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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!


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 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.

The day finally arrived, I am officially selling my shirts made from pillowcases at a store in SoMa called The Common. Monday night I invited a few friends to the store & celebrated the shirts debut. Did I take pictures? You betchya. I took my growing inventory of pillowcase photos as a sign to get my online act together and create a separate page for Found & Lolafied so tonight, I did just that. If you go to the ‘events’ tab you can see photos from the night.

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.

This is what it’s like at the RAN office everyday. Also, this how we celebrate ‘Thanks’ giving. Yea, we all have pretty good dance moves.

There’s been a lot going on these days. Below are some updates on the current projects I’m working on. It is all very exciting and couldn’t happen without the support of all y’all. Thank you.

Official Consumer Guide is Released : The Rainforest Action Network’s forests team takes their campaign public by pointing out the leaders and laggards in the publishing industry. Which publishers are actively contributing to rainforest destruction? Click here to download the pocket guide OR the full report. Great for holiday shopping if you only plan on killing one tree this year.

PlantMyPhone Blog Launch : Less than a week about PlantMyPhone launched the blog ‘More Than Just Talk’. It highlights the movers and shakers in the environmental industry, bring people together through community involment, and enlighten the world about eco-living. Today’s post is an interview I did with Robin Averbeck (campaign manager for RAN’s forest team), to give insight into the exciting and ever-changing life of a campaigner.

TechCentralSF Launch : I had nothing to do with the site prior to it going live,  but I’ll be at the launch party tonight and will be a contributor from there on out. TechCentralSF is an amazing new site categorizes, supports, and unites start-ups that fall under the high tech, biotech, and green tech sectors. Can you guess which sector I’m covering? Thaaat’s right. Green tech.

So while I am bzzy-beeing, I am also working to release some riveting interviews for the upcoming weeks. So many amazing people and companies out there! I love learning about them, and can’t wait to share their stories with you.

I went to GreenFest on Sunday to work Rainforest Action Networks Tiki The Tiger booth in the Kids Zone. Everything about the day was awesome, especially watching little munchkins ‘rrROAR!’ like Tiki during story time. Our booth had tiger masks, stickers, and bookmarks. Needless to say my comrade Hillary and I made a lot of little friends.

It was a great day, I hung out with some of my favorite interviewees! I caught up with Karine Brighten, and scoped out her beautiful eco-friendly event planning booth, and I also bumped into Brandon Neustadter, founder of Tiagu.

Highlights for me:

The IndoSole booth- shoes made with recycled motorcycled tires. Bad. Ass. They look great too.

Drinking some Jamsa’s Food drink called Max’s Nectar. SO good. I felt like I was in Central or South America drinking a freshly made drink. Ahh, I’m craving one right now.

Hearing Numi Co-Founders speak about their labor of love to bring their delicious organic tea to the world.

Not only did I see, hear, and drink the good stuff, I made a lot of new friends. Woop woop. Check out Tiki’s blog, there will be pictures from the day posted soon.

It is Featured Friday! What a great interviewee I have here today. He is a little bit of everything really- entrepreneur, environmentalist, adventurer, go getta, etc. Zakary Zide‘s Environmental Film Festival is quite impressive and down right worth blogging about. He is just as dynamic in person as you would imagine him to be. After reading this, you’ll want to meet him for yourself. Oh, lucky you! Meet him on October 29th at mini-film festival screening at The Brower Center.

LC: Back in 2004, what inspired you to embark on creating an environmental film festival?

ZZ: I firmly believe that the admixture of nature’s ability to creatively problem solve + the curiosity of the human spirit can change the world. So I guess I started the EarthDance film festival in 2004 for 4 reasons:

1. I wanted to demonstrate that stories about the environment aren’t always political, & aren’t always gloom and doom…the natural world is full of humor, quirky characters (the praying mantis – come on!) + inspiration.

2. To provide a container for people to come together, + create a venue for people to share their stories + multi-media explorations of their relationship with the natural world. Environmental films aren’t just for eco-freaks. We all have a relationship to the natural world; even if we’re only talking about an ant invasion in your kitchen. How you deal with the ants, that’s the interesting bit.

