. We chose to locate in this building for a certain reason. It’s powerful to take a 270,000-sq. ft. building and fill it with green businesses. And, as far as we know, it’s the nation’s largest self-contained building for green and sustainable businesses. We’re the official bank of the Green Exchange.
BPGL: Will the Green Exchange qualify for LEED certification?
LEVEY: Yes. In fact, the Green Exchange building will be LEED-Certified Platinum. We’re also seeking Platinum certification for our interior space.
When our clients walk through our bank, they’ll see visual cues for greener choices they can take back with them. They’ll see imagery in our space depicting the components that went into making the bank green. They’ll see plaques or notices that describe things we’ve done that they can do at home — things that have low impact to their personal lives and that aren’t hard to do, but that make a difference and have high impact to the environment and our community.
BPGL: Will you have a large space?
LEVEY: It’s not a behemoth space. We have very efficient use of space and consider that to be integral to our mission.
One thing attractive about locating in the Green Exchange is that the building offers some shared conference abilities and private dining spaces, so we don’t have to incorporate that space into our bank and pay for a large boardroom that we may only need one time per month. Rather, we can use the shared space within the building and keep our interior space efficiently operating for core business needs.
BPGL: Are there any financial or tax incentives for businesses to locate in the Green Exchange?
LEVEY: The building is located within an economic empowerment zone, and the city and First Ward Alderman, Manny Flores, are definitely behind the green collar job creation that it will foster. Additionally, the Green Exchange and LEED Council (Local Economic & Employment Development Council) have received a half million dollar ($500,000) federal Community Economic Development (CED) grant from the Office of Community Services (OCS) in the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). This grant is for a small business loan fund for tenants of the Green Exchange that agree to hire federally designated low-income individuals. That fits our sustainability mission.
They’ve put together a loan committee to dole out that money, for which I have been asked to sit and lend some expertise. The funds will be loaned at prime minus 3%, tied to how many people the business applicant, who must be a tenant within the Green Exchange, hires. For two qualifying hires, the business will qualify for just north of $17,000 in loan proceeds. It’s a unique program to further sustainability and job creation in this area, and we are very pleased to be supporters of the program. When the lamp factory shut down, a lot of people lost their jobs. It’s nice to see this building redeveloped for the sustainable business community and to see it creating local job opportunities.
BPGL: Your name is GreenChoice Bank. If you google the word “green,” you’ll find almost a billion green things; the word “green” is ubiquitous. We read an editorial in a small newspaper near Lake Michigan that declared they won’t type the term “green” again in the paper because of a backlash against it. Are you at all concerned that “green” as a term may become boring and overused?
SHERMAN: That’s potentially going to happen with any sort of phenomenon that gets popular quickly and covered a lot. It’s not surprising to have a so-called backlash, because not everyone is going about it in the right way. There’s greenwashing, for example.
What Jon and I agree on is that the concern over the future of our planet and the health and well being of future generations won’t go out of style. How you communicate it may change over time, but the underlying intent will stay. We talked about it as we named the bank. “Will the word ‘green‘ be obsolete?” We are taking a calculated risk. “Green” encompasses so many things about what we are and helping our clients make greener choices. But we’re confident that what our mission stands for won’t ever go out of style.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
The Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference will take place in Washington, DC, February 4 – 6, 2009 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and Omni Shoreham Hotel. The following information is provided in the conference brochure.
“The 2009 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference will bring together 2,000 prominent leaders from the labor movement, business and industry, environmental organizations and community groups, as well as elected officials and decision makers from government, to forge an agenda for transforming our struggling economy through a variety of innovative environmental investments — including energy efficiency, renewable energy and green technologies. This agenda will constitute a powerful ‘new green deal’ — creating jobs, increasing energy independence, reducing global warming and dramatically expanding clean energy and green technology markets.”
“The Conference will:
- Focus the country on the specific combination of policy changes, public investments and funding mechanisms that are necessary to accelerate the growth of the green economy;
- Quantify and illustrate the job-creating potential of global warming solutions and green chemistry;
- Demonstrate the breadth of the coalition that supports the transition to a clean, renewable energy economy; and
- Highlight the potential of the green economy to forge a new social agenda that lifts Americans out of poverty, improves public health and strengthens our middle class.”
THE GREEN JOBS EXPO
Meet with trade groups, corporations, manufacturers, non-profit groups, government groups, and academic institutions. Check out their displays and find out about green jobs and academic programs for today and tomorrow.
THE GREEN JOBS EXPO THEATER
Listen to presentations about green jobs and careers, and green initiatives. Students from high school, college, and vocational schools are welcome.
GREEN JOBS ADVOCACY DAY
Go with your fellow conference participants to Capitol Hill, to “educate lawmakers about the new, green economy.”
The speakers’ roster includes:
- Sherrod Brown, U.S. Senator
- Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator
- Kathleen Sebelius, Governor, State of Kansas
- Martin O’Malley, Governor, State of Maryland
- Keith Ellison, U.S. Congressman, 5th District, Minnesota
- Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP
- Cathy Zoi, CEO, Alliance for Climate Protection
- James P. Hoffa, General President, Teamsters Union
- Denise Bode, CEO, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)
- Van Jones, Founding President, Green for All
- And more!
