Episode 10 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Real Future Fair - Keynote Speaker Mae Jemison

Two weeks ago I attended the Real Future Fair at the Oakland Museum of California. The annual fair is focused on "Creative conversations on how technology is changing our world". I recorded the keynote speaker and edited it down to what you need to hear. Mae talks about interstellar travel, and her goal to make sure we are traveling outside of our solar system within 100 years. She does this in a way that I did not expect: by connecting it to the benefit of the planet that we currently occupy. "Everything that we need for an interstellar flight, is exactly what we need to survive as a species on this planet."



First woman of color in space, Physician, Scientist, Engineer, Explorer & Futurist. Leader 100 Year Starship. 




Episode 9 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Jennie Bernstein


Here are a few of the ideas you can expect to hear about on this episode:

  • Jennie is hopeful about starting a career in sustainability despite the current political atmosphere, because, "it might be grasping just for a really convenient silver lining but I would like to think that there's going to be doors opening in places that we wouldn't have expected to see opening where this is not our political reality"

  • Jennie is pursuing a career in sustainable urban planning because she sees that path as having a profound impact on both environmental and social justice. Saying "approaching sustainability without an understanding of humans as a part of nature really undermines a lot of the potential ."
  • On our political divides, she strongly believes in "the power of dialogue and conversation and analysis and sharing of knowledge that can bridge that polarity" 
  • She would love to see us scale down our efforts, and focus on local communities, rather than trying to force ourselves to look at our national biases all at once.
  • Jennie is very interested in the concepts of adaptation and resilience.

Episode 8 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Andy Ruben and the future of the sharing economy



(full transcript of Zach's interview with Andy Ruben)


ANDY: I think it is so easy. I live in San Francisco. It is so easy to live in San Francisco and assume that I am right in my views and that half the country is wrong. And I think that that is I think that is an easy way out and ultimately will be ineffective for the progress that we need to make right now.


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I'm Zach Winter. This week I spoke with Andy Ruben Andy has been a TED Speaker. He's been featured on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And in the New York Times. He has testified before the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives as an expert in business and sustainability. So clearly this appearance on Blu Skye’s podcast is huge for him - joking - I was extremely lucky to get this opportunity to speak with him. Andy was the first Chief Sustainability Officer for Wal-Mart and he starts this interview with a story about his experiences there and how that led him to where he is now. He's currently co-founder at Yerdle company's mission it is to fundamentally change our relationship with material things. I hope you enjoy his words.


So I'm so glad to finally be talking to you. I've heard your name thrown around in my circles you know repeatedly ad nausea basically for years and years so I'm really...


ANDY: Likewise I’ve heard great things about you, and it's good to finally be connected.


ZACH: So I have all these questions for you but you know, I’m going to ask you a little bit about Yerdle and what's going on and stuff like that. And then I also want to just talk about what, what's happening (Trump) and what that effect may or may not have on the movement that we are both involved in and what we can do about it. And you know... that stuff.


ANDY: Awesome. I thought maybe you know I thought maybe I could share if it made sense and you'll be able to edit this right?


ZACH: So yeah, of course there's not going to be like just straight up.


ANDY: Good. My partner Adam makes me do everything in one take and it is tough. I love it though.




So I thought maybe I could share a story from an experience I had in Walmart. This is probably, boy, I don't know probably 10 years ago now and experience at Wal-Mart that really stuck with me around consumption and the amount of stuff in the world and where we're heading. So if I could maybe share that story it's actually a story about a store visit in Lamar Missouri and then we can go from there. Kind of leads into everything about Yerdle that leads into what I see as interesting about reuse and what's next. So let me let me share it fully and I will lean on you to edit away of course

ZACH: Yes. Say as many “likes” and “ums” as you want and I will cut em in (out).


ANDY: Awesome. So this was again it was about 10 years ago, it was back to school. I am sitting in the shotgun side of a car with a regional manager and we are we're going to spend a full day seeing stores, which you know is something that executives at Wal-Mart did, I would say, every other week. Spent the day in stores and the first store that we're going to see we're in a car we're driving into Lamar, Missouri. Lamar is a town of a few hundred people. And I'm basically clutching this cup of coffee and a shotgun side because his is ungodly early in the morning. We pull in the parking lot very traditional. We walk into the store and all store tours you end up seeing a dozen stores in a day. The first store is always the best store because nobody knows you're coming. So it's the only store that you really get a sense of what the customer sees. So very typically we walk in the store. They get on the intercom they page the store manager, the team, and we start this store tour around the perimeter of the store which is kind of the it's a daily practice that store managers will do just to to observe is everything well set up for the day. And we start in consumables which is very typical and consumables you look at things like in-stock. Right. It's apparent that over you know since the late 70s Wal-Mart and other retailers like Wal-Mart have gotten so good at replenishment. Right so you buy a thing a band deodorant and there's one right behind it on the shelf to make sure that they're never out of stock because being out of stock really costs sales. And it's one of the things that a lot of Wal-Mart to to be very effective against a competitor like Kmart is we got into the 80s because of the systems that have been built. We walked from there into action alley and we start, you know you look for the pricing in action alley, and what most retailers do is they want to start with a low price point and you slowly move up in price point so that customers don't get, don't get scared by high price points right. Kind of like you walk into the retail environment in a store and Lamar looked awesome right. The pricing was really well done. Skipping a few more stops we end up in the middle of the store which is the photo counter. It's that counter kind of dead center and in this store they've got things like. Now they've got iPhones. At the time, It's back to school and we're looking for graphic calculators and the store manager from, not the store manager the photo center manager is behind the desk and the regional manager I'm with says “how are graphic calculator sales?” And this is the part that I will always remember. Right, so what he was talking about is that every retailer in the world looks at comp sales (comparable sales). So they want to know how are sales this week compared to a year ago. Better this month compared to a year ago and we were asking about graphic operators and we're carrying with us what's called the Morning Report. It's this big thick binder of paper that's got every sales number for every department in the store and we're flipping through together to look for graphic calculators and we finally find graphic calculators and use uses kind of his sheet and he looks over he looks at the comp. And it was flat. In other words, the store in Lamar Missouri had sold no more graphic calculators that year. Then they had the year before. And why I remember it is it was just dead quiet. And I'm thinking to myself being on a store trip you know I'm kind of an I'm an up and comer I want to I want to do well in the company and I always thought about things like this and like what if I was. What if I was that department. You know the photo manager. How many calculators can you sell in Lamar, Missouri. When do you reach the point. Everybody has a graphic calculator and that seniors are just passing them on to juniors right that people are going to college and passing them down. And if I was set up with the challenge of increasing sales by 5 percent year of graphic calculators... How do you keep that going? And I remember, what sticks with me is I'm thinking “I don't know” but there comes a time when I don't know how you sell more of those calculators and then I walk away from that store visit and I thought about it over the course of the next several days and weeks and I kept thinking like it doesn't quite make sense yet this is just the way the world is. It's like one of those things that a lot of us see where when you think you see something really important but you look around and no one else seems to think there's anything there and kind of lull yourself back to “maybe we'll be fine like maybe this is just how it is.” And there are always more calculators to be sold. That's a story that really sticks with me in terms of the world that we've constructed around us has been this way for a relatively short period of time. But we all assume it's been like that forever. And there is a point that those things start to change.


ZACH: It's a very striking story. You know I can see I can now see how that led you to all eventually years later right.


ANDY: Yes absolutely. So it. What I started to see several years later this is about five years ago now so 10 years ago. I had walked the aisles and had that graphic calculator experience. And about five years ago I left to start Yerdle and what I was seeing because Yerdle is a platform. Right? It's the objective the mission that we're on is that one out of four items a quarter of the items that we get. Don't need to come from a new supply chain. They can come from other customers. Right. So they come from people like us who are no longer using those graphic calculators. And what I was seeing at the time is I was seeing the beginning of Relayrides right which is now Turo. My friends you know we're starting AirBnB. You know I was watching Uber being started. And at that time when you talked about you know the biggest competitor to a Hilton hired or Marriott would be someone using your unused room. Five years ago that would have been a joke here and right now it is the single biggest thing going on in in the in lodging right is that basically utilization of these extra rooms that we have. And so it's you know I was seeing the emergence of this thing that's now called the sharing economy which is part of again another term the circular economy. And it struck me that was just like graphic calculators that the same way that we use a car more of its life because of services like Lyft right in Juno and Uber the same way that we use excess rooms more. We will also get more use out at the graphic calculators that today are sitting in drawers, just as our friends are buying new ones.


ZACH: It's kind of brilliant. It seems so simple but it also was not even a thing that anyone was thinking about before I get that time right.


ANDY: And to be honest the five years ago I expected this space of everyday things use this space of women's apparel and kids clothing and graphic calculators. I expected that to have the same trajectory as lodging or travel and ride sharing an Uber and it has not. So lodging and transportation have moved much farther much faster and the world of everyday things, the supply chain to things and are the kind of that billion items in the U.S. alone. That sit idle in our closets in garages. That space is not broken out. In other words, people in the Target boardroom are not talking about this as a major threat in the way that people in the Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott boardrooms are talking about Airbnb. So I think that there I think that there are some additional elements of this space that make it different than those spaces. But because I know how much that mom in Lamar, how much it matters to her and Lamar Missouri to save a hundred dollars on a graphic calculator or for her son going back to school. I know that it will happen. I've seen it. I mean I've seen that over the last five years in this space. You know it's going to it's going to happen differently then, it's going to require different things to make that happen than the services that exist today. We're not there yet. But it will happen.


ZACH: What about... I think the thing that I think of when I think of the sharing economy is what gets written a lot about is the interplay of regulation and what... How do you see that interplay?


ANDY: I think it's I think regulation has a huge role to play. We're in the timeliness of this right. We're in a, we're in the day after the election. So I think it's I think it's fair to say today that I feel less confident today relying on regulation to solve this than I did yesterday. It is that that I've always been but that might be today compared to yesterday but in the general arc of my short career my last 20 years is that the place that I play in is a pace of kind of corporations and business. And there's a unique role for corporations in business to play. While it doesn't address everything we still need regulation. I've been very focused for my career on it on the part of that kind of ecosystem that corporations can play in why I like about the world that I'm describing about everyday things is that it is a customer for the most part sustainability over the last 10 years. We've been talking about what I will call in an admirable way I will call eco-efficiency. Right. We have found ways behind the curtains of these companies like Marks and Spencer and Wal-Mart and Target and brands that we love. These companies have found ways to remove cost in with more efficient stores with more efficient trucking with better cutting of apparel. But essentially it is removing, It's basically creating efficiency in the production of these items. What is yet to happen and is the big opportunity I see looking forward, is not about how we make these products with less input. It's about how we get more out of the products that we've already made. So imagine two Patagonia jackets, both made as well as you could make a jacket, as fully considered as it could be, one of them gets worn by five people within an inch of its life. And one of them lives its entire life in a closet. Those two items have dramatically different footprints and we are just on the verge of having the technology and the tools to know the use of an item, and even more importantly as a brand to be able to affect that. And a final part of this getting back to the role of corporations when Patagonia is one of the many leaders that I that I expect to see here soon start to want all of their items back and start to make use of those items coming back. I would hate to compete with Patagonia because they're just going to be more competitive. And so, of the past 10 years of sustainability have in many ways been have affected the cost of items and the cost of business. They've been non-customer facing. Whereas when a brand like Patagonia is an example and a brand like Patagonia it can bring in a whole new set of customers because they want their items back because they're well made and they can now sell them for less money a second third and fourth time to a new customer that couldn't have afforded Patagonia before. That is a competitive business model. Now we’re customer facing. And now we're in the competitive dynamics that I've watched, we've all watched, Airbnb compete with an Uber and Lyft. That to me is not one that companies can sit out because they will sit out at their own peril. And I I look forward to that as a father.


ZACH It's a really interesting idea and one of the things that makes me think of is like how right? like what's the what's the actually the chain that gets Patagonia it's jackets back?


ANDY: Yeah. So this is this is where all the fun is. If anyone listening right now remembers e-commerce in the mid-90s right 1994, 1996. My experience in 1995 trying to buy something online is you’d accidentally hit that backspace button and all your information would go away. Right like there was there was so much work that took place in the late 90s in the early 2000s to get to the point that we're at now where a player like Amazon has created so much value in better serving customers that they are really just they are kind of they're working hard for it but they're mopping up the investments they made in the early 2000s. Right they're playing those out. So it's there's a lot of work to be done in that and there are a few players that are already taking big steps. So Green Eileen with Eileen Fischer is a good example where any day of the year you can bring back an Eileen Fisher garment any Eileen Fisher store and they will hand you a five dollar kind of Eileen Fisher gift card for that item. And then they will clean. They will inspect the item and then they will sell it. They will resell it they'll sell it a second or third or fourth time through their stores. Patagonia does the same thing in Portland. Right, so we're just seeing the beginning of brands starting to do this to figure out how to do this. I want to distinguish the two examples I just gave from the box in a store that you just bring back whatever you're done with. Dump it off. These are not brands that are just providing a way to recycle goods. These are brands that are producing items and creating economic models to bring their items back to be resold. It's almost like if you think of an iceberg. It's almost that when you think about the past 40 years, brands and retailers have only been utilizing their items in stores and warehouses. And if you think about after you sell a Patagonia item that item can go through five different - if it's a kid's jacket - there might be five different girls who get to wear that jacket that is everything below the surface of the iceberg. And as brands start to realize that they can they can keep track right of those items forever, right, as they change hands again and again and again as they can bring those items back into their stores by having someone pick them up return shipping whatever it is they bring the items back and sell them a second, third, fourth time that they were be more competitive in keeping track of their customers at finding new customers and understanding the use of their items.


ZACH: It's super interesting. And one of the first things I thought of when I woke up this morning on this November 9th the day after Election Day was the vows that president-elect Trump has made to disband the EPA and basically undo all of regulation. Do you think that in a climate where there's less regulation disincentivizes companies to make the sort of changes that you're talking about.


