The inspiration for a successful, environmentally friendly luxury resort on Aruba’s Eagle Beach started from a love of nature and animals.
Ewald Biemans, originally from Austria, founded Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts 25 years ago on the island paradise. With only 104 rooms, the eco-friendly hotel is situated away from the loud hotspots and high rise buildings on Aruba, but restaurants and shopping areas are accessible in the nearby capital of Oranjestad.
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts sits on 14 acres of white sand and has been called one of the few “Dream Beaches of the World.” This romantic, boutique-style hotel caters to adults only. It offers beach weddings, a professional wedding planner, and “green” weddings.
A Natural Resource
“I arrived in Aruba when it was pristine and clean,” says Biemans, who came to the island in the early 1970s. Since his arrival, there has been a huge influx of people on the now populous island.
“More people equals more garbage,” says Ewald, explaining how the island paradise began to degrade. Vacationers flock to Aruba all year because of the dry, Arizona-like climate; sunny weather; and calm, white beaches. Since tourism is Aruba’s only natural resource and accounts for a large portion of the nation’s income, it is especially important to keep the island clean.
“I thought, We need to do something about this,” says Biemans. Now, local authorities are enforcing rules to keep the island in order, which has resulted in improvements to the ecosystem. Hotels are encouraged to participate in programs to improve the local environment.
“We’re slowly getting there,” he explains, as he points out that everything on the island has to be imported.
An Innovative Ecopreneur
Biemans takes great steps to make the resort a better place for the island, its employees, and its guests through a variety of inventive means. “We are very happy and proud,” he says.
Some of Biemans’ initiatives at the resort include the following:
- Only organic cleaning products are used
- Employees carpool to work
- Motorized sports are discouraged and low-energy sports like windsurfing are promoted
- Air conditioners have sensors that adjust the temperature depending on if people are in the room
- Employees separate garbage, and 60 percent ends up recycled or reused
- Local beers are sold, and the bottles are returned to companies, who wash and reuse them
- Products are bought in five-gallon buckets and dispensers in the rooms for shampoo and soap are refilled
- Instead of plastic laundry bags, the resort supplies pillowcases
- Biodegradable cups and plates in the dining areas are made from sugar cane
- Sheets aren’t changed every day unless specified by the guest
- All paint is non VOC
“The only plastics in the hotel are the straws,” Biemans states proudly. In the future, he hopes to incorporate the use of solar power for public lighting and to control room temperatures on a central computer.
Since 1997, the resort has been honored with nearly 30 awards and recognition for environmental stewardship, sustainable tourism, beach cleanups, and environmental hotel management.
The resort was the first in the Americas and Caribbean to obtain ISO 14001 certification, which indicates that the hotel’s environmental management systems can identify and control its environmental impact. Additionally, the business is a charter member of the Green Hotels Association.
“People choose our hotel because of sustainability,” Biemans says. “They feel guilty about flying all the way to Aruba, but they feel better that they are staying at a sustainable hotel.”
The website also allows guests to purchase renewable energy credits to offset their carbon use. “It gives them a good feeling about staying in a resort,” he says. “They are conserving as much as they can.”
Biemans believes that guests consume less energy at the resort than they would be consuming at home because of the sustainable measures in place. And, for most guests, they stay in a room that is smaller than their house.
The resort is Green Globe Certified, a recognized mark for sustainable tourism. Eco-conscious visitors interested in the natural wildlife and native cuisine can purchase the green vacation package, which includes an outdoor view room, dinner prepared by local chefs, a guided hike, and a tour of the aloe factory.
Biemans preaches the importance of local involvement because items won’t be transported thousands of miles, local jobs are created, and local arts and crafts are promoted.
“We did a lot of things before ‘green’ was a common thing,” he says. “We’re going back 20 years. Now it’s the fashion to talk about it, but we started when it was unheard of.”
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When Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Bay Area artist and ecopreneur Della Calfee, we were intrigued by her self-description as a “green” photographer. How does that look in terms of her portfolio of images? we wondered. And, What kinds of clients hire a green photographer? We asked Calfee about these topics when we spoke with her by phone from her San Jose, California home.
CALFEE: I’ve been shooting pictures for decades, but it was only a couple years ago that I looked back at my body of work and realized that I was a “green” photographer. Once I realized that, something crystallized, and I have been able to move forward with much greater passion and direction and confidence.
To me, “green” means making environmentally conscious choices in every action taken. It means respecting life — including people, but not exclusively. So my photography focuses on clients working toward a better environment. Sustainably produced products; and green-minded services, leaders, and events would all be examples of “green” photography clients.
BPGL: Have you always done green photography?
CALFEE: For years, I was doing commercial photography. Then, a couple of years ago, I turned my attention to focus more specifically on green topics. The customers I’m looking to help with my photography may be a business, a non-profit, or any kind of group — or even just a single person.
If they have some sort of a green method that they need to communicate, I want my images to support their methods and to help them communicate to their audience.
Everybody’s pretty suspicious of advertising and marketing in general. The folks who are most interested in green truths are even more skeptical and suspicious, so I feel that my work can help good people and causes get their message through. I can help them inspire and convince people that green is smart; it’s the way to go. It’s going to save money and protect our resources — save the world.
So, in the last couple of years, I have really turned my attention in that direction. I looked at your website and at some of the folks that you write about, and I get the impression that these guys have all been at this for quite some time. But, I’m first starting out, because I’ve only been at it for a couple of years.
BPGL: It’s okay to be a beginner. We’re all at a different level of “greenness,” because nobody’s there; it’s a journey, not a destination.
CALFEE: It’s so interesting to see how each person has to make their own green decisions and epiphanies and changes, and we are all unevenly green. Somebody may be greener in a different way, and we are all learning from each other and becoming greener collectively. And I believe that it’s a beautiful thing.
As far as my commercial clients and projects, my favorite one is Wendell Rosen. It’s a law firm here in the Bay Area. It was the first law firm to be LEED certified. They have a lot of green clients, and they’re also into the sustainability realm. We started talking about the question, “What does a green law firm look like?”
So, I photographed every aspect of their law firm that was part of their certification. For example, I photographed the disposable pens with their name on them. These pens contain soy ink, and the bodies are made of recycled cardboard with a piece of wood for the clip. It’s a really great marketing piece for them, considering the kind of business they do.
They tried to go green with every aspect of their company, including the glue that they glued the carpets with. I photographed a whole series of all of these aspects for them to use in their marketing materials.
I pursue projects on my own that follow my green passion on different topics. One of the topics that I’ve been obsessed with lately is the resource of water, so I’ve been taking a lot of pictures relating to water.
BPGL: There’s a beautiful splash image that I had noticed on your website a few months ago. How did you capture that? You must have a very fast camera.
CALFEE: It was very bright out; and in the sunshine cameras work great.
BPGL: You’re too modest. Your images are crisp and beautiful.
How did you get started?
CALFEE: To answer that, I have to back up a bit. I went to school for fine art and commercial photography ages ago. Then, in 1992, when I entered the work world, I fell into graphic design, because there were so many jobs here in Silicon Valley. Doing that, I was able to make a better living than with photography. Professional photography is all entrepreneurial, and in Silicon Valley — even just to live here — you have to have a pretty sizable steady income.
