A few weeks ago I came across BTTR Ventures, a company that uses coffee waste to grow mushrooms…whaaa? Turns out it actually works, and it works really well. BTTR is pronounced ‘better’ and stands for ‘Back to the Roots’ – but it could just as easily stand for ‘Poster-Child for Innovation and Sustainability’. Are their products sold near you? You betchya. I was lucky to interview not only the two co-founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, but their marketing guru Lisa Wang as well.

LC: So coffee waste can be used to grow mushrooms. In my mind, those two go together like ham and tuna fish. Based on your plethora of awards since 2009, I believe you guys are on to something, but could you explain what inspired you to use coffee waste? Why does it work?

Alejo: The greatest ideas come when you least expect it. Nikhil and I were in a business ethics class when our professor, Alan Ross, had mentioned that gourmet mushrooms could be grown on recycled coffee grounds. Neither of us knew the other, but we both separately contacted our professor to get more information. He hooked us up and from there, we started talking about how we could make this work. After doing some research, we found out less then 1% of the coffee beans actually ends up in your morning cup of joe, the rest is tossed. We thought about how addicted America is to coffee, and how we could help divert this waste into something usable. It just so happens that the coffee grounds when condensed is a perfect medium for oyster mushrooms to grow on, acting similar to something like wood.
LC: Does the type of coffee bean alter the taste of the mushroom?

Lisa: We get this question a lot. So many people ask us, “do the mushrooms taste like coffee at all?” The coffee grounds don’t alter the taste of the oyster mushrooms in the least bit, so the specific coffee bean certainly does not as well!

LC: Talk about innovative. I feel like Alejo and Nikhil are mad mushroom-eating scientists that aren’t actually mad, but genius. Did you have any science-experiment flops/experiences that you look back on now and get a good chuckle?

Alejo: Haha, yeah it’s funny that you ask. The best story was the first time we ever tried growing these mushrooms. After we met and had talked and researched a bit on what we needed to make this happen, we went to our local Peet’s Coffee and asked for some coffee grounds. We set up 10 buckets with the mushroom spores. At the time, I was living in my fraternity house, so we just left these huge buckets of coffee grounds out in the kitchen over Spring break. When we came back, out of the 10 buckets we set up, only one had a little cluster of oyster mushrooms. It was really because of that one bucket that we decided, “Hey, this might actually work.”

LC: You guys went from supplying the Berkeley Whole Foods with mushrooms to being the one, the only oyster mushroom supplier to all NorCal Whole Foods stores. When I go home to NYC in May, can I expect to find some BTTR in the Union Square Whole Foods?

Nikhil: You can find them in every single Whole Foods nationwide by May!! And as of April, you can find us in 9 out of the 11 Whole Foods regions… including the Northeast!

LC: Congratulations! Awesome. Word on the street is that you guys are so heavily involved in the community that you donated soil to 10 urban school and community gardens, won UCLA’s Opportunity Green Conference Top 25 Sustainable Company in 2009, and have a FB album dedicated to sharing your outreach experiences. How has your community involvement influenced the way BTTR runs the B?

Nikhil: Well, when we started Back to the Roots, one of the most important aspects of the company was its “sustainability.” This word definitely is used a lot these days and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When we think of this word and Back to the Roots’ relationship with it, the community aspect is inseparable. On a micro scale, we create a closed loop system by using recycled coffee grounds to grow mushrooms. The used coffee grounds rich with mycelium turns into great soil amendment and compost, returning nutrients back into the soil. On a macro scale, our community drinks the coffee, creating large amounts of coffee ground waste. We create these mushroom kits for our community, to divert the waste that would otherwise be in the local landfills. Currently we are diverting over 32,000 lbs of coffee grounds a week. We then close this larger circle by donating part of our used coffee ground-turned soil amendment to urban farms serving the community, the same community which drinks the coffee. So incorporating the community into our business isn’t just a good way to give back, but it is essential to our survival. Community involvement is really at the heart of our company, and so at every step of the way, we are always trying new ways to engage and incorporate the community into the way we do business.

