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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!

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”

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.

I’m very excited about today’s interview, as it offers insight into the wonderful and complex world of sustainable design in the corporate sector. I was fortunate enough to connect with Adam Menter, Sustainability Design Consultant for Autodesk and get his insight into this essential aspect of business. Get ready to learn some things worth talking and tweeting about.

LC: Sustainability projects work to incorporate economic, social, and ecological factors into design. From your experience working in the corporate sector, do one of these elements always dominate and influence the objective of the project, are they considered evenly, or does it depend on the scope of that particular project?

AM: Economic factors usually trump others. If it doesn’t make financial sense to make a sustainability-related investment, you either need a darn good reason to do it or a lot of spending money. Then, depending on the situation – and its potential risk and/or upside to the company – social and environmental factors may be equally likely to dominate.
LC: I was at the Autodesk gallery about a month ago. There is just so much innovation in one place, like a physical snapshot of Moore’s Law. What is it like working in an atmosphere with such cutting edge technology and what type of projects are you able to execute as a result of the accessibility to these technological resources?

AM: It’s great to work at a place that has the opportunity to really improve how we build and make things. If you look at almost everything around you – from the building you’re sitting in, to the chair you’re sitting in – it could have been designed with Autodesk software. Our software products enable new and important innovations. Most of the things you saw at the Autodesk gallery weren’t made by Autodesk. They were made by the engineers, architects, and designers who are our customers. But as our software gets better-and-better, it helps those customers work in new and better ways. 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is when a digital model of a building is enriched with information to help make better decisions about how it’s

designed and built. For example, information about the thermal properties of a building can be combined with weather data to help predict and improve its energy efficiency. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a contractual way of aligning incentives between building owners, architects, engineers, and contractors that reduces waste and improves the quality of the building. IPD would be possible without BIM – but BIM tools make the IPD process more effective by helping different design disciplines work together more closely to improve the efficiency of a building.

So, in short, I’m most excited when our customers use our tools to continue to raise the bar on what constitutes good design practice. Sustainable design is good design in that it leads to the most effective use of energy, materials, and other resources.


LC: When it comes to solar panel designs, would you suggest it is more beneficial to analyze and improve existing designs, or to start from scratch to create a cheaper, lighter, more mobile unit? Does this rule of thumb translate to other sustainable designs as well?

I am not an expert in solar panel design, but it’s always beneficial to think of new approaches and novel ways of solving problems. You don’t always need to start from scratch – but it’s important to think about the whole system and be deliberate about looking for inspiration from other fields. Both of these things can lead to unexpected breakthroughs. Biomimicry has been a hot topic in sustainability in recent years. Biomimicry is essentially a disciplined search for design inspiration from the fields of biology and ecology. 

I’m currently working on an education initiative to teach engineers the principles and practice of sustainable design. Because Whole Systems thinking is so fundamental to sustainable design, we included it as one of the first topic areas on our new educational platform: The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop.


LC: You are co-organizer of the GreenerMind Summit, which connects sustainability professionals. It allows them to share ideas, and more importantly act upon them. The motto as I am told is ‘Just Fucking Do It’ (I love it). What made this summit so successful and what is in the works for another event?  

Three key things that made the Greenermind Summit successful were: 
1) The location
. We got away from civilization and spent two uninterrupted days in the woods – connecting with each other, having meaningful conversations, cooking together, and having fun. No cell phones and no internet.

2) The attendees. The folks who came were working on interesting projects and had meaningful things to contribute. They had both a love for ideas and an appreciation that ideas can only get you so far without action. Also, the Greenermind Summit was an outgrowth of Net Impact San Francisco – so the majority of people there had a very concrete grounding in business.

3) The vibe. We got people out of their comfort zones early – and set a tone that allowed attendees bring their whole selves to the conference. From the opening “ice-breaker” activity to the final morning’s time for introspection, we pushed the attendees to be at their best and bring-out the best in others. In the end, serious discussions of work projects and creative ideas to solve our environmental & societal problems went hand-in-hand with volleyball games, smores around the campfire, and late-night dance parties.