I wasn’t able to do photography immediately, so graphic design evolved into branding. I spent fifteen years doing design in branding, mostly for software companies, but some for other types of companies, as well.
That was before I made my environmentalist discovery. And realized I have such a desire to help companies do what’s right. I want to put all of my efforts and energies toward helping companies and causes that I believe in most, and right now that is environmentalism.
I learned so much in my career leading up to this, and I’m using all of those experiences in my attempt to work with green companies and to help with the green movement.
Before I started at a software company, where I was on a team to re-brand them, I had started my own design company. I had experience working at ad agencies and design firms, and I was ready to launch into my own thing.
Like most new companies, it started off with a bang. Then I realized, even though I could market very well, and I could do the work, I had no experience in sales. You can have the other talents, but unless you have sales, things can’t really move forward.
BPGL: When you worked as a designer, did you take the photographs you used in your work?
CALFEE: No, though, as a designer, I had some pretty big photography budgets at the software company. One year I had $50,000 in my photography budget, and I kept saying, “Can you just let me take the pictures?” But, because I was a designer, they wouldn’t listen to me; the two skills just don’t meet. They finally did let me take some of the photos that we couldn’t find anywhere regardless of price, so that was pretty exciting.
BPGL: How has the change to digital photography affected your work?
CALFEE: The commercial photography world has been undergoing seismic disruption, where whenever something new is invented, that affects us all. It has been relatively negative. For example, when everything went digital, it was easy to steal photos, violating intellectual property rights. Congress is discussing these issues, which have been undermining the profitability of photographers.
There are so many ways to get up and running in my business, and all of the old ways to get up and running no longer work for photography. So the photographers’ associations are asking, “What are we going to do?” All the biggest photographers who have been at the top end and working for decades and have all the connections and have been doing these huge jobs are almost out of business now. In fact, the highest-paid living photographer today, Annie Liebowitz, is $24 million dollars in debt.
BPGL: It’s got to be frustrating to know how difficult it is to make a living as a photographer. Have you considered selling your photos to a stock agency?
CALFEE: Yes. I am so passionate about photography that I’m taking the pictures whether or not I sell them or get them out there. I could go back into branding and continue working as a designer; that skill hasn’t gone away. But as fun as it was, I didn’t realize how unfulfilled I was until I started doing this.
So we’ve tightened our belt at home. We’ve done all kinds of stuff to live on less in order for me to be able to move forward with this and see where it leads. I’m shooting art as well as commercial photography, and I have shown some pieces in an art gallery in San Jose.
That is a first for me — branching out into the fine art world — but my photos still have the topic of environmentalism and nature. So, maybe selling my photos as art is an option, even if selling them commercially has kind of gone away as a market.
BPGL: One of the first things to go when the economy fails is fine art. Are you concerned?
CALFEE: Part of me feels that, even when everything looks negative, if you work hard to make your product something that is compelling, and if you can make it good enough, people will want it, rather than the other stuff.
As a designer, I’ve had a few experiences where people say, “We have no budget for photography,” or “We only have budget for inexpensive photography.” And, so, I’ll put together my designs for the project — my layout. Then, I’ll look for the best photo that I would choose despite their budget and present it to them, saying, “This photo is for placement only.” I use it to help explain the idea of the design I’ve put together for the project.
They generally like the project and the photo. Then, when they ask how much, and I tell them $1000, they say “$1000!”
And I say, “Okay, I’ve got some low-priced images you can use.” So I will look for some from a stock image company, drop those in, and send them over. They write me back and say, “These are terrible! Can you keep looking?” So I do that and come up with some more. And I send those over, and they keep getting worse.
Finally, I tell them, “If I do this with inexpensive photos, it’s not going to be as good.” And every time I’ve done that, they’ve found the money!
BPGL: Looking at the photographs on your website, you obviously have the ability to get up close to your objects and get intimate with them. Is your art an analytic study or an emotional study?
CALFEE: It is both. I’ve always been both. I’m passionate about things in life. At the same time, I come from parents who were very analytical and into logic and critical thinking. They were math majors when they met, and I think they canceled each other out, because they created an artist. But I am very analytical.
I’m trying to capture what it is that is grabbing me or making me think and feel in my subjects, and I have been told that my images don’t have the usual veil of protection between the viewer and the image — that I have sort of removed that, and it is closer somehow. The pictures hit you a little bit more.
I have been told that I care too much, but it is something that I can’t stop doing. It was only two years ago that I ever took my artistic photos off the hard drive and allowed people to see them. Up till then, I would take the photos, but I would never show them to anyone. Now I’m trying to share my perspective and concerns with people.
BPGL: Are you shooting with a Nikon?
CALFEE: No, I’m not. I have Nikon, because I went to college in the days before digital. Back then, people kept saying, “Digital is coming, and it’s going to ruin everything!” They were right; it did ruin everything.
I switched over to digital a couple years ago. I was carrying my equipment with me everywhere I went. A friend of mine, who is a designer, said that he had a little snapshot camera that was really great, and I should check it out.
But I thought a snapshot camera could never be great; I mean, look at the lens alone, it’s terrible.
Then my friend started shooting and posting on Flickr. I looked at his work and asked, “How are you getting these shots?”
And he said, “It’s from the little snapshot camera Della.”
I said, “Wow! Let me see that camera again.”
Finally, I went out and bought one. The majority of the photos on my site, EvokeImagery.com, were taken with this snapshot camera, so I highly recommend the Cannon G9. It’s 12 mega pixels, and it can shoot raw, and it’s fast. There are later versions out now, but I still use my G9.
It is limited to the lens that exists in the camera; you can’t change it out. And it doesn’t work well in low-light situations. But it’s especially strong at macro. So that’s why I was able to get in and get all those macro shots.
I don’t know if you have seen that picture with the grandma and the baby, but with this photo my big camera failed, and my G9 camera failed on me as well. I’ve never had that happen to me, so I had to go to my tiny back-up camera, and I shot that image with that small camera. I think you can get pretty good quality, if you are not going to print it out large or go on screen. As soon as you go large, digital still kind of falls apart, I say.
BPGL: Do you do any kind of Photoshop processing?
CALFEE: Yes, I do. I do tons of Photoshop. I would say that I am also happy when a shot comes out of the camera just the way I want it; I love that. But having had Photoshop as a designer, I have different styles that I like to apply to the images to bring them out.
I had the grass-Mohawk photo up at the Art Object Gallery in San Jose for a while. I want the green world to know that a grassed lawn is the worst thing you can do in the desert here in California. This is as much about what not to do as it is about what to do. Most people don’t know that, and see the photo as environmental advocacy.
CALFEE: I am struggling with that, so I appreciate your question. I certified myself as a Bay Area green business.
BPGL: How did you do that? What is required?
CALFEE: There’s an exhaustive assessment about being a green business. You have to check off a minimum requirement in each section for how you deal with water management, recycling, etc. Then they come through and verify that it is all correct and true. They also check with the utilities to make sure you don’t have anything they don’t know about.
Then they give you certification. You can re-certify only if you have grown in some green way. There are a couple of other photographers who have been certified as well, but their photos are not geared toward green markets.
I am mostly green because I want to help clients who need to communicate a green message.