LC: Based on your innovative business model, this creative prompt shouldn’t be too difficult for you. I kindly request that you create a haiku relating to your booming mushrooming business.


Four seasons a year
Mushrooms inside your kitchen
Mushrooms everywhere


Thanks Alejandro, Nikhil,and Lisa! Okay readers. Time to hit up your Whole Foods to make some Mushroom Maki!

Chance Claxton is on the screen and ready to roll with today’s interview. She is founder of Kids Konserve, the most stylish way for you and your family to be environmental, no joke. She is one cool cat that can definitely offer you some goodies to fill your Easter baskets with this year.

LC: Wow! I don’t know where to begin. We both know I’m a huge fan- your products are BPA, Lead, PVC, and Phthalate free. Was it hard to set this standard for all of your products? What do you think is holding back companies like Ziploc, Glad, & Hefty from measuring their products on the same yardstick? (Remember this Hefty commercial?)

CC: It was not hard to set this standard, as we never had another standard, we set out to build a company whose products contain no;  BPA, lead, PVC or phthalates. Ziploc etc do not do it because they have enough sales and customers that are still unaware of the pitfalls of these toxic chemicals, to keep them in business.

LC: One thing that I like about your website is that it has the same informational resources & community engagement opportunities as many non-profits have. Most for-profit company websites are product first & social responsibility second. Your product IS socially responsible and your Community tab really exemplifies that. How does this alter the way business decisions are made? Has the company ever come to a cross-roads when it had to fight or flight on its environmental standard?

CC: Thank you! No we have been very successful with keeping an educational presence on the site, as our customer base really cares. This is what makes our work so rewarding! Also, it is part of our mission at Kids Konserve to help ‘be the voice of change’ by putting people in touch not only with safe, reusable products, but by helping them to be armed with the correct information as to why REUSE and purchasing these products is SO important!

LC:  As far as your ‘Waste Free Challenge‘ for schools goes, who are the rockstars? Have any schools really revamped & reduced their waste as a result?

CC: Yes many, in fact I would say most schools are trying to do something to ‘go green’. You may look here under Kids Konserve Partner Schools on our site for highlights of schools that are making big changes.

LC: Are there any plans to create similar programs for colleges and universities, or team up with any organizations like Net Impact?

CC: I am not familiar with Net Impact, but will look in to them! Our next big venture is to launch a line of reusable, waste-free lunch packing and storage products for adults. It will be called U-Konserve, and will launch this summer.

LC: 2011 is the Year of the Forest. Can we expect to see any forest-themed products? What’s in-store for this year?

CC: Did not know this either! Thought it was the year of the rabbit, ha…. See above, we have a lot of great things in store for this summer, including new colors for many of our items!

In light of Valentines Day, I decided to interview a designer that makes lingerie out of metals. Whaaaat? Yes, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch makes art out of a variety of materials, either found in hardware stores or on the street. Given that most of her work is either upcycled or recyclable, I had to find out more! So although one might argue her line of lingerie is made out of trash, it isn’t so trashy after all.

LC: So re-purposing metals is the name of your game ehh? Where do you initially get your ideas from? Do you usually have something in mind or does rummaging through bins at hardware stores serve to be your jump-off point for inspiration?

IBG: Both actually.  Many times I am just strolling along in a hardware store looking at all the bits and pieces and I think to myself what else it could be used for or what else it looks like.  Other times, I have a specific purpose in mind.  For example, when I was making my “Trashy Lingerie” Series, I wanted to find something that looked like elastic for the underpants and I found aluminum dryer vents with a rippled edge. For the Garter belt I wanted something that looked similar to the way a garter fastened and I used washing machine hose clamps. Sometimes, I am just walking down the street and a piece of trash inspires a piece.

