Episode 135 - Green Blogger Series: Shea Gunther of EarthFirst.com
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks with green blogger and eco-entrepreneur Shea Gunther of EarthFirst.com.
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pre-recorded voice: Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a pod-cast series from GreenLivingIdeas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from all around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Sean Daily: Everybody, this is Sean Daily with Green Talk Radio from GreenLivingIdeas.com. We are doing another instalment of our Green Blogger Series today, and no Green Blogger Series would be complete without an interview with Shea Gunther.
Shea is a professional blogger and eco-entrepreneur, whose credits include being an original Founder of the environmental Living Blog Network “Green Options” in 2006, and he is the current publisher of the popular green blog EarthFirst.com. At thirty, Shea describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, having founded five companies since his first dot-com in 1999. His other adventures include Sim Culture, Renewable Choice Energies, Sky Creative, and an upcoming venture called Meat Space Tees. He is a prolific user of Stumble Upon, Twitters all day on Twitter.com – so do I, and says that he is addicted to RSS feeds. Shea, first of all, welcome to the program.
Shea Gunther: Hey, Sean.
Sean Daily: Speaking of Twitter: I think one of the first places you and I actually encountered each other was on the Twitter network.
Shea Gunther: Yes. One of the things I love about that site is the people that you randomly find.
Sean Daily: It is so amazing. I actually had that conversation with Paul Smith, on a recent episode of Green Smith Consulting, and he is very wired in all the social networks, including Twitter. I had happened upon him as well. I am very thankful to have met folks like you, guys.
Shea Gunther: Yes, that is actually one of the ways that I connected with Paul as well. Twitter for the win.
Sean Daily: Yes, FTW. For those who are interested in Twitter or want to check it out: Twitter.com. If you are interested in following Shea, he is Shea Gunther, and you can find me as Sean Daily. Enough about social networking, though. Let us talk more about you and EarthFirst.
Why don’t we start about you telling our audience about how you guys started with the green movement in general? What brought you here into the low-house industry and being interested in green and sustainable living and blogging?
Shea Gunther: I guess I would consider myself as environmentalist going way back. I remember being in the seventh and eighth grades and, I do not know if it was in school or watching PBS, but just starting being aware of some of the bigger issues around how we treat the Planet. That was something I was aware of through high school and then, as an entrepreneur, I started a dot-com in 1999. It was pretty typical technology, Internet video start-up.
When I was done with that and looking for my next thing, I was talking with a couple of friends who were in a similar position. It just made sense for us to start doing something green. Ultimately, we started Renewable Choice Energy, now one of the Nation’s leading providers of wind-power – they sell wind power from wind-farms. Pretty much ever since then the idea of not starting a green business has not ever crossed my mind.
It is my belief now that one of the things that we need to save this environment for ourselves is greedy ‘greens’ – we need people who want to go out there and start the next billion-dollar business saving the world: whether it is solar, wind-power, something that takes CO2 out of the air, or a green blog. Therefore, yes, I am firmly down the path of green business and lately I have been focusing on the media side of things.
Sean Daily: I really appreciate what you said. It has actually come up on the show recently when we were talking about it. I like how you put that: greedy ‘greens’. At some point it is about the Mom and Pops or the original founders and drivers, but you need big companies putting their efforts and money behind this big business, as well as, of course, Governmental support, because that is ultimately what is going to drive it and make it real. The small start-ups fired off, but without big corporations being behind it, it is really going to limit and hamstring what kind of effect it has globally.
Shea Gunther: Yes. We need green Trumps and green Richard Bransons. Richard Brunson is actually a green guy, but I am talking about someone who has made his billions of dollars, starting only green businesses.
Sean Daily: Yes. And we are starting to see that. For some of them it is: “Hey! I would like to be perceived as this.” But for some of them, like celebrities, there are the ones who have been doing it all along, like Ed Beverly, and there are the ones who are jumping on, because their handlers are telling them that is a good idea politically.
Regardless, it is all a good thing, as long as it is real. Speaking of ‘real’: when you started EarthFirst, you were coming off the green options background and some other things you have done. One of the things I appreciate about your editorial is the fact that you guys have it, as you put it, sarcastic and snarky. I come from the East Coast originally -- we were talking about that off-mike. That sarcastic humor is required there. [laughing] You are pretty much weened in that. So, I appreciate that voice, but is that where you are coming from with EarthFirst? What is your editorial voice there?