BPGL: You find the best way to show other people’s greenness.
CALFEE: Right. And yet I can’t do that unless I’m showing how I am green as well. So that is why I certified myself, and I want to help others do the same.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Today’s post is the first in a series about young ecopreneurs, written by University of Iowa student, Simeon Talley. Blue Planet Green Living is pleased to welcome Simeon to our team of contributing writers, and eager to meet the people he will be interviewing in the coming weeks. If you’d like to suggest a young ecopreneur for Simeon’s series, please let us know. — Publisher
Imagine that you’re a student at the University of Iowa, living not too far from campus. Running late, you find yourself in need of getting to downtown Iowa City in a hurry. Maybe you have a date, and it’s the first date. Or maybe it’s that last class of the day — the only class of the entire week that takes place at night. Regardless, you need to get moving. What are your options?
Driving? That takes too much effort. Walking? You surely won’t get there soon enough. Calling a taxi? After the wait and the expense, that’s completely out of the question. So what are you to do?
Call my friends, Vik and Veena Patel, who operate a pedi-cab service. They’ll pick you up and quickly get you where you need to go — all at no cost to the environment.
They’ll get you there on time for that first date (listen to the bells ringing) or just in time so that you’re not the last person to walk into class (envision awkward looks as you make your way in a crowded room to the second-to-last seat available).
Having previously lived in Texas, siblings Vik and Veena saw that, in some communities, people could catch a ride to and from work in a bike- or pedi-cab. So they did a little research on bicycle laws in Iowa City. After navigating their way through the legalistic language, they decided that pedi-cabs might be feasible in here, too. So, they bought a couple of bikes that had carriages welded to them and began their pedi-cab business. According to Veena, “Business has been good!”
Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, you can find Vik and Veena shuttling students to and from the downtown area. While most of their clientele are students, the community as a whole has responded positively to the new pedi-cab service. Iowa City is a reasonably walkable city and certainly a city friendly to cyclists. Additionally, most students don’t live too far from campus or the downtown area. Vik and Veena’s pedi-cab service has filled a unique niche in getting people to and from their destinations quickly and in an environmentally friendly way.
Separating themselves from their taxi cab competitors, the Patels don’t charge a fee for the rides they provide. They make their money solely through tips from customers.
If your initial reaction was one of slight confusion, you’re not the only one. But Vik sees this “as a way to build relationships and create a loyal clientele.” And it seems to be working. In only a few months, they’ve built a business that is sure to do well and become a consistent community favorite.
Soon Vik and Veena will have to pack up their pedi-cabs and place them in storage, as it’s kind of hard to ride a bicycle in snow. When the weather warms in the spring, they’ll start peddling again.
Every day, there are people right here in our own community — and in yours — who are making a difference while making a living in surprisingly creative ways. Ecopreneurs are involved in all types of businesses, from the fashion industry, to home construction, and to creating more sustainable travel opportunities through eco-tourism. Vik and Veena Patel are two young ecopreneurs who are already making a big impact, and they’ve just gotten started.
Blue Planet Green Living asked Malcom Wittenberg, founder of Safe Harbor, “What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?”
- End our dependence on fossil fuel.
- Discontinue selling products in non-biodegradable packaging.
- Find a solution to species in danger; for example, polar bears. How can we find a solution to that issue?
- Make every person aware of their carbon footprint. If you can walk somewhere, or take a bicycle, instead of a car — do it.
- Consider the effect that your purchasing decision is going to have on the environment.
Malcom Wittenberg, Founder
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Take a walk through any major city, and you’ll see tall banners fluttering from light poles or hanging from rooftops on the sides of a museum. Most are colorful and attractive. Some are splashy, with eye-catching designs. Nearly all are time-sensitive, advertising this month’s music festival, tomorrow’s convention, or next weekend’s exhibit.
Because banners have to survive the elements day and night — often for months at a time — the material they’re made from is generally not biodegradable. So what happens to these used banners? Do they retire to a storeroom to collect dust, or make a one-way trip to the landfill?
Thanks to the creativity of Monica Shuman, co-founder of Florida-based RetroActif, the number of discarded banners is rapidly dwindling. Shuman turns retired banners into fashion handbags, hats, backpacks, purses, and more. She and her husband, Ziad, established RetroActif in December 2006 and have rescued tons of used banners. The company has partnered with a manufacturer in Florida, who supplies them with used banners, which Retroactif repurposes into fashion accessories.
Two and a half years after establishing RetroActif, the Shumans have transformed their company from an idea into a thriving business. The couple divides the business between retail accounts and corporate accounts. The company uses retired banners to create stylish fashion merchandise, which they wholesale to boutiques around the world.
If you’ve ever visited a rare museum exhibit or attended a festival or convention, you are sure to have noticed vibrant banners hanging throughout the area, drawing you to each event. RetroActif uses attractive banners from events such as these to create special collections. Each collection is made from banners for a specific event, which may number as few as 10 or more than 100.
Sample items from RetroActif’s collections are displayed on the their website, but can only be purchased through a retailer or by contacting the company directly. RetroActif also works with a wide range of corporate clients, who are looking for unique, eco-friendly giveaways for their events.
FROM RETIRED BANNER TO FASHION ACCESSORY
Cleaning a banner may sound simple, but some of the banners RetroActif receives have been exposed to nature’s elements for many years. Because of their size and the materials they’re made from, they can’t be washed in an industrial machine; each banner must be hand washed and dried. After being thoroughly cleaned, the banners are then cut into pieces for assembly.
In addition to banner material, each item may require cotton, straps, zippers, and lining from other manufacturers. Shuman says that RetroActif tries to uses as much banner material as possible. “If the bags need reinforcements, we’ll put an additional layer of banner between the lining and outside banner for extra support. We are very good about that,” Shuman says.
What’s the end result to this labor-intensive process? Not your average handbag. Each item features a unique design that has been carefully placed to highlight interesting elements of the original banner, while not revealing any copyrighted corporate logos or branding.
Because banners are made to withstand weather, the finished bags are resistant to nights caught out in the rain or the accidental rendezvous with a puddle. If a bag does happen to encounter nature’s elements, all it takes is a quick wipe down with a wet cloth and possibly some mild detergent, and the bag will be as good as new.
Monica Shuman reminds customers that the key to keeping their bags in good condition is simply to handle them with care. As proof of this, she mentions that she is still using bags she made when she started the company three years ago. Some banners are made with ink that will fade faster than others, or scratch more easily. Some are thin, while others are thick. Regardless of the banner material, the stitching is dependable, Shuman says, and if customers are kind to their RetroActif accessories, they will get years of use out of them.
WORKING WITH CORPORATE CLIENTS
RetroActif has experienced rapid growth as consumers have begun to appreciate the benefits of repurposing banner material. Shuman’s handbags and other fashion accessories are for sale in almost 100 stores around the world. The company recently expanded its wholesale operations to retailers in Canada, Australia, and Europe.
For the past year and a half, RetroActif has been working with corporate clients to develop prizes, presents, and giveaways for their specific needs. “We make a variety of items for our corporate clients. The types of clients we serve are so different: Banks. Museums. We’re working now with the Miami Heat. We worked with Four Seasons. We don’t just make bags; it’s amazing the variety of things they want us to make for them,” Shuman says. RetroActif offers a wide range of eco-friendly gift alternatives, such as backpacks, computer bags, and notebook covers.
