Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Join the Mouth Revolution: If It Isn't Real, Spit Out Your Meal.

"Ears of the world, hear me. We the mouths are demanding real food, real ingredients. As gateways to the human body, we recognize our solemn duty to keep the garbage out. For too long, we have ceded this power to the brains, who have done a lousy job. So we, the mouths, are staging an international shut up until all of our needs are met. Today, the Mouthalución begins!"
So begins the latest online video campaign, The Mouth Revolution, by Free Range Studios in partnership with Annie's Homegrown (you probably know them from their mac n' cheese). To watch the video go to

You can also check out the Mouth Revolution blog, upload a photo of your mouth to the Mouths of the Revolution Gallery, and post a banner on your web site or blog.

If you want to join the Mouth Revolution, here is the Mouthifesto: The Declaration of Indigestion along with actions that the campaign recommends.

* No Trans Fats
"Several scientific studies show evidence that consuming trans fats increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). Like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, trans fat raises LDL cholesterol (the 'bad cholesterol'), which causes major clogging of the arteries."

Action: Sign petition to eliminate partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from America's food suply.
* No GMOs
"The industry of genetic modification is still very young, and few studies have been conducted to examine the effects of these organisms on human health."

Action: Tell Congress that the GMO's must be labeled if they are going to be in our food supply.
* No Chemical Pesticides
"While it is difficult to prove a direct relationship between a specific pesticide exposure and individual diseases, many scientists have concluded that the release of pesticides into the environment poses risks to both human health and ecosystems."

Action: Eat organic food and sign Pesticide Action Network's (PANNA) petition to ban chlorpyrifos.
* No Artificial Anything
"While research is largely inconclusive, there has been some evidence that additives may cause diseases or discomfort."

Action: Sign the U.S. Food Agenda 2010 petition at the Organic Consumers Association's Food Safety and Health Resource Center.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Splashcast: Nonprofits Using Videos for Social Change

Check out this Splashcast I made of short videos made by nonprofits & NGOs who are using the social web for social change.

You may not be able to see the Splashcast player in your feedreader and have to click through to the actually blog post. Oh, and you'll have to scroll down to see some of the text. I wrote a little too much for each screen. Whoops!

Marshall Kirkpatrick, who I know from NetSquared, now works for Splashcast and was nice enough to ask me to make one with a nonprofit theme for the Demo Conference. You can watch other Splashcasts here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cutest Have Fun * Do Good T-shirt Models Ever

I sent Beth Kanter a Have Fun * Do Good t-shirt to thank her for being such a fabulous co-editor with me on BlogHer and the NetSquared blog. She posted the cutest photo of her children, Harry and Sara, wearing it together.

Beth has started a two-headed blog shirt collection on Flickr. If you send her your blog t-shirt, she'll add it to the group.

Photo credit: Have Fun * Do Good T-Shirt by Beth Kanter.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What Would Ed Do?

Did you know that you can generate enough energy riding your stationary bike to make toast, or that they there are kitchen counter tops made out of recycled glass Coke bottles, or what a solar oven looks like? I do because I watch one of my new favorite shows on Sunday night, Living with Ed on HGTV (Home & Garden Television) 10 PM EST/PST.

For half an hour actor, Ed Begley, Jr., and his wife Rachelle Carson Begley, share how they live a green life, but like many couples, they don't always agree on how it should be done. My favorite episode opens with Ed riding his stationary bike, which is connected to his solar power supply, to generate enough electricity to make toast. After he finishes, his wife says that she is going to drive to the gym and pick up breakfast on the way. Ed says, "Why drive to the gym and breakfast when you can work out on the bike and make toast?"

I'm not a big fan of reality shows, but I love watching this one and actually find myself thinking, "What would Ed do?" when I'm poised over the garbage can or recycling bin, or need to decide what kind of cleaning product to buy. Even though it is a TV show, where I am sure things are scripted, it is fun to see how two people try to live an environmentally sustainable life, and the inevitable challenges that arise.

Sunday nights are always bittersweet with the work week just around the corner, but Living with Ed is like an after dinner mint at the end of a good weekend.

Photo from Living with Ed site.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ask Starbucks to Hold the Hormones in 50 States

Last month I posted about Food & Water Watch's December 5th Call-In Day where people asked Starbucks to guarantee that all of the milk, chocolate, ice cream, bottled Frappuccino drinks, and baked goods that they serve are free of rBGH, (recombinant bovine growth hormone), a genetically-engineered, artificial hormone used to make cows produce more milk.

Shortly after the Call-In Day, Starbucks announced that starting in January 2007 it would increase its supply of rBGH-free dairy by 10%, which would amount to 37% of their total supply and would only be in certain parts of the country.

Food and Water Watch and Sustainable Table are urging folks to call or write Starbucks and ask them to convert fully.

Here is the phone number:
1 (800) 235-2883
line should be staffed Mon – Fri 5 AM – 6 PM (PST)

Or you can send an email by clicking here.

Here is a sample text by Sustainable Table:

Dear Starbucks,

I am concerned about the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in your dairy products. While I applaud your pledge to make 37% of your milk supply free of artificial growth hormones by the end of January of 2007, I believe you can do better. As the largest coffee specialty retailer in the world, you are well positioned to require rBGH-free dairy for 100% of your products.

Specifically, I am concerned that the use of rBGH may lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When cows are injected with rBGH, it increases their likelihood of contracting painful udder infections, which are treated with common antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is a serious concern of numerous health organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, because it creates antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Another major concern I have with Starbucks’ use of rBGH is that there are potential cancer risks from this genetically engineered hormone. rBGH increases another hormone in cows and cows’ milk, called IGF-1. In numerous studies, too much IGF-1 is associated with higher rates of breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer in humans.

The reality is that recombinant bovine growth hormone offers no consumer benefit. Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the entire European Union have banned rBGH. So why should your customers have to take this unnecessary risk?

In the past several years, many dairies and companies alike have responded to consumer concerns and decided to go rBGH-free. As the industry leader, Starbucks has unique buying power. Your company can and should require all dairy suppliers to ban recombinant bovine growth hormone. Your customers deserve nothing less.
Update 1.28.07: Here is the response I received after sending my email:

Hello Britt,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

At Starbucks, we are dedicated to upholding strict standards that help ensure the products we offer, including milk, are high quality and safe for consumption while meeting our customers' different needs and preferences.

Starbucks has made single-serve flavored organic milk, organic milk for our hand-crafted beverages, and organic soymilk as an alternative to cow's milk available to our U.S. Company-operated stores. Furthermore, we are actively engaged with all of our dairy suppliers to explore a conversion of all core dairy products - fluid milk, half and half, whipping cream and eggnog - to rBST-free in our U.S. company-operated locations. Significant work on this front has already been accomplished, in fact 27 percent of the dairy we buy is already rBST-free and 37 percent will be rBST-free starting in January, 2007.

For more information about Starbucks efforts to continue to learn about this issue, we invite you to visit Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility Report at

To learn more about synthetic bovine growth hormone, please contact the Food and Drug Administration and

Again, thank you for contacting Starbucks. If you have any further comments or concerns, please feel free to contact us at or call (800) 23-LATTE to speak with a customer relations representative.

Warm Regards,

Rachel A.

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

If you would like to share your thoughts about your experience with Starbucks Customer Contact Center, please click on the link below to participate in a short survey. Your comments will be used to ensure that any future experiences with Starbucks Customer Contact Center meet your highest expectations.

Photo Credit: American University student Julia Charvat calls Starbucks to request rBGH-free milk while Food & Water Watch cows provide moral support. National Call-In Day Dec 5th, 2006. Dairy Cows Ask Starbucks to Hold the Hormones uploaded by Food & Water Watch Staff.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nomad Cafe: How to Start a Green Cafe

Have you ever thought about starting a green cafe? Well, Chris Waters of the Nomad Cafe in Oakland not only thought about it, he made it happen. When the WorldChanging SF bloggers had their first face-to-face meeting there, I asked Chris if he would do an e-interview with me about how he started the cafe, what makes it green and how other people can start their own green cafes.

