Tiffany Green, DesignShare Advisor interviews Adrienne Baker, Producer of the Agenda for a Sustainable America conferencesMarch 13th, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
The Green Revolution is on fast forward with the passing of the stimulus package. The goal of this blog is educate myself about all things green and share this information with others especially as a new resident of the Atlanta Metro area. I am researching, networking and writing about Green entrepreneurs, green in the education sector, manufacturers, suppliers and vendors and the overall strategy for sustainability.
This interview with Adrienne Baker, Producer of the Agenda for a Sustainable America events highlights how large corporations have moved from wanting to know about case studies to overall strategies for sustainability.
Tiffany (T): Hello Adrienne, Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today from Vancouver Canada. I wanted to learn more about Green Power Conferences and the Agenda for a Sustainable America and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the Green Industry. I am also interested in Green Schools because I am an Educational Designer of innovative learning environments.
Adrienne (A): I am looking at your blog now.
T: I put up articles in late 2008 then I got busy but now I want to make it more about my own personal journey in the Green World.
A: Great. I like your website. Tomorrow we are launching a new series of events that is the best thing we can talk about.
T: Absolutely. Also as I began networking at Green events and I started to see the same people and we were all asking the same question…where do we fit? What is our niche? How do we get in?
A: That’s the time we are in isn’t it?
T: Yes, especially with the economy the way it is in the states. Everything is on the table.
T: Everyone is attempting to find his or her niche. My first question is about you and how you got involved in this industry?
A: I was an editor of a financial publication called Investor Relations magazine and started doing some work chairing conferences for Green Power. I should also tell you that out of this office in Vancouver we only run a series of the events called the Agenda for a Sustainable America. This is the new series we are launching. It was previously called Corporate Climate Response. Green Power does events on renewables, biofuels etc.
So my background was an editor then I became very interested in how large corporations were beginning to look at the threat of global warming impacting their operations. Initially we began looking at how shareholders looked at that. That moved into a series of events called Corporate Climate Response that we have been running for four or five years now. And those events really focused on how companies responding to global warming.
We did those for four years and basically looked in depth at carbon management and climate response and we saw really that companies who wanted to be sustainable could not take a piecemeal approach. They have to look a very strategic view of long-term sustainability. They basically have to make it their DNA, if you will. So we are re-launching this series of events under the name, Agenda for a Sustainable America. It is really looking at how some companies have developed a sustainability strategy through the top down approach and are looking at things like anticipating future regulations, climate response, carbon management, energy efficiency, clean technologies, water management and supply chain issues in a systemic way and really trying to anticipate how they have to be proactive rather than reactive, let’s say.
We have a series of nine events in 2009 that are bringing together the corporate leaders in this area and other green innovators that are working with the companies to talk about how you can become strategic and systemic strategies for green, clean and profitable companies and how you can take things one step further. The reason is because these companies cannot look at these things separately any longer. They have to have a system for it.
T: And this impacts their bottom line directly.
A: It does, It does. A lot of companies recognize this and the anticipated carbon trade system.
T: When is that first event?
A: Our Sustainable Manufacturing Summit is on the 29-30th of April. Then the next event is called the Agenda for Sustainable America in Seattle, June 10-11. That is our first one. We are repeating that in Chicago in September, and Miami in November and New York in July. The website for this series is www.asaseries.com. We are making it live tomorrow.
The exciting thing about the Sustainable Manufacturing Summit is that we have a lot of very big manufacturers coming along like Siemens, Kraft, Toshiba, US Steel, Pfizer, Owen Corning and Holender. They are going to talk very specifically about how they are building sustainability into their business as a strategy. We also have the CEO of McDonough and Braungart Chemistry who have developed the Cradle to Cradle methodology. He is going to give an interactive session introducing cradle to cradle and two of his companies, Herman Miller and Shaw Industries are coming along to talk about how they use this method. That’s quite interesting because their methods ends in zero waste and that is an incredibly challenging thing to do.