Corporate customers have the option of providing their own banners or choosing from banners in RetroActif’s stock. For example, when Bank of America approached RetroActif about making a giveaway for a conference in Miami, they had no banners of their own to work with. They selected a theme for their conference, found banners in Shuman’s stock that fit their theme, then attached their own labels to the finished items.
I asked at beginning of this post what happens to banners when they are no longer needed. According to Shuman, many manufacturers were simply storing used banners for their clients.
But as the popularity of banners rose, the manufacturers began to run out of storage space. They were faced with the unpleasant task of informing their loyal customers that they would either have to pay for storage or send the banners to the landfill.
Shuman provided a welcome alternative, and their supplier now offers customers a third option: Donate retired banners for use in RetroActif’s custom accessories. This arrangement provides a winning scenario for everyone, including the environment.
The Shumans are committed to sharing their success and have adopted the non-profit organization Room to Read. A percentage of every RetroActif purchase is donated to this worldwide cause, which partners with local communities to establish schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructures. As Shuman says, “Our eco-conscious philosophy goes hand in hand with Room to Read. We believe that educating today’s children will eventually benefit our environment in the future.”
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)
“Purple Fig is a natural cleaning service in the greater Austin area — all the clean with none of the chemicals,” said owner Amanda May. “We make and use only green cleaning products, which we ship nationwide. We provide free recipes for everything we sell, and we’ll teach anyone how to make what we sell. Our goal is to create healthy, clean homes.”
A green cleaning company that gives away its trade secrets? When we heard about ecopreneur Amanda May and her Purple Fig Cleaning Cooperative, we were intrigued by both her green-cleaning methods and her business model. We wanted to know what drives a businessperson to be so generous with the information most companies would keep to themselves. We spoke with May by phone from her Austin, Texas, home. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
MAY: My training is as an accountant. I worked as an auditor at a public accounting firm for a year, sitting behind a desk all day. I enjoyed it, but it just seemed so unnatural.
There were really two issues that motivated me to start my company. One was that I wanted to clean homes in a healthy way, and the other was that I wanted to treat my workers fairly.
Living in Austin, I see so many cleaning companies that employ illegal aliens. Even my grandmother, who lives in the Austin suburbs, used to employ an illegal alien. (She uses Purple Fig, now, of course!) The woman who owns the cleaning company dropped off the girl to clean at my grandmother’s house. We never see the owner. Who knows how much she’s paying the cleaning girls? They might only be getting a dollar or two an hour. That’s terribly unfair.
That is a huge deal for me. In college I worked for a man whose construction company built wrought iron fences. The construction company employed a lot of illegals, and when the men were given their paychecks, they had to hop in cars and drive very fast to cash those checks before the owner’s account ran out of money. They knew the check might not go through. That was a horrible thing. Very often, the checks were bad.
Starting off, I wanted this to be a really great place to work, where people are treated fairly and are provided a living wage for hard work. I’m looking into workers’ compensation now. Meanwhile, we have 24-hour health insurance. If an employee is cleaning and slips, the medical insurance will cover it [if they report it within 24 hours]. Because we don’t yet have the workers comp policy, we need the 24-hour policy. But whether my workers are at their jobs or at play, they need to be covered. After working at Purple Fig for three months, our company pays a large portion of the employees’ medical insurance premiums — and that includes pregnancy coverage, which not all policies have. This is how things should be.
BPGL: How many employees work at Purple Fig?
MAY: We have two full-time and one part-time staff, not counting me. The ladies who clean are compensated as soon as they get to the office and pick up supplies. They’re paid while driving to the client’s home, for both mileage and time. So often, people in this line of work put in hours they don’t get paid for. I won’t let that happen.
BPGL: You certainly have the interests of your workers at heart. Did something happen that made you especially conscious of the work/life issues of workers?
MAY: When I was at the accounting firm, my parents were living in Amsterdam. I wanted to go visit them, so I requested two weeks of unpaid vacation. My request was denied — even though I had nothing on my schedule. That was the last straw for me to quit my office job. In order to be productive, healthy, happy, creative, and all the other things we’re supposed to be, you have to have adequate down time and enough money to spend. By denying me vacation, that’s denying the human aspect of an employee.
BPGL: Are you happier — or more stressed — having your own business?
MAY: I am definitely happier, because I can control my own time. There is a lot of stress. And I must say, in the year or so that we’ve been around, making payroll every week has sometimes been an issue. It’s a struggle, but it’s never not happened.
BPGL: Is the economic downturn affecting your business?
MAY: No. I’ve been expecting it to, but we’re going to be hiring another full time cleaning person in a month or so. We’ve had a few clients cancel. But for every two that cancel, we get another 25 new requests for service, We haven’t seen it in terms of the cleaning side of the business.
BPGL: If you get 25 phone calls for new service, can you expand that quickly?
MAY: Yes. Most people want to start service very quickly. My manager also cleans part time, makes the schedules, and talks with clients. She has a quick turnaround time.
My business model, how I see what we do, is that we are a cleaning service. We make and sell green cleaning products and give seminars —we’ve held two so far. We explain how to use baking soda and vinegar, and how the cleaning products work. The attendees make cleaning products in class. We explain all the tips of the trade. Everyone has a hands-on experience and makes cleaning products in class. Just because a product has a pre-printed product label, that doesn’t mean the product is right or good or okay or healthy.
I want the people at our seminars to have a better understanding of how these things work. It’s very simple. They leave with the recipes on the bottles they’ve made, so they can make it themselves. They stop thinking big corporations are the only ones that can fill their needs. It’s a small step to self-sufficiency.
BPGL: Are you using your own, unique recipes, or do you use recipes you found elsewhere?
MAY: I did my own Internet research; I didn’t have any training in it. But I’m working with someone who has a minor in chemistry and is very interested in how big corporations are poisoning us and making us sick. We’ve done preliminary testing in Petri dishes, where we swabbed the toilet after using our cleaners.
I’d like to show the university our preliminary tests to see if this sounds like a good project for a student. There hasn’t been hard scientific research on the effectiveness of homemade cleaners. If you can show people it’s inexpensive to make your own cleaners — and it works — there’s nothing holding you back.
I did some reading about the history of cleaners that are intended to kill germs. What the marketers don’t tell us is that these cleaners kill the good germs along with the bad. Of course, the companies didn’t want to tell us that their chemicals kill good germs, too. Instead, they created a campaign to train us to kill all germs. It’s a fear campaign. I think that’s why this whole green movement has to be the opposite, though sometimes it, too, takes on the same fear angle. We’re told you, “You have to do this for your health,” or “You need to do this for the world.” But the reason you do this has to be important to you. We talk about creating healthy spaces.
When we’re able to get a loan, a large portion of that will go to testing and proving or disproving these products. A lot of small business loans that I’ve looked at require a business to be around at least two years, so we don’t yet qualify for those.
BPGL: When people take your workshops, do you find that they sign up for cleaning?
MAY: They mostly take the cleaners they make and clean their own homes. It’s in our business model. The most you can pay us is to clean your home for you. The next step down is for us to sell our cleaning products at farmers’ markets or in local stores. Then, the next step is seminars. Finally, we have a small pamphlet that will someday turn into a book. So, we have varying levels of how we can generate revenue.