In January we’re planning for a 6-month reunion. One of the things we’ll do is talk about the projects and actions that were catalyzed at the Summit. In June, we’ll host the second annual Greenermind Summit back up in the Mendocino Woodlands.

Thanks Adam! Now we know what industry leaders like Autodesk are doing on the sustainability frontier, and are able to gain some insight into how technology-based innovation ties into sustainable design.

What a great way to finish up the week! Today’s interview is with Tyler Gage, a founder of Runa organic tea. Runa is made in Ecuador from guayusa (why-YOU-sah) leaves which has been cultivated and used by the Kichwa tribe for thousands of years. Today’s interview is all about how Runa operates from the support of the Kichwa people while respecting and honoring their culture. Meet Tyler, learn about Runa, and get ready to drink some really good tea ’cause this triple bottom line practicing, community enhancing, and industry re-defining company is showing you how it’s done.

LC: How does Runa tie into supporting the cultural heritage of the Kichwa?

TG: At its core, Runa is not “helping” but rather “buying, training, and connecting”. Wain Collen, Education Director of Fundación Pachamama, emphasizes that “NGOs who aim to ‘help’ indigenous communities most often end up causing more problems than they solve.” Similarly, Comuna San Jacinto President Antonio Vargas, said, “We don’t need more workshops, we need markets and people to buy our goods.”

We support the cultural heritage of the Kichwa people by providing a market.  This sounds off and contradictory I know.  However, in practice, economic forces drive development.

I find it very important to highlight that Kichwa culture is, by nature, evolutionary.  I see that many westerners picture these “pristine” communities that haven’t changed for thousands of years, living in “pristine” environments.  While there are many ancient and beautiful parts of Kichwa culture and spectacular tracks of primary forest, the very practice of drinking guayusa in early morning ceremonies is quickly dying while over 3% of the Ecuadorian Amazon is cut down every year.  The culture itself is woven into the environment, an ever-changing, ever-evolving place.  As a shamanic people, the Kichwa people maintain close relationships with their environment, one that used to include jaguars and now includes more tractors and tourists.  So, they continue evolving.

Rather than preserving or conserving a historical concept of culture, Runa offers the Kichwa people viable, sustainable, and fulfilling opportunities to live valued lives in the globalized world to which they are inextricably bound.

LC: As Runa expands, do you think it will still remain sustainable? Are there enough farmers  and guayusa plants to meet demand as operations increase?

TG: Guayusa requires the shade of other trees in order to grow.  It is a crop that cannot be produced in monocrop plantations, and thrives in a biodiverse forest ecosystem.  Even as demand grows our organic agroforestry model will stay the same.

Runa recently received a generous grant from USAID to reforest 1200 acres of degraded lands with guayusa agroforests.  We are planting guayusa with food crops, medicinal plots and hardwood trees, so that farmers can have additional income, forest ecosystems are rebuilt, and of course, Runa has guayusa to bring to market. 

LC: I read that the Kichwa use agriculture for consumption more than for income. Most of their work is through manual labor and growing guayusa can give them the opportunity to double or triple their income. Has this occurred? How does this affect the future generations of the Kichwa people?

TG: The Amazonian Kichwa communities we work with  have already met the market.  Or rather, the market has met them in a way that is largely disempowering and culturally invasive.  Runa’s goal is to facilitate access to capital markets in a way that gives the Kichwa people money to feed the family and send their children to school, and resources to invest in their own development.

LC: Runa supports 600 farming families in the Amazon. Has this number grown? As more adults are employed and earning higher wages, how has this affected their offspring? Have you noticed any shifts in education?

TG: To date, we have been able to raise 300 farmers income by 25% each.  Most farmers have been using this money to buy staple foods and for school expenses (uniforms, transport, books).  The average monthly income for a farming family is $30 to $70 / month, and every day we pay three different farmers $35 each for fresh guayusa leaves.