Shea Gunther: Yes. That is my natural editorial voice. One of the reasons that the guys at EarthFirst brought me on board is because I have that angle and view on the news. I think it is something that has not been out on the green bloggers’ share: Chris can be sarcastic and snarky, but I think they are doing it in a little bit more of an academic, high-minded, and smarter way than me. Yes, at EarthFirst our state of call is to peel through the fluff and crap. I tell like it is when we need to, but try to have fun with that.
Sean Daily: There certainly is a fair share of fluff and crap out there. Certainly one of the things that we are trying to do on this show and on GreenLivingIdeas, too, is to try to cut through that down to things that are meaningful. It is hard, because there are a lot of PR marketing people that are purporting many things that are not necessarily true, and that can be difficult.
How do you go about that as part of the evaluation of who is ‘green-washing’ and who is not and as part of your say in editorial on EarthFirst?
Shea Gunther: [hesitating] I think it is like porn – you know when you see it.
Sean Daily: [laughing] All right. [laughing] I wish it were that clear. Maybe you guys are doing something or not, but some of these guys have gone really slack about how they do it. In the beginning I think you could see it coming and now it seems to be getting, in some cases, harder as they are putting money behind these specialty PR and marketing firms. That is special and they have grown up in the green and sustainable industry, so they are actually specializing and helping their clients cater the message to the media in a way that makes it more difficult to discern what is real.
Shea Gunther: I think you have to start-off from a sceptical place. You have to do your reading and you have to do your homework. If you start-off in a sceptical place, then it is only going to be the people who are watching over that can pull you over that.
I recognize that there is a value in companies getting good PR from doing green work, because that is going to be a driver in them wanting to do more green stuff. I do not think that a company looking to get publicity for the green stuff is bad. What is bad is when they are not actually doing anything green -- that is a definition of ‘green-washing’.
Sean Daily: Another one is – and I am wondering if you agree with this – when you are doing truly green things in one little corner and 95 percent of the rest of your company is doing really bad things.
Shea Gunther: With that, I think you have to look at what is the company doing with that other 95 percent. If they have a plan to be experts and totally green in 20-30 years or so, then you have to take it as it comes. However, if there is a company with a small green division, and that is what they are piping out to everyone while they are just continuing to blatantly put it away, then that is bullshit and you have to call it.
Sean Daily: Yes. Paul Smith had an interesting thought on that and I want to reiterate for those who have not listened to that episode yet: it is really about transparency. If these companies can at least be transparent, perhaps even if they were not being so green, then there is an overall philosophy and drive from the top level down to do it. If they say: “This is really where we are, it is a journey and not a destination, we are working on it. Here is where we are, here is where we are good and here is where we are bad.” – I think that sort of full disclosure would go a long way towards building confidence in consumers.
Shea Gunther: Yes. I think that is going to come with any company that truly wants to be green.
Shea Gunther: Yes, definitely. We are going to take a quick break right here, Shea, and we will be back. I am talking with Shea Gunther. He is a professional ‘green’ blogger, eco-entrepreneur and publisher of the popular ‘green’ blog EarthFirst.dom. We will be right back on Green Talk Radio. Thanks everyone.
Sean Daily: Everybody, this is Sean Daily. We are back on Green Talk Radio, talking with Shea Gunther, who is a professional ‘green’ blogger, eco-entrepreneur and the publisher of the popular green blog EarthFirst.dom, as well as the original Founder of Green Options.
Shea, we were talking before the break a little bit about your background, EarthFirst and ‘green-washers’ in the industry. I want to ask you, drilling down a little bit more into EarthFirst.com: what makes EarthFirst really different from other ‘green’ industry blogs that are out there?
Shea Gunther: I have no idea.
Sean Daily: [laughing] Nothing at all? It is just a carbon-copy.
Shea Gunther: Yes. We are pretty much just trying to copy Tree Hugger. [laughing]
Sean Daily: Yes, that is good. Hey! They have a blog for 15 million, so, yes, you cannot go wrong.
