Archive for March, 2010

Blueprint for a Green Business

As a smart business owner, you are most likely already committed to a green path, and have taken action. Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or lacking broad support in your organization? All of these are symptoms of an uncoordinated green program – lots of small tactics, but lacking a coherent vision that sustains and inspires everyone.

Going green requires the concerted, coordinated efforts of many different people both within your business and in your wider sphere of influence. It’s a dead-end to rely on piecemeal tactics with no connection to each other or to a big picture. Worse, relying on a few dedicated folks to carry it out is a sure recipe for distraction, wheel-spinning, and burn-out.

Want your green efforts to be taken seriously and result in a more profitable and healthy business? How can green become a core value of your business, integral to your mission and infused in everything you do?

In any change process, it’s essential to know where you are starting from, if you are to map out a plan to go in a new direction. Successful change involves three key steps: receive a new vision, benchmark your current impacts, and map out a plan of action to get there.

You should know that, without an inspired, engaging vision, it is hard to get others enrolled in your project, and hard to sustain even your own interest over the long haul. That’s one of the most common reasons why green business initiatives fizzle, or never reach even close to their full potential of benefits.

Here are three tips to help you design and implement a successful program to green your business.

Tip #1: Receive Your Vision

Why do you care about green? What does going green mean to your business, to your personal sense of mission? How is this expressed your business? What does that mean for you – your sense of purpose, your vision of the future, your values, your influence in the world?

Tip #2: Benchmark

When you start working with a personal trainer, you weigh in or get some measurements taken at the beginning, right? This is the benchmark, against which you measure all progress. Marking progress gives you an excuse to celebrate!! Which is a huge factor in keeping your focus on your goal and the hard work required to get there.

The same applies for your green initiatives. Your benchmark gives you a starting point and your progress helps you to grow the involvement of your team, suppliers, customers, and community.

What are your current impacts – energy use, materials use and re-use, water use, transportation impacts? There are several online tools to help you estimate these. Here are two to check out:

Business footprint is focused on your carbon footprint, or CO2 emissions, that contribute to climate change
Ecological footprint is more comprehensive, looking at all impacts

What are the ripple effects of a green business? How are you perceived by the media, potential employees, suppliers, customers, and your community? This is an important benchmark as well.

Tip #3: Craft a Plan of Action

This is where the rubber hits the road. What are your priorities, where do you want to focus first? Network with peers to exchange ideas, contacts, and questions. Get support when you need it, to sift through and digest information, to hold you accountable, and to keep you focused on what’s important.

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I hope these tips help you design a more orderly approach to greening your business. It’s like building a house. Sure, you can just go to Home Depot, buy a bunch of supplies on sale and start knocking them together. Or, you can work with an architect to design exactly what you want, a beautiful house that meets your needs and your budget.

Let me know how these work for you and if you need any support with it.

Green Events Finale: Location, Location, Location

photo by: Balance Weddings

The final in our four-part series from our colleague and friend Lori Hill, owner of lori hill event productions. Read the first article here.

Today’s topic is: The venue (fancy word for “location”).

LEED Certified Buildings

If you choose a venue that has a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, you can be assured that the building is eco friendly in many, many ways, so that is half the battle! But a building can still be earth friendly without having a LEED certification. Many hotel properties are instituting green initiatives. Kimpton Hotels have been green long before green was chic!

When doing your research, check to see if your venue lists their green initiatives on their web site. An important question to ask is how they dispose of their waste. Most venues recycle these days and even better ones compost waste. If they don’t engage in these actions, ask them if they can provide the service. Some off-premise caterers will offer this service if a venue does not.

(Julie chiming in here: I just want to add a bit to the discussion of waste. It’s so important not to overlook this detail. Recycling and composting bins need to be conveniently (and obviously) located. Because it’s a special event, they need to look nice, not like big bulky trash cans marring the otherwise serene landscape of your event. It can be very helpful to have someone friendly standing near these bins, to help guests properly direct their waste items. Of course, if you’ve done your homework and absolutely everything is compostable, then it should be smooth sailing! But, just be aware that guests sometimes have their own trash, and they are likely to be confused about where to put it.)

Getting Your Guests To the Venue

If possible, pick a venue that is centrally located to your attendees and if possible, within close proximity to public transport. If you are holding multiple events – like a wedding ceremony and reception – try to hold them in one place to minimize driving for guests. If you have out of town guests, you could look into offering a complimentary guest shuttle to eliminate the need for all of them to get into their cars yet again.