ANDY: You know the changes that I'm talking about have a market incentive that once one company does it, once one company in your industry does this and starts to make real economic gains for their shareholders by doing this, right by keeping track of all items in perpetuity that you make. You will be less competitive if you don't do it. So regardless of regulation right, regulation would certainly raise the playing field as a playing field. Without regulation. You know I think the choices are basically either A in your industry like apparel or outdoor goods you just hope that no one does it. Option B is that you start exploring this space of re-commerce because odds are someone's going to do it and if you actually believe that's going to happen you want to be exploring the space you want to be understanding if you're happy or not when this future happens. And so, I think that regardless of regulation I'm talking about a competitive dynamic that that doesn't require regulation. That being said there is quite a bit of state regulation regardless of national politics. State regulation, there was and I'm no expert in policy here but there are there is a bill in California about requiring companies to have basically it take ownership of their items. Post-sale. There is some national legislation that doesn't look like it will fare as well in the next four years but looking at the, I believe it's a $3 billion bill that the taxpayers hold for fashion alone for our landfills. Right so we every year as a nation spend three billion dollars of taxpayer money on burying clothes that corporations sell and the customers that we choose not to want. And so there is definitely the likelihood that government regardless of where it is will look at those companies and say companies are making plenty of money. We need money. Let's have the companies pay for things that we have to pay for based on their actions. I would hope that that regulation gets done in a way that drives innovation so that that regulation happens where if you if you're able to take back your items for example like Eileen Fisher that you would not be subjected to that additional tax that would be ideal. I don't think we can rely though on regulation happening nor it being written in a way to really drive innovation. And that's where I come back to markets. Let's go after both.  They're not mutually exclusive.


ZACH: Totally. Do you see it as possible or likely that we'll be able to decouple sustainability and the green economy from politics.


ANDY: No no. By anything that is anything that is big enough to make a difference in this world we will come up against the way we operate as a society. And the existing systems in place and that's where for the early companies that had shared rides and ridesharing and you know I mean initially it... you know insurance became an issue. Now we will deal with the gig economy in what portability of benefits right, in a career track looks like there are a host of regulations based on the, you know, regulations tend to be designed for a system that existed in the past and the systems that we're talking about the changes that we're talking about are big enough that they will challenge the models that we regulated for 10 20 30 sometimes more years ago. And so I don't think that it is possible for any of these shared-economy spaces to smoothly sail through this and be big enough to be interesting without pushing up against regulation designed for an older model.


ZACH: What are you what do you see the sharing-economy. I mean you can speak to this in any way you want but I'm curious about where you see the future as in your world.


ANDY: Yes I'm going to focus on this. I'm going to focus on the everyday things the things around us right recommit us of. Kids Clothing and women's fashion and graphic calculators. How I see that playing out is that, I mean it's it's happening now. Anyone who thinks this is a thing of the future e-commerce selling an item more than once is growing five and a half times faster in the fashion industry than e-commerce and e-commerce in fashion is growing incredibly quickly. Right. So e-commerce of clothing is growing gangbusters and recolors is growing five and a half times faster. So it is happening now and the change that I'm seeing is that there's always been a niche group of us right, in society, be it the U.S. or elsewhere that relies on thrifting, right, in and buying things that are that have been pre-loved to pre-worn. What's happening with technology in mobile is that experience to find that item we are looking for is getting easier and easier and as we keep making it easier we will get to the point that you can find the same graphic calculator. You know that's been used by a student for a year or that is new off a factory line the new off the factory line will look the exact same as the one from last year although it will be $150 and the one that was used for a year would be $50. And the only question is from a retail perspective. Are retailers going to be customer-centric enough to be a player in helping customers get that value. Are brands who make those calculators can be involved in that system, but it's not a question in my mind of if that happens we will do that because it is just it's just better. It's better in every which way. Because it's it's better from, as  as one of my mentors talks about, Paul Hawken. It's better according to physics. From just basic physics. And so in that way we will all find a way to do that. And it's happening now the question what has not happened at this point. Is that the companies that we do business with today the companies that we depend on the Wal-Marts the targets the Amazons the Patagonias just starting. Those companies have yet to truly get into this space and really serve this need in a  serious way. But I know from the from the space that I'm in that they are right now. And if you're in a company that is not I think there's a cautionary tale that can be looked at e-commerce.


ZACH: When I saw that Facebook was announcing their marketplace the first company I thought of was was Yerdle. Can you talk about the effect that Facebook's new marketplace platform has on Yerdle.


ANDY: Yeah I mean first of all let me just mention as someone who's not connected directly to Facebook the fact that they launched this marketplace and it is the center button in the Facebook mobile app. They took they took messenger out of that position and put marketplace in that position. I applaud them and I am so excited by what they just did. They've got a platform with 1.8 billion people and the excitement that I have around that. I mean for Yerdle, we're a million plus members. If I'm making a bet on this space happening I'm going to bet with 1.8 billion over a million. And so I think the excitement that I had around that around that launch was tremendous. There's a lot of work to do. There's a lot of learning for them to get this right. But that's exciting. From a Yerdle perspective, we've recently announced for the last four years we've been focused on a peer to peer platform. Right so making it easy for people to post a graphic calculator and find a graphic calculator. We have recently announced that based on our mission of 1 out of four items coming from someone else we are handing we have already done it now we've handed that platform back to our most active members. And we are now as the year old team focused on working with the brands that are interested the sustainability-minded brands who are interested in re-commerce. So we have now shifted our attention toward focusing on those brands and making them successful in re-commerce based on the belief that to make this thing big it's going to happen from the brands that really get behind it and do this as a business. And so the Facebook move relative to Yerdle is less of a direct issue because of the move we've made to go away from the peer to peer platform over to the B2B space with brands.


ZACH: And what does that look like for you. Like what is what is the platform then look like with the marketplace in the hands of the users and you guys focus on brands how does that mean that we're going to start seen Yerdle coordinated trades on Facebook between brands and people. What does that actually look like?


ANDY: No they're two very two very separate businesses. So the the only connection in there is what we have historically spent time on and where we're heading now. But our members have taken the Yerdle platform and they've actually elected to run that on a Facebook marketplace. So they've taken the platform it is completely a member run. They're doing that on Facebook. They've decided that Yerdle has no role in that. We are focused on working with brands that want to build this under their own brand name.


ZACH: Oh I see, I see. I got it. So for example then it would be you know, it would be Patagonia on the Patagonia Website having a relisted store of the re-commerce items.


ANDY: Yeah that's exactly right. So that is the model that the excitement that I have looking at this world and seeing where things are going is brands themselves building this into their existing business model. And as they do that other brands will either go out of business or figure it out themselves. It's the leverage that I see to drive this and accelerate the progress of it. And we are taking a learnings, Yerdle we are all taking the learnings from our past four years operating a peer to peer platform and bringing those to like-minded companies that want to be doing this.


ZACH: It's nice. I love the vision.




ANDY: It's been a beautiful experience for the last four years and as we have already been for several months now on this path of working directly with brands. What is so exciting about this space is that the role that these brands can play when I say brands I'm talking about people who produce items as well as retailers who sell items. These people have existing relationships with a huge customer base and they have the ability to make this so much easier for customers which is the biggest friction point. When I look at everyday things the biggest thing standing in our way right now. I will get the graphic calculator from someone else used when it's as easy as going to Amazon when it becomes as easy to get the graphic calculator were used. I will get it used. And we are working on making that happen.


ZACH: I operate under the assumption that most the people that listen to this podcast are either passionate about sustainability or working on sustainable issues or you know younger generations that are that are new to the game. What what is your advice to those people as a seasoned expert?


ANDY: You know for a number of years so I was fortunate enough to be at the right point at the right time to be the first leader in kind of initiating with Blu Skye, Wal-Mart's efforts. Alright so I was the inside person at Wal-Mart and in a relatively short period of time I became more enamored with actually being myself and giving advice to people to go directly into the business line as opposed to a standalone sustainability function. So I think what's I think what sustainability provides is it provides a lens in my view to see a much longer time horizon and a much greater system effect. And when you can understand what those dynamics look like for the area that you're work in inside a main line business with the leverage you can end up with much smarter for the world for society as well as economically much smarter plan and smarter opportunities right near-term opportunities can provide very quick wins longer range innovations and ultimately you know a few game changers that just change the way we do things. So my advice for people is to leverage the lens in the learning of sustainability that time horizon the system effects. But I would advise I do advise people to spend their time then in the mainline business because that's where that's where the dollars are. It's where the influence in the scale exists.


ZACH: And my last question for you is something that Blu Skye uses a lot in our work and I'm sure you've heard the question before but what should I have asked you about that I haven't?


ANDY: It's what we haven't talked about that continues to strike me is the need for real leadership. And when I say leadership I'm not talking about the president of the US or a CEO of a company I'm talking about leadership from inside organizations in any role of an organization truly talking about leadership I'm talking about people who are willing to do the really hard work who are willing to, seems relevant to the last 24 hours, who are willing to to miss right to to not succeed in what they were going for. But to really go for something because of their values and because of what they believe. I have more and more admiration for this quote from Theodore Roosevelt's quote about it's a little bit gender biased but man in the arena right his is credit goes no credit doesn't go to the critics who sit on the sidelines. Credit goes to  the man, the person in the arena. And when I look out and I see leaders he them CEOs of companies like you know Rose to CEO of Patagonia, or honestly Eileen Fisher, when I see leaders who are being bold in taking bold direction in terms of the future without that drives me, and I think there's a real vacuum of that type of leadership out there and anybody can exhibit that type of leadership. And part of that leadership is listening, right, as well as having that vision. And bringing people along with you. And the day after the election that we just had I think that is more needed than ever. And I think it fits just not for the societal and political state. I think it fits for in my estimation how much we've worked on these issues from sustainability and how much less progress we've made over the last 10 years compared to what I would have hoped.


ZACH: It's a very thoughtful answer. And I'm also... I'm optimistic. I think that seeing Donald Trump get elected as president is one of the best motivators for liberal thinkers and movers that I could possibly imagine you know just my Facebook feed is full of people committing themselves on the record to becoming activists for the first time in their life and I just think it's really interesting and it's kind of heartwarming.


ANDY: Yeah that the quick comment I would make about that I would offer for anyone for anyone listening is… I think it's really important right now to it so much. I think it is so easy. I lived in San Francisco. It is so easy to live in San Francisco and assume that I am right in my views and in that half the country is wrong. And I think that that is I think that is an easy way out and ultimately will be ineffective for the progress that we need to make right now. And so I would encourage anybody who truly cares about the progress right now to spend more reflective time thinking about how split divided this country is and that says something that we need a lot more time in understanding where people are right now. And that is just it is way too easy and I would not consider leadership to simply sit in San Francisco and say we get it and other people don't. It's just naive.


ZACH: It's super true. I think you're 100 percent right. We should maybe all move for a month...


ANDY: I couldn't I mean I so appreciate the 10 years that I spent in Arkansas. I don't know if everyone should move or not. I just think that listening, listening is really important right now and it's it's so much easier for me to say than it is for me or anyone else to do. I just think it is more important today than it's been it's been in some time anywhere in the world.



ZACH: Yeah. I agree. Well, Andy I can't tell you how fun it's been talking to you. I really appreciated the things you said and that you were willing to take the time to do this. It means a lot to me.


ANDY: Likewise. It's a great conversation. Anyone listening right now makes me hopeful right that people, people care enough to have this conversation they care about what this world is that we will leave for our children and the role that we play to leave this place better than we found it.


ZACH: Perfect. Alright, man. well have a good day. I hope that San Francisco doesn't wrap you in its bubble too much.


ANDY: It's a bubble I really appreciate today. it feels very comfortable, it feels very united. Very good. It's good to talk to you. Yeah thanks. We'll talk soon.

ZACH: All right perfect. OK. You too.

ANDY: Bye bye.

ZACH: So before I go I just wanted to leave a little note for the listeners. I know I've been jumping back and forth to students who are looking for jobs at Blu Skye, and people that I consider to be leaders in sustainability, and I'm going to keep doing that. That is unless you tell me that it gets too confusing. So please send me feedback about how the show is going whether you are enjoying it, what you like the most, or which you don't like. I really want to hear from you. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode, please leave a review wherever you are listening. See you next time.


Episode 7 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Alexis Madrigal is a beautiful nerd


ALEXIS: The idea that Donald Trump ran a campaign based on building a wall when there is already a frigging wall, was such an incredible thing to me. It was so, it became so real that people don't know about actual places in the same way that perhaps we used to. That the digital layer we've laid on top of all these things which we thought would be like additive, might actually be like subtractive in the sense of knowing about things.


ZACH: This is the Blu Skye podcast. I'm Zach Winter. Last week I had a conversation with Alexis Madrigal. I think the things that he has to say are extra important now given what happened last night. His words about the disdain that the left has for the right feel extra poignant.


ALEXIS: My name is Alexis Madrigal. I’m the editor at large of Fusion which is a cable and digital network. And I work in live in Oakland.


ZACH: So I have a very serious question for you first, which is based on my perusing of your Twitter feed over the past week, which is what's your favorite color of Draymond?


ALEXIS: I'm definitely just a straight up Draymond Green fan, and I have... I mean I think Draymond Red is probably also one that I would like which I think of as like Draymond’s out partying persona, just like pushing it to the max at all times. You know I do think of that as a fun dream to hang out with.


ZACH: Good answer. I'm curious about your relationship with sustainability on a general plane. You know, I know that you work on a million different subjects that are in some ways tangentially related other ways not, but I know you got your start and you literally wrote a book on the future and past of sustainability.


ALEXIS: Yeah well I think about it I guess, I am interested in the general sense in big human technological systems and the way that I got into that really started in the 90s with the Internet, watching the Internet you know get built piece by piece you know kind of first with really basic networking and telnet, and starting to use these services like Gopher. I remember there was a time when you know you would be like “wow I can pull up a library catalog in Australia”, And that seemed like a significant thing. And then you know watching the web get built on top of it and all the different technologies and things that have come since then. A lot of that just kind of lay dormant in my thinking for a long time having watched the construction of this new and very significant socio technical system, and when I got into journalism for real in the mid-aughts there were people who were blogging at that time in ways that I thought were like very exciting, like they were types of writing where it was like an attempt to kind of understand that big systems. The guy that I think you must specifically named Geoff Manaugh and he, Geoff was really working on a thing called Building blog (BLDGBLOG) that kind of took the idea of architecture and like really like stretched it and distorted it and ran it through all kinds of filters. And it let let you see the kind of built environment as one kind of crazy set of systems you know almost like like a network of networks kind of approach to architecture. And at that time also, you know, I was pretty consumed with climate change as a threat to... certainly the nonhuman world and then also the human world particularly the most vulnerable people in the human world. And so when I started digging into climate change really where you end up as you go deeper into sustainability is like in the back-end and infrastructure of the world. You know, the coal plants the, oil pipelines the transmission infrastructure, the way that engines are built, the way that supply chains internalized costs... like these like incredibly in some ways - to some people boring things that kind of infrastructure is really like those are the systems that need to change in order to meaningfully reduce the systemic emissions beyond what any one person can do by you know driving less or eating less meat or whatever, any of these things. And so that's kind of my relationship with that with sustainability in greenness and climate change in general is still a lot of the same things. I'm still interested in these back end systems. I think that may be what has changed a little bit is that, you know, just things are changing more slowly than I think we hoped. I think that the technologies that I cover in the book have done, some of them have done well some of them have not. Biofuels have been kind of a big disappointment no matter what the source of them was. I think you know solar PV has done great. I think thermal solar like the big fields of solar has been a big disappointment. You know, I think it's just you realize that changing these big systems takes forever. And so I kind of try and build it into my daily practice of doing journalism to think about these things. But I think, you know, it's going to take decades. And I think we need to understand it is that length and size of project.


