“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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