Gabriel Scheer is a both an adept problem-solver + skilled community-builder—one whom those in the sustainability movement are lucky to have as an ally. Through his work with Seattle Greendrinks (which he founded in 2003) and Re-Vision Labs (a strategic partnering + community-building organization for world-changing projects in global development, education, government, and finance), Scheer has melded together the concepts of social responsibility and environmental activism with far-reaching success.
Today, we chat with Gabriel about the necessity of evolving how we approach “going green” and the ways we must change our lifestyles if we are both to save our planet from peril, and benefit from the economic + social opportunities that will come from such a shift.
GG: When/What was your “a-ha!” moment regarding sustainability? What drives you to make this a central focus of your life?
GS: I don’t know as I had an “a-ha” moment. My parents brought me up respecting our natural environment and other people, and lived a thrifty life that naturally included recycling – both for cost avoidance (buying used/making do to avoid buying new) and for income (via aluminum cans we’d collect alongside the roads around our house). The closest thing I had to an “a-ha” was working as manager of a coffee shop and realizing there were myriad inefficiencies that could be eliminated that would concurrently save money or offer new revenue opportunities. That led me in a new direction in terms of learning and research and eventually, career.
GG: How important is the social element to winning the war on inefficiency, waste, pollution and limited resources?
GS: Crucial, of course. If people can’t feed themselves, they’re very unlikely to be concerned about something as remote-seeming and impossible-to-affect-personally as climate change or dying polar bears. Van Jones has, of course, led the way on this thinking, and I think he’s absolutely right – we must focus on the social element of the environment if it’s ever to truly become a global movement.
GG: You’ve founded not one, but two very successful organizations that connect people—have you seen a change in the public mentality on sustainability?
GS: Yes and no. Of course, green has been the new black the last 4-5 years, and it’s been fascinating and exciting to see “the choir” grow to be so big. That is, years back, Seattle’s “green scene” seemed to be so much smaller and more insular; that may be my perception, as compared to reality, but that perception has certainly shifted. That said, I think many people still struggle to take big ideas and belief systems and integrate them into daily living – for example, it’s very easy to complain about large-scale problems and yet not make the personal changes that will likely be required to affect those problems. Needless to say, I hold myself up as an example of this paradigm; despite my many efforts to reduce my deleterious environmental footprint, my family lives all over the US – meaning I fly reasonably often.
GG: It seems that we’re pushing toward a “tipping point” in awareness + urgency to act regarding the environment. How close are we?
GS: That’s a huge question; by “the environment,” do you mean climate change? If so, I hope we’re close. Tom Friedman has recently been pushing the idea of looking at environmental problems as economic opportunities in an effort to more effectively leverage market dynamics to environmental problems. Of course, he’s been preceded in this view for ages, not least by people like Amory Lovins. I love, though, that someone as popularly read as Friedman is now pushing this view, and of course, wholeheartedly agree – I don’t see climate change as a threat to our economy, but rather, am endlessly baffled by why more people – in particular, business people – aren’t seeing this as an opportunity for innovation and new global leadership.
GG: What do we need to do to get to that tipping point?
GS: Make it personal – people are more likely to act when they understand the personal dimensions/ramifications of a challenge.
GG: Where do you think the major push needs to come from? From the people or from government, or elsewhere?
GS: Government can be very useful in creating a level, transparent playing field (e.g. carbon floor/ceiling/taxes) and in seeding (through funding, legislation, etc.) innovation. Business can step up and innovate, in particular, in collaboration with government. Academia is likewise poised to add significant value. Finally, people will need to change how they live – and some of those changes will save money and make life richer and more fulfilling.
GG: Why are partnerships + collaborations so effective when it comes to sustainable enterprise?
GS: Because without collaboration challenges, we often devolve to zero sum games; that is, “we’re concerned about “x’ problem, help us fund it/volunteer/etc.” With collaborative partnerships, organizations can recognize the systemic problems, seek and attain systems-level funding, and solve bigger problems, to the benefit of all.
GG: How do social responsibility + sustainability intertwine? Can we have one without the other?
GS: I’d suggest they’re the same thing.
GG: What do you hope to see at the end of this fresh, new decade we’re approaching? Where do we need to be in 2020?
GS: A world that has recognized its interdependence and taken steps to build global networks capable of solving global problems in a quick and effective manner. Those challenges will doubtless still include global warming, but will also include water shortages, education barriers, health, and more. My hope is that as people connect more powerfully together, they will realize not only how similar our respective desires and concerns are, but also discover opportunities to collaborate around developing solutions to those challenges.
Gabriel Scheer is a speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Seattle, Washington. GoGreen 2010 Seattle is a full-day sustainability conference geared towards businesses seeking actionable steps to greening their operations. The conference takes place April 21, 2010 at the Olive8 at the Hyatt (LEED certified Silver). Early Bird tickets are on-sale now through April 1, 2010. Tickets are $175 each for single Early Bird Full Day Admission and $150 Early Bird Full Day Admission for Groups of 2 or more. More information can be found at: http://www.seattle.gogreenconference.net/registration/
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