ZACH: And I think that's what draws me to your work so much is that you always work that in somehow. Right. And I constantly struggle with those things myself. It's like, I'm working on sustainability issues, but I'm equally passionate about social justice and I'm constantly struggling with that connection between those two. I mean obviously they're very heavily linked but they often get lost in like some people depart and study one or the other and they don't often come together and I think you're bringing them together in a way that's super interesting. I just graduated from. And we're back to school and got a degree in organization development. And when my favorite professors who was helping me with my thesis told me that the topic of my thesis literally didn't matter and who I was and what I was interested in would come into my work no matter what I did. So I'm curious about you and what are the topics that that creep into your work no matter what I think you just spoke to them, but maybe expand a little.


ALEXIS: I think some of it is. This core understanding of the world that like the person who controls the spreadsheet ends up controlling the outcomes of many decision-making processes. I think that definitely is true in all kinds of environmental reporting, and also in all kinds of technological stuff, and so figuring out who is controlling that spreadsheet and what assumptions are baked into it and into those models has become a huge huge part of all my work. I think a real interest in and respect for the people who are doing work. Whether it's like the people doing your InstaCart orders, or like longshoremen or truck drivers. Even to a great extent, you know the people running the dirtiest coal power plants, the people who are in the mining industry, the people who do, you know, drilling and fracking. I think I think that there's a very there's a strain of kind of distaste for people who are like working in the sort of like extent  on energy industry or in like polluting industries that I actually find kind of gross, because you know like a lot of those people are interested in transforming their own industries, a lot of those people understand the issues really well and really really deeply. And I think you know a model for that for me has been you know John McPhee’s respect for geologists whether you know the New Yorker writer and book author you know, whether they worked for Shell or the USGS or whatever, he understood them as in their own professional class of workers who you know ended up in these different places but actually shared a lot of commonality and an outlook that could be explored and I think you know, a lot of the best science and technology studies scholars in the academy I think have been really good at doing that with like how did the managers of big utilities think about their job and what it was that they were doing and trying to understand the problems that they were solving. Understanding that we have a new set now and that that's going to require like resetting some of the assumptions and values that exist in the current energy industry.


ZACH: That's really well put. First thing that made me think of was that This American Life episode that I think was This American Life (edit: it was Invisiblia) where they interviewed the consultant who had gone into Shell a long time ago and they kind of - moral of the story was that Shell had gotten all this consulting help on how did how to be better humans essentially. And BP didn't, and that is what indirectly led to the Gulf spill.


ALEXIS: I mean I've you know met with a lot of different people. You know geologists, executives in the well industry different kinds of people. I think one of the key problems, I think of the way that we tend to approach those guys, is to be like “well there are one thing that the oil companies” and that reduces the incentive for the good companies and the good people within those companies to like actually meaningfully improve the way that their companies do business because they're just like “well, everyone's just going to think we’re the oil companies anyway” even though certainly within that industry people don't think that way. You know, I mean a great example of this from a while back was when Jim Rogers of Duke Energy decided to try and get out in front on a lot of climate change issues and Clive Thompson wrote a great profile of him in the late-aughts for the New York Times Magazine. And I think that it was it was a very interesting time you know, and an interesting play, but you kind of need some of those leaders on the inside.


ZACH: You know it's the same thing happened to Dave Greene of NRG. He's a friend of Blu Skye. But the other thing that makes me think of is I was listening to W. Kamau, and Hari Kondabolu last night and they were talking about the Cleveland Indians and how they think we need to remember that every person within that organization is not behind that logo and offensive team name. So we have to we have to come at it with a level of respect if you actually think that that needs to change.


ALEXIS: Totally. I mean, you know when you look back at when I was writing my book and working on that stuff that kind of I mean pro technology is a too weird thing, but at least technology agnostic set of green thinkers who were thinking like “how are we going to transform the world and our cities and our energy industry and our transportation” all those things you know and I think about that - what happened to the people who were doing that. I mean some of them went on to do other kinds of journalism, report on other systems. Some of them you know are in still in that climate change blogging game like Dave Roberts at VOX now, whatever. But a lot of the people who are really interested in that stuff went deep into the weeds. They work for, and within the companies. They work for and within Walmart, they work for and within the building companies, and software companies and they're the people who are kind of like driving the legs like getting a lot of these changes done and I think you know when I when I hear you say that you're interested in you know organization management or you know, I assume some of that is like organizational transformation, change management, things like that. But it's just such a necessary part of what's going to happen. I mean I think that even you know climate people underestimate the scale of organizational change that needs to occur. I mean you're going to need literally tens and hundreds of thousands of people to do this work here now and do it inside the very companies that right now you know pollute the most, create the most emissions, etc. and so I think I think I think a ton about that is how many of the people who used to be foregrounded in media coverage etc. now aren't because they're just so deep in doing the actual work of transformation.


ZACH: Yeah, I think about it a lot to you know being a sustainability consultant, I work with a lot of you know, corporate sustainability reps and people like that, and people within business and I'm always of their quality and their passion and their brain really. And if these people can't solve this faster then, who can?


ALEXIS: Right? Right?

ZACH: And it's a constant area fret for me.


ALEXIS: Right right right. I know. I know. Well you know I mean it's just it's just the scale of change, you know. It's kind of unfathomable, I think. You know I mean in part because the current infrastructure is unfathomable. You know I mean there's a guy that Bill Gates loved, Václav Smil, who I think is like a really challenging read for most sustainability people, not because he's like a dense writer, but because he sort of feels like you know no one's gonna fix shit. That’s like his basic position, honestly. He is not always right. I mean he states everything. So but if you go back and look at his record like oh, he's right you know, naysaying isn't always the thing. But I do feel like what I really have taken from his work, for example is just like he'll just lay out like here's the scale of materials handling that occurs with like oil on this earth. Like, if you want to replace this system, consider what it means to move this much shit around the earth. Consider what it took to build that. And I think that most  people don't. And I think a lot of what I'm working on right now is a series around the Port of Oakland, which of course is like about all of the machinery of global capitalism kind of when it literally comes to dock in one local place. And when you look up at one of those ships with all those containers and all of that stuff in it and you think that's just one of like 11,000 ships like that all over the ocean. It's just one of dozens that's going to come into the port in a given week. You know and you realize like how many chassis, for example are necessary to move all of those boxes to different places on the port and then out into the world and then within each of those boxes there's all these things that they need to like all the scale of all of that. Every single piece of that supply chain will eventually need to be improved and it's emissions will need to be reduced. Everything like that will have to change. And I just think, you just look at one boats-worth and you think like “wow that would take a lot”. And then you think of all of the boats anything that you know that you think that there are constantly in circulation at all times. There's just, there's a lot to be done.


ZACH: It's true. And I think you just hinted at it there. You've hinted other places too that I've read where you are talking about getting into audio production. Do you have a project that's already out that I haven't been able to find, or is that something that's in the works?


ALEXIS: it's in the works. it's in production right now. There'll be a teaser out in a few weeks and then it'll probably drop in the very beginning of 2017. The first week of January will be like kind of an eight-episode thing about the Port of Oakland, know global Trade, and also the future of work comes up a lot. You know you know there's a lot of interviews and things that the people actually doing the work in and out of the port. And what it will mean to have you know increasing amounts of technology come to bear not just on the waterfront but like in the warehouses and you know in the automated trucks and things like that.


ZACH: I'm super excited. I don't think I could even express how excited I am.


ALEXIS: It's going to be pretty good actually. I mean I wasn't sure when I got started and it's a really hard thing to report on because it's just a lot of secrecy around the port but like security as well it's just like negotiations between shippers and terminals and longshoremen and just like as with many things in climate change and industries, there's not like some media person who is like waiting for you to call. The person who approves interviews is the president of the company who has an AOL address. You know what I mean. It's stuff like that.


ZACH: I give people a hard time when you know of those AOL addresses. But I can't stop myself. I read that you're a co-founder of Always Read the Plaque. Could you talk about that? I think that's one of the best projects that not many people know about that aren't already 99% Invisible listeners.


ALEXIS: So you know 99 Percent Invisible is, founded by Roman Mars. (hello, beautiful nerd) It's an amazing podcast about the material world and just stuff and the way that stuff is designed and made in and exists in the world. And you know he had an episode that centered around an individual plaque you know, just like a historical marker out there in the world. And you know he basically gave this maxim, like “always read the plaque”. So right before we had our first kid a few years ago I got really excited about this and I was like “Roman we gotta build this website, will collect these plaques and and just be this place for all these amazing stories and we can report some of them out.” So we started to build this thing out, got pretty far with it and then had a kid and like I sort of fell off the face of the earth for a few months. And you know funnily enough people kept submitting plaques though you know from from different places in the world and there it's just kind of natural filtration mechanism of people who submit tended to be the kind of people who had a good nose for an interesting story. And eventually a guy named Kester Allen came along and said “can I take this over?” basically like “I'm a developer I can make this into a real Web site that's functional and that I love this stuff and I'll just do it because I want to help.” So he did. He built it into the real thing that now exists and you know he cuts like partnerships with different places that have pictures and stories of plaques, like a bunch of civil rights plaques recently came on from the south. I'm still submitting them. The one I liked most recently I happened to be in downtown San Diego. And I ran into this one for the Callan Hotel from 1878. And so I’m just reading here “In 1886 Till Burns leased this structure as his ACME Saloon. Here he kept his menagerie which included a wild cat, noisy monkeys, an anteater, and his pet bear who escaped on at least two occasions. The bear was also known to lick the face or even take a bite out of a passer-by. The saloon closed in 1907 after a shady history from 1928  to 1941, the Nippon company owned the building and ran an import business, however, this was lost due to the Japanese internment during World War 2. The Calland Hotel opened in 1943.”  To me, it's just like, oh my god... That took a lot of turns in 50 words. You know? I will say just to relate that my work together. Try and try and find some throughline there. I have come to really really appreciate and see almost as a form of political resistance to this sort of fact-free and kind of puzzling lack of knowledge and kind of rise of know-nothingism in the world, to really kind of know about places. I was recently at the Mexico/US border down in Tijuana for some time and really just felt like it was important to just stand near the border wall like to be a human perceiving that place to watch the trucks going back and forth across the commercial port of entry, to watch people, you know how it actually worked. And I think that just as we increasingly know about things in more and more abstract ways, you know, kind of from knowing the place as a building, to reading a book about it, to seeing it on Google Maps and possibly looking at a Wikipedia entry. You know like there's like the idea that Donald Trump ran a campaign based on building a wall when there is already a frigging wall was such an incredible thing to me. It was so, it became so real that people just don't know about actual places and the same way that perhaps we used to. That the digital layer we've laid on top of all these things which we thought would be like additive, might actually be like subtractive in the sense of knowing about things. And so that's kind of what the Port of Oakland story is really all about for me. You know it's that let's actually know how the port works. Not in the abstract like you know the IKEA furniture drying of this thing of like a ship comes in, drops container. But like really no how does this get done. Kind of filling in the cartoon drawing that we increasingly have about most of the world just because there's so much stuff to know. And because we can have such a thin layer of knowledge over so many things and pretend we know a lot more about how the world works than we do. That really going to places and like seeing that kind of initial journalistic impulse and authority of like “I was there and I saw this thing and this is how it works.” Like that's really that's what I want to focus my work on over the next decade probably. And not to just shout out McPhee for the second time in 20 minutes, but I feel like John McPhee sense of like, “I want to see things. I want to actually understand how a truck drivers business works” like who else does that? You know, it's so so rare to have someone take the time to learn this great shadow geography that is the world of stuff the world of material things, that world of places that you know aren't made for our consumption, like restaurants and cool you know, the High Line in New York and whatever we end up fighting about all this shit about these places that are made specifically for us as consumers, but non-consumer places you just end up knowing less and less about them.


ZACH: I'm really happy that somebody with your platform in your background is working on that, it's really exciting. I want to talk about Real Future Fair because I know that's coming up. I am going to release this episode that before that happens. So you know, what are you most excited about and what is it?


ALEXIS: Real Future Fair... Real Future is just sort of the technology crew for Fusion. Now you know it's a lot of bigger stories for Real Future. It's pretty investigative, there's a lot of really good reporters and Future Fair is kind of where we bring together a lot of the strains of thought that we're interested in, both kind of like far future kind of thinking, diversity and justice within the technology world, kind of thinking. You end up calling it “intersectional futurism” where you're trying to essentially figure out which things are changing in the world that could lead to future systems of oppression or future new freedoms. And that's really what Future Fair is about, is like bringing together these different kinds of people like who are all kind of thinking about the future: how to build it, how to live within it, how to make it more just, all all in one place. And so, we see a lot of stuff at Real Future that we don't see connected up. You know, when people are thinking about the future of labor from the Labor side, like from labor unions or whatever, they're not often in conversation with the Ubers of the world of the people who are thinking about automation or you know it's like they're not they're not even mixing in the same places. We see that in a lot of cases that people who are talking about diversity in technology are not mixing with the people who are thinking about the far future of artificial intelligence, like we just want to like create a space where these people can all talk together. Because it doesn't take very long to understand that like the future is created socially, you know, it not just created like by development of technology. What are my favorite examples of this is that in the 1950s you know there's this great book by this guy when interviewed like all of the leading scientists and technologists about what the future was going to be like, and the opening scene is these women playing pinochle, having never entered the workforce. But within, like these crazy domes with their like husband flying back and forth to the office in nuclear powered helicopters you know And you're like, “welllllll you possibly want to consider that social change might occur as well.” And so that's that's a big part of the kind of work that we're trying to do, is to have those conversations occur in the same place.