What makes the Nomad Cafe a green and sustainable cafe?

The Nomad is an Alameda County Certified Green Business (see a list of their green business practices here). Nomad is a statewide waste reduction award winner, through the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB). Out of 1403 statewide recipients in 2004, Nomad was one of only ten businesses chosen for the CIWMB's "WRAP of the Year" (WOTY) award. We shared that distinction with big players like American Honda Motor, Frito-Lay, Lockheed Martin, and the Los Angeles Zoo.

I have been actively involved in the crafting of Oakland's newly-adopted Zero Waste Policy, and I campaigned for City Council member Jean Quan's polystyrene foam packaging moratorium, as well as Council member Jane Brunner's litter fee assessment ordinance. Both of those laws passed and are now in effect.

January 1, 2007 was the date that the polystyrene foam packaging moratorium officially took effect, meaning that many small independently-owned food service businesses had to find alternatives to the sewer-clogging, landfill-hogging, bay-bogging packaging that they were used to providing for their customers. Nomad has always used compostable packaging, but in the spirit of shared sacrifice, we kicked off this year by ratcheting up our packaging approach to the next level. We have eliminated all polyethylene (PE)-coated products from our take-out packaging arsenal and replaced those compostable items with fully biodegradable items that are polylactic acid (PLA)-coated. PLA is derived from natural plant sugars, and helps mitigate our dependence on the fossil-fuel economy. Even our straws are compostable now, and our plastic forks, spoons and knives have been replaced with Spudware. We participate in the City of Oakland's Maintain-a-Drain program, and do our part daily to remove litter from the street in our neighborhood.

I have championed the recent Oakland Food Policy Assessment introduced by some amazing grad students at Cal, which lays out a very clear, thorough, and utterly achievable road map for food security in Oakland. Its general premise is to arrive at a point where 30% of Oakland's consumed agricultural products are grown locally. This effort will have far-reaching social justice, health and economic development impacts for the City of Oakland and its residents.

These are some of the exciting things already taking place or on the horizon in Oakland -- a city I adore and of which I am very proud. I am grateful to have the opportunity to lend my efforts to creating positive grassroots change and being able to measurably identify the difference we are making together as a community.

It doesn't stop here, though. This is part of a growing movement--one to which the United States has been slow to adapt. I believe in the value of the grassroots in effecting large-scale cumulative change. Change has to happen on a broad policy level, but the policy invariably emerges around the grassroots groundswell. That's what we are doing here. We support farmers with living wages by serving only Fair Trade, organic coffee and tea. We sell only healthy organic food, utilizing only organic dairy products, and providing vegan alternatives. We support the arts with a busy calendar of music and spoken word events and gallery showings, film screenings, receptions, political events and meetings. My approach to business is based on a holistic vision of what it means to be part of a community.

And this is my community, by the way -- I live 8 doors down and I love my commute. I hope that by creating or facilitating my vision of community here -- one shared by many people -- that vision will grow out into other areas and inspire others to do the same. Based on the frequency with which I am asked to give my advice to others who have such a vision and have the courage to share it, I believe that this is happening. Ours isn't the only way to do things, but our example serves as proof to others that it -- or something like it -- can be done.

What inspired you to create the Nomad Cafe? What is the path that brought you to this work?

I grew up in Oklahoma, in the heart of cattle country. I was a quiet, internal child who liked to read. I grew out of my shell and became very popular in high school, but by the time I was seventeen I had chosen to be a vegetarian, which confounded people in a way that I found fascinating.

I had an intense desire to travel and experience new people and places. I spent a few years back east at Boston University studying film, and ended up landing a job as a Production Assistant on a Hollywood film that was shooting back in Oklahoma. That was the beginning of a 15-year career in the film industry that took me all across the globe to a variety of exotic locations and indulgent experiences. It was a lot of fun, and I earned a lot of money.

From time to time I would take a year off and go work as a journalist or a newspaper editor in some foreign country, living very simply on little more than fresh fruit and vegetables and a small pad to sleep on. I went from one financial extreme to another, had a lot of very exciting peripatetic experiences, and met a lot of interesting people, including the young Czech girl who would later become my wife.

I liked the way I had been able to live like a gypsy and develop deep relationships despite my mobility. But somewhere along the way, I was inspired to embrace the challenge of applying that nomadic aesthetic to a fixed location, an oasis of sorts, where nomads of all backgrounds gather, whether they are traveling through space or traveling through life. Sort of like the cantina aliens in Star Wars, except without the weapons.

If a reader wanted to start their own green cafe, what should they do?

• Create a business plan. Get help from an agency like the Oakland Business Development Corporation (OBDC).

• Secure financing. OBDC can also help you explore SBA loans or other funding opportunities.

• Establish relationships with other business owners, and with potential suppliers that reflect your ethics and product tastes. Begin introducing yourself to people as the owner of a startup business. Get business cards printed. Build connections. Join organizations that are relevant to you.

• Get in on the ground floor with your green business certification program.

• Identify a location for your business. Negotiate. Find the right fit for you, both geographically and in terms of your business relationship with the seller or landlord. Don't get too "married" to a particular location -- remain confident that if "the perfect place" falls through, something better will still come along.

• Develop a very well thought out interviewing and hiring process, and always make sure your staff respects you for what you are doing. Their loyalty will serve you well.

• Make your business as inviting as possible to people from every cultural or socioeconomic background.

• Be prepared to work long, hard hours for very moderate reward -- and that latter only after several years of business-building.

• Don't go into the green cafe business to get rich. Follow your heart. If you want an easy job, go into the movie business! I used to complain about those 80-hour weeks until I started my own business and realized what hard work really meant. It will be the hardest thing you ever do, and also the most rewarding.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Balancing People, Profit & Planet: An Interview with Reem Rahim of Numi Tea

Reem Rahim is the Co-founder and Vice President of Marketing of the Oakland-based green business Numi Tea. She is also the creator of the beautiful cover art on the tea's boxes. In the Fall of 1999, brother and sister Ahmed and Reem had a vision to revive the "serenity, creativity, and comfort that is inspired by the simple art of tea." Now they are the #9 brand in the natural food industry out of about 225 tea companies. Reem talks about how the company balances the triple bottom line of profits, people and planet.

If you haven't tasted Numi tea, it's delish. My favorite is Ruby Chai--Spiced Rooibos. If you click here you can watch a little movie that shows how their amazing flower teas open up when you steep them. Obviously, I'm a big fan (:

Below is a transcript from my interview with Reem from the Big Vision Podcast.

Reem Rahim:
My name is Reem Rahim. I am the VP of Marketing and co-Founder here at Numi. My brother and I started Numi about seven years ago, from here in Oakland, California, and we started in my small apartment up the street, near Piedmont Avenue. It was about 750 square feet. A year later we moved to his house, which was about double the size, and then we moved to a warehouse, which was about 5,000 square feet, and we are currently in this space.

We have been in this space for about three years, it is about 25,000 square feet, and we are actually moving part of the offices to a location around the corner, which is also going to act as a sort of retail/event space, so we're really excited about that. We started just the two of us, and we are about 40 employees currently, from all over the Bay Area.

We started Numi for a number of reasons. My brother had teahouses in Europe, so he was really the tea, sort of, aficionado. He still is. For a long time, in my family, we had discussed importing a dry desert line called "Numi", in Arabic, that we drank as kids in our native Iraq. We had talked about that a lot in our family, so we just, my brother and I, sort of serendipitously decided to do that, separately, and then we talked about it, and so we decided to do it together.