Shea Gunther: Not a bad model to rip-off. I think it is what we focus on and what we cover. I am a huge fan of all the ‘green’ blogs that are out there. I have been reading ‘green’ blogs for probably three or four years now – about as long as the idea of ‘green’ blogs has been around.
I guess what I have not seen on the mainstream blogs is the willingness to push the voice and the tone. I guess it is our snarky and sarcastic voice that sets us apart; the fact that we were willing to call a Republican Senator a ‘jerk-ass’.
Sean Daily: [laughing]
Shea Gunther: Some douche-bag Senator casts us a stupid vote or makes a stupid comment – someone should call him a douche-bag.
Sean Daily: It is very similar to the Stephen Colbert, but especially Jon Stewart sentiments -- I am a huge fan of their show.
Shea Gunther: Exactly! I think if you can wrap fun and comedy around your message, then you are going to reach more people. Especially now, people are looking for that quick hit of entertainment; they are looking for that quick little bit. If you can make them laugh, chuckle or you can piss them off, then I think it is going to sink in a little more.
Sean Daily: I imagine that must have some effect on potential advertisers for these sites. Maybe that is one of the reasons why some -- maybe not all -- of these bloggers may be hesitant to tell it like it is, for fear of not being able to get sponsorship and advertising. Do you think that is a factor?
Shea Gunther: I think they are a bunch of pussies.
Sean Daily: [laughing] You know, I really need to push you. The way you hold back -- you need to be more forthcoming on this interview. [laughing]
Shea Gunther: [laughing] EarthFirst is only about three months old and we have not really pushed one just yet, so we have not gotten much push-back. That is certainly a concern, but I think there are enough advertisers and companies out there that are willing to ride that edge. ValleyWag get sponsorship -- I do not know if you read that.
Sean Daily: Yes, I do.
Shea Gunther: They definitely push the envelope in the technology and Venture Capital, San Francisco space. Flashpot -- the porn site, have the actual porn companies advertising.
I think there is more value to the voice that we bring and there is a bigger potential for building a big readership. I think the benefits of that are outweighing any potential sponsors we might lose. Frankly, any sponsor that would want to shy away from what we are talking about, I would not want to have them anyways.
Sean Daily: The bottom line is that the family-values ones and the very conservative companies may go away, but most of them are going to care about what your audience size is and your reach – that is going to determine it. In my opinion there are always going to be sponsors and advertisers available to successful sites, regardless of their content, quite frankly.
Shea Gunther: Yes. It is not like we are dropping f-bombs every other word and have graphic pictures of seals being clubbed. I do not think we are anywhere near the level of being worried about losing our sponsors.
Sean Daily: No, I have not picked that up when reading the blog. Based on my sentiments and my East Coast mentality and sense of humor, I certainly appreciate the canter and I find it to be very refreshing. I was just curious about your thoughts as to why other people are not doing that, because I think there are a lot of people on the space who have those kind of feelings and they neuter the voice in a lot of cases, so I find it fascinating to talk with somebody who is not doing that.
Shea Gunther: I think people are afraid of turning off the other side; of making the people who support the war and support George Bush more mannequins.
Sean Daily: Yet another ‘green’-blogger-leftie-with-their-hair-on-fire-about-the-environment kind of thing?
Shea Gunther: Yes. That is what I am! Rush Limbaugh is a right-wing, jerk-ass, loud-mouth. He is probably effective for his side – I am not saying I am the Rush Limbaugh of the left, but I think we need to have the warriors and we need to have the people who are willing to get smacked-down every now and then. We cannot all be appeasers.
Sean Daily: I am curious: beyond this, what do you think that other professional bloggers out there today -- ‘green’ bloggers specifically -- need to be doing to keep it real? We talked about voices. Is there anything else that you could say to other green bloggers who are looking to mirror your success and get the word out? What should they be doing to keep it real here?
Shea Gunther: Yes: get funding. [laughing]
Sean Daily: [laughing] That seems oxymoronic.
Shea Gunther: It is a lot easier to keep it real when you can spend while you are doing it. I do not know how you would replicate my sensibility. I think ‘green’ just needs people who are sceptical, who ask questions, and who can write.
Sean Daily: Since you mentioned it -- and I assume it was only half-joking as far as getting sponsorship -- do you have any tips for people that are blogging out there in the space on how to get more sponsors and advertisers?