ZACH: So I saw Zardulu on list. And I was going to ask you about where where she fits in. It's a “she” right? Do we know?


ALEXIS: It’s Zardulu.


ZACH: But I think you explained. I think I understand now where Zardulu fits.


ALEXIS:  We feel like artists are processing a lot of the technological possibilities really in interesting ways and in different ways than other people. I have a friend Robin Sloan who lives here, a couple blocks from me and like the way that I just give this like really short example of the way he thinks about neural networks, these things which are starting to dominate a lot of different types of problems within technology. You feed a lot of data into them these networks of sort of neuron like entities come up with new solutions to what that data is, and how to use it. For computer scientists who are doing these things they want to use the same corpus of data so that they can compare how well their different neural networks work. But if you're like a novelist or a writer or an artist who's like creating these things one of the things that he's realized is how important for the output side of it, corpus selection is. And so it's just a really different way of thinking about it. They want directly comparable quantitative things, whereas on the artist side of it or the you know just the person side of it you want interesting outcomes. And a lot of that is dependent on the corpus that you put in. And so he's been working a lot with how to create interesting corpuses for these neural networks to chew over. I think that's just an example of how a different perspective may help everybody understand what it is that they're doing.


ZACH: That's wild. That guy lives down the block from you?


ALEXIS: He's even a novelist. It's this North Oakland, South Berkeley vibe's.


ZACH: Amazing. That is my of birth, right here.


ALEXIS: Oh really? Alta Bates? Oh man. My son and daughter were both born there.


ZACH: So I'm feeling guilty that I'm keeping you from hydrophones. Only one last question. What is was one thing that I haven't asked you about that I should have?


ALEXIS: I mean I think like maybe the thing I was thinking about it ahead of this was what would I do differently if I were writing Powering the Dream which is my book about green technology. What I would do differently in it, and I think what I honestly feel like I've devoted a lot of time in that book to the big solar plants, solar thermal plants, which basically use mirrors to heat up water which acts as you know, sort of like drives a turbine like you would in a natural gas plant.


ZACH: Like Ivanpah, right?

ALEXIS: Yeah exactly. I think I spent too much time on that. I think I did not spend enough time working through the solar PV scenarios. In part it was because they were really interesting stories of battles between two different types of environmentalists: people who wanted to get solar plants built, and people who wanted to protect desert tortoises. And I found in reading through all of the legal proceedings around Ivanpah, I was just like “this is an insane thing” like you know there is there's literally hundreds of pages about like the way that they did the surveys for desert tortoises you know and I just ended up feeling like if that's the way that we were going to approach to build out of new lower emissions systems, we were never going to build shit you know. And so I think I went harder at that than I should have and I should have spent more time going over the PV stuff because that's turned out to be like a really interesting place. I also think I should have spent more time talking about battery technology. I kind of tried to get into battery technology through it through basically material science R&D, and the way that it was increasingly being done in computers and not as a bench science, but I should have just like just been like “batteries are such a big deal and we'd have no idea how we're going to do this.”


ZACH: Well don't punish yourself too much. I think that you're doing really good work. No you don't need to. You don't need to be hard on yourself for that. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode, please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you are listening. See you next time.


Episode 6 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Thomas Donovan

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Here is a link to Thomas's resume, and below is the full transcript of the interview.


THOMAS: If we're not getting to the airport where are we trying to go?


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I’m Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. If you please go get many more applications then you have job openings. In order to highlight the excellence of a few of those applicants. I called them up recorded the conversation and I'm sharing their stories with you. This week I talk with yet another job seeker about circular economies, The long arc of history, and our collective blindness.


ZACH: Just something for the top of the podcast that is like, “here’s who I am”.


THOMAS: Absolutely. My name is Thomas Donovan. I am a senior at the University of Southern California. Coming from the East Bay Area. And, I'm about to start a graduate certificate in sustainability here at USC which is a bunch of math classes that I'm really excited about. And in the long run hoping to get involved in the strategy sustainability space.


ZACH: I'm curious about what drives your passion for sustainability specifically, sustainable business consulting.


THOMAS: Absolutely. I think that's a great place to start. So I think for me personally. The whole idea of sustainability and environmentalism as like a specific thing didn't really occur to me until I came down to school cause, I grew up in the Bay area pretty much grew up in the foothills of Mt Diablo where I was kind of outside all the time and pretty much took that for granted. And, coming down to the University of Southern California which is in South Central Los Angeles. It was not so much a culture shock, as an environment shock where I went from kind of being so used to trees and streams and suddenly being surrounded by just this concrete behemoth which made me realize that the patterns of development that we're seeing happen across the globe are often pretty ugly. And, in my courses through the business world, I kind of realized what was the result of that. And saw where my skills and interests kind of best lay, which ultimately drove me to become interested in the whole world of sustainability.


ZACH: What what do you see as the as the single greatest barrier that we have towards a truly sustainable world?


THOMAS: I think you can cut that in a number of ways but, in an abstract kind of macro sense, I think right now. The business, the private sector, even the governments are really set up to operate on a time horizon that rewards the short term success. You know we're thinking in terms of. Financial quarters or years when we really need to be thinking in terms of decades and centuries. And that kind of concept really manifests itself in all sorts of ways in terms of the regulatory impacts that companies have as well as the way that they go about doing their business.


ZACH: So if I give you two billion dollars in a team of 50 people. How would you use them and those resources to...do anything, really?


THOMAS: That's a that's an interesting question. I don't know if others have thought about that before. I do think the whole reason that we're even able to be as successful as we have been throughout our history as a species has really been kind of a story of technological innovation. So I think moving forward. That also is our best hope for kind of a salvation. So I really think that if I had two billion dollars and 50 people. I'd put as much of that as I could into really investing in some sort of an accelerator or some kind of an innovation lab where we tackle... All right. What are the stickiest issues? What are the wicked problems, technologically speaking that are separating us from moving into a kind of circular sustainable economy and that might be on the energy side you know how do we become competitive with carbon based fuels? Anything that we might need to tackle would be where I direct that money for sure.


ZACH: It's a good answer. And I'm also a big believer in technology. But people often push back on me when I say similar things. In that, a lot of people believe that sustainability is not a technology or a data problem. They think it is more of a communication slash behavioral science problem. And I'm wondering if you agree with that and how?


THOMAS: I think at the end of the day technology and the communication things will ultimately go hand in hand. Because. Essentially for change to happen I think we need to essentially make the business case for sustainability. And you can go about that one of two ways. Either, you can effectively communicate and articulate the opportunities that do exist right now, but maybe a little bit more hidden or difficult to unlock which is what I think Blu Skye does such a good job of doing, or what I'm hoping is that in the next 20 years we'll really start to see some breakthroughs where there are exciting new technologies that fundamentally offer a better option than the current extractive, exhaustive practices that we have in place. But no matter which is more important to ultimately need to work together effectively in order to create the change that we undeniably need.


ZACH: People working in sustainability often expressed that they feel like corporate sustainability consulting can feel like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Do you ever have a similar feeling? I mean you're not a working consultant yet but I imagine you will be and how do you plan on reconciling that?


THOMAS: I really like that question. I think rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. That's that's an easy stance to take. And then I think that by and large what we've seen come out of sustainability work to this point. Has, to some degree obviously it's moving the needle. But we've never really seen a shift in the paradigm. And that's the unfortunate fact of the matter. But on the other hand, these problems we're facing and our knowledge of these problems on a scientific business level, are still so young in the overall history of our species. I think, actually, I used to be a history major. So I always try to put things in terms of like a historical context. And I think that when you're talking about change on a societal level like what would be the necessary steps for a real sustainable revolution. That societal change takes a great deal of time in maybe the same ways that it took the ideas of the enlightenment many years before they manifested themselves in really kind of pushing forward an effective form of democratic government. If we look at the length of human life, let's say it lasts 80 years. It would only be three human lifetimes before we were all the way back at the Declaration of Independence. You know, sustainability and the environment is still a problem that's only existed in maybe one lifetime on  a macro level. So for that reason I have a lot of hope that the ideas that we're seeing really kind of begin to grow and set in at this point will effectively manifest themselves in the coming years. And whether or not they do we'll kind of be the defining question for our generation.


ZACH: I love your optimism in the face of my doom and gloom question. Aside from sustainability what political or cultural issues are you most passionate about.


THOMAS: Obviously along with kind of seeing the environmental issues that Los Angeles has as a city. When I came into school here in South Central, it's pretty it's pretty apparent when you come here for the first time the immense social, socio-economic issues that exist in the south central area. You know, we have Compton, Watts, Inglewood, all within a mile or two from campus. And so, in the same way that I think our issues with sustainability are kind of, they stem from our collective blindness to posterity and being able to think about the generations that come after us. I think that these socio-economic issues that we see right now. Come from a similar sort of unwillingness to see the truth of what's going on in these communities. So I'm part of an organization here at USC called Troy camp, and what Troy camp does is we essentially partner with there are seven schools we work with in the south central area and every week we offer programming where we go into these schools offer tutoring, we’ll play soccer, we have theater and dance classes. And it's essentially a mentorship program where we can kind of help share our insights and make these kids really understand that they do have the opportunity to strive for a college education and whatever sort of life they would want after that. So for me the kind of socio-economic issues particularly as they relate to children in education are really important.


ZACH: There is a question I want to ask you that I haven't quite fully formed yet. But I can tell you at the preface is. Do you know Bill Mcdonough? He is an author and sustainability guru. And he essentially calls for us to move away from the idea of doing less bad. Like that is a lot of what sustainability consulting is, is minimizing the bad. And, he makes a call for more good, not less bad. And he exemplifies that with this amazing allegory that is, you know, a lot of what we do is akin to getting in a taxi, and telling me telling a taxi driver “I don't want to go to the airport” like you're not you're not actually seen anything about what you do want to do. So I'm I'm just curious about what your thoughts are on that.


THOMAS: Absolutely. I think that really kind of cuts to the core of this kind of very interesting moment we're at right now, where a lot of corporate responsibility really is it is just mitigation work. Where the impacts are still ultimately negative and they're just making progress towards those. And I do think that at a certain point we'll reach, and that point maybe right now, is how can we make a fundamental change to the operating models of the organizations that kind of run the world. You know, move from a linear kind of extractive model, to a circular model and, the idea that “I don't want to go to the airport” is just entirely without direction. That's kind of where a lot of these organizations are you know they're still they're still incentivized to make profit and they're just trying to mitigate that overall impact. That actually reminds me of one of one of my favorite professors here at USC. He is a professor named Adlai Wertman, and he's in charge of social entrepreneurship lab here and essentially he works with organizations who are mission aligned with an impact mission. So they're not out to make profit, they're out to achieve their goal while remaining viable. They're not always nonprofits but they're sort of business-minded organization that is still goal oriented but no longer thinks in terms of profits but it thinks only in terms of impacts. And I really think that's the direction that we ultimately need to move into as a society. It's to sort of, realign what our values are and what our goals are. So we would know if, if we're not getting to the airport where we where we try to go?


ZACH: You brought it full circle. Good job. What have you been raised to be afraid of?


THOMAS: Raised to be afraid of... Obviously as an undergrad at USC, graduating soon and going into the business world and probably in the top percentile of the most fortunate people on the planet Earth. Right. And I think, most people you might have on the show who are in a position to make the changes that they really care about, that sort of agency and control over their coming years is pretty unique. And, one thing that I've kind of been raised to fear is allowing the lifestyles that we have access to in terms of wealth and luxury to really sort of, consume what we're actually accomplishing in our time here. And I think... That's another thing that when I spoke about the kind of. Career life trajectories that you often get shot out of business school and go into investment banking, consulting, you can kind of get trapped in these in these linear parts of you know, you get promotion you buy a bigger house and you kind of, there's this game that gets played and there is no real stop to it. There is no way to get out. And so I think, always kind of remaining aware of where we're at, and what we value is kind of the best way to do that. There is a quote by Aristotle that says “the unexamined life is not worth living, and I think. I've been raised to kind of never stop examining, because as soon as you do, that's when you can really start to get away from yourself.


ZACH: Great answer. What have I not asked you about, that I should have?


THOMAS: Ooh. That's a good question. Something I always like to talk about. And actually, the means through which I met the professor that I mentioned earlier, Adlai Wertman, is a club that I'm really passionate about here at USC called Peaks and Professors. And the club is as simple as the name. We're essentially an organization that brings together the best professors on campus with some of the best students. And we put together our excursions of all sorts, hikes backpacking trips, we’ve done a surf trip, we've done some yoga trips. And, you have a really awesome opportunity to kind of engage with some really, really intelligent people at the cutting edge of their fields while you're out hiking in like the best casual informal environment. Where you can really kind of understand where they're approaching these problems as a person and what they really see as the biggest challenges. And it's through experiences like that that I've been kind of able to develop my own kind of life path and life goals. And we're actually hoping to start expanding to other colleges, so if anyone has similar interests and might be interested in getting that started at one of their own campuses, we're in the process of getting our first colony set up at Stanford. So we're always looking for more people to get involved in that.


ZACH: That’s a really cool program. Blu Skye actually runs something similar that we call Confluence where we get 15 different business leaders from all walks of life and geographical regions and bring them together and take them down the Tuolumne River. Jib Ellison, the CEO of Blu Skye started his career as a river guide. His love of nature kind of informed his work that he's been doing to this day, s he still loves the river and gets on it as much as he can and that's part of his master plan. So, it sounds really similar actually to what you're working on.


THOMAS: That's really awesome. The Tuolumne is an incredible river, and the spaces that you can just sort of access in a purely fun out there is environment. I think it can be more productive than a boardroom.


ZACH: That's the idea. Nailed it.


If you want to get in contact with Thomas, head to the Blu Skye website thats, BLUSKYE.com. There you will find a full transcript of this interview, as well as a link to his resume.


Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode, please leave a review on iTunes or wherever you are listening. See you next time.


Episode 5 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Zilong Wang and the Timeless Lesson of Compassion

Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or Google Play

Zilong's blog is here: http://www.journeye.org/



ZILONG: It really came as a big relief when I realized two things. One, that the world does not need saving and two, I do not need to be great.


ZACH: This is the Blu Skye podcast. I'm Zach Winter. This was a special one for me to record and a little different than previous episodes. This week I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend and comrade Zilong Wang, whom I met when he became a blue sky employee a few years ago. He has since left Blu Skye and is on a pilgrimage around the globe on his bike. To say that Zilong is unique, does not go far enough. His kindness, patience, and depth is special, and I hope a small part of that comes across in this interview.