BPGL: What’s the status of your book?
MAY: The book has gotten pushed back; right now, we’re getting really nice labels with UPC codes. On the Purple Fig website, we’ll have a page with our recipes. Our pamphlet will have other tips, like “Put 10 drops of tea tree oil in your wash to kill mites,” and “Don’t mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.” It will be a written version of the seminar. We’ll give them the pamphlet at the seminar. We’ll also tell them places to dispose of computer equipment and old paint, and give them a frequently asked questions list for recycling. As we go into Spring, we’ll help people safely dispose of what’s in their garages.
BPGL: Are you creating laundry products as well as green cleaning products for the home?
MAY: We haven’t found a great recipe for laundry. It tends to separate out. The top gets watery and the bottom gets sludgy. In cleaning products, what makes them so bad for humans is the emulsifier and preservatives. We haven’t found a decent enough emulsifier to make the laundry detergent friendly enough for people to use.
The only current product we use with an emulsifier is the furniture product; it uses soy lecithin to mix the water and oil together without separating. Of all our products, the furniture products will be our most successful. In conventional cleaning, the furniture polish is the most toxic. The shine that it leaves is made from petroleum-based products, and those give off a lot of VOCs. This has been linked to childhood asthma and autism.
BPGL: Were your parents into natural cleaning?
MAY: Not really. But I am the daughter of a petroleum engineer. When I was little, my father would get the essential oil of eucalyptus and spray all around the house to keep the roaches away. He bought natural peanuts and ground peanut butter himself.
BPGL: What’s your sales pitch?
MAY: When people call us, we market pretty effectively. When people have seen the flier or heard about us, they find us really desirable. They say, “We want our house to be clean without chemicals.” So, we’re seducing people to do the right thing.
We charge $32 per hour. We provide our own supplies, except for the toilet brush. We do not use synthetic chemicals; we use only all-natural essential oils, vinegar, and baking soda. We don’t work weekends or nights, though we may hire differently for restaurants and businesses as we grow. We service a specific area of Austin. If the house is outside that area, we add a mileage charge at the IRS rate, which is what I pay my employees.
BPGL: When someone wants to be your client, do you have them sign a contract?
MAY: I don’t believe in contracts. People will continue to use us if they like us. You shouldn’t be forced to pay for someone, if you don’t like their services.
We have a client intake form. It gets all the details pertinent to what we need to know: Will someone be there? Will you hide a key? Things like that. We have key procedures. When we arrive, we start in the bath, then the kitchen, then dusting, and floors. That’s what we do, in the order we do things. This business is all about process.
BPGL: What training do your house cleaners go through?
MAY: We have our procedure manual and training manual. Our manager, Missy, goes over both of those when people start. We give about 60 to 80 hours of training initially. The person being trained is always with someone else who is training them and going over their work and making sure they’re getting a feel for the job. In cleaning, it’s all about getting an eye for scanning a bath that’s been cleaned to know quickly what is out of place. An important thing I tell our cleaners is that a room has to both appear clean and be clean. This comes from my accounting background. If the tub is clean, but there’s a big hair on the floor, it doesn’t appear clean, even though it is.
BPGL: Did you start by doing the cleaning yourself?
MAY: Yes. I quit my job and put my fliers up in coffee shops for chemical-free cleaning. It was about three months before I hired my first employee. That was because of demand. I would be cleaning and receiving calls and scheduling future appointments while I was cleaning. I was working 12 to 14 hour days. It was crazy. The demand has been tremendous.
BPGL: Have you thought about franchising?
MAY: Possibly in a year. By then, I’ll be comfortable with our process and procedure and be more organized.
BPGL: Will you change the name when you franchise?
MAY: I will keep it the same. Everyone responds so positively to the name Purple Fig. I wanted it to be a fruit and have nothing to do with cleaning. I felt that this service does so much more than that. In terms of what we have to offer, how informed our employees are, how prepared we are at each house. We keep notes. If we cleaned ceiling fans, that’s on the notes. We try to keep the same person at the same house. If not, there are notes. Sometimes, in the notes, you might see, “Please wipe the molding really well this time. While I was in school, I was a waitress at a Four Seasons. I learned that customer service is very important.
BPGL: Is it hard to find workers for your business?
MAY: I haven’t had any trouble so far. Since we’re so small, we have to be very picky. Training is very expensive. The feeling I get is that it’s hard to find hard-working people. We try to make sure we have the right person. We do green cleaning, but we also focus on giving good service. There’s no job that’s below me. I think working is an honorable thing — to have a job and pay your bills.
In this economy, it’s the perfect time for people to start their own business. People losing their jobs are being forced out of their comfort zone. We’re all going to have to live differently, like it or not.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
- Being self sufficient
- Being a mindful consumer and conscientious about what you buy and consume, and how you deal with the waste products you produce.
That’s about all we need to worry about at this point, because it covers everything. It covers your cars, your house. It’s just very important to be mindful in your existence on the planet.
Co-Founder, Newman’s Own Organics
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 1: Fishing with Nell
Matthew J. Goudge is an Australian citizen who possesses a wealth of knowledge in the culinary field. He has worked in St Lucia, Malaysia, China, Australia, Austria, and England in various capacities. His career began in February of 1987 at the Tura Beach Country Club in New South Wales, Australia.
Autumn of 1992 saw Matthew leave his homeland to pursue his career in London. He worked in a number of establishments over the following two and a half years, cooking a wide range of cuisines, including French, British, Italian and Mediterranean.
Some short trips across the Channel to Europe enabled Matthew to study numerous menus and discover the various cooking techniques and flavors used in the European restaurants. He took his newly learnt knowledge and skills back to Australian soils and applied them during his duties in some of Melbourne and Sydney’s finest hotels and restaurants.
Matthew first arrived in China in July 2001, where he worked at State Guest Hotels- Presidential Plaza in Beijing. Over the years, Matthew has worked in numerous style properties ranging from stadiums, hotels, clubs and resorts. Most recently, Matthew was aligned with the Old Chengdu Club in China’s Sichuan Province. Currently, he is employed in the capacity of Executive Chef at the Mission Hills Golf Club in China’s Guangdong Province.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Chef Matthew’s Posts:
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
Molly Long, Environmental Auditor and Consultant, A.W.E. Consulting:
- I think the right people doing the right jobs is number one, because it really does take that— the people with the knowledge doing the right thing.
- Believing that each person can make a difference as an individual. Whenever you take a small step, you do make a difference. It may not have worldwide impact, but you are doing something to at least make your own environment better. If everybody did that, we’d all make a big difference.
- Recognizing that moving the problem somewhere else is not a fix. We’ve got to deal with the problem where it is occurring.
- Communicating. We’ve got to have the ability to talk to each other and be open, not just to different understandings, but to different cultures and the different ways people have of approaching things.
- We really have to get out of this disposable mindset.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
DONATIELLO: There are a few things I really think need to happen, in this country especially, but also throughout the world.
- Reduce dependency on fossil fuels. We’re harming the environment. We’re taking something out of the earth — not putting it back in, then burning it and hurting the atmosphere. It’s a one-two punch.