LC: Most ‘intimate’ wearables are traditionally thought of pieces made from soft and fragile cloth. I’m loving the fact that you use hard and durable materials. Your corsets and lingerie don’t look like they’d make me say ‘ouch!’ at every twist and turn. Is this true? Are these wonderful pieces of art actually wearable and can I do cartwheels in them?

IGB: These are meant to be sculpture.  I am often asked if they are wearable and have been misquoted as saying they are comfortable to wear but they are a conversation piece only. They would hurt to wear.

LC: Are your pieces for purchase and do you do custom orders?

IGB: Yes.  I have sold all of the pieces to Museums and Collectors.  I recently sold 10 pieces to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museums.  I am happy to do custom orders.

LC: What percentage of your work is recyclable? How much non-recyclable trash only waste do your produce in your workshop? Any advice for artists interested in being as environmentally awesome as you?

IGB: I eat a lot so not all of the packaging is recyclable!  But on a serious note, when I look around my studio I am currently working with rocks, business cards, aluminum cans, plastic gift cards, and found objects from recent walks.  Much of what I use as the main material is from something that if not recycled is upcycled in some way.  I love using simple “found” materials as besides being plentiful and beautiful they are really cheap and so you don’t have to feel as precious about making mistakes or “wasting” material.  Any material you use is actually helping.

My best advice for artists is to go for a walk, bring a bag, pick up trash on the way and let your mind wander.  A color, shape, material might inspire something new and you will have cleaned up an area along the way so you will have had a productive day!

LC: I like the sound of that. What’s next?

IGB: I am experimenting with a quilt series made out of unexpected objects and I am also working on a series using recycled business cards. (There are so many of these laying around!)

Thanks Ingrid! I think both Lady Gaga and I look forward to seeing your new creations!

Artist Joshua Allen creates innovative ‘Inflatable Bag Monsters’ by using the air flow generated from subways streaming through the underground tunnels of good ol’ NYC. What do I mean by this? Well, Josh can create the Lockness monster out of recyclable trash bags and some wind. Oh yea, and he made a polar bear and a giraffe. Talk about cute environmentally-friendly art that makes every kind of pedestrian smile. Thanks to this video, you can also be a couch potato (computer potato?) and smile. Go ahead, smile.

The Greener Blue. They care about two things that I care about, so of course  I think that they are just dandy. Surfing + the environment = yes ma’m!

Kids Konserve. Waste free lunch comes in some seriously stylin’ colors shapes and sizes.

Indosole. Flippy Flops. Slippers. Thongs. Sandals. However you say its, their soles are made from recycled motorcycle tires.

Wearable Collections.
No more walking to clothing donation centers. Easy-breezy & landfill reducing.

Intelligent Travel. National Geographic has a blog dedicated to cultural, authentic, sustainable traveling. Heyooo.

Autodesk. You may use them, you may have heard of them. Bet you haven’t seen this side of them before. They are the bees knees.

Bamboo Sk8. Eco-friendly skateboards made from bamboo. Longboarders, get ready cause they are targeting you next.

TechCentralSF. Bringing together High tech, Biotech, and Cleantech. This is our future.

Zimride. Carpooling. Carsharing. Good for Mama Earth, and you probably get to meet cool people and have unlimited access to their kick-ass ipod playlist.

Pacific Shaving. You’ll smell good. You’ll look good. Be about it.

Long time no see! Partly my fault, partly the fault of the Chinese government. Since December 15th I’ve been on the road- NYC, Thailand, and China. It was a pretty amazing experience overall. In NYC I visited family and friends, ate pizza, and made snow angels. In Thailand I ate massive amounts of delicious street food, said hello to the Reclining Buddah @ Wat Pho, and paid $15 for a 2 hour massage. In China I ate a lot of things that aren’t served in the US, met with about 14 businesses and 3 MBA schools to learn about doing business in China, and kept a blog to record all my learnings. China doesn’t allow access to WordPress, so updating required a bit of help from my friends, mainly Alexis (thank you).