3. To help create a ‘culture of nature’ + raise money for environmental issues.

4. To inspire + be inspired to take action.

LC: It is now quite a few years later and EarthDance has proven to be quite eco-taining, (considering over 40,000 people in 9 countries have attended!) how has your vision developed since the festivals inception and what should new viewers anticipate to see?

ZZ: EarthDance is not your average film festival. I like that. And fortunately, from our success, it seems that other people like our quirkiness too! We’ve always believed that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice entertainment for ecology. Our films are selected on the basis of being both entertaining and informative or emotionally moving in some way. We like weird and funny. Like Spike and Mike’s festival with an eco twist. This will always be our core curatorial philosophy.

One way things have evolved is that we are getting many more submissions now than we did in the first couple of years. The availability of technology for people to produce their own films on a relatively cheap budget has been a good thing for storytelling, and for helping people evolve from consumers of media into producers of media.

LC: As the world becomes more and more aware of the environmental challenges that we are faced with today, how have artists responded and have you noticed any shifts in the content being produced?

ZZ: It seems that the films and stories have become much more personal and less generic. By this I mean that they have been focusing more on individuals who have some unique relationship to the environment. I’m thinking of films like Salt by Mick Angus, or Balancing Point by Danny Brown, or Muskrat Lovely by Amy Nicholson. This is a good thing. To me, these films are less formulaic and much more interesting to a broader audience than a story about clear cutting. Which is to say, these films are more inclusive and less political.

LC:  These series of short films created around the world work to unite individuals and help foster a true ‘culture of nature’ as you describe it. As your efforts build a boundless community that feeds on the beauty of the world and human potential, how has the collection impacted your life?

ZZ: EarthDance Films has been a real gift in my life. It has given me a chance to meet and work with incredibly talented people and interesting audiences from all over the world. It has also made me a better curator and editor. I am grateful for the opportunity to help build community and (hopefully) inspire some people along the way!

LC: If you could choose one movie to show to an audience of ever-so-impressionable 3rd graders and college students, what film would you choose?

ZZ: Well, we generally have two collections – one for families, and one for older audiences. The films for older audiences tend to be a little more risque.
So for kids, I’d say Lost in the Woods by Laura and Robert Sams, or Pigeon Impossible by Lucas Martell.
For the PG-13 crowd, I’d say Spiders on Drugs by Andrew Struthers, or Motel by Thor Freudenthal, or Cheat Neutral by Beth Stratford, or Our Wonderful Nature by Tomer Eshed. Wait, how many films was I supposed to suggest?!

I highly recommend everyone click on ‘Spiders on Drugs‘ and watch the 2 minute video. It is sure to make you smile. Thanks to Zakary for making moves on the environmental frontier by cross-pollinating art & the environment in such a beautiful way. I’ll be seein all y’all on Oct 29th!

I ventured to Oakland for the first time this weekend, and the experience made me wonder why it took me so long to get out there. My friend and I went to their 4th Annual Live Graffiti Battle. Produced by Estria Front Forweb, the event hosted 20 of California’s top graffiti artists.

What an event! My eyes were aglow as I watched the competition. Artists were creating masterpieces inspired by the word ‘heal’ and skateboarders were throwing down some kickin’ tricks. Best of all, the event supported not only the urban peace movement, but the environment! There were games like Recycle Swish and Toss Out Fossil Fuels. Yes, I was in heaven. Not only was it a day centered around healing, but hope as well. Seeing all these creative, open minds of all ages coming together in support of art, peace, and environmental initiatives really made a statement. Check out these photos, you can really appreciate the sense of community and togetherness we all experienced.

*If you were at the event and want to see additional photographs, just tweet or facebook me and I’ll be sure to send some your way.

It is true, I admit it. I am officially blogging on multiple blogs. It doesn’t mean I love you any less though. It means I love you so much that I am expanding my horizons to better serve you. While Lemonade & Origami will forever be my main ‘voice’, you will now be able to hear me elsewhere aswell. Lucky lucky you.

If you have time tomorrow, check out my post for the Rainforest Action Networks blog The Understory and read about SF’s Litquake event and the moves they are making to address shifts in the publishing world. Thanks to environmental challenges and technological advances, greenies like you and I will watch the publishing world become more sustainable. RAN and Litquake address these issues and opportunities to increase social responsibility.

So keep your reading glasses on, ’cause you’re not quite done!

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