So, we joined forces, he with his tea knowledge and myself. I am an artist and I was getting my Masters of Fine Arts at the time from John F. Kennedy University. We decided to bring both of our strengths together, myself in art and him in tea, and create Numi. If anybody has seen the packaging, all of the artwork on the packaging is my original artwork.

We really wanted to not only import this line, which is called Numi, but really dig into the authentic nature of tea and what it is about. We had noticed, in the market, that there were a lot of sort of, I guess you want to say sort of gimmicky brands, but there wasn't really quality in a teabag; and then this sort of space in tea, in terms of a space to relax, what we call "liquid meditation," wasn't really there, and we wanted to sort of portray a package or portray an essence in our brand that was about a self-reflective space, and what better way than tea and art, and create sort of depth and feeling, in the package as well as in the quality that is inside the bag.

What we introduced, which was very unique at the time, was a full-leaf quality tea in a bag, which didn't really exist. Then, what we did, which is still unique in the market, is we use real fruits. Everything was pure, real ingredients. So we use fresh, pure herbs, real fruits--which is unheard of in the market. So we don't add any oils or flavorings. It is very clean, very natural taste. If you have ever tasted it, which I hope you have and others will, you can really get that authentic taste in the bag. So we wanted to infuse that quality from the inside out, and from the outside in.

The other thing we did is we pioneered unique flavors. My brother, at the time, he was working in Europe, and Rooibos and Honeybush were very popular there and here nobody had ever heard of them. So we pioneered Rooibos and Honeybush to the country seven years ago, and now it's the big craze. Just recently, we introduced flowering teas, which are hand-sewn tea leaves and flowers, and they blossom when steeped in hot water, so that has been a huge hit and people love them, and it's a very innovative product. So if anybody goes on our web site,, you can see them opening up before your very eyes.

Britt: How is Numi Tea a sustainable company?

Reem: Sustainability can range, you know, when people talk about triple bottom line, you're talking about profits, people and planet.

So in terms of profitability, the company has been very successful. It has grown to be the number nine brand in the natural food industry out of about 225 tea companies, so we are very--knock-on-wood--grateful that everybody loves our stuff. Then, of course, when you run a business, it's not that easy, you always have to have cash flow working in your favor, so I think we have become profitable this past year, so that's good.

In terms of planet, my personal belief is that there is too much waste on the planet, so in creating more product you just have to be conscientious of what you put out there. So what we do is we use bamboo, one, in a lot of our packaging, in a lot of our merchandising, and our racks, and our gift boxes, and as I'm sure a lot of people know, bamboo is an extremely abundant natural resource, and it re-grows.

So, we work with a village in China that grows the bamboo along the river, and every two years that bamboo shoots up about 20 feet, and they have a whole way of working with the trees there where they'll just cut them down, use them, and it will replenish itself. So that is pretty much, I would say, 90% of our gift boxes and our merchandising is bamboo.

The paper that we use is at least 85% post-consumer waste, and of course recyclable. It used to be 100%, we haven't been able to source that same paper, so it is 85% post-consumer waste, so whether it is the tea boxes, or our shippers, or any of the box material that we use. That saves a considerable amount. We save at least 3,500 trees, at least 100,000-150,000 tons of BTU in terms of energy emissions--sorry, I don't have the exact numbers.

[Britt's note: Here are some numbers from the bottom of each Numi Tea box, "By using 100% recycled material made of a minimum of 85% post-consumer waste for this package, Numi annually conserves the below estimates: Trees Saved 2,876, Landfill Reduced 184,9992 lbs, Energy Reduced 1523 million BTU, Water Reduced 1,289,868 gallons, Net Greenhouse Emission 260,145].

We use at least 50% post-consumer waste in all of our marketing collateral. We do a lot of recycling in-house, as much as we can, and try and enforce with our employees, and we use soy-based inks, and we use soy-based peanuts--you know, the packing peanuts. So we try and do what we can. You can't be perfect, but you try and do what you can as a manufacturer that is putting product out into the world. So that is in terms of environmental sustainability.

In terms of people, we have about 17 SKUs that are fair-trade certified by TransFair. What that means is that the workers are provided fair wages, and then good working conditions. On top of that, part of being fair-trade certified is you are giving back a certain percentage of what you purchase, back to a co-operative in the garden that then decides what to do with that money.

So, with full-leaf quality tea, you basically give back 50 cents a pound for the teas that you purchase, which is a much better situation, obviously, for the farmers than if you are buying really poor grade tea. So if you are buying tea dust, you're giving back like five to ten cents, versus if you're buying full-leaf tea you're giving back 50 cents; so that's a considerable difference. This year I was told that we purchased over 150,000 pounds of full-leaf tea, so that is over $75,000 that is given back to the farmers.

So, like I mentioned, of course, the different farms have different unions, and they have a co-operative that puts the money to various projects, and they decide. There is one garden in Southern India, the Utu Garden, which apparently has an equal representation of women to men, which isn't always common. They have put together a project called "Moo," which is that they get cattle, and they will use the milk and things like that for their own resources, and for creating more income for them. They have also put together a child care center.

Another garden, also in India, has put money into either retirement funds, because the government doesn't give that to them, and funds for parents with disabled children. So all kinds of things that really helps improve the quality of their life. We are proud to do that.

I read this article by one of the buyers at Wild Oats, and she said, "What people don't realize, or what people can realize, is that when they are buying a fair-traded product, they are actually helping to end poverty." Which I think is a pretty amazing statement. You're actually improving wages and the quality of life for people who are disenfranchised. You are buying products from that part of the world, which is generally less developed than what we are fortunate to have.

Other things that we are doing outside of TransFair is that, TransFair doesn't work with as many farms as we would like, so part of our challenge has been that we have been working with specific farms for a long time, and in order to get that seal you have to switch farmers, which we don't necessarily like. So some of our other farmers are doing fairly-traded, equitable trading with their workers. The folks in South Africa, where we get our Rooibos and Honeybush, actually have sort of earning rights. They have co-operatives of farmers where they buy their Rooibos from, and the workers can start having ownership in the land.

We also buy our flowering teas from farmers that provide both health care--the man who sort of is the General Manager of the farm--he provides health care, and also gives them land in order to work and grow their fruits and vegetables on.

Then the last is--well, not the last, but one of them--is the bamboo village where we get our bamboo. The workers there had a flood last year, so we have been donating about 25% of our proceeds from our bamboo purchases back to them, so they can rebuild their factories, have better working conditions, etc.

I would say about 75-80% of our teas are organic. The flowering teas, the tea leaves are organic, the flowers are not yet organic, but we have a goal to transition all that in six months.

Britt: Oakland needs more businesses like Numi. Why did you decide to have your business in Oakland?

Reem: Oakland's the place. Well, I moved here to go to school. I could have lived in San Francisco, I suppose, but I needed more trees, and I just love Oakland. I think it has got everything you can want, in terms of, well, it's one of the most diverse places on the planet, I think, and that is one of the main reasons that I love it.

From a business perspective, it's a great hub, I think. Oakland is maybe the second- or third-largest port in the country, so it is a great port to get products, and it is also close to airports and, you know. So it's easy to get around. We have talked about moving to Sonoma so all of us can have sort of a more country lifestyle, but right now we are quite happy here.

The City of Oakland has been great to us, too. We have gotten a lot of support. There is an organization called Inner City Advisors--ICA--that has been very supportive of what we have done. They are amazing. So between that, the Ella Baker Center, I just think that people in Oakland have so much soul, so that's where I think we fit.

Britt: Your training is as a fine artist. How do you balance your art work and your Numi work?

Reem: Good question. I try, I have a studio and I try to go to my studio whenever I can; and then, I have done various art shows here, in San Francisco, in New York, and friends that I have that live abroad have put me in some shows. So whenever I can get time I try to do my artwork, so that keeps me really balanced.

Britt: How do you keep inspired?