LC: Does it ever become difficult to run a company with the People Planet Profit leading the way, and why do you think most companies are still so tied to running the B with with one bottom line instead of three?

TG: Undoubtedly its more difficult. More stakeholders, more priorities, more balance required, more communication required, more levels to think about constantly.  On the flip side, it’s more fulfilling, more sustainable, more exciting, and more participatory.

Our advisors and industry experts continue to remind us that above all, we need to run a successful business, regardless of how social it is.  Without a strong, successful business we can’t generate any benefits for anyone.

LC: What gets you up in the morning?

TG: Guayusa.  Literally. Or one of my dogs, Noé or Penelopé. I also like getting to the office early to have a calm space to plan and work on our business.

LC: Upon the start of Runa, the core mission was to connect producers with consumers. As the company develops and grows, has the mission been redefined at all?

TG: Good question.  Not really.  Our specific goals have become more consolidated around economic opportunities and market facilitation, rather than broader “let’s help the Kichwa people any way we can.”  We recognize this component as the major white space that Runa fills, and the decided strength of our team and business model.

LC: I read that there is a 20% bonus given to farmers for the purpose of implementing health and education projects. Have you gained matching funds from NGO’s or the Ecuadorian government?

TG: The matching fund strategy is the future strategic plan. We’re still in the early stages of implementing this fair trade social premium (actually 15%), and will continue to leverage this resource as a powerful tool for the farmer associations.

LC: Runa is sold in Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region and through your website. Do you ship to anywhere in the US, say, for the holidays?

TG: Yes!  We have a new Amazonian Holiday Gift Basket that we’re proud to offer. We ship all products throughout the US.

Thank you Tyler! What a wonderful way to kick-start the holiday season on a high note. This company is living proof that it is possible to have a great product that enhances the environment in-which it came from. The tea also tastes pretty damn good.

Follow Runa on Twitter!

It’s that time again! Our Featured Friday guest is environmental cartoonist Joe Mohr. As you’ll learn, Joe is skilled with words, wit, and illustration. In addition, he’s keeping bee colonies on lockdown and making some tasty honey, which will eventually be sold through Backdoor Harvest. Okay L&O readers, get ready to giggle away in the greenest way.

LC: Your cartoons address a wide audience. Whether you are hoping to resonate with kids, politicians, or the everyday person what main messages do you want to convey?

JM: I want to resonate with all of the above. I want people to make it a habit to consider how each choice they make impacts the environment. I’d like to see more respect in general. Respect for the earth and one another. Oh, and I want to make people laugh…or smile, or smirk.

LC: One of my favorite line of cartoons that you create is Hank D and the Bee. Hank D ties environmental issues to everyday topics in the wittiest of ways. What initially inspired you to create these characters?

JM: I’ve always wanted to be a children’s author and illustrator. As I continually work towards that goal I began a weekly environmental/political cartoon about 3 years ago (Thanks to Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of Sustainablog and Tim Hurst of Ecopolitology). Doing that is fun, but my desire is to entertain and educate kids, so about a year ago I came up with Hank D and the Bee and pitched it to Jennifer Lance of EcoChildsPlay and Derek Markham of NaturalPapa. They both were excited about Hank and post the cartoon on Thursdays . They are both such kind and hard working people.

In creating Hank D and the Bee I was hoping for a ‘green’ kids cartoon that could both educate and entertain. Hank has changed a bit since his inception one year ago. He’s gotten a little more lean and a little less mean. I’m trying to make the green message a bit less overt. I’m having so much fun with it! I look forward to pitching the cartoon series to syndicates soon. I know it’s niche, but I don’t think environmental topics are niche–they’re life.

LC: My favorite is ‘Not Much of a Ladies Man‘. I’m going to use that the next time I go out and get ‘hollered’ at. Have you ever heard of anyone using this reasoning in real life?