- Put a greater emphasis on recycling. Even here in Sonoma County, where we’re very “green,” there are still a lot of things that don’t get recycled — that we don’t have the ability to recycle.
- Make it convenient for everyone to be green, whether it be making things easier to recycle, putting better markings on things that can be recycled, or providing more options for recycling. If it’s difficult, too many people won’t participate.
- We need more options in the foods or cars we buy and where we get our energy. There aren’t enough grocery stores with local, organic choices. Let people decide it they want to pay an extra couple of bucks; but the option needs to be there. The large grocery chains need to take on the responsibility of saying, “This is important. Not just to make money, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
- Alternative fuels need to be more affordable and more efficient. We looked at solar; it’s incredibly expensive and the payback is 8 years. That’s a long time to break even. Alternative fuels — whether they’re solar, hybrid vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, power from wind turbines, or solar energy — are all still in their infancy. They’ll be more efficient and affordable when they’re in greater production. This may require help from the government in the form of tax incentives. They shouldn’t bail out car makers who are not making energy-efficient cars.
Healdsburg, California, USA
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked ecopreneur Harry Johansing a question we like to ask all of our interviewees. Johansing is the founder and owner of Costa Rica Naturals and EcoPaper. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
2. Be honest.
3. Be pure.
4. Be unselfish.
5. Better manage our resources.
Ventura, California, USA and Costa Rica
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
If you’ve been a registered participant at a conference or trade show, chances are you’ve taken home a free conference bag. Have you ever wondered what happens to the extra bags that no one picks up? Tens of thousands of conference bags are dumped in landfills every year, and most of us never give it a thought.
Not so for Jeff Johnson, whose wife, Karen Ande, was the subject of a post this past week (Children Raising Children: Documenting Africa’s AIDS Crisis). In an email, Jeff told us a bit about his work to put conference bags to good use. We were so intrigued, we wanted to share his letter with our readers. We’ve reprinted it below:
“As a computer consultant and book author, I give talks and classes at three or four computer-related conferences a year, sometimes more. Conferences often give each attendee a bag to carry conference stuff in: proceedings books, presentation handouts, vendor-booth literature and tchotchkes (free trinkets), etc. I have always considered this a bit odd, because attendees already have briefcases and backpacks and don’t need a bag to carry stuff in. But I usually take a bag anyway, and either use it as a reusable shopping bag or give it to a friend for the same purpose.
“In April 2007, I attended a conference in San Jose, California. The bags given out there were not the usual simple cloth bags; they were semi-briefcases. As the conference was ending and the conference furnishings and equipment were being packed up, I saw a huge pile of the bags near the entrance — the extras. Hundreds of them. I asked the organizers what would happen to the bags. They told me leftover bags would be thrown away and would probably be shredded. They encouraged attendees to take as many bags as they wanted as they left the conference.
“What a waste! I knew those semi-briefcases would be very useful as school book bags for Kenyan orphans. The kids would love to have bags like those. I had come to the conference by train, so I couldn’t take many bags. I took as many as I could carry — about 20 — and lugged them on the train back to San Francisco. I gave them to an organization that runs AIDS orphan projects in Kenya. They reported that the bags were a big hit with the kids.
“That particular conference happens every year in April. The organizers heard what I did with the 20 bags, and before the 2008 conference, they asked me if I could take ALL of that year’s leftover bags. The 2008 bags were cloth bags — not as nice as the semi-briefcases of 2007 — but they would still be useful and desirable in Kenya. So, I agreed to do it, provided we could work out the logistics — the conference that year was in Florence, Italy.
“Probably because of the location, attendance at the 2008 conference was high, so when the conference ended, they had only about 80 extra bags. Shipping them from Italy directly to an orphanage in Kenya would not work, because either they would never arrive, or if they did arrive, the import duties would be prohibitive. My wife and I packed the bags into a large duffel and carried them as baggage back to San Francisco.
“There, we gave them to a friend who was taking supplies to an orphanage that we support in Gilgil, Kenya. After arriving at the orphanage, our friend sent us a photo of one of her volunteers giving bags to the kids. We forwarded the photo to the conference organizers, and they were thrilled. So now I am that conference’s unofficial “Surplus Bags Chair.”
“A few months later, I spoke with the organizers of another conference, and ended up bringing a big box of nice briefcase bags back from Baltimore on the plane. The same organization that took the first batch of briefcase bags took these also, with similar results: happy Kenyan orphans.
“For better or worse, word seems to be getting around. In September, I received an email from a computer conference organizer whose conferences I have never attended. They had a storeroom full of bags leftover from several conferences. Could I take them to Africa? “Sure,” I said naively. In October, while I was away speaking at conferences in Oslo and Moscow (where there were no extra bags), I got an email from my wife telling me that seven big boxes of conference bags were in our living room.
“Since returning home, as time permits, I have been trying to find good homes for the latest batch of bags. I sent email to people who run orphanages and relief programs in Kenya. On Christmas Eve, I took two boxes of bags to a homeless relief program in San Francisco. Coincidentally, just now as I am writing this, an email arrived from a relief organization saying that they are sending someone to Kenya in January and could take some of the bags.
“It is gratifying to know that these bags have gone to good use rather than being shredded or being piled into a landfill, but of course this is just a tiny drop in the bucket — conferences toss out tens of thousands of surplus bags every year. However, I don’t really have the facilities or time to scale this “bag rescue” operation up much further. Furthermore, flying extra bags back from conferences to San Francisco and then sending them as baggage to Kenya doesn’t make much environmental sense.
“My hope is that conference organizers who read this will NOT send me more bags to distribute, but rather will include responsible surplus-bag disposal in their conference plans. Or perhaps an enterprising reader will create an NGO or company to collect surplus conference bags and send them to people and organizations who can put them to good use.”
San Francisco, California
EDITOR’S NOTE: We think Jeff’s suggestion is a good one. If your company has excess conference bags, don’t dump them. There are hundreds — perhaps even thousands — of places where they can be put to good use, and they may well be closer to you than an ocean away. If you’re an “enterprising reader,” an ecopreneur who has creative ideas about how to connect surplus conference bags (or any other surplus items) with deserving recipients, take up Jeff’s challenge. Then let us know what you’re doing. We’d love to share your story and show other readers how they, too, can help.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Of the three terms most associated with environmentalism at the consumer level — Rethink, Reuse, Recycle — the first one is probably the most overlooked. Yet, according to Susan Roothaan, founder and executive director of A Nurtured World, rethinking how we spend our money can have a huge impact on the environment. It can also increase our quality of life.
It might be surprising to learn how easily the average person in an industrialized nation can make changes to reduce our carbon footprints. Want to learn how to reduce yours? Roothaan’s workshop teaches how to improve your quality of life and save money all while reducing your impact on the planet.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) talked with Roothaan from her home office in Austin, Texas, and later met her at the Bears/Packers tailgate I wrote about yesterday (see Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose). What follows is part one of a two-part series. — Publisher
BPGL: Your environmental work combines ecology and economy. How did you get interested in the combination of the two?
ROOTHAAN: For 20 years, I worked to help businesses, industries, and the military reduce their waste output. They call it “pollution prevention.” You’re reducing something at its source versus cleaning up at the end. This is also being a good businessperson.