Reem: Well, I think the best thing, the most rewarding part of doing what we do, is the people that call us and email us to tell us how we made their day, how their mother who has cancer is drinking the tea and feels much better. I mean, just amazing stories that we get every day, that people that are inspired by what we do, and in turn we feel inspired by them. People write poetry. It's amazing.

I mean, I hardly ever write a company, and we must get at least five emails a day that are, I mean, at least five emails that are very particular, that love the tea, have switched from coffee to tea because of our teas. There are general emails that come in and say, "Where can I buy it?" and this and that, but it is amazing stories of people that we have helped, in some way touched their lives, and I think that makes it all worthwhile.

Britt: What is one of your favorite stories?

Reem: Well, that one that I mentioned, where a man's mom had cancer, and he bought the teas, and she felt much better. There was one woman who emailed us that said, she said she was 65 years old, and she said, "I don't get very excited about much these days," but she had the tea in a coffee shop or restaurant, and then she took the bag home, and she threw it away, and then after drinking it she had to dig back into her garbage to find that bag, to find out who she was going to call. Anyway, that was pretty amazing.

There was one person who wrote that said she loves water, and she liked what we wrote about how tea enhances water's unique potential, and she felt like she met a brother/sister duo that was sort of her soul mates. I mean, just quirky things. That is what is amazing, is the amount of quirkiness that we receive, I just love. It's great.

Britt: What is the biggest challenge of your work?

Reem: I think, quite honestly, because we haven't run a business before, it is probably our biggest challenge. We are really, my brother and I are really smart, I have to say, for being able to do what we do, but at the same time the lack of experience in actually running a business has probably been our greatest challenge or obstacle.

We have now gotten to a point where we really want to bring in some experienced folks that don't necessarily come from that young entrepreneurial spirit that we have, but they know what they're doing. I think that's of big benefit to our business.

Britt: What are some of Numi's future plans?

Reem: Well, one is more flavors, more unique, authentic flavors, both hot and iced. That's one. I think we want to bring the world a healthy, natural beverage, as well as something that is healing and that brings an experience. We want to create an authentic experience. That is one portion.

The other portion that we want to do is, we want, mostly for the city of Oakland and this community, to enhance creativity as much as we can. So in this new space that we are going to be moving into, we want to create events where, musical events, or poetry events, or art events, and have Numi really be that space where people can express themselves, and just sort of be heard, and share their creativity. So we haven't totally figured it out, what exactly we are going to focus on, but it's one of the things we want to create.

Britt: I read somewhere that you had a car accident that was part of what brought you to this work. How did it change your life?

Reem: I had a car accident when I was 20 that really changed my life. I almost lost my life, and well, I almost lost my legs. Then I had to learn how to walk again, and I had about fifteen or so surgeries in the past, about 12 years.

I was studying biomedical engineering at the time, sort of on the track to be this sort of bio-doctor-engineer thing, and after the accident I, well, I finished school, barely, and then I moved into art. So that, I think, was the beginning--not the beginning, but really a jump start to my spiritual quest, and then that led me to Numi. Without it, I wouldn't have started this business.

Britt: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Reem: Well, one, I would say, is: follow your heart, and believe in yourself, because I think one of the things that my brother and I, having not had business experience before, I think one thought never entered our minds, which was failing.

I mean, I know one out of every three businesses fails, or one out of every three businesses succeeds, or whatever the stat is on that, but I think one of our benefits, one of our assets, was that even though I said one of our challenges was that we were inexperienced, one of our assets was that we were a little bit clueless, so we did what we believed.

One of the things I didn't talk about, in terms of our growth, is, my brother is currently on this big, I don't know what to call it, but he is on this journey to create a lot more fairly traded organizations, communities, looking at standards from the ground up.

So, it is not a divided platform, it's not a divided view of what makes something fairly traded. It is sort of from soul to soil, so you are not only good to the earth, but you are good to the people that work the earth, and then you are good to the people that are then consuming, because of course we have lost so much touch with--you know, when you buy the box, or when you buy whatever it is at the grocery store--to where you got it from, and to the people involved in that process.

So, he is really trying to work with some other folks to create standards that take the whole fair trade, organic, sustainable vision or philosophy to a whole other level. So that is kind of in the works, and what his big passion is. My passion too, but he is really focused on it.

So, I would say for people to stick to their beliefs, and then just be a sponge. I think that is another thing, is when you don't know something, you know you need to know, so you can't be arrogant, or you can't think you know it all when you don't. You just have to be a sponge to learning, make friends with people that know more than you do, whether it is at a show, or just depending on what specific people are looking into, and bring in consultants if you have to, to help you along the way.

Then, also, have a business plan. It is smart to know what you're doing, where your money is going, how much money you are spending. Have a cash flow model that works, that is in real time. Be organized from Day One. I'm just rattling off everything I can think of.

Because we were organized from Day One, and you are just building on that system, so you are taking an organizational system and then you are making it more and more complex as you go, just the way organisms work anyway. So if you start out a mess, and your desk is a mess, then that is what you are going to be if you are making $100 or if you are making $100,000.

Britt: Is there anything else you want people to know about Numi Tea?

Reem: Well, it's delicious. It's the best tea in the world, if I can say so myself. It is a really amazingly delicious tea. So if anybody hasn't tried it, please try it. People love working here--I didn't say that--because we try to create a vibrant space and diverse space, and a creative space where people can do their work with creativity. So we are happy to do that.

For more information about Numi Tea, go to

Transcribed by CastingWords.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Have Fun * Do Good Tees, Mugs & Bags

Hee, hee. Guess what I did? I started a Have Fun * Do Good Store on CafePress. I took a sun graphic that my friend, graphic designer extraordinaire, Elizabeth von Büdingen, created for me, asked my hubs to help me make a logo, and voilà, we had a store where you can buy a:

Have Fun * Do Good Organic, Cotton T-shirt
(made by American Apparel)
Have Fun * Do Good Fair Trade Coffee or Tea Mug
Have Fun * Do Good Farmer's Market Tote

Unfortunately, the organic cotton T-shirt made by American Apparel is only available in men's sizes and in off-white, so ladies when you order, remember that they run big.

CafePress needs to have more styles and colors available that are sweatshop-free and made of organic cotton. Plus, I would like to know that the mugs and bags weren't made in a sweatshop as well. I called the 1 800 number listed on CafePress, Stop the Sweat, and they recommended I call their marketing department at 650.655.3112 and email I called the phone number and talked to someone who said that CafePress doesn't have plans to add more American Apparel shirts. We didn't even get into where the other other stuff is made. He suggested I post in the CafePress forums, which I did. I also added my name to a petition to add more verified sweatshop free clothing.

If you are a CafePress shop owner or customer who feels the same way, I encourage you to do the same, and if you know of a socially responsible alternative to CafePress, please let me know!

Update 1.23.07: Here is the response I received from my post on the CafePress forums:
Café does not employ nor condone the use of sweatshops. At time we do not follow-up on labor practices of our vendors and only seek to find suitable merchandise that is of quality to use with our services. You may inquire with the manufacturers about their labor practices if you would like additional information regarding this matter. I can confirm that the American Apparel items we carry are sweatshop free, and this includes the Jr. Ringer fitted t-shirt and Jr. Raglan hoodie. Below is a link to our Product Center for details on the products that we currently carry:

Update 1.27.07: Thanks to Christina Arasmo for letting me know about two alternatives: Goodstorm and

Photos are of me and my hubs.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bloggers Covering the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya

An estimated 80,000-150,000 people from all over the world will be attending the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya January 20-25th. This year's theme is, ""People's Struggles, People's Alternatives - Another World is Possible." The World Social Forum was created by anti-globalization activists in 2001 as a balance to the World Economic Forum in Davos. This is the first time it has been held in Africa.