Shea Gunther: Yes: stick around. Pretty much any person can sit down and start a blog that is actually going to make some money, if they have a year to do it. To any ‘green’ bloggers out there: write good content, write consistently – it does not need to be every other day, it just needs to be consistent. Going out and getting advertising is just panning the pavement. Finding the companies that might want to advertise in your space -- you can find that through just knowing the companies or seeing who is already advertising on that space and then contacting them and telling them you have this little blog.
How to start and launch a good ‘green’ blog is probably a two-hour conversation we would have.
Sean Daily: That is very true. It is a topic and endeavor onto itself. What about on the audience-building side? What have you learnt with EarthFirst and other ventures in terms of how to quickly grow your audience?
Shea Gunther: It is great content and it is getting it in front of people. If you write the best stuff in the world but no one is coming to it, then you are not going to grow. The life of a modern blogger is spending half the day writing and the other half digging Stumble Upon and ReddIt and pushing their links. You want it where the market is. You just have to develop good stuff and that comes from just knowing it. Again, I do not know how to tell someone how to know good content. You just have to anticipate what your readers want to see and write it. Then get it everywhere: on DiggIt, StumbleUpon, ReddIt, and email your friends. [laughing]
Sean Daily: So that kind of grass-roots source social networking has been a great part of the success of EarthFirst?
Shea Gunther: Yes, definitely. I would say that probably the most important thing that a ‘green’ blogger could do to find success is to meet other ‘green’ bloggers. When I first started blogging on my personal site with my thoughts of life as an entrepreneur, one of the first things I did was email all the other ‘green’ bloggers that I read and said: “Hey, I love reading your blog. I just started mine up and I would love to hear your feedback.” That led to a lot of great friendships and relationships with people. It is funny that there is a lot of networking and a lot of personal relationships that you can bring into bearing being a blogger.
Sean Daily: I have to say this industry has impressed me. Coming from a technology industry background originally, which is, especially at a professional level, much more defensive and guarded with the companies. In some cases even the authors, journalists and everybody in that space are protecting trade secrets and protecting their brand. Whereas, I think, people are a lot more forthcoming and open in this industry, so it is refreshing.
Where do you see things going with ‘green’ in the future. Have we beat this thing to death? Is there any life left in this?
Shea Gunther: No. My fervent hope is that eventually there would be no ‘green’, because everything is just ‘green’. If we want to actually build the world in which we can all live nice lives, have fun, go jet-skiing, do whatever, and so on, everything needs to be green. It basically has to be creating a greater world. I have no idea how long it is going to take. I am hopeful it is going to be in my lifetime. But I don’t think ‘greens’ are going anywhere.
I do not really think that we are in danger of there being a ‘green’ burnout, because it just makes too much sense. It might take a little bit longer for everyone to come around to it, but when you can show people that we can live in a world where we can have TVs, we can take trips and we can have nice clothes, without polluting the crap out of the world, then how do you argue with that?
Sean Daily: Yes, absolutely.
Shea Gunther: Or that we can all get rich too.
Sean Daily: And there is nothing wrong with it. This has also come up on the show before: there is nothing wrong with ‘green’ capitalism. You mentioned ‘greedy greens’ and there is nothing wrong with making money at the same time you are helping the Planet. That is perfect, because that is what draws the smart people in, the people have good heads for business, the people that are doers, movers and shakers. It is an essential ingredient, really.
Shea Gunther: Yes. We are not going to go ‘green’ by taking the world back 200 years in how we live.
Sean Daily: And, hopefully, it will not be driven 200 years back involuntarily. [laughing]
We are going to take one last break, Shea. We will be right back with Shea Gunther. I have one last, very important question for you, and we will be back on Green Talk Radio.
Sean Daily: Everybody, this is Sean Daily back on Green Talk Radio, talking today with Shea Gunther. He is a professional green blogger, eco-entrepreneur and publisher of the popular ‘green’ blog EarthFirst.com.
Shea, something completely off-topic: I heard that you were starting this new T-shirt company. I do not know whether I read about it on your Twitter blog or where it was, but it is a very interesting name: Meat Space Tees, and I am curious as to what is the name about and what the company is about.