So I did a lot of thinking about how this would apply to the consumer sector. When I first started this nonprofit, consumer environmentalism was in its infancy. I realized that the model of environmentalism for the consumer is that it’s saving money. Most people think it’s just going and buying a more expensive product [to reduce energy use]. But if you’re really going to be green, it’s about being frugal — how to get more fulfillment out of fewer resources and less waste.
Then I started to think about what was the mission, or product, of an individual. One of the things we do — and this is what started A Nurtured World — we developed a workshop that caused people to fundamentally change their behavior. It caused them to look at what’s important to them, as well as how they’re spending their money.
BPGL: What do participants learn in your workshops?
ROOTHAAN: In the workshops, we teach that the top three consumer impacts on the environment are transportation, food consumption, and home energy use. If you’re going to change your behavior, it’s good to know what the big impacts are. And, according to the US Consumer Bureau Statistics, the top areas of spending are transportation, home, and eating. So, if you want to protect the environment, then be cheap.
We partnered with the military and gave a series of three workshops at Fort Hood with the soldiers and their spouses. Most of the people were not environmentalists, but it was really great. We measured the results of our workshop, and the average participant is saving $1,500 per year.
On average, Americans produce about 20 tons of carbon per person per year. If you remember, a couple years ago, Sting did a concert to raise awareness and tried to get everyone to reduce their carbon footprints by a ton and a half a year. Our workshop participants each reduced their footprint by two tons per year.
BPGL: How do you get people to make such a big shift in behavior?
ROOTHAAN: A lot of the footprint reduction we see is the result of being more conscious about what you’re choosing to do and asking if it’s leading to what you really want in life. It’s all about cost vs. payoff. We look at what’s important to them. Mostly we hear them say family and religion, God, and faith. These are two areas that are really important to people.
We get them to look at how they spend their money. A lot of spending is not done consciously. We work with people to let go of things that don’t lead to fulfillment.
It’s moving to me to see the results some of these people make. I’ve heard comments like, “I’m saving $50 a month now, and I wasn’t saving anything before.” That kind of money makes a difference to soldiers. Another attendee remarked, “Things are much more harmonious [in my home].” She indicated that her family was finally paying off debt and had money now for family vacations.
We didn’t start with the intention to help people save money, but that really is very meaningful for people on a day-to-day basis.
BPGL: That’s interesting, to approach environmentalism through personal finances. It sounds like a very positive way to make behavioral change.
ROOTHAAN: In 2002, when I started this, we hadn’t had [Hurricane] Katrina or Al Gore’s movie. Now the consciousness is changing; people really care about the environment. But they were always pushed back by [environmental leaders] saying, “You’re bad and wrong.” There was not a lot of space for someone who had never done anything to start doing something about the environment. People may not know what to do, but the desire to do something is really strong.
BPGL: So, your approach requires people to look at the way they spend money. Anything else?
ROOTHAAN: We’re hitting on three things: commitment to the environment, saving money, and having a life that’s more fulfilling. Different people are motivated by different things. If we’re teaching a higher-income person, money may not be their motivation. Their motivation might be that they want to leave a better place for their kids. Or they may decide that harming the environment is inconsistent with their faith.
BPGL: Recently, we ran an article about Rays of Hope (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is one of the projects under the umbrella of A Nurtured World. How does the Rays of Hope project tie in with your workshops?
ROOTHAAN: In Rays of Hope, we upgrade low-income homes. What we’ve done is to take ideas from the workshop and build them into the retrofit. We’re not doing just a physical retrofit, but also teaching the homeowners to make behavioral changes with information from our workshop.
My interest is in shifting behavior for all people in a way that gives them great lives. Months to years after the workshop, some of the participants have told me, “I’m spending more time with my family than I did before.” Because they’ve got their money under control, they now have more time for what matters to them.
In some cases, they realize that instead of spending their time working for the money to acquire things, then spending time maintaining those things, they’re now spending time “being” with their family. It could be that, through the workshop, they got clear on what’s most important to them: their family, not their stuff.
Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint (Top of Page)
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
“Waste is a resource. But when people think of waste, they usually think of it as trash, rather than asking, ‘What can we do with it?’
“Everything we use at Costa Rica Natural paper products is totally disregarded material,” says Harry Johansing, the company’s founder. “There’s no other use for it. When I approach a new fiber, I look at it as, Is this completely trash? and then I ask, How can I use it?
Costa Rica Natural produces Ecopaper, a high-quality paper made from the discarded agricultural byproducts of bananas, coffee, or tobacco, combined with post-consumer waste. Other specialty papers include byproducts from mango, lemon, and hemp.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Johansing by phone from his California home. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: How do you approach a new raw material to determine if you want to use it to make paper? Take celery, for example.
JOHANSING: Here’s how I would approach celery. I would look at it on the perishable side; I don’t want to compete for a food source. I’d have to go spend time in the fields, to see how it grows. I like to work with the workers to see what they go through. I’ll spend 2 or 3 days doing the hard labor. I’ll go to the packing plant to watch where all the waste is. I’m not familiar with celery as a crop, so I’d check to see how much waste there is, what’s thrown away.
BPGL: Why did you choose to make paper out of bananas?
JOHANSING: When we choose a fiber, we look at how much harm it does to the environment, and how much effect we can have by using some of that waste to make paper. Every agricultural process leaves a byproduct, and it’s different for each crop.
Banana is the number one eaten fruit in the world; it’s grown almost everywhere. There’s a tremendous amount of waste in the banana industry. It’s natural waste; it’s how the banana tree grows. The banana tree has a thick stalk, and the bunches of bananas hang on another long piece of stalk, called the pinzote. Each year, more than 10 million metric tons of pinzote is thrown in landfills or in local rivers. There’s so much pinzote that they can’t put it back in the field. It’s a huge environmental problem. I couldn’t even guess about the total world-wide waste from the banana industry.
BPGL: Is there as much waste with the other agricultural byproducts you use?
JOHANSING: With the other fibers we choose, we end up doing something to help the environment; but on the grander scale, it’s not nearly as much impact as bananas. We’re removing hundreds of thousands of tons of waste by making banana paper. With our coffee paper, we’re removing 20 or 30 tons annually.
BPGL: Your product labels say that you use “post-consumer waste.” Does that mean your products are like other products that are made from “recycled paper”?
JOHANSING: If you speak to a paper mill representative, they’ll tell you that the label “recycled paper” means nothing. Let me give you an example: In the paper mill, at times they’ll create a larger sheet of virgin pulp than they need. Say they cut a stack of 11 x 17-inch sheets of new paper in half. One half of the stack is 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets that they put in reams and sell as new product. The other half, also 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets of virgin paper, is now excess. It might go back in the mill in rerun, or it might be used in another paper product and be labeled “recycled” without ever hitting a consumer process. The label “recycled paper” can be very misleading to consumers.
At Costa Rica Natural, we use 100% post-consumer waste. This means it actually has already been used for another purpose — such as old financial records that have been shredded. The unique thing about the post-consumer waste we use is that most of it is the waste the other paper mills are unwilling to deal with. If we didn’t use it, it would end up in a landfill.”
BPGL: So, how do you take post-consumer waste and an agricultural product like banana stalks — pinzote — and turn it into paper?