In Seattle in June we have had an incredible response for speakers such Microsoft, Starbucks, Kettle Foods, Boeing, Shorebank Pacific…a lot of strong names and high profile executives. Many of the speakers of CEOs and Presidents. That is fitting for that event because it is focused on strategy. A lot of our events in the past were focused on case studies about specific companies. This series, Agenda for a Sustainable America will incorporate that practical advise but it begins from the first day with a look at how you can build sustainability as a strategy. That is much different than looking at isolated examples of carbon management or energy efficiency. I have observed after going to these events over the years is that we attract speakers that head sustainability of the company and the delegates are their peers…They are the head of CSR, head of environment, etc. They often say to us that they want to hear about the strategy and we really want to know how they made this their strategy. That’s interesting in the US because up until now that has been entirely voluntary. You have some fascinating companies that have spear headed this change but like you said with this difficult economy the companies that have adopted this strategy realize there is an economic benefit to being sustainable and you have to take the long-term view of that. Even if there is a two-year payback time for an energy efficiency project for example there is still the motivation to pursue these strategies. I think it is a very exciting time.
T: That is exciting to hear that these big companies are now coming to the table because that will trickle down into other industries and small to midsize entrepreneurs who possibly supply those companies. That’s going to have a major impact on green industries and that growth sector.
T: I was watching CSPAN when President Obama signed the stimulus package and there was a guy speaking who had a solar panel manufacturing company and he shared how his company has tripled over the last three years.
A: Oh wow!
T: He essentially hires a new employee each month and how the stimulus package would help him continue that growth so he would not have to lay anyone off. That is really optimistic. I try now not to watch the news because it is too depressing but if you read about green things and green industries it is so inspirational. Seeing schools doing it, cities doing it…This is a growth industry. And having a last name Green, I feel it is important for me.
A: [laughing] You are already well positioned.
T: I always joke that “I was Green before it was in”. I like to hear that those companies are now moving into strategy. It’s almost like reverse engineering not to have any waste. That is fantastic. I went to Germany and visited V/S International, a corporate and educational furniture manufacturing. They were very much using the same methodology. I was able to tour the factory and talk to the employees and that informed me a lot about the manufacturing process and all the stuff that comes from it. Stuff being a technical term [laugh]. You want to reduce stuff or use it. They are very exceptional at taking waste and recycling it into other furniture. I live in Clayton County close to the airport in Atlanta and it is a major transportation hub. I am always thinking about new business ventures so I thought that at least I could get informed and share that information. There are many people that also want to be informed so why not blog about it. I can create a calling around it or marketing around it. I can help you out and you can help me out. That is how it is done. Most people do not know where to start.
A: I will send you a link to our series homepage. If you want to fill in anything it is best to look there. www.asaseries.com
T: A last question would be about what has surprised you in the industry or what have you sense as a need that has been unfulfilled that could be an opportunity for small or mid-sized entrepreneurs?
A: That’s a great question. There is a big opportunity in energy efficiency. One of the things that US companies have been good about it the energy efficiency as a result of the crisis in the 70s. Now we are coming back to the realization that energy efficiency is essential and it is the first step in carbon management and decreasing dependency on foreign oil. So I think that discussion is coming back on how to cut energy use on a global scale especially if you have international operations. That discussion has been around a long time but it is interesting to see it come back when we are hearing it from the new administration and what companies are focusing on as a first step to becoming sustainable. I think that is a great evolution.
T: Yes. I was at the Georgia Charter School Conference and spoke with a school green cleaning company and she was sharing how many companies and schools are moving to “day cleaning” so they do not have to turn the lights on. I remember growing up in Chicago and going downtown in the evening and seeing all these skyscrapers lit up because of a few cleaning crews in the building. She told me that “day cleaning” can save upwards of 15% on annual energy costs. Now that’s amazing and simple to do. It is good that energy efficiency is coming full circle. I was worried when gas costs came back down that people would go back to their wasteful ways. But the new administration is keeping energy conservation on the forefront.
Well Adrienne, I appreciate you sharing this time with me and being the inaugural interview for the re-launch of Green Revolution.
A: Excellent. I am pleased to speak to you. I look forward to hearing from you.
T: Thanks and have a good day and stay warm.