Now that I’m back I’ve embarked on a few new projects, but the blog lives strong of course! Last night I attended a SF Green Drinks event at 111 Minna and met a few great people to add to my ‘environmental interviews’ section, so keep an eye out for that. I went with Katherine Webster, my new boss and founder of TechCentralSF.com a website that brings together SF startups involved in high tech, biotech, and clean tech. I’m taking care of the clean tech section as well as community management! Exciting stuff.

In other news, I attended my first practice today for the Team In Training triathlon team. That’s right, I will be in a triathlon May 1st called the Wildflower Olympic (.93 mi. swim, 24.8 mi. bike, 6.2 mi. run). I am also raising money to go towards the funding of leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma research. I am completing this event in honor of all individuals who are battling blood cancers, including my honoree, classmate, and friend David Rauscin. For more information on the race, Team In Training in general, or where to donate and support my race, check out my Team In Training fundraising page. Also, David and I will be doing a work-out photo shoot at some point involving bright colors and sweat bands, so you might want to see those pictures at some point.

I am still making shirts out of pillowcases, so breathe easy. Found & Lolafied is still up and running, and being sold at The Common in SoMa. I’m also exploring the idea of selling in multiple stores, and am working on increasing my inventory in order to do so.

So after this lengthy overview of my life, I hope you get ready to see some posts on things that actually matter, like environmental issues! Get into it.

LC: Switching gears a little bit. You did some building and renovation work in SLO, what considerations did you have in regards to creating sustainable structures? What was your inspiration for turning the rundown college area in SLO into a place that fosters community growth?

EM:I love restoring old houses…. almost as much as creating community. There are lots of them here in San Luis Obispo and so I just kind of went off the deep end and started buying up all the dumpiest most horrible ones I could find downtown near me. My contractor friends and I did about 13 of them over the last 10 years. The same crew did all the houses. Most of them were wooden bungalows… but two were basic 40’s era ranch houses and one was 120 year old brick house… sorta pre Spanish colonial revival.

I love architectural salvage yards… and I have a lot of friends who are carpenters and contractors and most everyone I know seems to have a small stash of old windows… or faucets or old lamps… or a door… or some tile. So I just started memorizing and noting who had what… and then collecting up all the parts.

Sometimes I would hear about a house being torn down somewhere and make a deal to buy up all the old windows, knobs, cabinets, sinks etc…. But I’d usually just get them for free… People are usually stoked to see the stuff go to good use.

As an example…the 1880’s brick Spanish style house we did across from Mitchell Park here in town was scheduled to be demolished. It had been condemned by the city. It had been in a fire in the 1970’s and was derelict since… so it had nothing original left. It was boarded up. The windows and doors and lights, and the flooring were all gone. Nobody knew anything about it’s history.

I found an obscure historian who had researched the property… via our local historical society and learned that it was built by Frank Mitchell… who had donated the land across the street to be that city park… and who had been the Mayor here a hundred years ago. We unearthed his history further… and the history of the house started to unfold. He was deeply involved in many of the early events of the city.

It was built like an adobe… on foundation of piled stones. It needed a structural retrofit to be earthquake safe. We had to build a new foundation inboard of the brick walls… and then a steel cage of structural steel to tie the brick walls to. We restored it with huge old French doors from an old mansion in Montecito CA, casement windows from a 1910 house here in SLO that was torn down to make way for a new office building, original Spanish sconces and lighting of the house came from an architectural salvage yard. I had tile made in Tecate Mexico for the floors and kitchen… and the roof. We built a fantastic inner courtyard with a fountain… it is just an awesome house now.

From this house I salvaged all the undamaged wood… 120 year old redwood… as well as a lot of bricks. Some of these things ended up in our own home… others went to a couple of other houses around town that belong to friends of mine. Like some amazing pay it forward building materials game.

This house, “the Frank Mitchell house” as it is now known… is the oldest Brick house in Central California… and is on the local historical register… and has won several preservation awards from a few historical groups. It has a bronze historical plaque out front even! I am really stoked on the fact that it is a huge addition to the area now… rather than a blight.