ZILONG: to introduce oneself, first I wish I know myself and to know thyself might be the project right now or for a long time to come. And I think I know the journey that I'm on right now better than I know myself. So I introduce that journey. Right now I'm on the journey to the east and it's an open ended the pilgrimage around the world as much by bicycle as possible in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time. I am right now six to eight months into the pilgrimage which started in the Bay Area in California on February 29, 2016. And now I am in across from the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad in India.


ZACH: Zilong, you done a trip like this before. Maybe maybe not like this but you rode your bike across the U.S. to actually come work a Blu Skye. How has this this trip differed from that first bicycle trip that you took?


ZILONG: The first bicycle trip was right after college as a rite of passage. About 3000 plus miles from Massachusetts to San Francisco. That journey was very much an unintentional pilgrimage. It didn't have a clear intention of being a pilgrimage of inner discovery and outer service but it turned out to be that way. So was almost like a rehearsal. And after that bicycling journey I never thought I'm going to do a long bike trip again. I even gave away the bike shorts and ended up have to buy another two pair of bike shorts for this trip this journey that I'm on currently and this journey, the journey to the east is very much an intentional pilgrimage with the vows that I have deliberated on and with as an answer to a calling that came to me in early 2015.


ZACH: I have read those vows. It's hard for me to imagine taking similar vows myself. Can you talk about what those vows are?


ZILONG: Yeah. Those, there are six fous. They are inspired by many traditions. This set of six foulis is closest to the five precepts that are given to lay Buddhists. So I have essentially the five precepts minus the no lying and plus that no meat eating and no commercialization. the other for being no killing, no stealing, no sex, and no intoxicants. So this journey is very much intended to be a journey of cultivation, and I feel like these files are my baseline protection. These vows are my insurance policy and my protectors. And so far they've kept me safe and sound all along the way.


ZACH: I'm glad they're working. I want you to be safe. Which reminds me that I just read on your latest blog that you have abandoned bicycle as your mode of transportation. Can you talk about that?



ZILONG: Yes. It's not abandoning a bicycle as a mode of transportation. It's putting the bicycling on pause and will resume bicycling next year from Europe back to China. That's the intention. But for the past few weeks in India I have decided to not continue bicycling because it is just physically not safe. And it has also been very timely ego check because bicycling has never been an end in itself. I just wanted to travel as slowly as I am spiritually ready. The more spiritually prepared I am, the slower I will be able to travel. I would have been inspired by people who walked around the world for peace or even going on a three year bowing pilgrimage, taking three steps and one full prostration bow for three years and I know I'm not ready for that level of cultivation, so I wanted to go as slowly as I could. But coming to India I realized that bicycling in India is not the safest or the sanest way to practice equanimity. There are other other ways to test the limits of the  mind. And this is not the most physically safe way. I have developed a narrative around being the cycling Pilgrim. To have a cycling taken out of the pilgrim really make me question who and my or what I am doing and the heroism factor is taken out. It really make me question what is this journey really about.


ZACH: Thats awesome. It’s good for you. That was what I saw. What struck me most about what you had written was the ego check part. I loved that.


ZILONG: It's a slap on the face from the universe just at the right time.


ZACH: Another thing you wrote. Actually I think it was your interview that was posted recently. You wrote something that I've actually been using as a question. In previous interviews that I've been doing recently. I stole it from you, I don't I know you didn't invent it either but the quote is something about you left sustainability work specifically with Blu Skye because -  you're not alone in this -  but a lot of people and yourself feel like sustainability work is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Can you talk more about that?


ZILONG: The decision to leave this field has many layers and for some time I have been blaming the field for saying that this type of work is not it, doesn't address the root of the problem, et cetera. But as I go more and more on the journey I'm realizing the problem is not that the field... is that I am not ready. There are many ways... So to reach to be a monk to meditate in a cave is the easiest, to meditate in the corporate board room is the hardest. I have not developed the basic muscle to maintain my prayer and my awareness. Even in the meditation hall. So when I'm put in a much less conducive environment of the business environment, then I frequently lose the balance of my mind and can no longer be in touch with the prayer that that could heal. So maybe one day I would even return to this line of work but hopefully coming back with a different preparedness.


ZACH:Great answer.


ZILONG: There have been Sufi saints who were butchers and Chuang Tzu, one of the Taoist mystics, wrote about this butcher that he have found oneness, realization, through cutting up a cow when he cut up a cow, his knife, he has been using the knife for 20 years without needing to sharpen it. He feels that how the knife goes through the tendons of the cow without even touching the bone as if a knife going through water etc.. So if it is possible for a butcher to find the Tao in butchering then it should be possible for a consultant to find the Tao in helping companies to become better agents of change. But I realized that I haven't even gotten the basics down and have tried to skip ahead to do the advanced course work. So now am getting back to the kindergarden by being a monk in the world.


ZACH: I don't know if you need to think about it as a as a regression right. Maybe it's maybe it's a progression that's just yours.


ZILONG: That's right.


ZACH: I've been talking to mostly students so far for this podcast. Young people that are just getting their careers started. I want to know from you what you what you see as the greatest deficit in corporate sustainability consulting. Like where, where should young people be focusing their their passions and if they feel like they want to make a change in the world? And it doesn't have to be related to sustainability right, it could be anything. Where where should young people right now be focused?


ZILONG: Yeah. They say the revolution is an inside job. Meaning that it really is what happens on the inside. And I think this generation of young people is getting an intuitive sense of it. We've been looking outside for the problem for the answer for a long time. And if we've been running around to look for the answers for a long time, but maybe all along the answers have been looking for us. We are just so busy running around that we cannot to hear the call of the answers. So I feel the best thing that I can do personally is to slow down, so that the answers could find me and to really look inside we're actually all the root of the problem and the ultimate solution lies, and to look inside it doesn't mean to sit and navel gaze all day long, though some still this practice is definitely required. But the biggest breakthrough that came for me is to turn the searching light from the outside inward. And there I saw all the problems and all the answers. It definitely is hard for young people to do that because we are in such youthful haste and want to see change happen want to make change happen. But I feel blessed to have the opportunity through the help of noble friends around me so that they hold up a mirror so that I can really see myself as part of the problem and solution.


ZACH: That's a very Zilong answer and I love it. Off topic a little bit. But I hope related. You can answer it any way you want. What have you been raised to be afraid of?



ZILONG: Chinese culture in general is afraid of deviance from the convention. But I'm grateful that my parents have gave me the room to do exactly that. I don't really feel like I have been raised with much fear and I have really deep gratitude for my parents for giving me that they're probably the biggest fear that I had, is not my fear but my ego's fear. The ego feared that would not that he would not be grand. That he would not have an opportunity to, quote, save the world. So it really came as a big relief when I realized that, two things one grow to doesn't need saving and two, I do not need to be great. And those two realizations gave me much relief. Essentially took me off the hook of ego for a bit.


ZACH: I love it. You know and Blu Sky is focused on sustainability and this podcast is mostly focused on sustainability but I want to know from you what, aside from sustainability, what political or cultural issues are you most passionate about?


ZILONG: So in a sense just like a soul might be reincarnated into different bodies, all the different problems they all essentially have the same core. I feel like saints and teachers across ages throughout history you have to try and address the same problem, that root problem, of the greed, hatred, and delusion as the Buddha called the three poisons. They keep manifesting a different problem. They used to be imperialism. It could be racism. It could be climate change. It could be political elitism. Fundamentally they’re all disease of the heart and mind in the soul. Saints and activists and leaders of each era choose the most relevant issue as the teaching point of that era to teach the timeless lesson of compassion and kindness and harmony. So I feel like all the issue is essentially, one issue, and they all have the same solution and they manifest as so many different problems and solutions in the daily world which give everyone an opportunity to participate. So I myself right now am on a journey of discovering how those roots of poison lie within me and how this ecological and spiritual to me that's so palpable in our time is giving us all an opportunity to eradicate those roots.


ZACH: What is a personal opinion that you've had and then changed within the last year?


ZILONG: About Donald Trump supporters. I know Donald Trump is a pretty hot topic in the U.S. or in the world media and when I was earlier this year bicycling for a few months through the U.S.. Before I started I don't know any Donald Trump supporters personally, and I had the impression that if someone were to vote for Donald Trump they are probably well they're probably out of their mind. But along the journey I met quite a few Donald Trump supporters who have shown me the utmost kindness they have taken me into their home invited me to dinner. And let me sleep in their yard or pick me up on the highway when I'm stranded. All of them are nice, reasonable, kind hearted people. And for every belief they hold that there is a very good reason behind it. So that's one view that I have changed it put the human face on the Donald Trump supporter and I was at their mercy. They helped me when I was needed, or totally dependent on the kindness of strangers. In those moments I cannot dismiss them as crazies. I have to listen to them, and when I listen I just see/hear a brother, hear a sister and everything they say makes perfect sense.


ZACH: I feel you. I mean I've gone through a similar revelation. That was not born from being in contact with Trump supporters because as you know in Northern California there are not many. But I've, you know, read some things recently which which reminded me how important empathy is in specifically that way. Right. Like all those views that you may see as racist or misogynist or nationalist, all have their reasons behind them. Not to say that they're right but that there are very valid and real reasons for wanting to vote for somebody like Donald Trump so I really appreciated your answer right there. I think that's all the questions I have Zilong. I want to know lastly if you have anything else you want to say or if you have any projects you want to plug or how anybody listening to this might get in contact with you should they want to find you.


ZILONG: There really is no message that I want to send through this pilgrimage because I feel like so much of our problem is because everyone has their own message and they want to add it into the airwave, which is already overcrowded. I wish. I pray that I develop the ability to listen, to hear so that I can be present and that at least, there is one less message out there. And along the journey when there are things that move me either moving through me, or have moved me I sometimes share them on the blog. And which is journeye.org as in journey to the east, so there was journey. Plus the letter “e” dot o-r-g. That's one way I stay in touch so that the things that I'm learning is not just for my own benefit but also hope that they would resonate with others if they come across. But I really pray that we all have this space and the privilege in life to go on a journey to know thy self, to be dependent on the universe, to be one. I definitely feel very grateful for the support that I have received and to a large part from Blu Skye for the leeway that I had when I was an employee to go to do meditation, to go to take on service project and the ongoing friendship and support of my former colleagues. It's a most special place and I'm very grateful for all the comrades.


ZACH: Well, we love you very much here.


ZILONG: Thank you, brother Zach.


ZACH: Please stay safe and we'll be reading your blog.


ZILONG: And likewise. I look forward to hearing more of Zach's podcasts.


ZACH: Thanks Zilong.


ZILONG: Bye Zach.


ZACH: Thanks for listening to the podcast. If you have enjoyed this episode please leave a review you on iTunes, or wherever you are listening. See you next time.


Episode 4 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Rachel Smedley

Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or Google Play

(Here is a link to Rachel's resume, and below is a full transcript of our conversation)

RACHEL: It's all about creating the right emotion to appeal to action. You know, I think people are sick and tired of hearing about the doom and gloom of climate change you know, that that leads to feelings of guilt or fear or even paralysis in an action. But I think it's about communicating science in a way that reaches into people's values and connects with them on a positive level and you know motivates them in their own right to think that this is something that I need to be thinking about and acting on too.


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I'm Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings in order to spotlight the talents of those applicants, I called them up, recorded the conversation, and am sharing their stories with you. This week I talked to yet another job seeker about something that has already become a running theme of this still very green podcast. Namely, staying uncomfortable. We also talked about reducing the intangibility of climate change and the painstaking wait that comes with applying for Fullbright Open Research Grant.


RACHEL: Hopefully I can wow you! My name is Rachel Smedley. I am currently a fourth year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I'm originally from New York, but I'm here studying systems engineering with a concentration in environmental systems.


ZACH: And so what is attractive to you about that field?


RACHEL: Honestly I don't know why I've been fortunate enough to land with an interest in sustainability. It's actually part of what I'm interested in most. You know what compels people to be interested in sustainability enough to think about it and act on it. When people ask me that question I normally say it was the influence of my pro-environmental grandmother but I honestly have no idea what made me interested in it. Right now what compels me to pursue a profession is I don't see any other option it feels like a calling that's more like a yelling now. I see the... I can't not see the necessity for it.


ZACH: What were you raised to be afraid of?


RACHEL: Besides spiders. I think I have been raised to be afraid of getting too comfortable not just in one place, but you know, with my education. I think coming from my parents and also coming from my friends in the university always looking for what can be done what can be done for yourself and for others and ways to motivate action towards social change and towards making the world a better place or expanding your mind and exposing yourself to new situations and new experiences. So not getting too comfortable with where you are and being open to anything that life throws your way.


ZACH: And I heard you kind of stutter there on the make the world a better place which is something that I feel every time that comes out of my mouth also. like, “what did I just say” right? It sounds so cliche and weird and it doesn't really have a lot of meaning I think anymore. And you know, it's funny that you did that because I literally yesterday was just having that feeling. I think I wrote that in something I was writing and was like “that's so lame.” So what's a better phrase that we could use?


RACHEL: Honestly I actually recently just yesterday watched a TED talk about the title was long lines of what we think about charity is dead wrong. And it was great TED talk and it just spoke about how charity has, since you know, since Puritans settled in America has been known as this thing that we that we give to, to validate making a lot of money in for profit sectors. And I think making the world a better place has always been you know, kind of on the on the sidelines of people's endeavors especially recent graduates. I feel like a lot of people are given the mutually exclusive option - you either create a great life for yourself or a great life for yourself and your family or you can pursue a profession of making the world a better place. And I think of a better for, I think something that the future generation is coming up to is incorporating making the world a better place and social entrepreneurship and incorporating that phrase not just as a CSR kind of thing but really melding it into everyday life, everyday actions, every day, you know, initiatives.




ZACH: Yeah. It's a good answer. I'm still struggling with it and I don't I don't have answers either. I'm going to keep thinking about it to you to let me know if you can.


RACHEL: Me too. Let know...


ZACH: When I solve that one? I'm curious and I don't quite know what the question is that I want to ask you but you're an engineer. Right? Yer background and yer passion at least right now is focused on the science. How does that manifest itself and do you think science is the answer to our, you know, sustainable conundrum that we're in right now.