Thanks again to Lori Hill, for these great tips. You can read the previous installments, starting with the first one, here.

What’s Your Motivation Costing You?

collage Julie
In working with my clients, I’ve observed four common mistakes people make when greening their business. They relate to motivation, mindset, methods, and mentorship. Each mistake is costly in terms of wasted time, money, good will, credibility – it’s a long list.

Be honest – why do you want to go green in the first place? Are you worried about the state of the environment? About those poor polar bears and their shrinking ice floes? About toxic materials accumulating in the soil, water, and your body? About running out of resources?

Well, guess what? That’s the first mistake: to start from a motivation of fear, scarcity, anxiety, even anger. These can be excellent short-term motivators, as in the case of a medical emergency or a mugging. But for the long-term work that is sustainability, they are wholly inadequate, even exhausting. Not the foundation for the creative, joyful project of greening your business.

These gloom-n-doom environmental messages are the WORST way to try to stay motivated for the challenges of greening your business. They actually keep us in a state of separation from the very natural world with which we seek to reconnect, causing us to overlook potentially lucrative ideas and opportunities.

It is far more effective to move towards something we want, than to rail against something we don’t want. Think about it. When you are cold, you don’t get angry and struggle against the cold; you light a fire, you put on a sweater. You do something in the positive. When it’s dark, the way to change that is to turn on a light, not to complain and push against the darkness.

In the face of all the negative, disempowering messages we get about the state of the environment, how can we tap into a positive motivation and a deep sense of connection with the natural world? It’s really a practice, requiring continuous awareness and feedback. It’s also a call to be gentle with ourselves as we walk this green path. As Maya Angelou said, “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”

Here are three rich practices that work for my clients. They will help you tap into this inner awareness, sense of connection, and positive motivation. Try them and let me know how they work for you.

Practice 1: Gratitude

Here’s something we did in a recent “Green in 15” class. Treat yourself and go for a nice walk. Enjoy the springy weather, all the glory and abundance of the natural world as it is beginning to awaken from its winter slumbers. When you come back inside, make a list of everything you’re grateful for, right here, right now, today.

This is an excellent practice to draw your attention away from seeing only problems, challenges, things that are broken and need fixing.

Practice 2: Mission

Why do you care about green? What does going green mean to your business, to your personal sense of mission? How is this expressed your business? What does that mean for you – your sense of purpose, your vision of the future, your values, your influence in the world?

When a recent client did this, their Green Charter became infused throughout the company, marshalling creativity and accelerating their results. These include tremendous energy and water savings, dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions, reduced nitrates going into the Chesapeake Bay from their operations, and a popular employee challenge program to take similar actions at home.

Practice 3: Networks

Nature is organized in networks of networks, and we are a part of that system. Think of one aspect of your business and make a list of relationships – the people, systems, and technologies that you are connected to. Now, answer these questions:

1. For systems or technologies, how did this get here?
2. What did it take to get it to me?
3. What is it made of? (Or, In the case of relationships, how did I meet this person?)
4. What has this connection brought into my life?
5. What have I brought into this person’s life?
6. What has this connection led to?
7. What might it lead to in the future?

What was your experience in trying these practices? I would love to hear from you.

Flowers and Candles and Chairs — Oh, My!

photo by: Balance Weddings

Third in a four-part series from our colleague and friend Lori Hill, owner of lori hill event productions. Read the first article here.

Today’s topic is: The decor.

Floral and Plants

Make selections based on what is in season and work with a florist who utilizes local growers (support that local economy!). If you can, choose organic options – it’s better for the workers and the environment.


Traditional candles are petroleum based (there’s that evil word again). Choose beeswax or soy-based candles instead. These days, you can get them in tea light and votives sizes.

Linens, tables, chairs

Renting linens, tables and chairs is eco-friendly because items get used over and over again and these days, companies are offering eco options for the equipment they rent. Most rental companies I know have limited options when it comes to eco friendly table linens. Why? Because these companies re-use linens on such a large scale that they need a fabric that will hold up through multiple uses and washings. Don’t despair. Ask your rental company if they have chairs or tables made of eco friendly materials like bamboo or reclaimed wood. Also, check if they rent recycle bins and see if they provide fabric bags in which to place your soiled linens (vs. using a plastic trash bag).