Shea Gunther: The name Meat Space is a term that virtual worlds, video game people, and internet gigs use to describe the real world: when you get off the computer and shut it down, you are going to the ‘meat space’. Our concept and focus is that we are going to take popular internet ideas, people, groups, and so on, and bring it into the real world in the form of a T-shirt.
What I have done is I have gathered a group of really kick-ass investors and partners. They are all online buddies of mine. We are going to go out and sell our shirts. I think one of the right things I did was to pick investors and partners who have their own internet properties, so each one of my partners has their own popular website, a popular video show on YouTube, or a podcast. We are probably going to spend the first year just focusing on selling shirts to those markets.
The interesting thing about Meat Space is that, like anything I do, it is going to be as green as I can get. We are going to be putting on 100 percent organic-cotton shirts, made in L.A. by American Apparel and we are going to use this really cool T-shirt ink that does not have any PVC, Phthalates, heavy metals, nor pesticides. It is kind of crazy that they have inks that do not have any faults there -- just pointing out the fact that most of the inks do have those in there.
One of the markets that we are going to be going after with Meat Space is the ‘green’ world and I want to try to take that snarky, smart voice and sentiment that I have and turn into some T-shirts.
Sean Daily: I am blown away right now. I have to ask about this: what is going on with everyone getting into this T-shirt industry? Let me give you a few examples of what I have seen in the last few months. I am involved in martial arts and I love mixed martial arts. Do not ask me why. I am a green guy and I like watching grow men beat each other up, but that is just who I am.
Shea Gunther: I actually like BigMacs.
Sean Daily: Ok, sure -- everybody has got ‘the thing’. There is a company called TapOut and three guys from L.A. area. They started a shirt company. Their grass-roots are alongside the MMA industry and they have their own TV show. I do not know if they are a billion dollar industry, but they are hundreds of millions, I think, at this point.
Affliction, another competitive T-shirt company, starts their own fight league that is rivalling the largest fight league! Gary Vaynerchuk, whom I am sure you know from Wine Library TV – one of the most popular video blogger out there, arguably. He with his brother and a few other people just started ‘Please Dress Me’. So I am just wondering: are the profit margins so huge in T-shirts? What is the deal there?
Shea Gunther: I wanted to do it because I realised that my T-shirt closet sucked. [laughing] I figured out that if I had a T-shirt company I could swap that around.
Seriously: people like T-shirts. There are good margins on it. I think even in a down economy, T-shirts might be like trips to McDonalds: small enough purchase that people can make. For me, I just like T-shirts. I like the process of screen-printing -- something I actually got into in high school in a graphic-design class. It is a cool way to get your message out there.
Sean Daily: Then we are seeing other companies, like Snore Ts, and all the other ones I see on every other banner on some of the more popular websites out there.
Shea Gunther: Yes. Or CollegeHumor. They started their T-shirt thing to fill remnant ad space and now they are making like 30 million a year doing it.
Sean Daily: Amazing. I am glad to hear about American Apparel and I am glad to hear that they are taking it at that level of sustainability and the lack of harmful chemicals because I have not heard about that. A couple of companies, like Zazzle or CafePress, I do not think have gotten really too much into the sustainable and organic stuff, but it is good there are companies focusing on that.
Shea Gunther: Yes. CafePress has one or two organic shirts, and they are pricey. They are $17.00 at base level, which is $5.00-$6.00 more expensive than non-organic. It does not make sense, because the American Apparel shirts that I get wholesale are $1.00 more expensive than the non-organic ones. I do not know why CafePress’ is a $6.00 spread on that.
Shea Gunther: Please, keep us posted about the progress on that. We certainly wish you much success with that venture.
Sean Daily: We will have a site up with shirts for sale within a month now. It has been a good process getting it together.
Sean Daily: And I assume it will be meatspace,com or meatspacets.com
Shea Gunther: Yes. Meatspacetees.com
Sean Daily: My guest today has been Shea Gunther, and he is a professional ‘green’ blogger, eco-entrepreneur and the publisher of the popular green blog EarthFirst.com. Shea, it was real pleasure having you on the program. I appreciate you coming on and talking with me today.
Shea Gunther: Thanks, Sean. It has been a lot of fun.