I spent 900k on it’s purchase and restoration… and I sold it for 910k…. I made ten thousand dollars for my year’s work. What is cool is that the money doesn’t really just go into the houses. It goes to the tradespeople that restored the houses… and the surfshop where they buy a wetsuit and to the sandwich shop on the corner… and the coffee place… and the hardware store down the street… and the gardener who now cleans the yards etc etc. around and around.

AND the house is a treasure now! The new owners cherish its history and have been very gracious showing it to many folks interested in its newfound history. Plus they are also into bicycles… as I am… in a big way… and seeing that I live just two blocks away… I get a better neighborhood… and new friends.

It is a huge win all around.

It has been the same with all the rest of the houses. They are all nearby… and I am friends with all the new owners… and the neighborhood has way less derelict houses. The tide has shifted… the area isn’t dominated by college slumlord landlords anymore… it is now mostly owners living in their own houses…. most of them friends with each other due to trading building materials… or fruit… or home-made beer… or a coffee at the local coffee/art gallery. This trend is happening all over the US I think.

My own house is built from a large batch of recycled redwood… resawn beams that were milled into siding and interior beadboard. It is also sided in areas with recycled rusty galvanized tin from an old barn that was torn down…. and a lot of used hardware, knobs etc.

I do have new wood windows… and a new wood floor, new lighting, etc. I don’t recycle everything… I’m no recycling guru or anything… I just do as much as I can… without jumping off the deep end where you build a house that looks like you built it out of car tires and wine bottles. (I am intrigued by bottle houses though… or at least one wall somewhere made of bottles.) The house is solar PV powered… a grid tie system without batteries.. and we have radiant heat … which I freaking LOVE!

The economy kind of put a stop to my house restoration fetish… I’ve supplanted this urge by becoming a Planning Commissioner… and have started restoring old French and Italian bicycles instead… it’s the same jones sorta… just a lot lighter.

LC: From what I understand, you are part of the Pecha Kucha Initiative. What is the Pecha Kucha philosophy? Is it true Pecha Kucha means ‘blah blah’ in Japanese? How are you using this philosophy to enchance SLO’s community and culture?

EM: I don’t know about any Pecha Kucha “philosophy”. PK is just a forum for people to show what they do or what interests them. Pecha Kucha means “chit chat” in Japanese basically. It is “the sound of conversation”. An architecture professor buddy along with the curator of special collections at Cal Poly started up the local Pecha Kucha event. I joined in on the first night… because it was totally awesome. There are a ton of really interesting people all around you… and usually you have no idea they are there. PK is a way for us to meet all of these people in our towns. PK is the real social networking. We have crew of 6 that puts the event on at a local Coffee shop/art gallery. We average around 200 guests per event.

Happiness comes from many things… but one of the most important is ones is interaction with positive people. Specifically random interaction I think… and the time and willingness to have a great conversation with somebody at the drop of a hat.

Pecha Kucha gives each speaker just 6 minutes and 40 seconds and 20 slides… to express whatever they want to express. We have done 13 volumes so far… with 8 presentations during each volume and each is just as fabulous as the last. The best part is the talking afterwards. I have met dozens and dozens of truly interesting people that I now think of as friends via PK. Can you say that about Facebook??? No way.

Pecha Kucha gives you the community you are searching for. It allows you to meet the people you wish you knew. I love it. I have never seen such a cool event. It feels to me like how the old Salons of Paris must have felt to the painters there… or how Big Sur felt to Jack Kerouak, Henri Miller and Eric Barker.

BTW… There is a new book called “Thrive”, by Dan Buettner… he talks a lot about what makes people happy… and he also talks a lot about San Luis Obispo! Pecha Kucha is not mentioned… but PK is a small part of what makes it fun to live here.

LC: What’s next?

EM: I am involved at Cal Poly University as one of the founders a new “Center for innovation and Entrepreneurialism”. (my first job there is hopefully to change that mouthful of a name!) I spend time with students listening to their ideas and thoughts on business and the future. (I think I learn way more from them than they get from me though) If I can leave them better than I found them… that makes feel good.