JOHANSING: We have a small mobile pulping facility. We go to the plantations, where the waste is. Pinzote is wet; it’s comprised of 92 percent water. We use that water in our pulping process; we don’t use any new water. Then we return the water from the pinzote to the irrigation system.
We dry out the fibers, put them in something we call a “floor mat,” which is about 1 ½ feet thick by about 6 feet long. We stack those and send them to the paper mill. At the mill, we chop the floor mats into something that looks like pencil shavings. Then we mix the pinzote pieces with 100 % post-consumer paper and stir it all around in a big vat.
When you look at our paper, you’ll see the long fibers of the banana. We don’t use any chemicals in our process whatever. We maintain the consistency of our color by how we select the post consumer waste and by the banana fiber used. We only claim a minimum 5 percent banana fiber, but it can be up to 20 percent or more sometimes.
That can be translated into tons. We estimate that for every one ton of banana fiber we use, 17 trees are saved.
BPGL: That’s impressive. Could you make paper in other places, using different agricultural products?
JOHANSING: Yes, in fact, my vision is to have regional paper mills, everywhere around the globe, using raw materials that are available in each local area. In Iowa, you might make paper from corn byproducts; in Ireland maybe they’d use potato vines. People could even use yard waste.
Our resources are so abundant and we don’t even utilize them. You can take the cover from a cereal box and make a nice notebook out of it. Or make paper out of it. There are so many things we could actually reuse.
But, being a small company, I work on what I can do effectively now. We’re working out of three different facilities. My main converting plant is in Costa Rica. That’s where we do all the finished products.
BPGL: How did you end up making paper in Costa Rica?
JOHANSING: I started working at Kinko’s when I was just 19. I grew with Kinko’s, and we made gazillions of copies — and waste. In 1989, I went to Costa Rica to surf, and fell in love with the diverse ecological region. I never wanted to leave. Around 1990, I started thinking about the waste we were producing, and that was the beginning process of this company, seeking out new alternatives.
Pretty soon, I was living in Costa Rica, making colorful notepads to sell to tourists. I traveled around the country, trying to find fibers for the notepads, when I completely fell in love with the environment there.
BPGL: How much of the year do you spend in Costa Rica?
JOHANSING: A lot. I spend probably 60% of my time there. I have a home in Costa Rica and an apartment near our facility. The rest of the time, I’m in Ventura [California].
When I started the company, my desire was to move to Costa Rica. Eventually, I realized how blessed I am to have Ventura too.
BPGL: I understand you used to compete as a surfer. It must be like paradise for you to live on the coasts of both California and Costa Rica.
JOHANSING: Surfing was always my passion. I loved the idea, when I was 14, of living in a grass shack and surfing every day. Then I realized that grass shacks are really hard to come by. So I developed a career concept: If you can make your career revolve around what you love, and keep that first, everything else should fall into place.
All the most successful people I know are surfers. If you’re going to be a surfer, you have to manage your time. If you want to continue your sport, you have to have a career concept that supports your lifestyle. I’m happy with the choice I made to be an entrepreneur. I’m modest in my lifestyle, but I get to surf. Surfing is about how I see the environment.
I’ve seen people mess up paradise. There are people who live in places we’d be in awe of, and the problems they create for themselves are unbelievable.
I’ve been feeding the homeless in downtown Los Angeles for 18 years now. I always thought Skid Row was an address, then I realized that paradise is a state of mind. Wherever you are, you can decide to get up in the morning and say, “This is awesome.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Steve Fugate, biofuels ecopreneur and co-owner of Green World Biofuels, talks with Joe Hennager of Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL).
BPGL: Steve, I’ve known you for about 10 years as a chef at Iowa City’s best-known local diner. I know everyone around here asks you this, but what made you give that up and get into biofuel production?
FUGATE: I had been making biodiesel for a couple of years and had begun conducting workshops to educate people. I quickly grew tired of troubleshooting the inadequate equipment that was on the market. My wife, Wende, and I had extraordinary success producing our own biofuel and I had expertise in acquiring waste cooking oil from restaurants. So, I decided to pursue marketing an effective turnkey biodiesel production system and educating the fuel- and education-hungry masses full time.
BPGL: Tell me about your production system for people to make their own biodiesel.
FUGATE: We have one model, the Ester Machine, that has proven to be the perfect balance between efficiency, time and cost. The Ester Machine is capable of producing 80 gallons in 10 hours or about 24,000 gallons per year at full capacity. We’ve found that smaller batch sizes increase cost and time per gallon. We also sell a production enhancer, The Double Dry System, which triples the production capacity of the Ester Machine for a combined output of 80,000 gallons per year.
BPGL: How much would someone have to invest to begin making their own fuel?
FUGATE: The Ester Machine retails for less than $8,000 and is the most complete system on the market today.
BPGL: Obviously, a potential customer will be someone who is driving a diesel vehicle. Who is your typical customer?
FUGATE: We have an extremely diverse customer base that includes contractors, cooperatives, a trucking company, a university, government agencies, farmers and individuals. Some use their systems a couple of times a month, and one produces 2,000 gallons of biofuel per week. They are all inquisitive and eager to do something right now to reduce their fuel bill.
BPGL: The price of fuel is going down right now. How is this affecting your sales?
FUGATE: Right now, gasoline is $2.19, Diesel $3.25, and biodiesel is around $4.00. The gold rush mentality that we saw has cooled considerably but that is okay with us. The folks that are still interested tend to be the more forward thinking, intelligent folks we have always sought. Desperate people make poor decisions and, with the pressure off, now is an excellent time to get busy and lock in the feedstock that we are dependent on.
BPGL: How cheaply can you produce a gallon of biodiesel? How many gallons of fuel consumption, at today’s prices, will a customer of yours have to burn to pay off one of your systems? What’s the average person’s return on investment (ROI)?
FUGATE: I hate to give simplistic answers to complicated questions, but the cost of the chemicals and electricity were about $.86 per gallon last month. The cost of the oil, collecting it, and the value of your time are highly variable. I was saving over $3.00 per gallon this spring. At that rate, a machine can pay for itself in a couple of months. We offer a great deal of support to our customers in achieving high levels of efficiency and reducing total cost of ownership.
BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue harming our planet right now?
FUGATE: The most pressing issue that we can actually change right now is the absolutely staggering amount of energy that we use. Our very existence and the American way of life is put at risk by our unwillingness to reduce consumption, recycle, conserve or even fully utilize the resources we have paid for. European power plants are twice as efficient as ours, and the average citizen uses half the power we do. Thirty percent of all cars on the planet are in the US! Our economy is based on cheap petroleum and with the cost of oil up several hundred percent, we are at serious risk of driving off the proverbial cliff.
BPGL: Why should people produce their own biodiesel? What difference will it make? Why should we care? Pretend I am McCain. Convince me.
FUGATE: Producing your own biodiesel from post-consumer oil not only reduces foreign oil imports but also allows you to keep the money not spent at gas stations at work in the community. We are shipping trillions of dollars to OPEC nations. Exxon profited $15 billion last quarter! Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep some of those dollars in our own pockets? Don’t expect our government to do anything meaningful; it’s up to each of us to begin to do what we can. WE must start now if we hope to get anywhere.
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