$125 per person
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Conference attendees may register online. Some sessions are already filled, so hurry!
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
January 21, 2009 by Julia Wasson
Filed under Air Quality, Blog, Climate Change, Electric Cars, Environment, Events, Front Page, GMOs, Green Living, Health, Pollution, Renewable Energy, Slideshow, U.S.
Dear Mr. President,
I am not a soldier in your army, but I am out here working in your trenches. I am not carrying a gun in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I am carrying your message. I am a retired worker, an active environmentalist and a true-blue American. I am too old to be lied to by my government anymore, but too young to lose the hope that you might be able to change things. I am too realistic to expect miracles from you, but idealistic enough to always dream of a better world.
What else does my generation dream of, Mr. President? What do my fellow Baby Boomers and I picture when we close our eyes? We imagine a world in which we can afford our health insurance, our medications, and next week’s food prices. We wish that one-third of our pensions hadn’t been ripped from our hands. We hope that we can live long enough to earn the Social Security benefits we’ve paid into for so many years. We hope there still is a Social Security fund to sustain us before we die. We hope that 50 years from now our great grandchildren will not be burdened by this year’s Wall Street and Big 3 bailouts, and that the greedy bastards who got us into this mess will still be in prison for their crimes.
And we are angry. Angry that General Motors/GMAC received a $19.4 billion handout and that Chrysler/CF got its $5.5 billion. Mind you, neither corporate giant got so much as a suggestion from our Congress that they should improve gas mileage or produce electric cars. I’m sure they were planning to do both anyway — in 30 years, when our planet runs out of oil. Couldn’t someone in Congress have suggested a few incentives, or limits, or controls, or expectations, or maybe get down on their knees and beg “pretty please?”
Congress is taking money away from the rest of us, and from our next three generations, to give to an industry that has refused to improve emissions for the last 20 years, fought against passenger air bags, killed the electric car production lines, and refused to improve gas mileage standards. I say, let these dinosaurs die. You can bet that, two minutes after the gates of the Big 3 are closed, some hungry, innovative car company from India, or China, or Japan, will build a new plant down the road and begin manufacturing efficient, safe, and reasonably priced, electric vehicles.
We are angry because we were told that the price of food inflated because the price of gas was $4.00 a gallon. But now gas is $1.60, and the price of food is still going up. Damn, we hate being lied to. Worse yet, the food industry is reducing the sizes of the containers, while raising their prices. They not only lie to us, they think we are too stupid to see what they are doing.
And since I‘m on the subject of food, we are not fond of the fact that, through genetic modification, our foods no longer need to be sprayed with pesticides and herbicides —they are pesticides and herbicides. God knows we have to protect our farm yields. Big Ag takes great pride that a genetic engineer has predetermined our cancers, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. Perhaps our heirs will save money when we die, when our bodies will self-cremate from all the petrochemicals we have digested.
Sir, I wish you the very best. I wouldn’t want your job, but I am elated you won this election. Wouldn’t it be great if Wall Street, the oil industry, the farm lobby, the steel industry, the military weapons industry, the U.S. Auto industry, the medical industry, the pharmaceutical companies, and the food industry, all left Washington, just pulled out and said, “We’re sorry, we screwed up. We promise we won’t put profits before people or the planet ever again. We won’t steal from our investors ever again. We won’t strip mine or clear cut or genetically alter crops or slaughter whales or shoot wolves from airplanes, or kill people, or test chemicals on animals or poison the air, the water, the soil; or deplete the ozone ever again. We promise.” Yeah, right. Dream on.
Mr. President, we know it’s only your second day in office. We know your tasks are mighty. But, you do have a Congress that should be supportive while you try to solve the financial crisis, launch your version of the New Deal, create 3 million new jobs, fight crony capitalism, and keep your country from going bankrupt. Please try to accomplish most of that in your first week in office.
Next week you have to improve the image of our country to the world, and then help bring peace and stability to Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, North and South Korea. And be sure to bring our troops home safely.
As you’re settling in, between phone calls, maybe you’ll get a chance to work on climate change; develop renewable energy; teach your citizens how to live sustainably; improve health care, education, women’s rights, child safety, the electrical grid, and our highway infrastructure; and fight crime, pollution, domestic violence, the spread of AIDS, home foreclosures, and terrorism. Should be no problem. You’re young and energetic.
You gave us a lot of hope during your campaign. Maybe you want a little of it back. But don’t worry, Mr. President, we will be patient, as long as we see a little progress every day. Just don’t tell us any fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction. We regret that you have so much to do, so soon. We regret that you have so many broken things to fix. We realize that dealing with the over-50 crowd isn’t one of your priorities. Just don’t forget we’re here, especially if you need some help. All you have to do is ask. We’re a pretty dependable work force, and we have a lot of wisdom to share. We may be old, but we’re not dead yet, and we won’t be silent.
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