I’ve always studied art history, architectural history, design history,… any sort of creative history actually. I am also a student of trends and trend forecasting. These two subjects are tightly intertwined. What led to what and why… if you understand this you will be successful at what you do.

What’s next?

You are watching it unfold all around you… you already know it… you are both creating it and watching it unfold. Each thing you do directly impacts everything else all around you and indeed all of everything all around the planet.

My future is helping to share this.

I do still have a few shoe ideas… but then I think… “lie down until the feeling passes”

Consider this somewhat of a ‘repost’ of a Huffington Post article all about reusing t-shirts. Here are a few ways to repurpose your much loved tees in ways that you might not have heard about yet.

You could technically make a laptop case to match ever outfit. Technically.

The cutest pillow you never saw! Now you know what to do with those old camp t-shirts…

What oh what will you ever with your old punk t-shirts from high school? Make some underoonies. Yea, I said underoonies.

*Thanks Andy for sending me the article link! You da man.

Today you are all in for a great interview! Eric Meyer, founder of Simple Shoes tells us all about why he started Simple and what he’s up to today. He is quite good at recollecting the past and articulating the future- let alone awesome at life. This is just part 1 folks, so enjoy and stay tuned for next week!
LC:  You’ve done so much! What was your initial ‘itch’ that inspired you to begin Simple back in the day?

EM: In order to understand what prompted Simple… you have to remember the context of the time period… the late 80’s.   Bright obnoxious prints… loud graphics… Max Headroom is on MTV… big hair… massive optimism… BMW cars… Ronald Reagan is President… big houses… “Dallas” is the top show on TV… EGO ego ego.  Everyone in the action sports/outdoor industry was trying to outdo each other.   Louder, crazier, more punk… whatever.  In footwear it was all about gadgets and technology.  Nike Air, LA Gear Catapults…overly designed clothing and footwear were the rage.

Simple was the opposite… a reaction.  Simple was a product that did not stereotype it’s wearer… or give them an overly hyped “technical advantage”.  The product merely was a hybrid of casual and athletic… (a novel idea in 1991)  made with the highest quality inexpensive matierials… minus all the hoopla.  Many people did not want to be walking billboards for the brands they were buying… they just wanted clean, plain, wholesome product that worked and didn’t say anything.  We used natural gum rubber… thick cheap suede, natural undyed cotton liners.  It was a relief from the status quo.  We were the first shoe brand going this direction.  We were first to use 100% recycled packaging and promotional materials… natural inks etc. too.  At the time this was a new movement

I had been designing clothing and shoes for the skateboard clothing pioneer Vision Street Wear.  This brand was very successful.  Basically I just wanted to have my own brand and make my own statement rather than build a brand for somebody else.  So I quit Vision Street Wear on Friday the 13th, 1991 and started Simple.  I was 29.

LC: ‘The Green Toe line’ came out in 2004 & helps Simple operate according to the triple bottom line as much as possible. Was this measurement scale in place from the onset of the company? It seems to be very much in line with the culture and ethos of Simple iniatiatives from the getgo.

EM: I was raised in several alternative communities.  My mom was a student of alternative religions and I grew up switching back and forth between buddhism and hinduism.  For a few years I lived with my mom in a cooperative community (some might say commune) called Ananda in the foothills of the Sierras near Nevada City CA.  We had solar hot water, no electricity, our own wells, we raised our own vegetables, we had goats, we had our own natural foods store, we did both hatha and kriya yoga every day.  This was in the 1970’s.

From this upbringing I have a different view on what is cool than many people.  I don’t really care what kind of car you drive or how big your house is or what your job title is.  At the same time I am tired of spiritual egotism as well… having been raised surrounded by people who thought they were cooler than everyone because they were vegans or raised their own food or meditated longer than anyone.