JM: Kinda. I read a lot about every environmental topic and overpopulation is written on regularly. I agree with the obvious fact that people have a negative impact on the earth and the more of them the worse the impact, yet I have 2 kids. I adore my wife and could not imagine a world without our 2 children in it. I don’t think that creating loving, respectful, happy people will negatively impact any place.

Also, I hope Hank finds love some day and has little Hanklets…

LC: ‘Dances With the Moon‘ does a great job of addressing macro issues our earth is facing. If the moon were to offer any tidbits of advice what do you think it would be?

JM: If Moon had one thing to say she would stand erect, breathe in deep, and yell at the top of her lungs “I have no oil, water, coal or gold!” Then she should be OK to go about her business in  peace… unless she added “…but I have beer!”

LC: On a semi-related note- you are a bee keeper! That is awesome news for everyone, considering our current situation. Is there any potential for a ‘Mind-Your-Own Green Joe’s Beeswax & Honey’ product in the future? If so, can I call dibs on some jars o’ honey?

JM: You got it. I keep bees with my sister-in-law Marsha. She and my sister Melissa founded Backdoor Harvest 2 years ago. Backdoor Harvest installs and maintains organic vegetable gardens for very cool customers. They are expanding from backyards to rooftops, vertical gardens, chickens, bees, etc… We will eventually sell our excess through Backdoor Harvest. I’m excited to get to the point where we have more honey than we need and can start making some honey money.

LC: Thanks so much for letting us all get to know you a little bit more! Is there anywhere my readers and I can go to buy some of your cartoons via card & envelope style? My brother’s birthday is coming up, and I’m in the market.

JM: Thanks Lola! Yep, I’ve done a few greeting cards for enGreet.

Thanks Joe! I can’t wait for your kids book to come out so I can call up all my teacher friends and tell them about it-while eating yummy honey.

Going back to my old stomping grounds, today’s Featured Friday is all about NYC, and a man that is transforming the landscape. Derek Denckla is all about bringing the green to urban living. Whether it be through architecture or agriculture, he’s moving things forward in a big way. Check. It. Out.

LC: Derek, you are involved in so many projects. Did you have an ah-ha! moment when you realized that it was your mission to change the way in which we live, to make ‘sustainable’ and ‘conservation’ household terms?

DD: I did not really have an “aha moment.”  I became energized by the possibilities for small businesses — particularly non-profits involved in the arts; to walk-the-walk of environmental talk.  This idea led me to undertake projects that push the envelope on “triple bottom line” projects at a scale that can be easily understood and modestly achieved.

We can debate all day about the comparative carbon footprints of ethanol versus bio-diesel but, ultimately, both of these industrial processes are remote from our everyday understanding.  I think that some of the disturbing climate change denial backlash arises from a frustration over the diversity of the causes of environmental problems and the variety of the potential solutions thereto.

The complexity of interrelated forces acting on our planet can be overwhelming for people to grasp.  So, rather than try to absorb the complexity, many people feel compelled to simply reject it.  It’s like when several people are talking to you at the same time, you might get frustrated and say “Shut up!”  I respect the source of that frustration, as I sometimes share it, so I always approach green projects with a sense of awe, humility and discovery, trying to learn about every detail so that I can evaluate it and summarize its value to others.  I find that the traditional bottom line helps concentrate this effort — if I can tell you why a certain green project is worth money and time, then I have successfully communicated the core value of my work.

LC: As a former Williamsburg resident, I am especially intrigued by your company Propeller Group. What exactly is Greenbelt and how does it affect NYC residents? Why is this important for the world?