The venue has installed a wireless connection which participants can access for the week for $15. Hopefully there will be good coverage by bloggers.

Some of the bloggers I've found who will be covering the event are:

Pambazuka News at the World Social Forum.
The blog is a partnership between The PANOS Institute West Africa, and Fahamu.

Patricia Daniels, a senior lecturer in social development at the Centre for International Development and Training at the University of Wolverhampton, England will be posting on the Women at the World Social Forum blog for

Onyango Olloo, the National Coordinator of the Kenya Social Forum at the WSF Secretariat in Nairobi will be posting from the Kenya Democracy Project.

Sokari Ekine, the creator of the group blog, Black Looks, will be there.

Global Fund for Women's Senior Communications Office, Sande Smith, will be posting on their blog as well.

Please let me know about others bloggers who will be covering the event.

Photo of Moi International Sports Centre, where the Forum will be held, from the World Social Forum Nairobi 2007 site.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Celeb Charity Badges Help Raise Money

How many people watched the Golden Globe Awards? Me! I know it's silly, but like many Americans, I love to watch the celebs, and like to follow their do-good escapades on E! and Ecorazzi.

Now Network for Good, AOL, Entertainment Weekly and Kevin Bacon have launched a new site called Six Degrees that allows fans to support their celeb's favorite charities. Each star created a badge that describes the charity they support, and has a button that links directly to the organization's donation page on Network for Good, like the one below by Colin Firth. He is supporting Oxfam's Fair Trade campaign.

You can either choose a celebrity badge to put on your blog or web site, or you can create your own badge for the cause of your choice.

Looks like you're going to be able to bid on celebrity swag too.

As of this writing, $50,650.00 has been raised.

via E! News


Keep A Breast: Creative Fundraising for a Cause

The Keep A Breast Foundation is a nonprofit organization that creates plaster casts of women's breasts which are customized by fine artists and auctioned off to raise money for breast cancer. Their mission is to, "produce art events that increase breast cancer awareness among young people and benefit breast cancer education, prevention and treatment programs in communities around the world."

In 2007, Keep a Breast will be a part of the Warped Tour, and Think Pink Day (put on by Roxy). Their Warped Tour/Girlz Garage event will include an eBay auction, and a This is My Story campaign. You can see photos of the casts here, and a couple more photos of casts in Jill Midthun's Gallery on Blog for a Cure.

Photo Credit: "Lucy McLaughlin" with permission from Keep a Breast.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Buy & Sell Stuff on eBay and Do Good

Bernie Berlin is a Tennessee-based blogger, mixed media artist and manager of a one-woman dog rescue operation, A Place to Bark. In September, she asked her readers and organization's supporters to donate artwork to be auctioned on eBay. The first phase of the auction raised $1,198.93 for 28 items. You can see some of the items that are left on A Place to Bark's homepage on Mission Fish.

Mission Fish is the nonprofit that powers the eBay Giving Works program. Anyone can sell the contents of their attic, closet, garage or err, unusual holiday gifts on eBay, and support their favorite cause by donating 10% to 100% of the final sale price to one of the over 9,700 nonprofits registered with them.

Here's how it works for nonprofits and sellers:
1. Nonprofits sign up with Mission Fish.
2. eBay sellers pick a nonprofit and a percentage to share for each sale.
3. Once the item is listed, bidding begins on eBay. (Nonprofits reserve the right to cancel items listed on their behalf.)
4. If the item sells, the seller gets paid by the buyer and ships the item - same as always.
5. MissionFish collects the donation from the seller, pays the nonprofit and provides a tax receipt. (Does not apply to Nonprofit Direct Sellers).
If you are a regular eBay buyer, you can search by keyword on the eBay Giving Works site for listings with the charity icon: , or you can go on MissionFish and search for your favorite nonprofit or cause's page.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Does Your Imported Rug Have a RugMark?

According to the nonprofit, RugMark, nearly 300,000 children ages 4-14 are exploited as laborers in the handmade rug industry. RugMark is an international nonprofit that works to end child labor in South Asia's handmade carpet business. They sell rugs that were made by adult artisans, and a portion of each rug's sale goes to pay for the education of former child laborers.

On of the former child laborers, Narayan Tiwari, decribes what it was like making carpets:

"I know the problems of working children as I worked for about eight years as a child laborer in the carpet industry. . . .Usually in a carpet factory, child laborers work for about 14-15 hours a day. They weave carpets, spin the wool, roll the thread, etc., but most of them aren’t paid in full for their work. Whatever money is given to them is taken away by their elders (relatives/parents). They are punished badly if they make any mistakes. So the situation for child laborers is miserable in carpet factories."

You can help by:
Purchasing a RugMark rug.
• Partnering with RugMark if you are an interior designer, retailer or importer.
Spreading the word.
Donating to RugMark.

Photo of RugMark label from RugMark web site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Colombia is the 2nd Happiest Place for the Planet

According to Ode Magazine, The Happy Planet Index, a project of the New Economics Foundation, ranks Colombia as the 2nd happiest place for the planet. The HPI is calculated by adding the country's life expectancy with its life satisfaction divided by its ecological footprint. The top ranked countries were:

1. Vanuatu
2. Colombia
3. Costa Rica
4. Dominica
5. Panama
6. Cuba
7. Honduras
8. Guatemala
9. El Salvador
10. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
"The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible."
I'm not sure if everyone in Colombia would agree with this index, but it is nice to see a positive portrayal of Colombia for once. My husband is from Colombia, and whenever we meet someone new, and he tells them that he's Colombian, there is an awkward pause, and then they make a joke about cocaine.

There is extreme poverty and violence in Colombia, but there are good things happening there, too. According to Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, the current mayor of Bogotá, Luis Eduardo Garzón, is:
"[E]xpanding school capacity to serve the 100,000 kids who don't currently have access to education. He's creating a network of volunteer doctors who'll regularly visit families in poorer neighborhoods. He's fighting hunger. One way Garzón is paying for these programs is by attacking corruption and tax evasion, which is a huge drain on the administration's expected revenues; so far his efforts seem to be working. Finally, in an effort to carry on the city's established commitment to its female citizens, Garzon filled all twenty of his submayoral posts with women."
The mayor before Garzón , Enrique Peñalosa, created miles of bike lanes in Bogotá. In the Gotham Gazette article, "Putting Cars Behind", Peñalosa writes:
"We started to build bikeways. In developing countries, the only means of individual transportation available to everybody is a bicycle. A bikeway in Bogotá is important maybe 20 percent because it protects cyclists, 80 percent because it is a symbol that a citizen on a $20 bicycle is equally important to one in a $30,000 car. We increased bicycle ridership, and we now have about 350 kilometers of bikeways."
In the same article, he also describes the a rapid-transit bus system in Bogotá, the Trans-Milenio:
"After only five years of operation, we are moving 1.4 million passengers per day. We copied the idea from the Brazilian city of Curitiba. The station is in the middle of the road. People pay when they enter the station, not when they go into the bus. When the bus comes, it opens four doors at the same time as the station doors open. You can get 100 people out of the bus and 100 people onto the bus in seconds because they have already paid and the bus is at the same level as the station, so it is accessible to wheelchairs."
Peñalosa also instituted a Car Free Day in Bogotá, which I believe continues to this day. One commenter on notes:
"In addition to that one day event, they also close over 100 kilometers of streets every Sunday to cars. They shut down one side of divided roads and completely close a bunch of others to create a huge network of streets and paths for pedestrians and cyclists (and any other non-vehicle traffic). I was there visiting some family on one of these days, and it is amazing to see thousands of people out exercising on major roads and highways, completely closed to cars. It is like that every Sunday for several hours. They are really onto something good down there."
Photo of Biking in Bogotá by Adriano Bravo.

TransFair USA Gives a Look Behind the Label, with a Blog

The nonprofit, TransFair USA, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, and a three-time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist awards. Last week they started a blog, Fair Trade Certified. It looks like their main blogger will be Dave Rochlin, COO of TransFair USA.