(Julie here: I’ve been working with the Greening Committee at my son’s school to green their events. We have a big holiday fair in December, and serve lunch to about 500 people. In the past, they used plastic tablecloths to cover the tables, which was so incongruent with the values and image of the school. We started asking around and were able to find a catering company that graciously donated some of their old, but still very serviceable, cloths to us.)


Lighting can make such a big impact on an event and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but if you use it, talk to your lighting vendor about using LED (light emitting diode) lights. They use less energy (which makes them very eco!) and are safer to use because they are light to the touch and not hot. Also, they can change colors throughout your event which really adds to the ambiance of any event!

Read the final installment: the venue.

Green Events 2: You Are What You Eat

photo by: Balance Weddings

Second in a four-part series from our colleague and friend Lori Hill, owner of lori hill event productions. Read the first article here.

Today’s topic is: What you eat and what you eat the food ON


Michael Pollan hit the nail on the head when he wrote in In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What he means is eat REAL food — not the processed stuff that has names you can’t pronounce. Don’t eat too much and try to have a vegetarian diet. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat, while it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. So when planning your menu for your special event, be sure to provide some vegetarian options (or go all vegetarian!). Also, ask your caterer where they source their food from. You want it to be local and/or organic. If you have to choose, always pick local over organic since it travels a shorter distance from farm to table. Organic options are ideal because they don’t include all those evil “ides” – pesticides, insecticides and herbicides — that have been proven toxic and cancer-causing. Local is fresher and therefore tastes better and it supports your local economy! We all need to do that these days!


Every single day, 40 MILLION plastic bottles go into landfills. (Julie’s note: There is also a place in the Pacific Ocean where the world’s plastic tends to congregate, because of the ocean currents – really. It’s called the “Pacific Trash Vortex,” and it’s already twice the size of Texas.) That is why you need to say NO to bottled water and serve it in pitchers or large dispensers because even if you provide recycle bins, not everybody will recycle their bottle.

When serving coffee, go for fair trade/shade grown/organic coffee and fair trade/organic hot tea. Alcoholic beverages can be eco, too! Choose organic vodka, wine or beer OR support your local winery or brewery. If you can do it, say no to sodas. The artificial sweeteners in them are truly toxic and have no redeeming qualities. Opt for an organic beverage instead. I’m a fan of Honest Tea. You can drink it cold or at room temperature and it comes in lots of flavors. If this former diet Coke addict can kick the habit, so can you.

China and Disposables

I think fondly of the time when the world was a more genteel place and not the disposable economy it is today. I often think of a scene from Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford are camping in the African wilderness and they are eating off china! CHINA in the WILDERNESS!!! I opt for the “permanent stuff” whenever I can, but if I’m going to be outside with hundreds or thousands of guests, I’m usually forced to use disposables. Luckily, we now have affordable compostable options instead of that evil plastic that takes decades and decades to biodegrade. For small events, you can purchase these yourself at earth friendly grocery stores. Talk to your caterer about using compostable disposables if you are planning a large event.

(Note: this is only part of the job. You have to make sure a good waste station is set up, conveniently-located, for the guests to dispose of things properly. We’ll get to that in the final installment.)

Next topic: Greening your event decor.

Can Your Next Event Help Save the Planet?

photo by: Balance Weddings

Our colleague and friend Lori Hill, owner of lori hill event productions, is an expert green event coordinator. Hmmmm. That’s a bit like saying that Michael Jordan is a good basketball player. You really have to experience Lori in action to fully appreciate her. Enjoy this first in a 4-part series of articles on how to be eco-savvy with your business events.

Special events are VERY, VERY wasteful. The average 3-day meeting attended by 1,000 people:
• Produces more than 12 tons of trash
• Uses 200,000 kilowatt hours of power
• Consumes 100,000 gallons of water

Furthermore, according to The Green Bride Guide, the average wedding produces 63 tons of CO2 and 400-600 pounds of trash. That’s just crazy.

There are a lot of easy things we all can do when planning our next office meeting, conference, baby shower, wedding or birthday party. To make it simple, I’ll break it down into 4 simple categories. Those are: 1) the announcement and other printed items; 2) what you eat and what you serve the food ON: 3) décor; and 4) venue.