DD: Propeller Group is my consulting practice that focused on helping emerging and small non-profit arts groups undertake major business decisions, largely related to real estate leases, purchases and renovations.  From my experience consulting with arts groups, I began to see a pattern where artists where priced out of neighborhoods, like Williamsburg, after many years contributing to making the place desirable to outsiders.  The presence of an art community tends to drive up the property values for both artists and long-term residents, leading to displacement of both groups and a homogenization of the neighborhood by the incoming “gentry”.  In short, that process is a particularly NY variation on “gentrification” which has happened before in places like SoHo and Tribeca and DUMBO.  The most striking — and sad — aspect of the oft-repeated scenario is that the “gentry” have usually sought out the hot new area precisely because of the presence of the arts community even though, ironically, their condos and higher rents cause displacement.

Seeing a potential silver lining to this advancing cloud in 2004, I approached some like-minded partners, like architect Greg Merryweather and some other social investors, to see if we could craft a project that made living space for neighborly newcomers while retaining sizeable, affordable space for the arts.  Our means were modest, so we could not also carve out affordable housing from the same whole, although we wished we could.  The project was only 14,000 SF (the size of some McMansions!) with 4,000 SF for the arts and 10,000 for eight new residents.  From the outset, Greenbelt sought to demonstrate that these two groups — condo buyers and artists — could co-exist in a project that honored their mutual desire to be in the same place — while making a decent profit as well.

As we were working out the details of how to merge an arts space with a residential condo, we were also thinking about Williamsburg’s history as an industrial waste dumping ground.  In the 1990s, I had taken part in protests led by Neighbors Against Garbage where the Kent Street waterfront and the area surrounding it were referred to as the “Toxic Mile.”  Given that recent history, I thought it was incumbent on any new development to address environmental impacts in an area so scarred by man-made ecological damage.

Green urban residential buildings are still a relatively new phenomenon.  Greenbelt was the first LEED Gold building certified in Brooklyn. It is one of only five residential projects certified to date in a borough with literally tens of thousands of new construction permits filed each year.  Prior to Greenbelt,  most green buildings were expensive and massive corporate towers or single family private residences.  At the same time, so many artists with whom I worked yearned for a way for their work to address sustainability but so many of them worked in a way that was environmentally problematic.  By bringing green building to a relatively affordable and neighborhood scale for an artspace and neighborhood homeowners, we conveyed the message that environmental change was possible at every level.

Our building and other pioneer projects, like LEED Platinum Silhouette, have helped catalyze a transparency of information for consumers where developers — LEED seekers or not — now feel somewhat compelled to identify “green” features of their projects.  This expectation of environmental relevance for residential construction comes about through market leaders — like Greenbelt — which take exponentially bigger risks for the sake of belief in an ideal.

LC: So not only are you creating sustainable buildings, but you are transforming existing spaces into agricultural havens. Where can examples of the Capital B project be found? Can city dwellers follow this example? Any advice for the folks faced with lack-of-space?

DD: Capital B was a project born in the boom and hatched in the bust.  Initially, we conceived of Capital B as launching a planning process that would gather community forces together to help prevent Bushwick from becoming the next Williamsburg — developed hastily and curtailing its character as a haven for the arts and affordable housing.

Our community discussions revolved around issues of vacant lots, half-finished developments, empty new buildings and problems of that nature.  From that mix of messy real estate issues, I looked to the 1970s for inspiration when neighborhood groups faced similar problems of “urban blight.”  Surveys taken by Capital B yielded universal concern about litter and need for safe, accessible open space.  In my experience, community gardens have provided the quickest and most effective way to make an eyesore into a thing of beauty.

However, Community Gardens require group consensus and a lot of volunteer time.  I began to wonder if there was some way to devise of another Triple Bottom Line project for green urban spaces by growing and selling food.  TheGreenest.Net was launched in October 2009 in an effort to investigate the status of urban agriculture and the possibility for alternative investment in its future growth.

Capital B laid out a process that any community can follow.
Basically, Capital B was a neutral-convener of Town Hall meetings.  Even when politicians hold such Town Hall meetings, they are seeking support for existing ideas or future candidacy.  Capital B removed the Town Hall from this political context.  So, if you want to replicate Capital B, simply create an unincorporated neighborhood association and then gather interested parties in a room with a cross section of incomes and backgrounds to talk about the future of the neighborhood.