His first post, "A Fair Trade blog . . . So Why Now?", encapsulates why a blog can be a powerful tool for a nonprofit:

TransFair USA’s team, and our counterparts in the Fair Trade Labelling Organization, log thousands of miles and hours working with growers, meeting with co-ops, coordinating with NGOs, attending industry events, addressing production issues, and working on supply chains with our licensees in order to create a trusted system which truly empowers small farmers as competitors in the global market, and helps them build a future for their family and communities. . . . So why start blogging? We decided that since we're more than just a label, it would make sense to let you see what's behind it [emphasis mine].
Image via TransFair USA.

This post was written for the NetSquared blog.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

5 Tips to Start a Nonprofit Blog

I am often asked for advice from nonprofits that want to start a blog. Here are five of the tips I most frequently give:

1. Read blogs.

I can’t tell you how many amazing, visionary nonprofit leaders I talk to who when I ask them if they read blogs say, “I read email.”

There are lots of theories about what is the best social media tool to first introduce to nonprofits. Newsreaders are my top choice. When I set up a newsreader for an Executive Director full of blog, news and search feeds related to their organization’s issues and show them how they can skim through it for the most updated information about their cause, their eyes widen.Before your organization starts to blog, set up a newsreader, whether it is Bloglines or Google Reader or something else, and see what is being written about your organization and the issues that it represents. Not only will this give you a feel for the different styles of blogs, but it will also provide content for some of your first blog posts.

2. The best person to write an organization's blog is the person who is the most excited to write it.

In other words, what is the point of telling the Development Director that they are in charge of writing a blog, if it feels like just "one more thing" to them. Being an organization's blogger involves not only writing for the blog, but also building relationships with other bloggers by reading them, linking to them, commenting on their blogs and inviting them to comment on your blog. You need a staff person who is not only excited to write on a regular basis, but also wants to immerse themselves in the "blogosphere."

A natural person to be the staff blogger is whoever writes the organization's newsletter or e-newsletter. If they write for the blog on a regular basis, when it comes time to send out the monthly e-newsletter, or quarterly newsletter, they will have a lot of content to pull from.

One thing I don't recommend is having an intern be the sole writer of your blog. Too many nonprofit blogs are set up by an excited intern, posted in diligently for a few months and then abandoned. Writing for a blog is like writing a column. Wouldn't you think it was strange if all of a sudden your favorite newspaper columnist just stopped writing without warning? It is also ok to have more than one blogger for your organization's blog, so have your summer intern contribute along with your regular blogger.

3. Post consistently.

There are all kinds of theories about how often to post on your blog. The most important thing is to be consistent. You don't have to write every day, but once a week is good. The rule of "quality not quantity" still stands. If you post often, but your content is not interesting, you will have less readers than if you post less frequently, but have higher quality content.

Quality not quantity doesn’t mean that each post reads like a press release, or a page from your annual report. Blogging is part of social media. It is interactive media made by regular people for regular people. Think of it as a conversation that you're having with your supporters, and with people who stumble upon your blog because they are interested in the issues that you represent. The best nonprofit blogs are a mix of true stories about their organization's work and its constituents, invitations for readers to check out other bloggers' post or news stories about related issues, organizational news, and editorials on the daily news as it relates to the organization. Two nonprofits that I think do a nice job of creating a variety of engaging content are People's Grocery, and Urban Sprouts. Check out 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Blogs for other examples.

4. Have an RSS feed and comments.

The number one mistake I see nonprofits make is to set up a blog that doesn't have an RSS feed or comments. In my opinion, a blog without an RSS feed or comments is not a blog, it is simply someone writing regularly on a web site. A blog allows interaction through comments, and an RSS feed allows readers to subscribe. For your less tech savvy readers, you should also allow your supporters to subscribe to your blog via email with a service like Feedblitz.

5. Just start.

My final piece of advice to nonprofits is to just start. If you feel that some of your supporters would like to receive news from your organization via a blog, or more importantly, that your organization has ideas to share with the world that might move more quickly through the blogosphere than through traditional media, set one up. Try it for a year and see what happens.

This post was originally written for the NetSquared blog.
Image Credit: Tidy Tips by Cliff Hutson.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange Talks about the Global Citizen Center

Kevin Danaher is the co-founder of the nonprofit Global Exchange which co-sponsors the Green Festivals with Co-op America. Kevin talks about the Global Citizen Center, a large mixed use building in downtown San Francisco that will serve as a hub for ecologically and socially responsible enterprise, education and economic development. Below is a transcript of my interview with him for the Big Vision Podcast.

Kevin Danaher:
My name is Kevin Danaher. I am a co-founder of Global Exchange, which was founded by myself and two other people, Medea Benjamin, my wife, and Kirsten Moller who has been the Executive Director of Global Exchange since we started in 1988. Our main goal is to educate the American people about what is really going on in the world, not what the U.S. government tells them, or what the corporate media tells them. We do that in a number of ways. We have reality tours where we take people out to other parts of the world, kind of reverse Club Med, "get your butt off the beach and meet real people," see the development projects, the literacy campaigns, the women's groups, the political opposition parties, the trade unions, but focused on positive, build the next system kind of things.

We have stores where we sell Third World crafts. These are Third World development groups that don't want charity. They want a market for their products. They are creating their own bootstraps, but they need access to First World markets and we provide that for them through our stores, three bricks and mortar stores and one online store which you can get to at

We do a lot of corporate campaigning, pressuring Nike to treat their workers better in their sweatshops, forcing Starbucks to start selling Fair Trade certified coffee, and things of that sort. We started five years ago, a little over five years ago, doing the Green Festival. The Green Festival is a big green economy event that we co-produce with Co-op America. The basic idea is to bring together a combination of a green economy trade show with about four hundred green economy companies, and a conference on the green economy with about a hundred speakers, and then we have live music all day long, everything from hip hop to bluegrass. We have about 10 or 12 organic vegetarian restaurants, stuff for the kids, puppet shows, workshops for if you want to put solar on your roof, or you want to do composting or whatever, there's all this how-to stuff, and we started in San Francisco five years ago. We've now expanded to Washington, D.C., and most recently to Chicago in April, and we are looking to expand to other cities.

Where the Green Festival came from, actually, was it was kind of a secondary institution in that about seven or eight years ago Global Exchange was having one of those strategic direction discussions, and the discussion was around growth. How do we grow the organization? There are two models of growth. One is you expand your membership, revenues, staff, programs, etc. The other is you create a larger institution of real estate, a commercial real estate property, where your organization is one of the tenants in the building, and then you bring in a whole bunch of your allied organizations to fill up the building, and you become like the revolution center, the green-global-economy-people's-bottom-up-development center, or whatever you want to call it. So we came up with the idea of Global Citizen Center, but I wanted the ground floor retail portion of that building to be Green-Mart, the opposite of Wal-Mart, the entire green economy eco-mall, which nobody's done yet, surprisingly enough, and I realized that I didn't know the green economy movement because my ten books had been all about the World Bank, the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, all this big, global economy kind of stuff.

So we figured that if we did a weekend event, The Green Festival, that would get us to know this green economy movement, build some credibility. If you can't do it for a weekend, you probably can't do it on a permanent basis. So now after five years of doing The Green Festival, and having 36,000 people show up in San Francisco to our most recent show in November 2006, we are pretty confident that at least in Northern California, in the Bay Area, there is enough green consciousness to support a building that would have an organic vegetarian restaurant and cafe with Fair Trade coffee, a Greenmart green economy space, perhaps an eco spa, a gym where the stationary bicycles and rowing machines generate electricity, events, films, speakers, a pharmacy. We've recruited Pharmica, which is a natural pharmacy. They want to have a space in the building. I've got a spa guy who wants to do a 3000 square foot spa, and then the offices of Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network, Transfair USA (the Fair Trade certifying agency), the city Department of the Environment, Mother Jones, a whole bunch of organizations that we work with anyway, but they are all scattered around town renting from commercial landlords, and that money that we pay in rent, like Global Exchange is paying over $100,000 a year in rent, and it is going to some private wealthy family, no offense to them, but I'd rather see that money stay within the movement.