RACHEL: I believe it's a big part of it. I think the science has done its job in proving the reality of climate change. I believe even as an engineer the problem hasn't become one of the science. It's become one of the communication of the science. Which is interesting for me because I have no idea what that looks like. I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist. But I do believe that you know, this amorphous challenge of climate change that we know is happening. How do we communicate the correct emotion to the people to the non-scientists, to the non-believers, even how do we reduce this intangibility, the intangible nature of climate change, you know we can't see the impact day to day. So that probably leads in the low levels of concern among people that don't think about it every day, but it's all about creating the right emotion to appeal to action. You know I think people are sick and tired of hearing about the doom and gloom of climate change you know that that leads to feelings of guilt or fear or even paralysis in an action. But I think it's about communicating this science in a way that reaches into people's values and connects with them on a positive level and you know, motivates them in their own right to think that this is something that I need to be thinking about and acting on too.


ZACH: Yeah I think you're right. I think that you know, that's what psychologists would say. I mean, my background I have a... I just recently got a master's degree in organization development which is, a lot of it is focused on psychology and a lot of what I was taught is that you can't tell people things essentially. Things have to be self-discovered and that applies for organizations as much as it does humans. Often, like, I'm obsessed with podcasts, that's that's come out in previous episodes that I've released recently. I listen to a ton of them. And when I'm listening to the best ones I often stop and pause it and write something down when it when it strikes me. When was last time you had a similar experience to that and what was it? It could have been reading a book or watching a movie or anything else. Something that struck you.


RACHEL: Wow that's. A tough question. Honestly I regrettably I haven't been exposing myself to a leisurely reading or movie watching or podcast listening as I would have liked to being back at school. But I think the last time that happened to me was this past summer. I was doing a ton of research on climate communication, which fits right into our conversation and I was reading a blog actually, from a professor in Australia and he was much like what you're doing here, It was just for you know personal endeavor and he quoted Richard Slaughter from the book That the greatest awakening - or the world's biggest awakening -  the biggest wake up call in man's history, and it described the issue of climate change and sustainability pretty eloquently, and it stuck with me and I wrote it down. It describes it as not just don't quote me... This isn't exactly what it said but it was describing It's not merely an economic or financial or environmental issue it's a systemic one that is simultaneously global or reaching into the greatest recesses of our lives. So, that resonated with me because it is you know global warming, climate change the planetary aspect to it but then it also it has to do with our habits and our values. And the greatest recesses of our individual day to day practices. So that stuck with me enough to bring it up now.


ZACH: What questions would draw you to this podcast if you were not on it right now. Right? What what would you want to hear from people that are in similar position as you?


RACHEL: An almost graduate?


ZACH: Yeah.


RACHEL: Honestly, I would be drawn to this podcast to hear from people that have been working in the sustainability industry before. You know I'm at this crossroads, I don't know where exactly my degree will take me. I don't know all the options that are out there for someone that's passionate about making a difference when it comes to the environment. I was drawn to Blu Skye because I had heard great things about a sustainability consulting firm and as I was just exploring different options for someone like myself that really doesn't know where I'm going to land. But I do know that if I follow this passion, or deep concern for the environment and for sustainability I know that I'll be happy and interested in that. So I think learning about the different walks of life that people have taken to pursue that passion. So as a student I would be interested in hearing other students how they became interested in sustainability just because that is something that will lend itself to greater answers about how to, you know, promote action and motivate other people. But I think generally looking at how I can incorporate it into my professional world after graduation.


ZACH: Do you have any other projects that you're working on or things that you're excited about or anything else you want to share. Before we hang up.


RACHEL: Well I actually I mentioned at the beginning of this call that I'm pursuing climate research I actually, two days ago I submitted an application for a Fulbright open research grant to study back in Australia. And, I'm very excited about that. It's been a long process to produce the application. Being in contact with professionals in Australia and working with my mentors here in the States it's been a very eye opening experience and so I guess if the Fulbright Commission if you listen to this, I hope you understand how excited I am about it and I hope I hope it works out.


ZACH: That's great. I think it will.


RACHEL: Well I'll keep my fingers crossed. I find out in January.


ZACH: Oh that's so like, that’ a painful amount of time to wait.


RACHEL: Oh my god it is. But it's ok.


ZACH: I think I didn't ask you this question which is one of my favorite questions so before we actually hang up you know that there isn't a job opening At Blu Skye. What made you agree to do this interview in spite of that.


RACHEL: Well I've never done a podcast before. So it seemed like a pretty cool new opportunity and I do greatly enjoy talking with people about sustainability and especially with professionals that have worked in the industry for so long. And I was honored that you asked. So I figured, why not.


ZACH: All right. Any other questions for me before I go?


RACHEL: No. no questions for you. Like I said I was honored that you asked andI hope by I hope I delivered. And I hope many more people decide to participate with the podcast.


ZACH: Awesome. Well, Rachel, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you.


RACHEL: You too, thank you Mr. Winter.


ZACH: She totally called me Mr. Winter. She obviously does not know that that is my father but I'll forgive her. If you want to get in contact Rachel head to the Blu Skye website. That's B-L-U-S-K-Y-E dot com. There you will find a full transcript of the interview as well as a link to her resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode, please leave a review on iTunes. See you next time.


Episode 3 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Hannah Sherman

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(Here is a link to Hannah's resume)


HANNAH: You're never going to change someone's mind by berating them or by saying how do you not understand. Look at all the evidence X Y Z, that's not how people make decisions. A lot of how we view the world is emotional and based on you know where we grew up and how we see things and our faith and whatever it may be, whatever values we ascribe to and how that shapes how we interact with the world around us. I think it's it's imperative that you understand that, and that you come and meet someone where they are.


ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I’m Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings. In order to spotlight the talents of a few of those applicants, I called them up, recorded the conversation, and I'm sharing their stories with you. This week I talked with yet another job seeker about why taking risks is important, why we are both obsessed with podcasts, and the rectangle of imbecility.


HANNAH: My name is Hannah Sherman and I'm a recent graduate from the University of Michigan. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Environmental Science. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan but I am now living in Washington D.C. and working at the organization that manages Coca-Cola's water implementation programs across Africa. So water access, sanitation, and hygiene.


ZACH: Alright. So, the first question: you know there isn't a job opening at Blu Skye. What made you agree to do this interview in spite of that?


HANNAH: For me it seemed like a really great opportunity to have an interesting conversation about sustainability between two people who are clearly very passionate, and I think it's always fun to talk about why I'm interested in this work and really through having these conversations with other people, I feel like I always learn something new about myself and about the different areas that I really am looking to work in, in the field throughout my career. And it just seemed like it was too good to say no to. I always feel like why not. You know it it's always better to do something and try it out and you know you, see how it goes. But I figured it would be a lot of fun.


ZACH: Well, I hope I can deliver. I've been surprised you know like I've been reaching out to people to see if they've been willing and it's basically 100 percent agree to it. Yeah. And I've been surprised by that. I didn't expect such a wiliness.


HANNAH: Well people like to talk about themselves and their interests. I think you know when you get when you get an opportunity to be able to do that, it can be fun. You know, to vocalize that in plain terms.


ZACH: It's true. Do you ever feel like sustainability work is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


HANNAH: That's a great question actually, and yes I do. I definitely do, and I have gotten a lot of questions about my interest and people that push back and say well isn't a lot of corporate sustainability greenwashing. And is it really impactful, and I think that the idea isn't necessarily where we are right now. But I do think it's necessary to really understand what is the current landscape of corporate sustainability and compared to that, what is the future going to look like and what is innovation in this space. And what do I feel needs to fundamentally change. I don't think that how corporate sustainability operates in its current iteration is what will continue to be going forward. I think there's really going to be a lot of a lot of movement. And so yes, I think right now there's definitely a lot of space for further action and really doubling down. But that's the exciting part. I have a professor who said, I took his, he is a professor at Ross for the School of Business at Michigan for graduate students, for MBA students, and I took his course in sustainable enterprise and he would say to us all the time, enterprise integration will get you a job but market transformational get you a career. So it was really taking the long view if you're entering into the current space right now as you begin as a professional. But it's really as you continue to go through your career and as you go through the different paths and you know you recreate what you're working on and it's really the goal is to recreate the space that you want to work in and recreate the field. And you know expand it and see how it changes. And to me that's really a guiding principle and has become what I what I refer back to a lot. When I have it through my experience and through reading and keeping up to date on what's going on across a lot of different companies. You know always questioning and trying to look with a critical eye in a way, but also having you know the drive to say OK it's not perfect now or it's not where it needs to be, but that's going to be what my generation and my contemporaries are working towards. So in a short answer, yes but in a long answer not for long, if that makes sense.


ZACH: I heard you say something like maybe you need to change your words but you can tell me that is not true. I think you were talking about tactics versus strategy for the movement. And I've been thinking about those things a lot too. And specifically you know I was watching the vice presidential debate, and everyone was saying that Tim Kaine was trying to win an argument while Mike Pence was trying to win the audience. And thus Tim Kaine lost the debate because he was not thinking about his audience he was just thinking about the logic. How do you think that applies to the sustainability movement.


HANNAH: I have I love that question, because I really I think that's so important and something that isn't necessarily taught, is how to how to speak to your audience and how to connect with those who may not see you know who may not agree with your stance and really creating a place where there is mutual trust. And I think where there's a lot of issues where you know people can say you know they don't believe in climate change or they don't believe in sustainable, you know corporate sustainability or they're very cynical about the field and that can there can be a lot of the conversations can really take a turn for the worse. And I think that knowing your audience and knowing how to speak to people and understanding where they come from and laying out your perspective in a way that they can understand is really necessary and I think it's really a critical training that future sustainability leaders really need to have that guidance. Because you can't just you're never going to change someone's mind by berating them or by saying how do you not understand. Look at all the evidence X Y Z that's not how people make decisions. A lot of how we view the world is emotional  and based on you know where we grew up and how we see things in our faith and whatever it may be whatever values we ascribe to and how that shapes how we interact with the world around us. I think it's imperative that you understand and that you come and meet someone where they are. And when I was at Michigan I had really a lot of experience with that. When I was a junior I started a student organization that redid the recycling program at Michigan Stadium. And through that work, we partnered with Michigan Athletics and it was an amazing experience but it was students wanting to change something in the stadium. That was you know going to take a fair amount of work in and our partners in Michigan Athletics were so great but it was also having to frame what we wanted to do in a way that they could understand and see the benefit because fundamentally this wasn't something that Michigan Athletics at the time was was looking to do. They weren't looking to improve their sustainability or improve their recycling rate. It wasn't at the top of their list. It was it was pre-Jim Harbaugh, so there was some different concerns. So being able to hold our own beliefs and really understand this is what we believe. But this isn't how we need to frame it for this audience. We need to make it so that it's you know we're putting it in a way where they can understand it and where we can come to a compromise. And understanding also that sometimes you need to concede, depending on who you're dealing with and depending on what you're trying to accomplish, sometimes you hear no and you have you have some wiggle room but not as much as you would like. And so I think again, you need to you know. So going back to the original question. Yes. You need to know who you are how you need to know how your audiences. And I don't see that as an issue. I don't see it as a problem of not holding true to what you believe. It's like you said it's about being strategic. And if you want to get something done you have to know how you can do that within you know within the framework that you're working in. And sometimes I think there's a hesitancy to do that or if it feels like you're going against something, your morals, but I don't see it that way.


ZACH: It's really Well put. You fell right into my trap. I was looking at your resume before this call. And I it's very clear that you're spending a lot of time thinking about and working on these sustainability issues. What other political or cultural issues or movements are you also passionate about.


HANNAH: Yeah absolutely. I am very passionate about women's rights and in this country we definitely have work to do. I very much believe that and it's something I really intend to devote more energy and time to. But I also think that in that through my travels to other countries and through, my dad travels a lot for work and goes all around the world and spend a lot of time in Saudi Arabia last year and came home and was was really distraught at what he had seen and what he had experienced in his interactions with women and just seeing that around the world. A lot of women really don't have the same rights and freedoms that women in the United States have. And we know that of course, and as I said there's there's work to be done in this country as well. But definitely around the world thinking about how can... and I really don't have the answer it's really this is a half-baked thought and something I've been considering a lot lately is how can I play a role in in any kind of advocacy or progress in women's rights around the world, as well as because I do think it is important if you're focusing on issues abroad that you are also doing work domestically. That's, that's something that I feel strongly about. And and I also feel strongly about against drunk driving which I haven't I haven't really figured out how I can be involved or if that's just really strongly held belief of mine. But to me that is an issue and I see it really, I see getting behind the wheel when you are intoxicated as the height of arrogance. And I and I don't I think that what you know it happens, it happens very frequently, and it happens a lot. And I have seen it happen and what I the only action that I have taken up to date is when I see cars that are driving and the person operating the vehicle is clearly drunk I will call the cops and let them know and you know if they do something to do something and if they are drunk then I believe they deserve to be caught. And if they're not then it's all OK and it was you know better to be safe than sorry. But those are two issues that have really started to be more prominent on you know as I think about, I am working now and what else do I want to be involved in and how do I want to influence the world around me those are two things that come to mind as outside of sustainability.


ZACH: Two good answers. I started this podcast because I am obsessed with podcasts myself. And you know often when I'm listening I have to pause it and write something down or, Something similar to that. And I'm wondering if you are able to recall the last time you had one of those driveway moments, if any?


HANNAH: When I was listening to a podcast and had to write something down?


ZACH: or the radio or reading you know oh the last thing last piece of media you were consuming that made you just stop and take notes or make a mental note or whatever it was you know it doesn't have to be a literally.


HANNAH: No that's that's that's a great question and actually I am reading a book right now. And I it's just this I went into a bookstore in Ann Arbor I was home and they had a review of it and it looked great. So I picked it up and it's just really short little stories and it's told it like it doesn't... It's just a lot of like maybe two or three pages and it's it's written as memories. And one of them was about a family that didn't have a TV or something and there was, like the family saw a TV. And those things and they called the rectangle of imbecility, and I underlined it. And that stuck with me and thinking about screens and time spent on screens and staring into whatever it is that is captivating my attention and thinking about how much time am I spending and how much of my life collectively will have been spent staring into a rectangle of imbecility and I just love that term because it so captures to me so much of what comes through our phones or television or my computer. And I'm a lover of technology and in a lot of ways I believe very strongly in technology and the good that it can do. But I do also see the shadows of technology and thinking about what I'm spending my time doing. So for me, I just love that and it's clearly stuck with me.