The result will be an amazing sharing of ideas and information while networking in a safe and comfortable environment outside of established business, personal and professional circles.  Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce can play this role in small towns.  However, it tips too far in favor of business interests.  NYC’s major problem is that it is a City of neighborhoods run as if it is a cohesive megalopolis.  The boundaries and constituencies of NYC’s neighborhood are fluid and shifting, so a project like Capital B may be necessary every few years as a local way to define the physical and social limitations in which we all agree to be neighbors.

LC: In reference to Farm City being a utopian solution. You said ‘Brooklyn is home to a fertile cross section of both traditional and experimental urban farming methods.’ How does Farm City help to create this urban utopia?

DD: Initially, Farm City began as an idea for a micro-loan investment fund to support the growth of urban agriculture. Most of the projects I investigated were highly experimental and exciting but not yet investment-ready.  Motivated by a desire to see urban agriculture mature, I wanted to “invest” in urban agriculture in a different way — by promoting its growth and its profile with the public rather than looking for a place to park high risk capital.  For me, the social and educational aspect of urban agriculture equal the importance of any food or income that might be grown within the City limits.

Farm City was launched with the support of the most unlikely of partners, French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).  For the past few years, FIAF has held a Fall festival of the arts called, Crossing the Line, curated by Lili Chopra and Simon Dove.  Crossing the Line seeks to engage in projects, performances and events that surmount traditional cultural and disciplinary boundaries in the hope that fertile new ideas and imaginings will come of a unique mixture.

From that inspiration, I began planning Farm City events that explored the intersection between art and urban agriculture, spanning celebrations to conversations in four different events: Farm City Fair, Farm City Film, Farm City Tours, and finally Farm City Forum.  Other collaborators approached me and I expanded Farm City to include an art exhibition, Brooklyn Utopias: Farm City, and various other Farm City events.

FIAF is based in Manhattan.  They asked me where Farm City events should be held.  Without hesitation, I answered “Brooklyn.”  Brooklyn has the highest number of urban farming experiments — from long term successes, like Added Value, to new and untested projects, like Eagle Street Rooftop Farm.  Agriculture is more than just production or farming, it involves the entire food shed: processing, distribution, marketing, sales, retail, consumption and recycling of waste.  The activity at the farms was supported by restaurants in Brooklyn presenting their produce to the public.  As Wendell Berry says “Eating is an Agricultural Act.”

I conceived of Farm City as a central gathering place to connect all of this amazing urban agrarian energy.  All events were intended to create new networks and understandings amongst the farmers, makers and artists while encouraging participants to expand their role in the food system.

Specifically, Farm City events sought to collapse the false distinction between active producer and passive consumer.  We wanted to engage participants in a continuum of agricultural practices — from intensive to easy — that would dazzle their senses and capture their imaginations so that they would feel empowered to grow, to cook, to preserve and to compost themselves.  All of the feedback that I got from attendees was positive, particularly remarking that they had never seen this combination of diverse projects under one program before.  Farm City was able to surprise and excite people and — in that moment of openness — help participants see the world as it could be — a bit more green, loving and thoughtful.

LC: You have a lot going on! It is all so wonderful, it almost makes me want to move back and get my green thumb in on the action! So, Derek what is next? What can we expect for 2012?

DD: Next. Next. Next.  I am still recovering and recording and fundraising.  Anyone interested in supporting what we have done and what we will do, should make a Farm City donation!

At Farm City Forum, Amanda McDonald Crowley, Director of Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, ended our day of reflection on the future of urban agriculture with the charge pioneers should devote 20% of their time documenting the process of discovery so that others can learn from our successes and failures.

As someone with a fresh and current overview of urban agriculture in NYC, I am really honored that I have recently been invited to speak several times this month, including a talk for architects seeking continuing professional education!  As I talk about the status of urban agriculture, I am also looking to the future of Farm City and how it can best help urban agriculture grow. In that vein, I have been sitting down with artisan food producers to discuss creating an incubator kitchen and market that would allow them to take their businesses to scale.