The idea is non-profit ownership of the building, you can get out of paying property taxes that way, and then take that rent money that everyone has been paying, and turn it back into the movement, things like planting trees in the neighborhood around the building, sponsoring the Green Guardians, which would be a youth training in green skills where they would have nice shirts and hats and walk around the neighborhood in groups of four, five, six, ensuring peace, doing conflict resolution on the street, cleaning things up, helping people with composting and recycling, doing all sorts of neighborhood improvement.

It seems to me from a marketing standpoint, if neighbors know that the commercial enterprise in that building, the Global Citizen Center, is going to put its profits back into the neighborhood--here is a vacant lot, we make a park out of it; youth group needs some money, we give them the money; school needs some new books, we get them the books; things like that--People will shop in your store because they know you didn't come into town as Wal-Mart to suck out more wealth than you put in. You are about community development. You are about plowing your profits into the neighborhood because you're a nonprofit.

Now we have gotten to the point where I have some fairly heavyweight real estate investors types who like the idea. They want to do it, and they like the idea of us doing it in a lot of cities, and then linking them up. There is already a group, Baum Realty in Chicago, that's doing a building called the Green Exchange. It's a 250,000 square foot building that they are tenanting with green companies, and we are helping them in that process, helping them recruit companies to be there. They are going to come out here to San Francisco, and we are going to shop around for buildings because they have a whole bunch of money, and a lot of skills around real estate, and we have the connections with the green economy groups. So it is at a point of being taken seriously now where I don't have any more doubt that it's going to happen. It is just a question of exactly when, exactly where, how much it is going to cost, those details. Nobody, I mean nobody, I have pitched this idea to thousands, literally thousands of people and no one, not one person has said bad idea. Everybody says great idea, but you have to make sure you watch out for this, and everybody's got some advice, but nobody has said bad idea.

Britt: What are some of the challenges to making the Global Citizen Center happen?

Kevin: In the Green Festival my title is the Executive Co-Producer. People say, what's an executive producer? An executive producer does three things: vision (the original idea), money and personnel. You have the idea, you raise money around the idea, and then you hire the right people. If you get all three of those right, then it succeeds, and then you can walk away because you hired good people, it is up and running. You can go on and do something else. The vision piece of the Global Citizens Center is pretty well worked out. Our business plan is over 100 pages. The money part is part way there. We have raised enough to go this far, and develop a web site, and materials, and a video, and some staff and outreach, and we have got 100,000 square feet of office tenants lined up. We've got a restaurant partner and a spa partner, and all these different people that want to be part of it. Now it is just the question of the bigger money to actually acquire the building.

And actually, we have had some meetings lately with building owners where you wouldn't need a lot of money because these are people who are very wealthy, they own a building, and they want to see the building do something green, and they like our idea. So you can say, "Ok, we'll do a lease-to-buy where we will do a five-year lease on the whole building, and you will donate the first year's rent to us--you, the owner. You'll give us free rent the first year so that we have time to get up on our legs, get going, get some programs going, raise some money, and you might even want to retain a stake in the building. When we buy it from you, you might want to keep ten or 20 or 30 percent of the ownership, and you are going to profit from that because we are going to make this place rock."

And they get that. And some of them are so rich that if they lost the whole thing it wouldn't really put a dent in their wealth. So you not only want partners who are wealthy, but partners who get that the green economy is the next economy. That's guaranteed, and what's guaranteeing it is, it is one of the few positive things about the destruction of the environment. As the environment gets destroyed--and pretty much every biological system is collapsing right now--the value of economic models, business models, that save nature, that mitigate environmental pollution and the destruction of soil, and the pollution of water and things like that; the value of those technologies and business models keeps going up.

You see it with wind energy. Wind energy is now priced competitively with electricity from coal and natural gas. The price of wind energy is going down; the price of those others is going up. The oil is running out, so things that substitute for oil, bioplastics and all that, the value of those go up. And you are starting to see capital shift. You see it in the business press and you see it in the markets.

Britt: You've used entrepreneurial models in combination with nonprofits, with Global Exchange, and now the Global Citizen Center. Some people are saying that the nonprofit model is fading out, and that we need more social entrepreneurship. What do you think the best role is for nonprofits in the movement and the green economy?

Well, you see a lot of silos out there. There are groups that are saving the whales, groups that are doing web site development. There are all these great organizations that tend to be small and fragmented, these silos. My model is, create platforms where the silos can come together. The Green Festival is a weekend space where the nonprofit social justice and environmental groups, the solar energy companies, the organic restaurants, both enterprise and non-profits, and government, those three sectors can come together--or at least the pieces of those three sectors that are progressive and green can come together--and synergize, and realize each of us has strengths and weaknesses. It's like your fingers. Each finger is breakable; when they form a fist, when they come together and unify with a common purpose, it's really hard to break them. You can take a pencil and break it; you put ten pencils together, you can't break them.

So it is that basic idea. If you look in nature--because one of the things that's going on in the green economy movement is biomimicry, biomimmetics, looking at how nature does it; realizing nature's beta phase was millions of years, so there is no way us humans, with about 100,000 years of sentient, upright existence can ever out-think nature--you look at how nature does it. In nature, your greatest biodiversity tends to happen where two biomes meet, where the forest biome and the meadow biome come together. In that boundary area is where your most dense creativity is, your greatest biodiversity. Ok, so it tells us the same thing in human society. In traditional society, the matchmaker got paid by him and her--not to be heterosexist, but that was the model because one and one equals three in that model. So both parties paid the matchmaker because the matchmaker was creating value for both sides through the synapse. So it is the creation of social synapse; you could call it "community."

What I am trying to create is a real estate model that captures that value, because if you look at the way most of these downtown buildings are, it's really stupid the way it is organized. They build a building, and then they just fill it up, and there's an architecture firm, and a law firm, and whatever. And they don't care, the owner doesn't care, if they have a relationship or work together or not. They care about how much rent can you pay, and it's about maximizing one bottom line: financial.

Well, now there's a triple bottom line of social equity, environmental restoration and financial sustainability, and about getting those three to interact in a synergistic way where they all strengthen each other, not detract from each other where, "Oh you gotta take away from the financial to do the social and the environmental." No, no. It's like muscles interacting with each other. They are supposed to strengthen each other. We now have--I use a grid of the three columns (social, environmental, financial)--for each facet of the project, or the building, or whatever it is you are doing, show how each of those can synergize and strengthen each other rather than detract from each other.

Jed Emerson, one of the brilliant leaders of this movement, he uses the term, "blended value," and he talks about, how do you get those three sets of values to blend, so that you are healing society, you are healing nature, and you are making a profit--but you're not making a profit so that you can be Donald Trump and be a billionaire and waste money on a coke habit, or whatever, but so that you can plow that money back into the project, which is to save humanity from itself. I mean, that's the challenge that's in front of us right now, is not "save the planet." The planet will save itself by exterminating us. It will shuck us off like any other bad bug.

What is possible now, for us, is conscious evolution. That is the opportunity we have. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to create what some people have called, "global brain," where each of us is one cell in a global consciousness. That's why we call the project the Global Citizen Center, because we want to create a space, a building, in every city in the world, and link them all in this project. And if you think about it from just a straight business standpoint, and strip out the other stuff; if you have a building where all of the tenants in the offices are all promoting the physical address, and saying, "Hey, come to our store, or our restaurant, or our gym, or our spa on the ground floor, it's really rocking," you've got so much more outreach marketing potential.