ZACH: It's a great phrase. But every time if I'm going to push back a little bit yeah. Every every time I've seen this machine where it's like the people on their phones on the train and nobody's talking to each other. And then below it is a black and white picture from, who knows when, sometime at least 50 years ago everybody on the train is reading a newspaper. Right. So I think a lot of stuff has changed. But also I'm not totally convinced that so much has changed. You know humans have always sought knowledge and distraction and all of these things.


HANNAH: Yeah. Yeah absolutely and I don't see it as an issue of maybe seeking knowledge or distraction that they think that you know being on a train and not necessarily want to be wanting to talk to somebody, that's totally normal and healthy, you know we need a certain amount of time to ourselves. But I do think that there are so I mean there's so much out there that can pull us in and pull us away from  feeling and engaging in the world around us. And I think that there are a lot more methods for us to easily numb out of this world and just distract ourselves to the point of not really doing anything or are you know, and not wanting to deal with what's going on around us and not really having to if we don't want to. And I'm not saying that a lot of people feel that way but I think it's very easy, and for me, you know there are a lot of issues going on and there are a lot of problems that it can be easy to check out because they feel like they're unsolvable, or like we've reached the past the tipping point or what is it worth. I'm just one person and you know in all likelihood how much impact can I really have. And I think that it can be so easy to just spend our days and not really remember what we do or not really create anything with them. And this is most likely. I mean this is honestly just coming more from a place of me being wary and wanting to make sure that I spend my days creating and thinking and not getting sucked into whatever can be entertaining me through my phone or online or on TV. So if that, if that makes sense.


ZACH: It does. Just last week my aunt told me a story she just started a new job and she's now has a long commute via train and she performed this experiment on herself where she deleted Facebook from her phone and vowed to keep her phone in her purse during the entire commute. And she said it took three weeks for another person to talk to her.


HANNAH: Yeah I mean you know it can be it. That's not surprising. But but I do I will say and and on that on the theme of podcasts. Podcasts are incredible. And that is one thing that you know as I said I think technology has really expanded our role that has brought so many amazing things and even though there are shadows and things to be you know you have to keep it in check in a way like there are a lot of things that have undeniably made our world so much better. And for me podcasts, I listen to podcasts almost constantly. I love them and I love I love more like, story based. So hearing from people and I feel like that's something that's so special that you get a window into somebody else's world and into their experience and these brief moments where someone is just sort of opening the gates into their life that you wouldn't necessarily get otherwise. And it can be so hard to do that you know face to face. I think that so so many times it's a difficult thing to do. So that is one thing that, so it's fun to be able to play a small part in the big world of podcasts.


ZACH: The big world. What have you been raised to be afraid of?


HANNAH: Oh gosh. I would say I have been raised to be afraid of risk aversion from both sides both sides of my... My mom and my dad. They have I mean since forever that if you reach a point in life where you're too afraid to fail or too afraid to take risks that you stop doing and you stop being creative and you stop putting yourself out there that that's when life... I mean that's when you're really not living. And both of my parents are really courageous people. And we have people in our in our broader family that have more of a risk-averse tendency and they have drilled down and me and my siblings, that what makes life worth living is doing things you're not really sure what the outcome may be. And saying yes because why wouldn't you say. And that and that there's such a big world out there that you. It's it's really you know your duty to go in and be active and engaged and take risks. So I would say I've been taught to be afraid of getting to a point where I wouldn't do that or that I would be holding myself back. And so it's definitely an interesting thing. Yeah I've never thought about that question but that's a good one.


ZACH: I love your answer you know. Well, let's take it one step more. What risks are you taking right now?


HANNAH: Oh that's a really good one. Right now I would say really just saying yes to whatever comes my way whatever it may be, and also reaching out to a lot of different people I'm in a new place. I've been to D.C. before I moved here I'd been to D.C. for like three days. So coming to a new place and having faith and kind of taking a leap, like I'm here and there's so much going on and I am just going to try and connect with as many people in as many places as possible and kind of see where it takes me and not have an expectation and it's not really like a risk/daredevil kind of risk but just sort of being open and putting myself out there in a new place. And you know developing a community and in doing that that does require a certain amount of personal risk and that can be, you know defined in a lot of different ways. But as we were saying, you know it took so long three weeks it took you know. Nobody spoke to your aunt for three weeks they think it can be even small risks in the day to day like talking to somebody, or that you know, going out to be a way to talk to somebody or going out of your way to make plans with somebody or kind of you know sending an email through contact us to go to an event, or learn more about what somebody does in their work and then thinking about longer term risks of how do I want to creatively shape my career and what you know what comes with that and not necessarily taking the safe path. But thinking about really forging myself professionally and that it'll take a lot of twists and turns. But I think it's. For me it's, the it's like, yeah. Not staying in a comfortable place for too long. And so it's for me right now it's the smaller risks. It's the the moments of maybe insecurity that you need to push past and decide that you want to at least try. And it may be you know and it may be a NO,  not worth it but going back to the very beginning where we were talking about you know how you're getting a lot of yeses to people wanting to do this podcast and why I wanted to do this podcast. It's that same you know belief that it's a little scary and that's a little uncomfortable but it's you know it's fun. And that's that's what's worthwhile.


ZACH: That's great. Do you have any projects you want to plug or anything else you want to say before we hang up?


HANNAH: It is important to create a network of people who are passionate and committed to sustainability and are really going to take this field into the future. I think that it's creating that kind of network is really going to get us far. So. So you know for guidance and whatever else just good conversation it's always good to find those people and hang onto them when you do.


ZACH: It's true. Well, Hannah again it's just it's been a pleasure.


HANNAH: Yeah. Thank you so much, zACH


ZACH: Let’s stay in contact.


HANNAH: Yeah. Absolutely. have a great day.


ZACH: Awesome. Thanks so much.


HANNAH: Thanks, bye.


ZACH: If you want to get in contact with Hanna. Head to the Blue sky Web site. That's B-L-U-S-K-Y-E dot com. There you will find a full transcript of this interview as well as a link to her resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. If you enjoyed this or any episode please leave a review on iTunes. See you next time.

Episode 2 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Brian Matuszewski

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(Full transcript of interview with Brian Matuszewski)



ZACH: Now the idea is out in the public so you basically have to do it.


BRIAN: You know I mean that's exactly what I need. I need to you know hold myself accountable for these these crazy ideas.


ZACH: Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that environmental and social responsibility are the only business opportunities that are truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings. In order to spotlight some of the amazing humans that reach out to us, I thought I would ask them some questions on the record and share their stories with you. This week I talked to one job seeker about the power of the private sector, why he feels personally responsible to help care for the planet, and the importance of investing in our educators.


BRIAN: My name is Brian Matuszewski. I am 28 years old. I am a sustainability professional dedicated to helping businesses integrate sustainability thinking into their DNA.


ZACH: So should we dive in?

BRIAN: Sure. Let's do it.


ZACH: So the first question is you know that there isn't a job opening a blue sky. What what made you agree to do this interview, regardless of that?


BRIAN: Yeah well that's that's a great question to kick this off with Zach. To be frank with you, I'm very passionate about the work that I do, and I am very, any time I have people who want to talk about these issues you know for me it's an absolute honor, a pleasure to do so since it's such a big part of what makes me tick every day. So you know, despite the fact that you know an opening doesn't exist for me. Like I said it's a it's a pleasure to talk about these matters with people. I view a large part of what I do is bringing awareness to to, you know what this convoluted word of sustainability means, and what the possibilities are with this that for me it's it's fun to talk about so that's that's that's the that's the reason..


ZACH: You know say that actually raised an interesting question for me is what what does sustainability mean to you? It definitely is convoluted and I agree with you but I'm curious what your perspective is on that?


BRIAN: To me, sustainability, it's really an approach to life that's in my opinion is based on the understanding that you know all things are connected in some fashion and that you know everything is part of this interconnected system in which each component of this system fundamentally relies on one another. Hence it's an approach that in many ways is built upon this idea of mutual respect which you know is of course derived from nature and what we know about ecology. And you know for for me, sustainability you know looking at it from that lens it's you know using that model it's a model that you know is fundamental to everything that we do not only with understanding how life operates with how human civilizations operate with the underlying planetary system that that we reside in. So, a lot of my focus professionally has been focused on implementing this idea of sustainability with corporations, with private enterprise, and you know for me being a student of both environmental policy and business I've really come to discover that the power that that enterprises, private enterprises, have in terms of not only influence and power but their capability to innovate. And you know I see there there's tremendous opportunity for these forces in civilization to drive sustainable progress forward you know there are these tremendous engines of innovation and power that a lot of what makes me tick and what my professional experience is really bounded to is is helping these businesses understand you know, leveraging what they're uniquely good at in the market how can they use that skill set that their capabilities that they have to drive good in a way that is not always sustainable in the way that most people perceive the word as in terms of you know environmental stewardship and social equity but you know doing it obviously know financially sound manner. So I don't know if I fully answered your question there...but to me sustainability you know at this juncture in my life with you know my recent professional endeavors is more focused on the the private sector, and really how can we unleash the power of the private sector to drive these positive impacts using the model of ecology and an understanding of our natural systems, and the interconnectedness of these systems and using that model for human enterprise.


ZACH: Yeah, what got you there? You know, what drives your passion behind those issues?


BRIAN: Yeah. That's an excellent question. To be honest you know... when I take a step back and you know I realize that there are there's seven billion people on the planet growing, I'm not exactly sure what that number is but, there's a statistic out there that I think you know 1 percent of the... 1 percent of the human population makes over 50,000 U.S. dollars per year and then you know when I look at what percentage of that chunk of people are educated and are aware of systems thinking and in some of the challenges and opportunities that can arise from having this North Star, sustainable development vision in mind, and you know, I view myself in that category people view it as, this might sound strange but I was viewed as a responsibility, for me understanding how lucky and fortunate I am to be part of that segment of society that, you know, has been lucky enough to receive an education, has been lucky enough to be aware of a lot of these environmental social challenges that we face as a civilization, to be in a lucky position to be aware of the possibilities that technology can bring in moving us in in a more sustainable direction, that when I make myself aware of this situation, I again, I feel this is this immense level of responsibility and excitement to be part of this movement. And I think that's really what makes me tick and really makes me driven, working in this space.


ZACH: I love that answer. You know I have also been thinking a lot about the privilege that we have that allows us to work on you know values based change. We're way beyond you know we're pretty high up the value chain or the Maslow's hierarchy right, of things that allow us to work on that. And I I really appreciate your answer there. And related what's what do you see as the single greatest barrier to you know, reaching true sustainability.


BRIAN: The biggest barrier the way I see it is, is simple lack of awareness and education on what sustainability is, and really the problems is that you know we are faced with. I inherently believe that all people are good. I don't believe in evil, per se. I believe when people do things quote unquote evil actions or bad deeds, it's usually derived from either ignorance or just a lack of awareness or education so I believe education, awareness around systems thinking and this this idea of what you know what sustainability stands for. I believe this if we could make more people just fundamentally understand this concept. That will solve a lot of you know, challenges that this movement faces today.


ZACH: Right. And so how do we get there?


BRIAN: That's the billion dollar question. That's that's a very good question and I honestly you know I don't think anyone really knows how we can get there. But I think you know, I have a lot of friends that are teachers and, and you know, oftentimes you know we often talk about this as this dynamic that exists in society where, you know I feel like historically teachers were once in a more elevated position in society that earned just a higher level of respect from the masses and somehow along the way in the last few decades this status of teacher has for some reason I'm not exactly sure what that reason is has gone down. So, I think one way you know we can help address this question is elevating the status of educators in our society and the fundamental role they play in educating our youth and really educating people with you know the things that are important that you know are important to not only this generation, but to the future generations and to you know what it means to live a full, prosperous life. You know, with every meaning of that word prosperous. So yeah I think if we could somehow figure out a way to do that, I think you know whether that's through elevating you know teacher salaries. If we as a society you know choose to invest greater resources in this that will, you know, that could be one mechanism to help drive that change.


ZACH: I am married to a teacher so though that answer hit extra close to home for me.


BRIAN: Excellent.


ZACH: So Brian, what what is your dream job. Like what would you really want to be doing in the world?


BRIAN: I would say. You know it's funny you asked that question, at this stage in my life I've been doing just a lot of reading and talking to people and really taking the time to really you know, figure out you know what... If I can do anything what would I really want to do. And you know, understanding that I'm in this position where you know I feel extremely fortunate and lucky like we've talked about with having received an education you know being a financial stable position. You know, I have the liberty to really do anything and when I asked that question to myself why I thought you know you would be you, how tremendous would it be if I could somehow create a sustainability, clean technology incubator, in a place like Latin America. I was specifically looking at a place like Medellín, Columbia, where you know my, a lot of my experience younger in life as a student is spent in Latin America. I can have a special relationship with Latin America in general, and I see just tremendous opportunity for, you know, this place in the world that is so ecologically and culturally rich, to to really aggressively move in the direction of sustainable development by, by leveraging you know best practices from you know, policy in the technology realms. To really you know advancing and accelerating sustainable development in Latin American cities in general. You know this this vision I have is you know to one day you know being in a position maybe to create this sustainability innovation center for lack of a better word, that you know combines almost elements of a sustainability consulting company with elements of a of a co-working space dedicated to professionals and the general broad umbrella of the sustainability movement to operate, and to kind of facilitate collaboration between people in that community. And the third element of this center would be a public facing side of the center that could be something like a cafe, or something of that that would draw visitors from from the outside into the center making them familiar with what the center's mission and goals are. And really to to further enhance collaboration from that perspective, so I'm a huge believer in the role architecture and beautiful architectural spaces can have on you know the human experience. So there's a TED talk that I watched you know, a couple of years ago I was I forget the name of a Japanese architect but it was this Japanese architect built this amazing elementary school, somewhere in Japan that was circular in nature. And and in the middle there was this this massive courtyard. And you know this was just an awe inspiring space for you know these children and these teachers to be operating in that you know I tought man, how cool would be to deploy this inspiring, beautiful, architectural you know building that could how is this this incubator that I was just telling you about. So if I could define a dream job I would say it would be constructing something like that and really building a network of these sustainable development incubators for for lack of a better word across Latin America.


ZACH: I love the vision.


BRIAN: It's easier said than done of course but I've been having fun you know jotting some notes and casually sharing this vision with friends of mine so, we’ll we'll see where it goes.


ZACH: That's awesome. I'll be watching. Now, the idea is out in the public's eye you basically have to go.


