Category: Your Impact

11 thrivability lessons from Bioneers 2010

Seagull made from trash by: Erin Mitchell
Two dear friends, Erin Mitchell of BlueGreen Acupuncture and Tracy Ward, publisher of Urbanite magazine, are live in Marin, CA, at the Bioneers conference. Here is the first of their dispatches.

I am busting at the seams with inspiration here in Marin County, San Rafael California at the 22nd annual national Bioneers Conference. The Agricultural institute of Marin took us on a 9-hour tour of what’s really going on with agriculture, food and farming. I was with a group of about 45 folks today on this tour of Marin County’s farms and the latest in “thrive-ability” projects. Just so you know…the new buzz word is “thrive-ability” to replace its less enthusiastic sister, “sustainability”. One comes from abundance and the other comes from mediocrity. And I assure you the former is what’s happening!!! Thrive-ability!

It’s been less than 24 hours and I’ve already learned so much:

  • We will be able to sequester carbon emissions 4 times the amount of our output simply by using organic compost to fertilize grass-grazed pastures.
  • We can harvest seeds in weeds that are native to the land for our food supply of necessary complex carbohydrates (and they taste AWESOME).
  • Extra virgin olive oil purchased in the U.S. only has to be 10% virgin for it to count as being extra virgin. And that the only thing that can kill an olive tree is too much water (not even fire can kill it)
  • Diversifying farms are key to viability. For example, a 140-year-old organic dairy farm (which was only 75% organic for a VERY good reason) has started a pumpkin patch and cheese factory in order to bring in more income to the land.
  • From my lessons from Suzie Q I taught the group how to stick four fingers in a baby calf’s mouth and they will suck until the sun goes down – it’s gotta be one of the coolest feelings!
  • You can ferment rice to make lactose and spray lettuce leaves to kill microbes and create greens that are full of nutrients instead of eating lettuce that’s only nitrogen and water (even the “organic” stuff may not be nutrient filled. )
  • Growing rabbit is a very economical and sustainable way of producing protein and it doesn’t need refrigeration. Imagine.
  • We are teaching the Rabbit growing techniques to emerging countries like Haiti. This was started by a mom helping her daughter with a 4H project in school and has now turned into an international model!
  • You can be a beginner in change.
  • You can stumble into your passion and world work if you stay open.
  • What’s most astonishing is that the people who have discovered these things range anywhere from construction workers to software developers to graphic designers to children’s book writers. The common theme with all of them is they decided at a point in their lives not to focus on their failures but rather to focus on what was going right and making their successes thrive.

Quotes from ordinary people today….

“I want all the children to know that underneath the concrete is a beautiful garden.”

“We can measure democracy by what’s on the plate at school lunch.”

Nature misses us.” (Referring to a native plant/weed that produces a delicious seed and it’s dying off. It only reproduces or grows if you pick it. HA!)

P.S. from Tracy:

Yesterday was equally inspiring with learnings from the CEO of Stonyfield Farms, a guy who started making organic yogurt in his backyard and now has a 310 million dollar company that is profitable and supports local farms. The company has figured out that making decisions that are good for the planet have boosted profitability every step of the way.

And later, we heard from a team of people who have figured out how to manage grazing in such a way to fully restore habitats lost to desertification (due to over grazing), all while increasing profitability, carbon sequestration, and amazingly the land’s capacity to handle more grazing. And, finally, a presentation by a totally inspiring woman from Brooklyn who has started an urban farm that makes me weep with possibility.

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Stay tuned for more updates. We’d love to hear your comments — what inspires you about this news?

Earth Overshoot Day came and went

From the Global Footprint Network website:

August 21st marks an unfortunate milestone: the day in which we exhaust our ecological budget for the year. Once we pass this day, humanity will have demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can provide this year. From that point until the end of the year, we meet our ecological demand by liquidating resource stocks and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In other words, from now till December 31st, we are living on credit. Sound familiar? Talk about a “debt crisis!”

Regular readers of this site know that we don’t often report the gloom-n-doom stuff, but this one is always an important wake-up call. In 2009, we noted the date on September 25th, a full month later than this year!

Yes, it’s depressing. But, remember — we are an amazingly creative species. If we can land people on the moon, we can figure this one out! One way to make a significant difference is to green our businesses. What can you do, today, to help push Earth Overshoot Day back next year? Let’s aim for October, shall we?

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.

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.

Warning: Argue About Climate Change At Your Own Risk

photo by: Julie
Recently, I had a conversation with a green business colleague, who is absolutely convinced that the recent brouhaha about a so-called global climate-change conspiracy has set back the green movement ten years. His concern is at least one branch of the movement – notably green building – has hitched its wagon to the climate-change star of late, rather than sticking to their more successful message that green buildings save money, attract higher-paying tenants and get media attention.

What to make of this? I’m fascinated by the passion on both sides of this argument – and, in fact, that there IS an argument at all. I happen to accept the science that climate change is real and caused by human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels from the earth’s crust (where they were deposited over eons, because they are toxic to life in the biosphere). But I’m not going to argue with someone who disagrees with me. I choose not to lead with climate change, because it is too controversial and turns people off.

I’ve been studying belief change lately. The best way to get someone to harden their position on something is to try and talk them out of it. Think about it. When we believe something, we tend to see evidence of its truth all around us. We also ignore any and all evidence to the contrary – and you can bet there is such evidence. We just don’t see it, because we are too busy noticing the proof. Instead of arguing, the more effective course is to subtly play with people, asking questions to shift their perceptions and awareness. (More on belief change in future articles.)

There’s another reason I abstain from the climate change debate. There’s a universal law that what we focus on, expands. I have long turned away from the “doom-n-gloom” environmental messages. Why put out that anxious, fearful energy? Instead, look at how advantageous it is to adopt a green mindset: it’s smart business to reduce or eliminate waste (which equals money down the drain or up the smokestack); connect to new markets of people who DO care; and get free PR. (More on benefits of green business in future articles.)

Can’t resist passing this along. Since my belief is that climate change is real, I see all around me evidence to support that! For instance, NOAA has a new website covering climate change, which I investigated this morning. It’s full of the latest information, with sections on education, data, and understanding climate.

Also, Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist that has been warning about this for decades, has a new book that I haven’t read yet: “Storms of My Grandchildren” which looks to be a gloves-are-off call to action. (Not for the faint-hearted: the words “last chance” are splashed all over the website.)

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know!