At the Green Festival, if we have 400 exhibitors, and they are all putting out email, newsletters and web sites saying, "Hey, come visit us at the Green Festival on these dates, at this place. We're in Booth 227," I don't pay for that. Green Festival doesn't pay for that. They absorb that cost, because it is in their self-interest. So the project is, how do you create a physical space and a business model where you can unify all these different self-interests into one common self interest? And I think that's how you build a movement.

Are there other examples of centers or businesses with this triple bottom line?

Yeah, well that's part of the good news, is this green economy movement, which is my catchphrase that I usually use to describe it, it's growing so fast that you can't keep track of it. I do this seven days a week. I work really long hours; I'm on the Internet all the time, I'm writing all the time, I'm talking to people on the phone all the time, and I can't keep track of it. And I've got staff working with me, working on it too, and we can't keep track of it all, it's growing so fast, and that's a good thing. The Green Festival in San Francisco, so many people come to it that the problem is, it's crowded, and that is people's main complaint, "When are you going to get a bigger building?" I want that problem. That is a great problem to have. It's like being too rich or too beautiful or too smart.

So where it is going right now, is the movement is growing really rapidly, you can see this in a lot of different ways. There is a national network called, that is a national network that, actually, I am happy to say was started by China Brodsky, who is on my Board of Directors, she's great, which is a network of these nonprofit-owned buildings which brought together a group of nonprofits to own their own building. What I am trying to add to that is the retail, the green retail piece, Green-Mart, the opposite of Wal-Mart, where all the products will be filtered for social justice and the environment, and whether you want toilet paper, or bamboo floors, or solar energy, or hemp clothing. Whatever it is you want, it will be there in that ecomall. Instead of us protesting Wal-Mart, we take their customers away and put them out of business. It is a different model. It is a positive model. What we are trying to do with The Green Festival is to say to people look, it is great that there is this culture of protest and Global Exchange has done tons of protest, we are really professionals at it, but my analogy is like the Titanic.

The Titanic of corporate domination has hit the iceberg and it is sinking. It is being rejected, thank you Mr. Bush. He has done a lot to sink the empire, but I think now the choice before us is do we run around the decks of the Titanic saying, "This boat sucks, I protest" or do we get together and build an alternative boat, a solar-powered, wind-powered boat with a party on deck, scantily-clad people with drinks in their hand dancing to cool music, and pull up alongside the Titanic. People will jump willingly, and we won't have to say, "your boat sucks", which the subtext of that is, "You are stupid. You are on a bad boat and you are so dumb you don't know it." We have got to get away from that. I think the left has been a little bit guilty of this holier than thou, "I'm so smart, you're stupid. I have this detailed critique. Look at you, you are drinking out of a Styrofoam cup."

People don't like being talked down to. I know I don't. I don't think anybody does. By just providing an alternative system, we not only have a more positive approach, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but also it puts a little more onus on us. I say to leftists a lot of times, "How many people do you employ? How many paychecks come out of your work? Oh you just cover your own butt, huh? Ok, so you are signing a paycheck on the back. I sign paychecks on the front." That's hard. That's a burden. That's a psychological burden. When you go to bed at night and you are thinking, "Oh my God where am I going to come up with the money to do this next project," and you have to hustle and go out there and do it, or you have to develop a business model that can generate its own money to do that. We started the Green Festival with a $30,000 grant, a $30,000 grant. It's up to a $1.7 million dollar a year budget. So it can be done. It requires a lot of people pulling their belts in, working long hours for low pay, believing that we can do it. It can be done.

That's really what it is about. It's about the belief system. The next belief system is a spirituality that loves science. There are people in positions of power in places like Iran and Washington, D.C. who have a spirituality that rejects science. The spirituality of this green economy movement embraces science. It loves science. It has no contradiction, no problem with science. To me that's a stronger spirituality, and it's going to win in the end.

How do you keep inspired and motivated?

Well, when I go out doing speaking mostly at college campuses, who is it that comes out to a talk about saving the world? It's the young people. They tend to be young. They tend to be book readers, so they are intelligent and they are highly motivated. They are the smart ones who give a damn. Because you have some smart ones who don't give a damn. They are cynical. Cynicism is what passes for insight when there is no courage in the backbone. So these are the ones who aren't cynical, or they are at least questioning their cynicism. They want to do something. The want to get plugged into a movement. They want that sense of global community. So if you do the talk right, they want to hang out afterwards. You have some beers. You go to somebody's place. You stay up until two or three in the morning, then you get up at six in the morning to get the plane to get to the next town, but that infuses you with so much hope because you are meeting the best people. It doesn't take 51% to make a revolution. Five to ten percent can change the world. It has happened many times before. Right now I would say we are at a historic juncture where the contrast between what is, and what could be, has never been as great.

How can people get involved? What can they do?

Well, there's a lot of ways. If you check the website, you can get on our mailing list for our little email newsletter, which only comes out every month or two. You are not going to get a bunch of garbage in your in-box. You can also check out the website where you can listen to our speakers. You can watch our speakers on videotape, David Sazuki, Tom Hayden, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, all these great speakers, and the Global Exchange website which is If you want to go to Venezuela, we are doing over twenty trips a year to Venezuela where they are doing some amazing grassroots development, where the government is supportive of green grassroots development and literacy campaigns instead of being the problem obstacle, like it is here.

There is no shortage of things people can do. When I do talks, people come up to me afterwards and say, "I am only one person what can I do?" I am always tempted to say, "I am eight people, nice to meet you." Of course you are only one person, and one person really can't do that much. It's when you join with other people. Think of mosquitoes. One mosquito, it's not a big threat. A swarm of mosquitoes can drive a big animal out of its forest. So that's what we have to do. We have to develop the swarm. We have to develop team consciousness. Subordinate your ego to a group effort. The group effort at this point is how do we save humanity from itself?

Britt: Is there anything else about the Global Citizen Center that you want people to know?

Kevin: Well what I want people to do is to think forward twenty years from now where we have a Global Citizens Center in Johannesburg, Rio De Janeiro and Paris, and all these different cities around the world, so that when you travel, or you want to know what's going on in a particular place, you know that there is hub in that city where it's the cutting edge of the green revolution. It's where the transition is taking place because if we do not make a transition out of this tribal, nationalistic, God Bless America, narrow kind of thinking, we will fail in saving humanity from itself. We won't get rid of all these problems that we have.

I envision a world where there are no starving children, where there are no children without shoes, where there is no pregnant mother who can't get access to decent health care, no clear-cut forest, no endangered species. That can come about. The question is, are we going to make it happen?

I think there are two kinds of analysis. There is the analysis of the ways things are, and there is an analysis of the way we can make things be. The second type of analysis, the analysis of the activist is what we need. Jim Hightower is fond of saying that the centerpiece of the washing machine that gets the dirt out is called the agitator. So you have got to be an agitator. You need the consciousness of the agitator because we have this incredible historic challenge put in front of us, and we will be judged, if not by some white male God up in a cloud, but by history. People will look back and say, "Wow, you know, right around the turn of the millennium it's like people woke up and realized that we had to go to this green economy. Wow, it is really a good thing that they made this transition, and now here in 2080 we actually have a clean planet with no more war and all that money that used to be wasted is now put into health care and education." We can make that happen but we are the foundation layer of that.

I always think of the consciousness that must have been possessed by the Masons who laid the foundations of those cathedrals in Europe that took four centuries to build. They knew that they would not see the final product of their work, but they also knew they had to do very precise and solid work because of all the weight that was going to come on top of their work, and that's our job right now in the early 2000s is to lay the foundation layer of a future green economy where there are no clear cut forests and where we have solved these problems of soil erosion and polar icecaps melting, and future generations will thank us for it.

For more information about the Global Citizen Center go to

Transcription by CastingWords