BRIAN: You know what. Maybe that's that's exactly what I need. I need to hold myself accountable for these these these crazy ideas.


ZACH: That doesn't sound crazy. Sounds doable to me. So last question. Do you have any other projects other than your sustainable co-working, consultancy, slash incubator that you want to plug, or anything else that you want to say or talk about, or tell me.


BRIAN: Don't really have any of the defined projects that I'm working on at the moment. But you know I think, one thing that I that I've really learned a lot in the last few years my job working for one of the world's largest fleet management companies was you know when we when we talk about sustainable enterprise, and sustainability especially, in corporate environments that are relatively conservative in nature. You know a lot of this has to do with perspective and really you know highlighting all of these intangible benefits that embedding sustainability into organizations business strategies DNA can can have so for instance with the fleet management company that was working for you know by the nature of what that company did, they were in the business of helping the fleets all over the world operate more efficiently and and reduce their total cost of ownership. Yet another way of saying that exactly same phenomenon is you know for 1.3 million vehicles across the globe, the companies and the business of driving fleets to be smarter, safer, and cleaner. And you know, I think when you start taking that step back and you realize you are so ONE-THIRD greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, then you kind of dig in and see that you are in this instance 35 percent of these emissions comes from fleet. You know and you compound this with the fact that the organization and all these millions of vehicles across the globe all of a sudden you have an amazing story to tell employees, customers about you know the role that that organization has in the world and in driving a positive impact. And for me one of the most aha moments in this job was by revealing this perspective of you know helping the organization look at itself in the lens of sustainability. That perspective alone and can have significant impacts on the way the organization pursues strategy moving forward and in terms of engaging employees with what the company does in this exciting way, and really highlighting the fact that, you know, employees should be proud of of working for an organization that does this and that and really what I found interesting was not only highlighting what this is speaking about the business in this way but helping the business sharpen its focus on on on further driving sustainable impact by helping our customers adopt cleaner technology in a more effective way. And you know for me, it was amazing to see you know, eyes light up. As soon as you tell employees of you know what these organization is is a part of and and what the possibilities are for the future. I really think again back to what I noted earlier you know education bringing you know people where of seeing things from a sustainability perspective can can really go a long way in not only ensuring that the world moves in a sustainable direction but I think private enterprises can see concretely the impacts.Of adopting this this that this approach to their business in intangible ways that can be seen from not only a human resources perspective in terms of you know capturing top talent, and maintaining top talent in the organization, but you're seeing as a risk management tool. Seeing it as as as a way to drive new business, so that's just one nugget of insight that I captured in this role as being a sustainability leader in an organization and I think that there's a lot of exciting possibilities for the future for businesses in all industries too to really capture.


ZACH: I love your passion about it, and I especially love the clarity with which... how you explain it and the words you use, I think are perfect. And I'm really glad that you're out there in the world working on these subjects. Makes me feel better. If this podcast accomplishes nothing else it's going to definitely give me faith in the people that are out there working for change. So I appreciate it.


BRIAN: Then Zach It was an honor to speak with you, and I appreciate the invitation.


ZACH: If you want to get in contact with Brian. Head to the blu skye web site that's b-l-u-s-k-y-e dot com. There you'll find a full transcript of this interview as well as a link to his resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. See you next week.



Episode 1 of the Blu Skye Podcast - Ian Faucher

You'll just have to listen if you want to find out what this is all about. 

(Full transcript of interview with Ian Faucher)


IAN: I'm heading a committee within kind of a political advocacy organization that's about sustainability. And one of my fellow executive board members for this organization kind of made this joke to me she's like well you know like I know, I know I should care about sustainability but I've just never been able to make myself care.




ZACH: Welcome to the Blu Skye podcast. I’m Zach Winter. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm that operates on the assumption that sustainability is ONLY business opportunity that is truly sustainable. Here at Blu Skye we get many more applications than we have job openings. In order to spotlight some of the amazing brains that reach out to us, I thought I would ask them some questions on the record. This podcast is an exploration of life as seen through the eyes, minds, and motivations of the people working to create a different kind of future. This week I talked with a job seeker about why sustainability is important to him, the importance of tiny behavioral changes, and why city kids don’t care.


IAN: My name is Ian Fauchet. I am a sophomore at Vanderbilt University originally from Boise in the great state of Idaho hoping to pursue a career in sustainability either in policy or in the corporate world.


ZACH: You know there isn't a job opening at Blu Skye, so what made you agree to talk to me right now?


IAN: I would say that there's a sense within the community of people who are interested in sustainability and dedicating their careers to sustainability. There's a sense of purpose and I think I think that you know in other industries if someone wasn't looking to hire they probably wouldn't really care about what their applicants have to say because it's not that you know it's not that dynamic of a field but I think in sustainability people are really trying to make changes.

And so just the opportunity to get a sense of what you're all about what blu skye is all about. You know whether or not I can be a part of that at least I know you know what people are doing and that gives me a better sense going forward of what I might be interested in what I might be able to do. I think there's a lot of information out there about a lot of career paths but there's not as much information out there about you know if you are a person with you know some scientific background and some people skills what what can you do to make a positive impact on sustainability in a in a big way. And I think the sense that the sense that you might be able to provide a perspective on that inspired me to talk to you.


ZACH: Awesome. Thanks so much for doing it of course and specifically a like about sustainability consulting or other values based work. What about that is attractive to you?


IAN: Well so I grew up in Boise Idaho and which is, we like to call it one of the most one of the most remote urban areas in the country. It's a solid six hour drive from any other city, so, I grew up in a city but I grew up kind of in the heart of the wilderness and in a bigger sense that I could drive half an hour and just be in the middle of nowhere. And for me that that became a very central part of my worldview. Just knowing that those beautiful places were out there and so close to me. And then I came to Nashville to go to school at Vanderbilt. And most of my classmates are not not from places like I am from they're from Chicago and New Jersey and New York. And you know big urban areas and don't didn't have the access that I had. And so I didn't... I knew sustainability was important to me. But I didn't know that it was so it was so unique to my to my background. And so as soon as I realized that I think I felt like I did. There wasn't anything else that I felt such a purpose with, you know. And then bringing that that understanding and that appreciation of the natural world to large organizations because I'm around a lot of people that you know have high aspirations in the corporate world. And I want to make sure that those people who I know are incredible and I know we're going to do great things. I want to make sure that you know as my peers they also understand that there's an obligation to the earth that I that I see and that I'd like them to understand just from being my friends and my peers here.


ZACH: Yeah. Did you have - was there a spear in the chest moment?  Did you did you wake up with an idea one day or was it just gradual?


IAN: This is a very strange spear in the chest moment but there was one day I went to I was with three of my closest friends people I had people I absolutely love and one of my one of my closest friends went to a little convenient store on campus and she used her meal swipe to get three bottles of Dasani water. at home like someone would have been shamed so so thoroughly for that you know like you know everybody had a Nalgene you know covered in stickers for ski hills and you know I ended up I was like man I am somewhere where people are buying three three bottles of disposable bottles of water with their meal swipe. And you know it sounds ridiculous but it was it was very like it was kind of was a serious moment for me because I was like you know these people you know are from a very different perspective than I am from. And I think that that that's probably the most unique thing that I bring that I bring to my day to day discussions and my day to day interactions with people that I have just this innate sense of you know like do not waste reduce-reuse-recycle all these things that I that other people here but don't become part of their world view. And I just I think that was that was a yeah transformative moment for me and in a weird way because it it just made me feel different in a way that that I thought I could I could make use of and make make change with.


ZACH: That's a great answer. I enjoyed it. You know it's a it's a tiny thing. But yeah it shows you your level of awareness and passion about it and

IAN: it really was bizarre. I don't know.


ZACH: Not what I expected and better than expected. Good good good. So that's a good time and I think they might ask my next question is related you know what is more important to a global transformation. In your opinion at least is it that local level change like getting people to stop buying three water bottles or is it more of a policy shift that's needed.


IAN: That is a big question in my life right now and that's a lot of the reason why I've been researching companies and why I’d love the opportunity to work just in different in different fields within within sustainability because I can I can see it in both ways. I actually, I applied for and just was chosen to go to D.C. with about 15 Vanderbilt students and my application was all about how I'm interested in climate policy and would love to learn this program that Vanderbilt does is about how science is actually used in the day to day creation of policy. And so my application I talked about how I would love to see how science is applied to climate policy because I think there's such a big disconnect between our environmental policy and the science that's out there and I really do think that policy has a huge amount of potential and can make huge amounts of change. But at the same time at home I didn't feel in Boise, I really didn't feel like a cultural shift was the way to go because people were already you know driving Priuses and putting putting solar on their house and all these things. But as I as I travel around I spent a lot of time you know away from home and I think that most of this country there just is not, There's not a strong environmental sense at all and that's not part of people's world view. And so I guess, I don't know which one would be more transformational. I want to be involved in whichever one is more transformational but I can see I can see either of them making such a huge difference because you know at Vanderbilt there are policy changes that the university has looked at but also you know there are all sorts of just small cultural things that have not that have not been put into effect yet. You know people people don't think about waste as they go about their day to day lives and I really think that you know it would be a substantive change just at this campus if they did. And if you apply that to the state of Tennessee which again you know isn't from my experience as environmentally conscious as the Western states that I've spent a lot of time in and then those are big changes.


ZACH: So I don't know I guess I can see it being but you know I'm asking questions that I do not know the answer to. So yeah I wish I did. What's what do you think the biggest barrier is to this transformation or a truly sustainable planet or however you want to name it.


IAN: I think this is something that I was thinking about recently I had a conversation where I'm heading a committee within kind of a political advocacy organization that's about sustainability and one of my fellow executive board members for this organization kind of made this joke to me she's like well you know like I know I know I should care about sustainability but I've just never been able to make myself care. And I think that's that's an attitude that a lot of people have just that it's not something that's that's all that immediate to them. And I think that that's a huge obstacle that needs to be overcome. And I guess my experience has been that my environmental awareness came directly from just being in beautiful places and doing amazing things in beautiful places. And it's hard you know. So. I naturally would say well the solution to making people care is to show them a beautiful place like that and to make them care about a place that that sense of place is important. But I mean I can't I can't get every single one of my friends here to go backpacking in the Tetons with me, you know. So how how you communicate that sense of caring about place and sense of caring about the world I think is, I think is huge because if someone grows up you know as most of my friends here at school did, if someone goes up and in a big city and you know doesn't doesn't do those things. I think it is hard for them to care. And so overcoming that overcoming that gap I think is it is a huge question.


ZACH: Right. So, you know in line with that and we're talking about behavior change what's a personal thing you that you've had and then changed within the last year.


IAN: So about a year ago I started my freshman year of college and I came in considering myself considering my social ability and my people skills as one of my main strengths and that was something that really differentiated me in high school is that I knew everybody. And I think that as I transition to life here at Vanderbilt, I started recognizing that you know there there were a lot of extremely social people here. And my strengths probably were not in what were not just in my people skills that a lot of people have those but that it was more in my passion about a few about a few really important issues. So that was you know that's not necessarily an opinion or values based thing but that was just a fundamental way of fundamental change in the way I see myself that I became more of an issues driven person than just a personality driven person.


ZACH: Nice. And what do you want to do with that. Like what is your dream job.


IAN: That is a tough question. And I think it goes back to your question about what what's the bigger solution. Is it cultural or is that policy level for environmental issues. At this point I'm very confident that my dream job is in the field of environmental sustainability. But I guess the big question for me is where can I make a bigger difference. I am interested in law school I'm interested in environmental law and creating policy. I think that be incredible. But at the same time, there's a there's definitely a good argument to be made for the idea that corporations have maybe a bigger a bigger role and just culturally speaking you know changing the way people look at it and the way corporations look at the environment might be a more foundational change than than changing the policy. So I guess that's the question that I'll be wrestling with. Luckily I have a few more years and that's why you know that's why I'm pursuing internships at places like Blu Skye is that I want to get a sense of where can my skills be put to better use so either it would be a you know dream job would be either as a chief sustainability officer or  something for a big company or in the in the policy in the policy sphere. But I guess that that answer depends on where I find the most change being made.


ZACH: Yeah I mean from what I can tell you doing the right things to work towards that. Last question. Do you have any projects you want to plug or any last thoughts you want to share?


IAN: One thing that I've thought about recently. I thought a lot about, is that I ended up working for my my hometown of Boise doing urban planning in the last over the last summer and thinking a lot about sustainability as it relates to how do we build our cities and how do we build a culture of bike transit and walking transit and just changing the ways changing the ways we live. And then I, since that was the opportunity I had a kind of I kind of parlay that into an opportunity here at Vanderbilt working on the campus master plan so I'm doing the same thing where you know trying to look at, how does how does sustainability play into the long term goal and how does how does the built environment relate to sustainability for organizations. So that's just something that I have found extremely, extremely interesting is how do we build communities to to encourage to encourage behavior and that is that is more environmentally sustainable. So that's what I'm that's what I'm working on right now and I think that's a cool connection to all sorts of sustainability fields that I'd like to keep looking at and keep pursuing as I get older.


ZACH: Awesome. Two pieces of media came up for me when listening to you speak. They're both I'm assuming you're familiar with already but I want to mention them to make sure one is 99 Percent Invisible. Amazing podcast design focused. Sometimes sustainability focused. The other thing is Emergence. Have you read Emergence?


IAN: I have not. That’s a book?


ZACH: It is a book by Steven Johnson and it is essentially directly about what you were just talking about designing spaces to be more like ants and brains. And you know encourage interaction of people on the street and on and on and on.


ZACH: Yeah. And that's the book highly recommended as well.


IAN: All right I'll check up the TED talk as soon as I'm done talking to here. Beautiful. I'm in the book after that.


ZACH: This has been super fun talking to you. I think you know exactly what I'm going for is getting ideas from people and hopefully sharing those ideas with everyone else.


IAN: Yeah. Yeah. Well I hope it's useful. Yeah obviously if you have any follow ups or anything I'd be glad to chat again.


ZACH: Amazing. Yeah let's stay in touch.


IAN: OK. Sounds good.


ZACH: Thanks so much and great to talk to you. Have a good one.


ZACH/IAN: Bye. bye. bye. byeeeeeee.


ZACH: If you want to hire Ian, just talk to him, or find out more about him, head to the Blu Skye website. Thats b-l-u-s-k-y-e .com There you will find a full transcript of this interview, as well as a link to his resume. Thanks for listening to the Blu Skye podcast. See you next time.