This puts me in kind of a tight spot… riding the fence between environmental awareness and egotism.  I feel like I have been battling with ego, either spiritually or materialistically my whole life. But I imagine we all do.

So the challenge I set upon myself was to create a brand that was neither.  I didn’t want to look like a “holy’er than thou” enviro nazi brand… nor did I want a brand built on ego or status.  I just wanted a brand that said NOTHING about anything like this.  I just wanted simple shoes… that did as little as possible… said as little as possible… and were built out of simple good materials.

but we have to go backwards a bit first…

My dad Gerald Rupp was a modern architect who in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s built a group of 12 small modernist houses out of redwood, masonite, and glass and sold them to musicians, artists, and philosophers.  in the 50’s and 60’s this area of Morro Bay, CA was known as Beatnik Hill.  I was raised there before moving to Ananda.

Many famous Beats came through on their way to SF or Big Sur… they would stop for the night.  My mom ran a metaphysical book store that also sold Jazz records and she served coffee.  So I was raised in this beat culture household… full of really creative types… and then moved to the intentional community Ananda.  I have always had this strong community feeling… about what is the right way to live a happy healthy life… even today I am a Planning Commissioneer here in San Luis Obispo.

I am not sure if you are familiar with what are known as the Awahnee Principles???… but this is a fairly new idea really… wrapped around a lot of old knowledge.  IT is about how people should live.  I think I was raised amongst this old knowledge sorta… I grew up with parents searching for this type of thing.  Anyway… this upbringing led me to feel that people need to live a certain type of life… they need fulfillment, happiness, love, shelter, quality food.  After that there is very little we need.

The “Triple Bottom Line”… is a great idea… as is “sustainabilty”, or “green”…. or even “organic”.  I am really happy to see this conciousness evolution…But these are all danger words to me now.  Green as a trend really is a two edged sword.  People begin to question the green movement when they see Hybrid Cadillac Escalades advertised as the green alternative.

Billion dollar brands touting how green they are via well paid PR companies… while in reality they are doing just the absolute bare minimum and then screaming about it at the top of their lungs… and meanwhile all the profit they are making is going towards their top executives jets, mansions, yachts, supercars and or simply bank accounts.  This scares me… as these types are the ones using and ruining jargon like “triple bottom line”

IT is not a trend… it is a deep philisophical mindset that must be ingrained in a person.  I came to the conclusion that I should NOT market Green.. but rather just build the best product I could.  I actually made fun of the fact that we used recycled products… one our catalogs said at the bottom…”printed on 100% virgin paper… made from first growth trees cut down in their prime by dull, smog producing chain saws”.

We ran ads that said things like:

“Sell everything you own… none of it will make you happy…  all you need are the clothes on your back… and … well… some shoes of course.”

I am happy to see so many people really moving towards a more holistic life choice… but I don’t really like the “Ecotistic” advertising.  I actually think it takes away from the truly aware companies status.

People can tell when a brand is honest I think.  You can see  it without the brand having to yell it.

The other issue with going super hardcore green in your marketing is that the”alpha” green customer… is a non-consumer!  So for a brand to target hardcore green… well it means your prime customer.. will eventually outgrow brands and consumer products altogether.  This is very difficult to understand ahead of time.  Simple of late I think has realized this… and is evolving to another level.

It is best to be green and then not talk about it… or talk very queitly over on one corner of the website rather than making green your prime agenda.  Those that are interested in environmentally sustainable practices will figure you out… and everybody else…. just let them evolve on their own.

Ethics, wellness, generosity, conciousness evolution… these are the new leading edge trends… they will encompass green… green will be a moot point.  This is where it is all going.  I am a tad blown away by the vastness of this overarching evolution.

Green Toe happened long after I sold Simple.  I was not involved.  I love the product… and the materials research. But I wouldn’t have pushed the green branding so hard.  It limits who (what stores)  will buy.  Better to sell a lot of green product to people who don’t know how green it is… than a little green product to only the green alpha consumer.  Simple has figured this out I think and is moving in a very positive direction branding wise.  Let people evolve on their own.  It is happening all around us.