Shanaka Fernando (centre) helps staff at his new venture at Collingwood College. It’s an education process on both sides of the counter, he says. (Photo and caption source: www.theage.com.au)
I found this article, from today’s Age, very exciting, since it combines two of the things I’m passionate about: great meals and humane schools.
The restaurant, Lentil as Anything (a play on the name of Australian band Mental as Anything), has three unique branches around Melbourne. One is in an old convent on the banks of the Yarra river, and that’s where I gathered my friends in 2006 for my birthday party. I also took Randy and Prakash to the branch in St Kilda when they were working here in Melbourne. I love this place!
So it’s great to see that they are setting up shop at Collingwood College, a K-12 school that was also the pioneering location for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Project.
Both of these initiatives provide authentic support to the universally lauded principles of student wellbeing, environmental sustainability, authentic learning and community connections. Impressive!
The Back Story…
When all this transpired, I had been living in Minnesota for about 3 years. I was doing fine professionally but was seeking more adventure and challenge and wanted to work on what I was most passionate about. I started a chapter of a national nonprofit, Black Alliance for Educational Options, which really put me into the thick of educational policy change and community engagement. I was also the Policy Aide to Minneapolis City Council Vice President, Robert Lilligren. I always loved design so when the opportunity came to sit on the design committee for the Midtown Safety Center in Minneapolis (Corner of Chicago and Lake), I jumped at it. They needed someone to pick paint colors. Can you see me jumping out my seat to get that task? I turned that task into my first design project (I worked with the contractor on build out, selected all the furnishings and of course picked the paint colors.) That was November 2005. For a year after I thought about what next? And every time Winter came around, I was like “why do I live in Minnesota?” And that’s no disrespect to my wonderful fiancee who often asks the same question. Previously, I lived in Nashville TN for 9 years.
It was a blistery October day 2006. Sitting at home on the computer, still trying to figure out how to integrate design into my professional life. My passion for education and my already large pile of student loans accumulated through undergrad and grad school at Vanderbilt (sorry VU, I love you but you know you’re expensive) kept me from taking the full leap into a Masters program in Interior Design. I also knew that I learned great study skills throughout my education so I figured I could teach myself just about anything. I thought that if I could merge both loves…design and education, I would be fulfilled and challenged. Was there anyone or anyplace I could go to learn about School Design? Where else to start but a google search….school design. After a couple of misdirected sites about design schools, I found DesignShare and the whole world of school design opened up for me. I spent a couple of weeks reading articles, blog posts and the newsletter. All of this wet my appetite for more. Could I make a career move into school design? I read all the contacts and was struck that DesignShare’s Founder, Mr. Randall Fielding lived in Minneapolis. It felt as though the heavens opened up and I had found the answer to “Why I live in Minnesota?”
What now? I believe that people are people so I crafted an email to Randy and sent it to him hoping he would reply but with no expectation that I would actually hear back from one of the world’s champions of innovative school design. Well guess what? He emailed me back within a few hours. Luckily, he was in town that week and my email made an impression so we met for lunch and toured one of his latest projects, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (which just so happened to be in the Ward of the Council member I was working for. Coincidence? I think not!). We had a great meeting and soon agreed to move forward and see what projects I could work on in the meantime. They were not ready to bring me on full time and I had some loose ends at the City Council so that worked out fine. By mid April 2007, I came on board full-time and the rest is her-story.
Now, I am the working on DesignShare and I’m an Educational Planner with Fielding Nair International. There are a couple of lessons I learned through this experience that hopefully will resonate throughout the DesignShare Network. What I discovered intuitively actually existed. And I found other people at DesignShare with the same passion to impact the learning process through the design of educational facilities. It always said, “it’s not what you know but who you know that’s will get you places” but in order to positively impact the world of school design both of those statements must be true…who you know and what you know. DesignShare strives to merge these paradigms and offer everyone the benefit of each other’s network and knowledge base with the goal of positively impacting learning through school design. I was able to expand both my knowledge base and network via DesignShare. My goal is to continue to grow this effort and utilize this blog to keep you informed of my journey and to share stories from DesignShare’s network as well as other cool happenings and products in the world of school design. Thanks for reading and stay tuned……
Tiffany Green, Director of Communications