Today’s topic is: The announcement and other printed items


The most eco friendly option is an electronic invitation followed by an electronic RSVP mechanism. If this isn’t feasible – like for a wedding or black tie affair – select invitations made of 100% recycled paper or other eco options like bamboo or – believe it or not – elephant dung! You can also choose invitations embedded with seeds that your guests can then plant afterwards. Be sure to ask for soy or vegetable-based ink instead of the traditional petroleum-based stuff is made of – you guessed it – petroleum! The last time I checked, that was a scare resource that is also bad for the environment. Skip all the extra envelopes and go for just one. If guests don’t have to include a payment with their RSVP card, opt for a postcard instead.


Do you really need a program? Do your guests actually read it? If this is a must at your event, can you reduce the number of pages? As with invitations, use 100% recycled paper that is FSC (forest stewardship council) certified. And don’t forget to use vegetable or soy-based ink.

Signs and Banners

I’m a stickler for informational and directional signage. I hate being lost and I don’t want my guests to get lost either. If you have an annual event, make your signs and banners are generic in nature so that they can be used from year to year and just require you to change a digit on a date. Talk to your sign vendor about using eco materials when making new indoor and outdoor signs.

(Bonus tip from Julie. . . . I chaired a large event that Lori organized, and she used inexpensive picture frames to hold the signs that detailed the topics and panelists for each breakout room. They added a classy touch and are, of course, reusable.)

Next topic: What you eat and what you eat the food ON.

lori hill event productions helps environmentally conscious people and companies make their events savvy and sustainable. Company president Lori Hill has been reducing, reusing and recycling since she was a kid growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; however, after being educated about the impact of our actions on the environment, she was prompted to make every facet of her work AND home life as sustainable as possible.

An approved vendor for the Green Bride Guide, lori hill event productions is also a member of Green America’s prestigious Green Business Network and a member of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance (CSBA) for which Lori serves as director of events. A 14-year member of the International Special Events Society (ISES), Lori is also a member of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). For the past three winters, she has jumped into the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay to raise awareness about, and thousands of dollars for, the fight against climate change.

In December, Lori was named an ECO CEO by Smart CEO Magazine. In addition to producing award-winning corporate and social events, Lori has appeared on TV and speaks frequently about green events as well as greening your business operations and personal life. She looks forward to the day when we no longer have a need for the term “green events” because all events WILL be green.

Thankful Thursday: the Legacy of John Gutierrez

photo courtesy Gutierrez family

A man who works with his hands is a laborer.
A man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman.
But a man who works with his hands, his brain, and his heart is an artist.

Last week, Baltimore lost a beloved artist, business colleague, mentor, and friend to many. John was the founder, chief visionary and soul of Gutierrez Studios. I first met John 20 years ago, when he was just starting out, but I got to know him better when I moved my office to the Clipper Mill complex, where his studio is located. John did a lot of the great metalwork and other custom architectural details around Clipper Mill. It was fun just to drop by his studio, see what they were up to, and be treated to one of his famous cups of espresso.

Many who knew him much better than I spoke at the celebration of his too-short life (he died at 45). It was held, fittingly, in the workshop, a 19th-century cathedral of industry, complete with a brightly-painted gantry crane. So many inspiring stories and memories were shared, and I want to capture a few that moved me the most.

John was a generous, loving, outgoing, bigger-than-life man who, better than anyone I know (except my own father), lived by the Toltec Four Agreements. Those are: be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; never make assumptions; and always do your best. I’ve studied, memorized, and recited these daily for many months, but John is the one person I know who so beautifully lived those truths. He effortlessly embodied those Four Agreements, just going through his day, every day.

John always lovingly challenged people to be their best, not at all in a judgmental way. But he had a special vision; he could tell when someone was holding back, being unclear, waffling, or not living up to their potential. He held people in their power, and you could feel that in his presence.

Several of his friends and co-workers quoted their favorite “Guti-isms,” phrases that John always used, and usually with gusto. Spike Gjerde, owner of Woodbery Kitchen, itself a model of sustainability (he started the local food movement here in Baltimore), gave us this phrase. John said to him, “I’m a fabricator. But I’m also a fabric-lover.” That gives just a sense of his wonderful humor, and his tremendous self-knowledge.

Another gem: We’re the best. We’re expensive. But, we’re slow.

John also said, I’ve got the greenest business in the world. Our stuff is so beautiful, no one in their right mind would ever throw it away. And, if they did, someone else would just come and pull it out of the dumpster.

The last person to speak was one of his brothers, Glen. He left us with this lovely thought: There are two ways to shine. You can be light or you can reflect light. John was generous with all of us. He allowed us to reflect his light.