Farm City has also helped initiate a lot of important and crucial discussions about the future directions for the growth of urban agriculture, which makes me pretty darn happy with our efforts so far. I have been discussing a year-round covered farmer’s market for Brooklyn (like those already underway in Manhattan). An artist with whom I work, has engaged me as a producer for a possible farm installation at a large museum.
When any one of these many possible projects is ready to hatch, I will definitely let you (and the rest of the world) know.  Right now, I am still investigating and exploring possibilities.

Thanks Derek! If you want to keep in the loop on Derek’s upcoming projects you can follow Farm City on Twitter or check out the Farm City Blog.

Last week at the Rainforest Action Network’s rip-roaring 25th Anniversary party REVEL I had the opportunity to meet Oliver Utne. He was in town only a few days after spending several months in NYC learning how to install solar panels. Oliver works for the Pachamama Alliance; the recent New York Times article put it best in describing the NGO, ‘Pachamama Alliance, which for the last 15 years has helped the Achuar and other Amazonian indigenous groups from its Quito office with land titling, skills training, economic development and policy advocacy.’

Oliver has lived in Ecuador for the past two years working with the Achuar tribe at their Kapawi Lodge & Reserve, and now plans to install solar panels to supply the lodge with 100% solar energy. The United Nations said the lodge was amongst the top five outstanding environmental conservation and community development projects in the world. No. Big. Deal.

On paper, Oliver’s life looks like he would make for a great interview. I decided to do a profile on him not because of what he has done, but because of his mentality and attitude about what he is doing.

What do I mean, you ask? I asked Oliver what his goal in life was, and he couldn’t answer. We talked a bit more, and it became clear to me that he is motivated by emotion. He just does what makes him complete, what makes him happy.

Oliver is a special person to me because he is more than just happy. He is fulfilled. I wanted to find out what experiences Oliver has gone through to make him think, ‘This is it. This is what life is all about.’ Those formative moments grant humans the opportunity to be perpetual students of the world, and inspire us to grow. A life-shaping moment for me was when I took a crazy-haphazard trip through western Panama only to find myself on the other end, giddily swimming in the blue blue ocean doing 360 spins admiring the beauty of Isla Grande. I believe that life is about letting go, and welcoming those challenging but inspiring, wonderful moments to happen.

I learned why Oliver is fulfilled, because it is clear that he has those moments on a daily basis. When it comes to life-moments, most people have a few good ones, but Oliver has a lot of great ones. I think it is because Oliver is the best kind of explorer, the kind that isn’t searching for an answer but rather a way, a process, to open lines of communication and allow voices to be heard.

This exploration has led him to work alongside the Achuar tribe as they increase their global voice and preserve their culture. Oliver said that working with the tribe allows him to play a role in the history of this small corner of the earth. I find it profound in that Oliver and the Pachamama Alliance help an isolated tribe become a member of the global community, a place in the world. This is significant because it helps change the American dream to be something of substance and sustainability. They call it ‘awakening the dreamer‘. In a world where we all have different ideals and success measurements, this is a perfect example of the way things should be done. Uniting cultures through a mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation for differences in culture under the realization that we are all responsible for the state of the earth.

So, Oliver is headed back down to Ecuador to install solar panels. This will help the Achuar tribe, as tourism has proved to be their most viable source of economic stability. As oil companies foam at the mouth in a demented excitement over Ecuador’s natural resources, the Achuar are working to preserve their land, culture, and society.

All-in-all, I’m sure Oliver is in fact human and not infallible, but I do think he’s got a bit of super hero in him. It was wonderful meeting him and gaining a greater appreciation for the Pachamama Alliance and their efforts to defend the Amazon! I know you want to help them, so I made it easy for you, just click here and do your thang.

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