Annie Leonard, Ben Bradlee, and an iPad walk into a bar…

How do you sell a newspaper in the 21st Century?  Well, The Washington Post is on to something with this new iPad app and campaign.  This video blends the past successes at the Post, personified by Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, with the contemporary moment.  Here you have Bob Woodward, typing away on a Watergate era typewriter, interrupted by some young reporter with an iPad.  He doesn’t know what to do with it, and in that moment Bob Woodward is like a lot of us, how exactly could you use this fancy new product?  Bob walks by some folks using the app, and I have to say, it does look intuitive and appealing.  Woodward asks Bradlee, the old lion of journalism, how does the iPad fit in to the Washington Post?  Bradlee, sagely says to Woodward: “These kids think tweets twit themselves.”  Brilliant.  This is very effective marketing for the iPad.  However, my enthusiasm is tempered this morning by the latest from Annie Leonard.

The Story of Electronics examines what happens to electronics before and after their useful life.  In the context of the iPad, I wonder, what is its useful life?  If I could count on daily use for at least 10 years, that would be a start.  However, given the shelf life of cell phones these days, I am not so certain that it will still be useful in 10 years.  The MacBook Pro I am typing on is 4 years old, and I hope to get at least two more years out of it.  What if the iPad was designed so that critical components could be upgraded in the future, easily?  That way, I could take the costs of the iPad production, in water, resources, and waste, and spread them well into the future.

What toxic chemicals are used in the production of the iPad?  What will happen to those chemicals when the device breaks? Apple does take back old products, which is good.  All electronics manufacturers should follow suit.  The recycling should be incentivized at purchase, so that consumers have it in their best interest to return the device to the manufacturer for safe, effective recycling, instead of throwing it out in the trash.

Bioneers by the Bay, and the Marion Institute ROCK!

This weekend I attended an amazing event:  CONNECTING FOR CHANGE: A Bioneers by the Bay Conference Presented by the Marion Institute.  After a fantastic weekend at Bioneers, I am recharged and motivated.  Some of the best minds of our generation spoke to the 2000 folks, young and old, who spent the weekend at the conference.  Van Jones, one of the Friday keynote speakers, spoke about an optimism he had, and exhorted the audience to not be down.  In a memorable section, he compared hope to the desire to lose weight, and change to actually doing the work, day in and day out, to lose weight.  Change is hard work, he said.  Despite only spending six months working in the White House, Jones said it was still a fantastic opportunity to see how decisions are made behind the curtain.

One theme that was touched on by both Alan Khazei, founder of City Year, and Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, was relearning what it means to be a citizen.  Leonard said that we are not going to create a sustainable society by shopping, but rather, by working together and building community.  Leonard later ran a workshop, in which she discusses principles of systems thinking, and engaged the audience to suggest leverage points where sustainability can be fostered.  Khazei’s recent book, Big Citizenship, is one I am looking forward to reading.

Several successful entrepreneurs spoke about their successes; Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea, discussed Coca-Cola, organic tea, and the company’s recent guerilla marketing strategy; Eric Henry, creator of the sustainable company Cotton of the Carolinas, spoke of the challenges of growing both local and organic cotton, and a new business model called ‘Dirt to Shirt in 750 miles.’  David de Rothschild gave a keynote address about the Plastiki project, where he recently took a sailboat created from plastic bottles  across the Pacific; Rothschild then ran a workshop for a group of 20 of us about how to create successful guerilla marketing campaigns.  Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, and builder of schools in Afghanistan, spoke about his efforts, and produced a sustained two minute standing ovation.

There were several contributions from Rhode Island, as well.  Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth In Action, a non-profit organization run by Providence teenagers, spoke about her own upbringing in Providence, and the reason she remains committed to improving the lives of children in her Washington Park community. Providence residents Michalle Saintil and Rudy Cabrera both performed some of their inspiring spoken word verse.

Bioneers is so big that one cannot experience the entire conference: at any one point there are simultaneous workshops and speakers, plus local businesses and demonstrations.  The Marion Institute, organizers of the conference, did an amazing job.  One of my favorite opportunities was lunch, catered by a local restaurant, with opportunities to engage fellow conference goers and speakers in conversation.  The atmosphere was intimate and open.   I made lots of exciting connections.

One moment of the conference shocked me and gave me pause.  One of my biggest inspirations, and a leading figure in changing the way we consume, told us that they recently received death threats and are under FBI protection, after ongoing criticism by Glen Beck.  I don’t want to mention the name here, but it reminded me both about the seriousness of the problems we face, and the power of those that resist change.  However, listening to Greg Mortenson, Diane Wilson, Alan Khezi, Van Jones, David De Rothschild and Annie Leonard speak about what they as individuals have accomplished, it was clear to me that we all have power to make a big difference, if we can only get the courage to take the first step.

I can’t wait until next year!

Aveda is showing us the path forward

Last night in Boston, my friend Ryan and I were talking about how the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries are ripe for reform.  Unfortunately, there are few examples of sustainable companies to use as a model.  Aveda stands out in that regard.

In May, the Sustainability Officer of Aveda spoke at the Marlboro College Graduate School to MBA in Sustainable Management students. Aveda, founded in 1978 with the goal of providing beauty industry professionals with high performance, botanically based products that would be better for service providers and their guests, as well as for the planet, manufactures professional plant-based hair care, skin care, makeup, and lifestyle products.

Aveda stands out as a company doing the right thing.  First of all, they use plant based materials as much as possible, and source as much organic material as is available.  Second, they do a life cycle analysis of all packaging, with the goal of minimizing packaging, maximizing the use of post-consumer recycled materials, using materials that can be and are recyclable, and designing packaging so that the individual parts can be separated for recycling. Third, Aveda now purchases all of its power from wind sources. Aveda also parters with their salons to engage with their local communities, and with the communities that they source their materials from.  In short, the industry would do well to model themselves after Aveda.

Unfortunately, as Annie Leonard shows here, the industry is not following Aveda’s lead.  In fact, the industry is a disgrace.  The Environmental Working Group just released the results of a study on sunscreen.  I was shocked to learn that the sunscreen I had used contained oxybenzone, which can cause developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation, and biochemical or cellular level changes.  As Annie says, toxics in, toxics out.  We use many products with ingredients that we know are harmful, even carcinogens.  In fact, the beauty industry is not sufficiently regulated.  Think about the shampoo, the conditioner, the soap, the deodorant, the suncreen, the moisturizer, the detergents, and the countless other products you use, and you get a sense of how pervasive all of these chemicals really are.

Until we demand that our government really screen the chemicals used in these products, and until we demand that words like natural and organic have real meaning when it comes to beauty and lifestyle products, we will all be putting ourselves at risk.  Aveda has had the right idea since 1978; it is time we all started to listen.

By the way, if you have not seen the original Story of Stuff, I encourage you to check it out.