So the short answer to your question… No.. I never had a measurment scale.  We just did the best that we could possibly do at the time… striving to always be better.

The tricky part came when it dawned on me that nobody needs anything really… and that I was flying back and forth across the planet just to make a consumer product nobody really needs… wrapping this product with a veil of spiritual aspiration we are all striving for…and selling it for profit … this became really stupid and cheezy to me.  What I really wanted to be doing was building cool small houses like my dad used to.. and gardening… and riding my bike!  I didn’t enjoy making a profit by fufilling people’s aspirational desires with a consumer product.

So I found a like minded buyer… and walked away.

LC: More and more companies are emerging with similar philosophies or ‘sustainable’ lines  (Arbor Collective, Kids Konserve, Incase). Do you think this is due because its a way for companies to differientiate themselves from competition in a crowded market and/or correlated with the increasing amount of conscious consumers?

EM: There are always new companies following trends.  In this case it is awesome to see so many HONEST great brands evolving.  IT pushes everyone to new levels and legitimizes the category within the eyes of the retailers.  I really think that this Trend will become the new norm… move beyond trend.  It has to!  The consumers seem to be dragging the retailers along… they are coming slowly.  The real work to be done is at the level of the supplier level… where the manufacturers buy their raw goods.

It is important for the consumer to understand the difference between actual green and marketed green.  Research your purchases.

Happy Holidays! There are many ways to ‘go green’ during the holidays and you can take it as far as your want to. There are a few things I’ve done this year to be environmentally conscious while maintaining holiday cheer and they’re all below. I’m always interested in learning about other ways, so feel free to share what you’ve done to be a holiday green bean!

1. Easy on the lights there tiger. Last Monday my friends and I drove down to 85th street & 9th ave in Brooklyn and saw a few blocks of families throw down their biggest and brightest of lights. (I mean look at that photo!) It was a great and fun experience that adds to the holiday spirit, although it was not very environmentally friendly. Here are some places that sell LED holiday lights; whether you are looking to blow a fuse or just want to add some holiday enchantment to your home you can now do so in a greener way: Environmental Lights, Target, and  Christmas Lights Etc.. So yes, for those of you that were wondering, it is possible to go gaudy and green (kind of).

2. Fishless, but not fancy-free. This Christmas Eve my very Italian family and I replaced our usual 7 fish soup with minestrone soup. There are a lot of fish that are endangered, victims of pollution, and/or over farmed. For a complete list, check out this Pocket Seafood Guide. On Christmas eve, there are anywhere from 12-18 guests at our table and while the soup is delicious, we figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to eliminate the fish soup this year. The minestrone soup was still tasty- I actually just had some for lunch. I love leftovers. Lasagna is for dinner.

3. Wrap it right. Two ways to tackle the task of gift wrapping. First, you can reuse magazines or newspapers. I actually used a magazine I got from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx (very very Italian neighborhood), which worked out well since the main colors on the page were red, green, and white. If you don’t want to get your fingers inked up, or if you want your wrapped gifts to look a little more festive under the tree- have no fear! The second way is to use green products for purchase such as Reusable Gift Bags, Reused Subway Map Wrapping Paper, or just wrap your gift in another gift like a cute bag or scarf.

4. Cheers with European Champagne. If you are on the East Coast this New Years and are debating between celebrating with sparkling wines from California or champagne from Europe go for the champagne. It is more environmentally friendly to have something air shipped than cargo shipped. Cargo shipments use bunker fuel and 1 ship pollutes just as much as 50 million cars. Ew nasty.

5. Korks 4 Kids: The Korks 4 Kids program takes all of your used corks and works with companies that recycle thematerial. Proceeds go to kids with autism. So drink up and be sure to put a cork bowl beside the drink table for collection. Pretty cool right?

I hope these ideas were useful for you, and that you ring in 2011 in any which way that works for you!

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